The croc hunter and the Imperial Hotel, Innisfail

imperial hotel innisfail 1902

The crocodile shot by game hunter, ‘Mr White’ in 1902. Picture: NSW State Library.

THE Imperial Hotel at Innisfail in far northern Queensland 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 Innisfail 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. He had a short stay as host and died less than six months later in January 1900, not after being taken by a croc, but through a less dramatic cause of “acute congestion of the kidneys”. He was just 45. His wife took over as licensee of the Imperial after his death.

imperial hotel innisfail cyclone damage 1918

The hotel was badly damaged by a cyclone in April 1918 (pictured right), and was rebuilt soon after. The pub continued to trade in an updated single storey brick building, known as the Imperial Tavern, until October 2018, when it sadly closed for business.

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, shortly before its demolition in 2018. Picture: Google Streetview
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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