Punting at the pub

Royal Alfred Hotel Wollongong 1880s

The Royal Alfred Hotel (second balconied building on the left) Wollongong 1880s.


John Makin

John Makin

WAY before the pokies and TAB machines, pub drinkers found other means to try their luck, and win money with cards, dice, billiards, bagatelle and other illegal lures often used by publicans to capture the imagination of colonial punters.

Hoteliers accused of allowing gambling in their premises often ending up fronting the local magistrates; as was the case with Royal Alfred Hotel host John Makin. The Royal Alfred was one of Wollongong’s longest operating hotels trading for almost 130 years before making way for the present Crown Central Shopping Centre in 1970.

Sitting on the north east corner of Crown and Keira Streets, the pub was first licensed as the Settlers Arms in 1841; later becoming the Royal Alfred in 1872 and finally the Royal in 1931. The hotel was rebuilt at least three times before sadly its taps ran dry in the name of progress.
Ironically host Makin fronted the local magistrates to answer charges of gambling after he went for the police to stop a game of two-up in his pub in September 1873. Senior Sergeant Sheridan promptly charged Makin for the offence, even though he tried to stop the game!

Although the publican was cleared of the charge, the loser in the whole affair was punter Alexander McKenny who ‘did’ his money along with his horse, saddle and bridle. McKenny called into the Royal Alfred, booking a room for the night, before downing quite a few nobblers until closing time at 12 midnight. After last drinks were called he noticed a game of two up in a room near the bar and decided to try his luck with the six or seven men tossing pennies. McKenny began placing bets and soon found himself £7 out of pocket. Showing the effects of grog, he pulled more notes from his pocket, dropping £6 on the floor and in the confusion only retrieving a pound. Short of a quid and desperate to win back his money, McKenny sold his horse, bridle and saddle to a fellow player and jockey Thomas Bennet for £13 and 10 shillings. He walked away a loser when local cop, Sheridan broke-up the game.

The long tradition of downing an ale (and having a bet) at the corner of Keira and Crown Streets came to end when Four Milbanks Nominees purchased the Royal Hotel from Tooth and Company to build the Crown Central Shopping Centre in 1970. The Illawarra Mercury reported local businessmen had to find a new place to gather for a few beers over lunch with the announcement of the closure. “We’ll end up at the same place, but not at a club. No poker machines, and chattering women”, one regular commented.
The Royal regular wouldn’t be safe from either in today’s modern pubs.


Categories: Illawarra Hotels, Publicans

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