The Tweed’s heroic publican

The Hotyel Pacifique, Tweed Heads, NSW
The Hotel Pacifique, Tweed Heads, NSW


Jim Martin. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.

SAID to be a modest man, publican James Alexander Martin managed to keep from an official government inquest how he saved the life of a drowning man when he gave evidence in 1914.

Jim Martin was the first publican of Helensburgh’s re-built Centennial Hotel in 1915.

The original old single storey timber Centennial, sat on the opposite side of the road. It closed and had its license transferred to a swanky two storey brick building in May 1915.

The owners, the Hanley family, in partnership with brewers Tooth and Company opened the new Centennial in May 1915.

Jim was put in charge of Hanley’s new pub. Born in 1885, his first forte into the hotel trade came in 1913 when he took the reins of the Hotel Pacifique on the Queensland NSW border at Tweed Heads. Jim was just 28.

Tweed Heads’ tourist industry kept him and wife Christina in a profitable business for the short time they remained as hosts.

Why he chose to leave such a profitable and thriving business to take up the license of a newly built pub in a small coal mining village on the NSW south coast remains a mystery.

centennial hotel helensburgh
Centennial Hotel, Helensburgh NSW. Picture: Supplied.

Prior to leaving Tweed Heads for Helensburgh, Jim was lucky to survive a tragic boating accident on July 15 1914. He was one of 13 men aboard the motor boat on a fishing expedition of the coast of Tweed Heads when tragedy struck.

Seven of the 13 men aboard the Carrara were drowned when at dusk they attempted to cross the dreaded Tweed Heads bar after a day “schnappering”. The Mullimbiby Star reported on July 16 1914:

It appears the launch, broached to in the sea, and was then swept by a huge comber, which swept the deck fittings away and the whole of those aboard. The six who reached the shore had a desperate tussel, and landed thoroughly exhausted. Capt. Lowe had some of his clothes ripped off him by the drowning men in their frantic struggles. Pilot Smith’s wife and son witnessed the tragedy, and raised the alarm. The pilot boat went to the rescue, but on reaching the scene there was no trace of any of the missing men. The tragic affair created a painful sensation, for most of the men are well known on the border.

When testifying at the inquest, Jim told the coroner:

James Martin deposed: Was one of the party, after all were thrown into the water spoke to Arnold Scholes and  Buchanan; saw three or four others clinging to the bottom of the boat these included Wells, Smythe, and Piggot; a wave washed them away; saw afterwards Scholes and Arnold making towards shore: lost sight of them again and on getting ashore saw Scholes land; was well acquainted with the bar; had been engineer on the tugboat; was satisfied the capsize of the Carrara was a pure accident.  

wynyard hotel Sydney 1939
Wynyard Hotel, Sydney NSW 1939. Picture: Supplied

What Jim didn’t tell the coroner’s court though – and did not reveal until much later – was that he gave up a kerosene case that kept him afloat, to a struggling Mark Scholes, during the ordeal. Scholes would more than likely have drowned if Jim had not given him his kero case to keep afloat. Only Scholes knew of Jim’s heroic deed.

Three months later, the wealthy businessman paid tribute to his rescuer by hosting a presentation at Jim’s Tweed Heads’ pub. The Tweed Daily reported on October 3 1914:

The Scholes family had combined to pay a tribute of gratitude to Mr. Martin, and he asked Mr. Martin to accept, on behalf of his family, a gold watch as a slight recognition of his brave action. He paid a tribute to Mr. Martin’s modesty. He had nobly surrendered his chance of safety to help his friend in distress, and had never mentioned the fact publicly, or privately. At the inquiry he had heard Mr. Martin give his evidence and even then this fact was not mentioned. Mr. Scholes, sen., was anxious to meet Mr. Martin, and he hoped that Mr. Martin would be able to pay, him a visit so that he could personally thank him. Mr. Martin thanked the members of the Scholes family for their beautiful gift. He had only done what he felt sure any man would have done in a time of danger. He was only sorry that all could not have been saved…. The inscription on the watch is “Wreck of the Carrara, July 10, 1914. Presented to James Alexander Martin by Joseph Scholes and family for conspicuous and unselfish bravery in saving the life of Mark J. Scholes at Tweed Heads.”  On the front is Mr. Martin’s monogram, “J.A.M.”     

Jim and Christina accepted the offer of hosting the newly completed Centennial Hotel at Helensburgh in May 1915. The South Coast Times reported Friday May 14 1915:

The old Centennial Hotel has now  ceased to exist as a licensed housefor the sale of liquor; the transferto the newly erected, up-to-datebuilding on the opposite side of the street, taking place on Wednesday.Mr. James Martin, is landlord, andexpects to have everything in orderfor the convenience of visitors in aday or two.

Jim’s new business venture in Helensburgh must have been in stark contrast to the bustling seaside tourist resort of Tweed Heads. Although he would have become host of a spanking brand new hotel in Helensburgh, the little coal mining village was worlds apart from the northern border resort of Tweed Heads.

I’m not surprised he had a short stay. By 1918 Jim was hosting the Wynyard Hotel at the corner of Erskine and Clarence Streets in Sydney. He later ran a Kensington wine bar, before retring to Holt Street Stanmore.

Jim died in 1930 at the age of 45.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2019

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