Fire destroyed Albion Park’s Commercial Hotel

The Commercial Hotel, Albion Park during the latter part of the 19th century.
The Commercial Hotel, Albion Park during the latter part of the 19th century. Picture: Supplied.

ESTABLISHED in 1880, the Albion Park Hotel, located in the Illawarra region of NSW, was originally built by English pioneer, Gabriel Timbs.

Timbs was a native of Berkshire, England. He was born in 1824, and came to the colony of NSW with his parents in 1839. He and his parents travelled on board the Formosa, and on their arrival went to work for Henry Osborne at his Marshall Mount Estate near Wollongong.

When a young man, Timbs married Eliza Fogarty and they had eight children before Eliza’s death in 1862. He remarried Ellen O’Gorman and had another 13 children, making him the father of the grand total of 21 children.

In 1860, at the sale of the Terry’s Meadows Estate (Albion Park), Gabriel bought several lots in the town and set about building shops: a butcher, blacksmith, shoemaker, dressmaker and general store.

The Kiama Independent reported on December 9 1879:

The spirited enterprise of our Mr. Timbs must not pass unnoticed and no man has spent more money or energy in advancing the welfare of this neighbourhood.

One reporter quipped that the town should have been designated “Timbs Town”.

The Commercial Hotel, Albion Park, 1939. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University. Inset: Gabriel Timbs. Picture: Shellharbour City Museum.

Timbs also built the Commercial Hotel at Albion Park in 1879, which opened the following year. The hotel was a two storied building with 12 large rooms for guests and verandahs. The Albion Park Hotel (on the opposite corner) followed soon after, and that pub continues to trade today in an updated building.

The old pioneer never hosted the Commercial Hotel, and James Condon became its first publican. Many years later, the O’Gorman family took over operations.

Timbs died at his home, Rosetta Hill at Mount Terry in 1901 at the age of 77. He bequeathed his entire estate to his wife Ellen.

The historic timber pub was completely destroyed by fire in 1954. However, the pub continued trading on the site from a “temporary bar” until the late 1950s. The final approval for the removal of the Commercial Hotel’s license was granted on December 11 1958 enabling the Oaks Hotel to open at Oak Flats.

Hotel license was once exchanged for mail run

commercial hotel albion park fire
“This photograph, taken on Sunday night by Mr. William Swan, of Mulda street, Dapto, show how quickly the flames spread. On top is shown the eastern wall of the hotel, with the rear almost completely demolished and flames leaping through the bedrooms upstairs.” – The South Coast Times, Page 1, Thursday 1 July 1954

THE Commercial Hotel at Albion Park, which was almost completely destroyed by fire on Sunday night was once sold in exchange for a mail run.

The hotel was built about 1880 by Mr. Timbs, whose son, Mr. Gabe Timbs, was Town Clerk of Shellharbour Municipality for thirty years.The Raftery family had the Commercial Hotel for 54 years,the late Mr. William Raftery purchasing it from a Mr. Perry in exchange for his mail run  from Sydney, through Campbelltown to Nowra and back via Moss Vale.

On the death of Mr. William Raftery the license was later transferred to his son John. Some seven years ago the freehold was sold to Mrs. Frances Bingham, who later disposed of it to Mr. Mick Tobin, the present licensee.

Damage in Sunday night’s fire was estimated at £36,000, this including some jewellery owned by Mrs. Tobin. One piece of jewellery was a century old cameo brooch.

The damage is only partly covered by insurance, Mr. Tobin, who is calling tenders for the erection of a new hotel at Unanderra, said this week that he had expected to sell the Commercial Hotel on Tuesday.

Making the most of their loss, Mr. and Mrs. Tobin and their staff spent Monday and Tuesday salvaging some bits and pieces and clearing up around the ballroom which was undamaged.

On Tuesday a temporary bar was opened and Council workmen were connecting the electricity to the western section of the building.

– The South Coast Times, Page 1, Thursday 1 July 1954

The Commercial Hotel, Albion Park, 1924. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
The Commercial Hotel, Albion Park, 1949, shortly before it was destroyed by fire. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
The Oaks Hotel, Oak Flats, 1959. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

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Categories: Illawarra Hotels, NSW hotels

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4 replies

  1. Hi There ……i always thought that the Commercial was totally destroyed in the fire? but reading this indicates that they started trading again? when did the Hotel actually cease operation and disappear? (My Great Grandfather was William Raftery and this is what i was always told happened)

    • Hi Andrew. The Commercial traded from a temporary bar at Albion Park until 1958 when the license was removed to the newly completed Oaks Hotel at Oak Flats.

  2. Michael Tobin was my great great uncle interested what happened to the family after the fire.

    • Hi Michael. I’m not sure what become of Michael Tobin and his family. However, Michael Tobin became the first licensee of the newly opened Oaks Hotel at Oak Flats in 1958.

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