By MICK ROBERTS ©
OUR 2018 road trip to the Hunter Valley, included a visit to the grand old Commercial Hotel at Morpeth.
There seems to have been two Commercial Hotels trading in Morpeth, the first licensed by Moses Murphy in April 1855. According to local historian Troy Murphie the first Commercial was located opposite the Queens Wharf, down by the Hunter River.
The second Commercial Hotel, the subject of our visit, opened on the corner of Swan and Northumberland Street in 1881.
Murphy and his wife, Julia, had previously hosted the Crown and Anchor at Morpeth, before he licensed the first Commercial Hotel down by the Queens Wharf at the age of 55.
At the time Morpeth was a busy agricultural port on the Hunter River, and besides the Commercial, supported Daniel Maher’s Settlers’ Arms, Ann Cornelius’ Rose and Thistle, Andrew Wortly’s Wheatsheaf, Abraham Carpenter’s Crown, William Chapman’s Hunter River Inn, and Murphy’s previous pub, the Crown and Anchor.
While travelling from Hinton to Morpeth on the night of January 6 1858, the publican was drowned through his horse leaping with him from the punt into the river.
The punt man had neglected to put up the bar at the end, and the horse began to prance about, and jumped into the river. The night was dark, and though boats were quickly manned and every search made, Murphy was never seen again until his body was recovered two days later. The horse managed to land safely at Hinton. His widow ran the pub until 1869, with their son, Matthew taking over the license in the early 1870s.
The Murphy family had the pub for almost 20 years before it was sold and the pub closed for business. Julia was 74 years of age when she died at Morpeth in 1884.
When it comes to lengthy ownership of a pub though, it’s difficult to beat the Sucker family. The family owned Morpeth’s second Commercial Hotel for a record 63 years.
The second Commercial was opened by James Slattery in 1881. Harry and Eliza Sucker, both aged 38, and their nine children, aged from one to 15, shifted into the little corner pub in 1892. Harry decided on a career change and became the Commercial’s new publican after previously working as a blacksmith.
The smaller corner section of the pub, dates from this period, with the larger brick two storey addition facing Swan Street, completed in 1908.
After the death of Harry at the age of 61 in 1915, and Eliza, 23 years later in 1938 at the age of 84, the pub was taken over by four of their unmarried daughters – Rose, 49, Frances, 52, Eliza, 59 and Alice, 45.
Just short of 50, Rose took the license and the women ran the pub for over 15 years before they retired from business in 1954.
At the time the Sucker women ran the pub, the Commercial was one of the very few hotels left in the State which drew its beer straight from the cask.
“We find that the gas interferes with some of our customers,” Rose Sucker said at the time.
“Gas has never been used at the hotel. We do not believe in it.”
The Sucker sisters were reported to have treated their old customers as one big family. The Maitland Mercury reported in September 1953:
The building, which has not changed a great deal in the past 40 years, overlooks the Hunter River, at present drifting slowly past green willows. Ancient painted glass signs, clocks, aged darkened fittings and numerous small parlours, create something of an English country inn. Aged pipe smoking customers, who clearly recall Morpeth at the height of its prosperity, add to the Old World air. They sit beneath the 60-year-old bar clock with a glass in hand to discuss Morpeth of yesteryear. They are proud of Morpeth’s heritage of sailing – boats, bullock wagons and its old buildings. One of these ‘regulars’ is bootmaker, Mr J H Newton. He was born at Morpeth and rejoices in the past. He can remember when the late Henry Sucker first took over the Commercial. “Morpeth was at its best in those days,” he will tell you. “I can remember the bullock and horse teams lined up for almost a mile waiting to load wool and cattle on the old steamers. Sucker’s was then only a long single story building. “Most of us old-timers who have stayed in Morpeth grew up with this hotel. We still drink there because it reminds us of the old days.” Miss Rose Sucker, who holds the licence for the Commercial, said that every effort had been made to preserve the atmosphere of the old place. However, there was now a possibility that the hotel would change hands. The old-timers fear that the quiet dignity of the hotel will be lost to the high-pressure salesmanship of the modern hotel. One of the few modern innovations at the hotel is an electric hot water system. The rest is delightfully Old World. Thick cedar fittings, old china and lace bed curtains, a big lounge and music room all tend to give this impression. In the good old days a spacious awning type verandah provided a huge open air dance floor for the hotel’s many guests. The hotel has 24 rooms and four parlours. In each of the rooms hangs a faded photograph of family groups wearing period costumes. Out at the back still stands the neglected and horseless stables, some of which have been converted to house modern cars.
With the death of the eldest sister, Eliza in 1952 at the age of 73, the remaining three sisters decided it was time to retire.
The licence of the Commercial Hotel was transferred from Rose Sucker to Stephen Flanagan at Maitland Licensing Court in October 1954, ending a chapter in the pub’s long history.
During the hearing Police Sgt E. V Cahill said records indicated that the hotel had been in the one family for the last 63 years.
“The record shows that it is a family hotel, well conducted. It is with regret we see the passing of the Sucker family from the licences of hotels in this particular district,” Sgt Cahill said.
“It is unique to have a hotel in one family all those years with such a clean sheet.”
The Magistrate F.R. Wood said the Sucker family had created a record which he felt could not be excelled in the State or probably in the world.
“A landmark is almost gone by the departure of Miss Sucker from this hotel,” he said. “By a landmark I mean the association of the Commercial Hotel at Morpeth with the name of Sucker. It is a landmark of which Miss Sucker may well be proud.”
Rose died in 1964 at the age of 75, while Alice followed at the age of 74 in 1967. Frances died in 1986 at the age of 96.
Today the Commercial continues to trade, with a focus on the tourist trade, good meals, and a reputation for old fashioned country services. When we enjoyed a meal and a drink on a busy Sunday, the service was prompt, and friendly.
After coming from the city, there’s something special and warm about a pub where the barman rounds off when you pay for your drinks and meal: “That’ll be $40 and 20 cents, thanks mate… Ah, just make it $40.”
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2018
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