Treasure trove found under bar-room floor of Rockhampton’s Palace Hotel

The Palace Hotel, Rockhampton, about 1908. Picture: Supplied.

WHEN Rockhampton’s old dilapidated timber pub, ironically known as the Palace, was replaced in 1888 with a building better befitting its sign, there were 60 hotels within five miles, and another 25 within a half a mile radius of where it traded!

With all those pubs and a population of around 15,000 people, no wonder the Central Queensland licensing magistrates were hesitant to approve the license application for its replacement.

Once a grand three-storey hotel in East Street, the Palace turned off its taps and closed as a pub sometime after 1962 (can anyone tell us what year?), and today has retail shops trading from street level. However, its magnificent façade can still be admired above its street awning.

The Palace was established as the Volunteer Hotel in 1870 by James E. Burstall, who had previously hosted the Golden Age Hotel at Rockhampton. Burstall it seems let the license lapse the following year, and the pub was re-opened under the same name by John Vickary in 1871.

Edward Casey, who was the “head waiter” at nearby Cramp’s Criterion Hotel, bought the hotel in 1872, and changed its name to the Universal Hotel in 1873. Licensee, William Callaghan, was given permission to change the name yet again to the Palace in July 1881 when the building was renovated and upgraded, with a new timber façade.

By early 1887 the old timber pub was in a bad state, and licensing authorities wanted the building upgraded. The Rockhampton Morning Bulletin reported on August 17 1887:

An elaborate plan was exhibited in window of the shop of Mrs. Kingel, jeweller, East-street, yesterday, of the hotel which is to be erected, with the consent of the authorities, in place of the present Palace Hotel, that building having fallen into disuse through Licensing Bench having refused to license it because it did not conform to the statutory provisions. The owner of the premises, Mr. Callaghan, proposes to erect a three storey building of elaborate dimensions, extending from Clewett’s Buildings to Messrs. T. Kelly and Sons’ premises. There will be five ground divisions, four being evidently marked off as shops, and the fifth – that nearest Clewett’s Buildings – as a bar. The facade is of a very handsome character, and if the building looks as well when carried into effect as it does on paper it will be a considerable addition to the many handsome premises already existing in East-street. It is stated that tenders are to be called for the work during the present month, and the architect. Mr. W. Martin, of Sydney, it now in town in connection there-with.

The old Palace was demolished in 1887 and replaced with a magnificent three-storey stone and brick hotel, which opened for business in October 1888, with Catherine Kenna as licensee.

During renovations of the pub in 1936, several interesting discoveries were made. The Brisbane Telegraph reported on January 7, 1936:

ROCKHAMPTON, January 6: An extensive heap of beer bottles, tops, and corks, lying near the gutter outside an East Street hotel this morning provoked a wide range of thought from passers-by. During the course of renovations to the Palace Hotel, situated in East Street, workmen had to take up the floor boards to renew the floor. And what a treasure trove they found of bottle tops and corks. To a number of small boys, and even grown men, the heap, which was nine feet long, five feet wide, and 18 inches high, it meant that where bottle tops had fallen, so might money, and the debris was thoroughly sifted. For one at least, who braved the stares of passers-by, it was a payable proposition and he collected 5s. 9d. However, the arrival of a rubbish cart broke in on the hunt, whilst small boys looked in dismay at its departure.

The Place Hotel closed for business sometime after 1962, and was converted to shops at street-level.

palace hotel brisbane today 1 google copy
The former Palace Hotel, Rockhampton 2017. Picture: Google Streetview.

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