ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS FREE BEER, reported the Brisbane Truth on Sunday, December 29 1946:
“FREE beer will be on tap at the Crown Hotel, George-street, on Christmas Day, December 25.” FREE BEER! WACKO! But don’t get downhearted that you didn’t hear about this last week — you’d have still been just 92 years too late! Strange as it may seem, in this hot and thirsty land, free beer WAS on tap at the “Crown” for all who could drink a fill, way back in 1854, to celebrate the opening of the pub, which was built by one of Brisbane’s pioneer builders, Adam Fiebig, on the site on which the Majestic Hotel now stands.
Take a gander at the pencil drawing, by long-dead and unsung artist, J. W. Laing, which accompanies this article. Believe it or not, that’s the corner of George and Turbot streets, in the City of Brisbane! And there stands the Crown Hotel, in all its modern splendor — that is, ‘modern’ as known in 1854.
This is the picture which hangs in the very modern bar of Lowood’s Royal Hotel; run by a grandson of the builder of the Crown, Bernard Fiebig Hannah. It is apparent, from artist Laing’s effort that he did not choose the ‘free beer’ day to do the job. You can’t tell us that only one solitary black-bearded bibber forms the queue. It just ain’t natural — even for 1854!
Look what the said Blackbeard’s done to his youngster. Made him stand across the road with his back to the pub, so that his young mind won’t be polluted. That’s the funny Ideas they had about that sort of thing, them days. And get on to mine host and his good wife at the door of the pub to welcome their customer. Publicans’ manners and courtesy have been on the toboggan since the Gold Old Days, obviously. Maybe the goat in Turbot-street’s going down to the markets to see if he (or is it ‘she’) can pinch a few greens. And looks as though (on left) one of the North Quay dairy farmers is taking his prize milker down with the same end in view.
Another thing that impresses is that dogs had plenty of posts available those days, what with horse hitching conveniences, ‘nd all that. Way up on the right (just above that smart turn-out), the artist has caught the old Victoria Barracks building. Gives an idea how old THAT is. There is a wealth of romance in the story of the Fiebig-Hannah family.
One of their prized possessions is a violin, claimed to be an Amati, just the bare 250 years old, which is also pictured here, being admired by a guest while Mrs. Pearl Hannah explains all about it. The inscription, in old lettering which can be seen inside the instrument through the sound holes, reads: “Antonius Amati, Cremonensis, fecit Anno Domini Nostri, 1696.”
Amati was the craftsman who taught the mighty Stradivarius how to make violins. Which brings us to a paragraph in ‘Truth’ of the issue of April 28 last. This reads ‘New York, Saturday. — Miss Dorothy Powers professional violinist, calmly paid out £24,475 for a Stradivarius violin yesterday. She bought the instrument from Fritz Kreisler. The Strad., one of the two most famous instruments, is 235 years old.” The Hannahs’ instrument, made by the Master who taught Stradivarius his craft, is, according to its inscription, 15 years older than Miss Powers’s treasure!
To get back to Laing’s sketch: See that little thatched cottage on the right of the pub? In that cottage lived a poor old down-at-heel music genius named Professor Seale. He it was who drew sweet music from the bowels of that Amati violin. He filled the smoke-laden atmosphere of the ‘Crown,’ that memorable free-beer Christmas Day, with all the famous carols of the era — ‘Silent Night,’ ‘While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks By Night,’ and all that nostalgic stuff which makes dreamy the eye of the oldster.
When the time came for the old ‘Crown,’ then the ‘Wentworth,’ to make way for something snappy and modern, in brick, it was old Adam who again did the job, building the present Majestic Hotel, which was sold by the family to the Burkes, in 1928. Popular Bob Graham is mine host there now. He also built the famous Marland House, in Eagle-terrace, as well as a number of other historic landmarks. The Hannah family has distributed more Christmas cheer to unfortunates and misfortunates than they want to remember. They have financed numerable religious and philanthropic organisation and causes.
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