Vale, a sailors’ pub: Port Hotel, Port Adelaide

Port Hotel, Port Adelaide, South Australia, 1951, just prior to demolition. Picture: Supplied.

PORT Adelaide pubs reflect South Australia’s maritime history in catering to the sailors of trading ships.

The earliest recorded was the Port Hotel, which opened in 1838 – two years before the port was officially declared.

The first hotel at the new site was Port Hotel on North Parade which was licensed to begin operating on March 23, 1839, but was known to have served from October, 1838.

One of the most notable hosts of the historic hotel was a Swede by the name of John ‘Jock’ Whallin, who with his wife, Ann kept the portside pub for almost a decade from 1888 to 1896.

Just a year after gaining the license, tragedy struck the Whallins when their seven month old baby daughter was burnt to death in one of the rooms of the Port Hotel in October 1889. The Kapunda Herald reported on Tuesday, October 22 1889:

On Thursday morning an inquest was held at the Port Hotel, Port Adelaide, on the body of the infant, seven months old, which was burnt to death in the hotel on Tuesday. Ann Whallin, the mother of the child, said she put the infant to bed at 10 o’clock and visited it at intervals up to half-past 11. At 12.15 she heard one of her sons screaming upstairs, and on rushing up found the bed in flames. She took the deceased out of the bed and wrapped it in the blanket, and then went immediately for medical assistance. Subsequently she made an examination of the room where the fire occurred, and ascertained that almost the whole of one side of the bed was consumed. Dr. Toll, who was called to see the child, said he found the legs, left arm and face severely burnt. The child died 24 hours after the examination. The cause of death was shock to the system, due to the burns. Bessie Edwards, employed as general servant to the hotel, stated she went upstairs at noon and found everything all right. Subsequently she sent the boy upstairs to mind the baby. Police-constable Buddams made an inspection of the room, and found some lucifer matches lying about which had apparently been lit. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

The Whallins went on to raise a family of three boys and three girls while hosting several pubs in Port Adelaide and Adelaide.

John ‘Jock’ Whallin. Picture: Adelaide Quiz, Friday, March 13, 1908

Born at Hernosand, Sweden, on October 16, 1849, Jock Whallin arrived in Australia at the age of 25 after an adventurous life at sea, pearl-fishing and trading in the Solomon Islands. Arriving in Australia he prospected near Silverton and Broken Hill before, at the age of 39, taking the license of the Port Hotel (then known as Ford’s).

For 35 years he was a publican, and was well-known at Port Adelaide, where he also conducted the Newmarket and Exchange hotels. He was a committeeman of the Liquor Trades Defence Union of S.A., as well as an active member of the S.A. Liquor Victuallers Association, the forerunner of the Australian Hotels Association.

Later he went to Port Pirie, where he kept the Royal Exchange Hotel, and the last establishment of which he took an active part in the management was the Criterion Hotel, in Adelaide. He subsequently purchased the Henley Hotel, which was managed by his son, Charles Whallin.

His wife, Ann died in 1913, and the old publican breathed his last at the age of 73 in 1922.

The Port Hotel operated until 1951 when it was closed and demolished to make way for increasing wharf use. On the eve of its demolition the Adelaide Mail reported on Saturday, May 5, 1951:

Port grew up round hotel

Built as a hotel in 1840 — four years after SA was founded — the Port has had 35 licencees since its first, C. Mildred and S. East.

Its name has been changed often. It began as the Cross Knights, was renamed the Red Cross Knight, the Port Hotel, the Port Tavern, and finally, the Port Hotel. Today there is a road and wharf between the hotel and the Port River. But in the old days, small boats used to moor to the hotel’s verandah posts. Some years after it was built the back part of the hotel was destroyed by fire. It has since been rebuilt.

The front is the original building. The first meeting ever held in SA by the Masonic Lodge took place in the Port. It was then the Red Cross Knight. Present licensee is Mrs. Dora Cooke.

North Parade, Port Adelaide, in March 1951, showing the buildings to be demolished to make way for cargo sheds. The Port Hotel can be seen centre left. Picture: State Library of South Australia.

The Port Hotel, one of South A ustralia's oldest inns, which was torn down to make way for Harbors Board improvements.
The Port Hotel, one of South Australia’s oldest inns, which was torn down to make way for Harbors Board improvements.

The Adelaide News reported on Friday, February 20, 1953:

AS the inexorable trend of modernisation goes on round us, each day sees the demolition of yet one more of our old landmarks. Perhaps no other part of South Australia is suffering more from this than Port Adelaide.

Already, many old but interesting buildings have fallen to allow construction of new wharves, warehouses, and business places so badly needed in this busy port. Woven around the old hotels of Port Adelaide is an interesting, exciting, and colorful past of which very little is known by the present generation.

The Port Hotel, one of the first buildings to be erected in Port Adelaide, was a fine establishment where the rowing boats from the lofty sailing ships used to tie up at the verandah posts to discharge their cargo of thirsty sailors.The Lass o’ Gowrie, in St.Vincent street, was often the scene of much bloodshed and skull-duggery. This inn, demolished only this year, is reputed often to have been the pick-up centre for a ship’s crew. Yes, even shanghaing used to flourish in our own Port Adelaide. Keen rivalry existed between the Jervois and the Dock Hotels. opposite each other in Lipson street. At one time the Jervois, to increase its trade, reduced the price of beer from 6d. to 4d. a pint.

The Dock, not to be outdone, immediately reduced its price to 2d., which, incidentally, was the cost price in those days. But best remembered of all is the Ship Inn. This fine building, with its frontage of blue tiling, specialised in cockfighting. The tough sailors surrounding the 12-ft. iron circle would cheer gleefully as the two dynamic balls of blood and feathers thrashed their way to death or victory. But no matter what else was indulged in, this respectable house always remained closed on Sunday afternoons.So one may talk of Port Adelaide and its inns from the time someone decided to lay a road farther down the river at Port Misery until as recently as 1910,when a public option poll closed 16 hotels in the Port Adelaide district.

Throughout all those years our “Gateway to the State” has been tinged with the marks left by travellers from all corners of the globe; men who never ceased travelling until they had made the last long journey; men who drank, played, and fought in buildings which may still be seen today. At least some of them may still be seen, but time and progress are gradually taking their toll of what was once one of the most romantic ports in the Southern Hemisphere.

– Kevin Crease.

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Categories: Adelaide hotels, Publicans, South Australia Hotels

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