The croc hunter and the Imperial Hotel, Innisfail

imperial hotel innisfail 1902
The crocodile shot by game hunter, ‘Mr White’ in 1902. Photographed by Innisfail magistrate, William Pettigrew Wilson. The man holding the crocs tail is believed to be Willy Poi, who later moved to Tully with his horse and cart (seen in the background). Information supplied by Michael Dubhthaigh, from Tales from the Top Rail Facebook Group.
Picture: NSW State Library.

THE Imperial Hotel at Innisfail sat across the road from the Johnstone River, a notorious waterway known for crocodiles.

The large timber two-storey hotel was the preferred accommodation for game hunters visiting north Queensland to snag themselves a giant trophy croc early last century.

imperial hotel innisfail 1920
Corbett’s Imperial Hotel, Innisfail in 1922. Picture: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

The Imperial Hotel was built for David William Henry in July 1899.

Henry had a short stay as host and died less than six months later, in January 1900 – not as a consequence of a croc attack, but by a less dramatic cause, related to “acute congestion of the kidneys”. He was just 45.

Henry’s widow took over as licensee of the Imperial after his death, until she moved to Townsville to open a pub by the same name in 1906.

The Imperial Hotel, Innisfail, showing the damage after the 1918 cyclone. Picture: Supplied.
The Imperial Hotel was badly damaged after a cyclone in 1918. Picture: Northern Herald, April 18, 1918

The hotel was badly damaged by a cyclone in April 1918, and was later rebuilt.

The pub continued to trade from the site and in recent years was rebuilt as a single storey brick building, known as the Imperial Tavern.

The Imperial Tavern closed for business in 2018. The tavern re-opened for business in December 2022 after major renovations.

The photos of the large 14 feet crocodile was taken on October 18 1902 outside the Imperial Hotel at the corner of Fitzgerald Esplanade and Grace Street at Innisfail, when the town was known as Geraldton.

From 1879, the riverside settlement was named Geraldton, after an Irishman, Tom FitzGerald, who established the sugar industry in the area. In 1910 the settlement was renamed Innisfail to avoid confusion with the town of the same name in Western Australia.

The female crocodile was shot by “a visitor, Mr White”. Mr White – more than likely holding the rifle in the picture below – had his ‘game’ skinned, and, as the Geraldton Sentinel newspaper reported at the time, “when he next visits the north he will no doubt have a couple of fine alligator-leather bags to show his friends as a memento of his Geraldton ‘shot’”.

crocodile imperial hotel geraldton innisfail qld 1902

“The alligator (or crocodile) was a female and had a tremendous girth in proportion to her 14ft. in length. She was evidently of great age, for there was not a solitary tooth in her big jaws. Examination of the body showed two bullet holes besides the one made by Mr. White, and these were no doubt given to her by Mr Dillane about a fortnight ago when he sighted her in Bamboo Creek and gave her a sample of his firing powers. She got out of sight, however, on that occasion, and so Mr Dillane was debarred from adding her to the other hundred or so alligators he has bagged on the Johnstone.”

The Imperial Tavern, Innisfail, 2018. Picture: Supplied
The main bar of the Imperial Tavern, Innisfail, 2018. Picture: Douglas Norris

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Categories: Queensland hotels

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3 replies

  1. Brilliant Mick Roberts – I just knew you could come up with the story behind this photo !

  2. Hi Mick, I found your story to be for great interest to me. David William Henry was the husband of my grt grand-aunt Maria Henry (nee Mahon) Would you be able to tell me where found found the story about David being attacked by a crocodile as I had not heard of this before?


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