Fremantle’s Cleopatra Hotel: Began trading as a seafarer’s inn

Former Cleopatra Hotel, Fremantle (left). Picture: Google
cleopatra hotel fremantle google 1
The former Cleopatra Hotel, High Street, Fremantle. Picture: Google


CURRENTLY used as student accommodation, the former Cleopatra Hotel in the port city of Fremantle has a history stretching back almost to Western Australia’s foundations.

The pub was founded in 1836, when Elizabeth Pace, the wife of a sea-captain, gained a public house license for ‘The Boarding House’ in High Street, Fremantle.

Elizabeth’s husband, Captain Walter Pace, was a merchant seaman, sailing the shipping routes between Indonesia and Fremantle on his vessel, Monkey in the 1830s and 40s.

Captain Pace was rarely at home though, skippering the Monkey and later other vessels on long voyages.

By 1836, Elizabeth, at the age of 46, with the help of her teenage children, was hosting ‘The Boarding House’, which later became known as the Crown and Thistle, and eventually, the Cleopatra Hotel.

Captain Pace first visited Fremantle on July 16 1830 commanding the Medina. In 1832 the English seafarer ‘settled’ in Western Australia with his wife Elizabeth, and over the following few years his children joined them at an inn they established in what is today High Street, Fremantle.

With a population of about 400, there were six public houses licensed in Fremantle in 1836 – Anthony Curtis had the Stag’s Head, James Lloyd hosted The Hope, W. Habgood operated the Commercial Inn, Mary Crisp kept the Albion, W. R. Steel was at the Royal Hotel, and Elizabeth Pace had ‘The Boarding House’.

The ‘Boarding House’ was a licensed inn and general store, run by Elizabeth until 1840, when she sold out to Alexander Francisco.

After selling out to Francisco, Elizabeth ran the Victoria Hotel, almost opposite the ‘Boarding House’, for a short period of time, before relocating to the colony of Victoria after her husband’s death to be with her daughter, Jane Henty.

Jane Henty became famous by earning the title as the first European woman to settle permanently in Victoria. Elizabeth and Captain Pace were introduced to 22-year-old Stephen Henty, who would marry 18-year-old Jane after more than likely meeting her at their Fremantle inn, which was a favourite haunt of sailors.

Newly married, Stephen and Jane Henty departed Fremantle and arrived in Portland Bay in December 1836.

Elizabeth Pace, the founder of what would later become the Crown and Thistle, and much more later, the Cleopatra Hotel, died at the home of her daughter in Victoria at the age of 84 in 1879.

When 23-year-old Alexander Francisco and his 24-year-old wife, Susan, took over the ‘Boarding House’ in 1840 they advertised “having succeeded to the Business of the Hotel lately occupied by Mrs. Pace”. Alexander also advertised that he had a “long experience in Hotel and Tavern business”.

It was Francisco who gave the inn the name, ‘The Crown and Thistle’ in 1841.

During that year, besides Francisco’s Crown and Thistle, there were licensed in Fremantle, Anthony Curtis’ Stag’s Head, John Duffield’s Albion, Robert Cook’s Globe and William Heard’s Waterman’s Arms.

The Franciscos hosted the Crown and Thistle until 1850, when John Wellard took the reins for a few years. The Franciscos moved next door during this time, where they operated a spirit and wine store, before buying the freehold of the pub, and returning as hosts of the Crown and Thistle in 1853.

That same year Alexander Francisco lost his wife, Susan, who died at the hotel, aged 36. Francisco went on to become Postmaster at Fremantle, besides a successful merchant, and an active director of the Western Australian Bank. He died on Christmas Day, 1879 at the age of 62.

The next prominent publican of the Crown and Thistle was Joshua Harwood, a retired whaler, who at the age of 42 purchased the pub’s lease from Alexander Francisco in 1868.

Harwood remained host through most of the 1870s before selling out to Malachi Reidy Meagher, who had previously hosted the Stirling Arms at Guildford, in 1877. While at the Crown and Thistle, Meagher made “extensive improvements”, including a “conspicuous” balcony facing High Street. “This is not only a great acquisition to the hotel, but is a marked improvement the town,” newspapers reported at the time.

“Both Mr and Mrs Meagher are too well known to need any reference to their abilities; the extensive business they command is sufficient to prove that their endeavours to establish themselves are appreciated.”

The Cleopatra Hotel, Fremantle, Western Australia, early last century. The balcony to the left faced High Street, while the balcony to the right faced Henry Street with extensive gardens and large fig trees. Picture: Supplied.

Meagher likely over capitalised in the business, and was declared bankrupt in 1879. Another Irishman, Patrick Maloney then took over the pub.

Patrick Maloney had hosted the John Bull and Shamrock Hotels, in Perth, and the Emerald Isle, Fremantle prior to hosting the Crown and Thistle.

Maloney had a short stay, and it was reported in 1881 that “in spite of his selling liquor reduced in strength by the addition of water or otherwise, he too failed” to make a success of the Crown and Thistle.

The Francisco family sold the property to Pearse and Owston in 1880. It took another sea-captain though to make a success of the old Crown and Thistle.

Captain Edward Fothergill leased the hotel from Pearse and Owston in May 1881, and remained as publican for almost 15 years.

Fothergill was a native of Seaford, Sussex, England. He came to Western Australia in about 1873 in a brig named the Wild Wave, a Danish built vessel of about 2000 tons.

In one of his trips to the North West Coast of Western Australia, Captain Fothergill had the misfortune to run his vessel onto one of the Monte Bello Islands, off the coast of the Pilbara. Cast away on the island with his vessel a total wreck, Captain Fothergill and his crew were rescued days later by the cutter Water Lily.

The next maritime venture undertaken by Captain Fothergill was in the three-masted iron schooner, The Cleopatra, “one of the smartest sailers that had ever traded on the Australian coast”. The vessel, which was originally a mail-boat running between Glasgow and London in the days when steamers were few, was, while under Captain Fothergill’s command, the pioneer link in the trade between Eastern and Western Australia.

In the Cleopatra the first ores taken from the Northampton lead mines were taken to Melbourne for treatment, linking Fothergill with the birth of mining in Western Australia.

After trading in the Cleopatra to Fremantle and Champion Bay for six or seven years, Captain Fothergill took on the Crown and Thistle Hotel in High street, Fremantle. As a sailor he undoubtedly had sampled its hospitality.

The hotel had been closed for almost a year when Fothergill applied to have the old inn re-licensed and re-opened in June 1881. Although there was some opposition, he was successful in gaining a license, and renamed the Crown and Thistle after his vessel, The Cleopatra.

Fothergill had the pub “rejuvenated, decorated, and generally beautified”, ready for an expected boom in tourism with the opening of the railway from Perth to Fremantle in March 1881.

Fothergill “captained” the Cleopatra Hotel until his death in February 1896 at the age of 62. The Inquirer and Commercial News reported on June 26 1896 that the Cleopatra had again changed hands and was again about to be remodelled.

“One of the best-known landmarks of Fremantle is about to undergo extensive improvements and additions. We refer to the Cleopatra Hotel, in High-street, which for so many years was associated with the name of the late Captain E. H. Fothergill.

The lease of the ‘Cleo’, as it is familiarly called, has been secured by Messrs Varley and Nicholl who by the terms of their agreement with the owner have to alter the building so as to make it almost a new structure.

In the first place, the familiar patch of ground, bearing its Moreton Bay fig trees, which has for so long been a distinctive feature of the front of the hotel, will speedily be covered with bricks and mortar, instead of foliage.

Already men are doing the preliminary work incidental to the erection of a block of shops and bars on the ground floor, and some fifteen bedrooms on the upper floor, so that the frontage of the hotel will border the street line from end to end, instead of part of it being recessed, as now.

Between the new and the old parts a fine entrance hall or lobby will be constructed, the roof of which is to be of glass, so that the lobby can be utilised as a pleasant lounging place.

The front balcony will be extended along to the corner of Henry street, and will afford a magnificent covered promenade of about 140ft in length. So much for the front elevation.

Activity is characterising the conversion of the old portions of the hotel into something which the new lessees think the Port will require before long, if it does not already do so.

The street bar is being enlarged to 24ft by 14ft, as both the lobbies which existed on the east and west sides are being thrown into the bar.

Behind the front bar there existed a large room divided into the boxes so familiar in connection with the old style of coffee-houses. This room is being converted into a splendid saloon bar, the entrance to which will be from the glass-roofed lobby before referred to.

At the rear of the saloon bar again two large rooms are being thrown into one, so as to make a spacious billiard-hall. It is the intention of the licensees to remove the billiard-table to the new room as soon as possible, and convert the existing billiard-room into a dining-room, which for spaciousness and light will be hard to beat.

The present dining-room upstairs is to undergo transformation into a finely appointed saloon lounge and commercial room.

Right away from the hotel premises altogether is a fine sample-room bordering Henry street, and this has been planned off into ten spacious bedrooms, which will be models of comfort and quietness…

As far as the new Cleopatra is concerned, there will be no fault to find with the culinary department. The kitchen is at present situated in the basement, but the room is to be converted to other uses, and a new one built on a portion of the yard at the rear of the hotel. The new kitchen and the new dining room will be connected by a lift or shoot, so that the dishes can be easily said quickly conveyed from one to the other.

On the street frontage the commercial-room is to undergo a process of regeneration, and assume the aspect of a fine bar parlor with a private room at the back, which will be available for the use of customers who may wish to transact business in…

The alteration of the hotel will give it forty bedrooms, and will spread the building over a very large area of ground.

We had almost forgotten to say that the Cleopatra will be fitted wherever practicable with electricity, one of the new proprietors, Mr Nicholl, being an expert mechanician and electrician.

In speaking of the proprietors, it may be mentioned that Mr Varley is an old soldier, who arrived in the fifties in New South Wales, in which colony he carried on the occupations of storekeeping and hotel keeping in various places.

Mr Frederick Nicholl is the business manager. He is what may be termed an ‘all round man,’ having been moving about the world a bit in following his occupation of watch maker; jeweller, electrician…

Under such energetic management the Cleopatra Hotel must continue to progress — if progress there be in Fremantle — a fact not doubted by Messrs Varley and Nicholl, who have put their names to a lease of the place.

Henry Sampson was a station manager in the Gascoyne region of Western Australian, and with his wife, Gertrude, was holidaying at the Cleopatra Hotel when tragedy struck in May 1897.

Henry, who just 36, mysteriously drowned after telling his wife he was going to the beach for a swim. Police found his naked body floating in an upright position, with his arms outstretched in a swimming action. It was supposed his body seized in cramp while swimming and he drowned.

Another strange twist to the story was that his clothing was never found, except his vest, with his watch inside a pocket near the public baths on the beach.

An inquest later found he drowned accidentally while swimming.

Harry Higgins sold the Cleopatra Hotel for £7,500 in December 1897 to Archibald McKinnon.

McKinnon was the first President of the Fremantle Licensed Victuallers Association, and largely assisted in advancing the interests of that body. For a period of 15 years he filled the position of Chief Steward in the service of the Adelaide Steamship Company, and became exceedingly popular with the travelling public.

The Cleopatra Hotel, Fremantle. Inset: Host Archibald McKinnon. Picture: Weekly Times 1898

The Weekly Times reported on September 10, 1898:

The Cleopatra Hotel is one of the best known and most centrally situated houses in Fremantle. Although it is situated in a business thoroughfare, and is, therefore, especially convenient for business people, the private portion of the house is quite secluded, the main portion of the building devoted to family use and lodgers being separated from the street by a fine courtyard, ornamented by grass and shrubs. The hotel is a large and commodious one, capitally furnished, and eminently adapted to a family trade. Its proprietor is Mr Archibald McKinnon, who was previously for thirteen years in the employ of the Adelaide Steamship Company, and who held the post of chief steward on nearly all the vessels of their fleet. He is, consequently, very widely known, and is personally highly esteemed by all who have travelled in his steamers, while in Fremantle he is exceedingly popular and much esteemed, both as a business man and a supporter of sports of all kinds. The long practical experience enjoyed by him while in the service of the Adelaide Steamship Company is of material use to him in his present business, and those who patronise the hotel find the benefit of it in a most excellent service and liberal and good catering. Every detail of management is attended to with scrupulous care, and a very large business is managed most unostentatiously and extremely well. The dwelling rooms are large, well ventilated, and extremely comfortable — facts which are proved by the large number of boarders, both permanent and passing, who are always to be found in the house. Private accommodation exists for families, and special drawing and sitting rooms for ladies. The public portion of the house is most excellently arranged and managed. There is a very fine public dining room, a comfortable sitting and smoking rooms, while the verandahs around the court-yard on the ground floor afford very pleasant lounges. A verandah also runs around the upper story, from which a fine view of Fremantle is to be obtained. A large billiard room, very well patronised, is also maintained, while the bars, which are at all times thoroughly stocked, are large and comfortable. The house is recognised as one of the chief commercial houses in the port. And every attention is paid to the needs of commercial travellers, good business and sample rooms being available. A wholesale bottle department is attached to the hotel, so that customers who desire privacy can be served without having recourse to the bars, and a large trade is carried on here. Cabs attend all the boats upon their arrival in the port, and both in coming and departing, travellers are relieved of trouble in transporting their luggage between the hotel and the wharves. The Cleopatra Hotel is a recognised house of call for business men, and is also the meeting place of the local foot-ball club, and of the Fremantle branch of the Australian Natives’ Association, besides other institutions. It is, in every way, a thoroughly comfortable and first-class hotel.

In December 1901 Archie McKinnon sold the business to W. Nicholls who had “been in similar businesses in New South Wales, and latterly also at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Perth. McKinnon later moved to Victoria where he hosted several hotels. He died in 1922 while host of the Prince of Wales Hotel in Frankston.

During the early 1900s one of Perth’s most successful hoteliers took control of the Cleopatra when George Auburn took its license in 1902. The Perth Sunday Times reported on July 13 1902:

The Cleopatra Hotel, High-street, Fremantle – a comfortable and cleanly residential hotel and deservedly popular and noted for the excellence of the liquor sold – has just changed hands. The new proprietor, Mr. George Auburn, is an old Fremantle identity, but more recently has been in an hotel business in Perth. Mr. Auburn intends doing all in his power to maintain the good reputation the ‘Cleo’ possesses, and will leave nothing undone that will tend towards facilitating the convenience and comfort of patrons of the hotel. It may be mentioned that the Cleopatra is one of the houses selected by the W.A. commercial travellers as an association house.

Englishman, George Auburn operated a livery stable and cab business prior to marrying Elizabeth Owen in 1894.

George and his wife Elizabeth, both in their mid 20s, registered the business name ‘Auburn Bros, and Owen’ taking their first Perth pub, the Cosmopolitan in 1899, and later, in 1901, the Victoria. The Victoria Hotel at the corner of James and Melbourne Streets, West Perth, traded until 1982 when it had a name change. Today it operates as Johnny Fox’s pub.

The Victoria Tavern, West Perth, 1982. Picture: Perth Museum
The former Victoria Hotel, now trading as Johnny Fox’s pub, West Perth. Picture: Google Streetview
The Cleopatra Hotel, Fremantle and inset publican, George Auburn. Picture: Supplied

By 1905 the beer garden had been replaced with an extended hotel. The Fremantle Evening Mail reported on October 5 1905 that George had become “one of the best known licensees of the port”:

Until a few months ago he conducted three hotels here, trading under the name of Auburn Bros, and Owen. The firm has now only two—the Cleopatra and the Oddfellows. The subject of this photo has personally conducted the Cleopatra Hotel for over three years, and there has made hosts of friends. He is of genial nature, and takes great in- interest in sport, especially football and motoring.

George Auburn’s Cleopatra Hotel showing the extensions onto the gardens. Picture: Supplied.

Auburn went on to host several Perth hotels after the Cleopatra, including The Club and his last, the Osborne Park, where he was licensee at the time of his death, aged of 58, in 1925.

Before his death though, the publican’s son, 21-year-old George William Auburn, who was living at the Osborne Park Hotel with his parents, was charged with the murder of taxi-driver, John O’Neil of Subiaco in 1924.

O’Neil’s body was found in the Swan River at Crawley. His head had been brutally battered. The murder created a tremendous sensation at the time.

After a criminal trial, Auburn was sentenced to death. The sentence was subsequently commuted to imprisonment for the term of his natural life. However, after 20 years, at the age of 41, he was released from prison in 1944.

Osborn Park Hotel, Perth, 1925. Inset: George Auburn Snr (left) with his son, George Auburn Jnr. who was convicted of murder. Pictures: Supplied.

Meanwhile the Swan Brewery took control of Fremantle’s Cleopatra Hotel in 1906 when a feature of the building was a painted sign of the schooner Cleopatra in full sail. This painting remained until the pub’s demolition in 1906.

J.H. Eales was engaged to design a new hotel for the site in 1906, and the work was completed by builder, C.H. Carter in August 1907.

The ‘new’ Cleopatra Hotel, Fremantle, 1940s. Picture: Supplied

The ‘Cleo’ continued to be the haunt of sailors on shore leave for many decades and often was advertised as “the house of the port”. Stories of sailors and seamen fronting Fremantle Court House on charges of fighting, drunkenness and assault as a consequence of having ‘too many’ in the bar of the ‘Çleo’ were frequent in the newspapers of the time.

In 1940, for fighting in High Street outside the Cleopatra, 30-year-old Patrick Coonan and 21-year-old seaman, Ronald Chapman, of the steamer Koomilya, were each fined £2.

‘Cleo’ barman, Tom Kenny, had a three-inch blade pulled on him by a Greek sailor in January 1948. Nicholas Simeonides, of the S.S. Indian City, lunged at the barman, shouting: “I’ll cut your guts out”, before he was restrained. The 61-year-old sailor was fined £5 in the Fremantle Police Court as a result.

A Finnish seaman who arrived at the Fremantle Police Court too late for the sitting had his bail of £5 forfeited in June 1951. Oarre Blandquist, 38, of the vessel Maur, was charged with having refused to leave the bar of the Cleopatra Hotel when requested by the police.

In 1985 more than $50,000 was spent on renovations at the time of the America’s Cup defence, and the hotel was renamed the Auld Mug Tavern. A fire gutted the second storey in 1988, and from 1993 to 1997 the hotel was known as the ‘West End’. In 1997 the name was changed to Coakley’s Hotel.

The Edmund Rice Centre (affiliated with Notre Dame University) bought the building in November 2001 and it has now been remodelled to allow student accommodation.

Cleopatra Hotel Fremantle facade google copy

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2019

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Categories: Western Australia hotels

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5 replies

  1. I was interested in the Cleos history. There is no mention of the the heady days of the 1970’s. I believe the pub was owned by Len Buckridge and Fred Pawle was manager. the pub I think was the first pub in Perth to be granted a 12 day oclock closing. I worked there in the late 60’s early 70’s. A queue down to market strret to get. Oh the memories.

    • My brother and I used the Cleo in the mid to late 60s. Quite a time to be had there. I remember in particular “big Bob” and his stable of girls. The landlady at the time, Mrs Ford ran off with a customer and the weekly takings, I saw her a few weeks later working behind the bar of a pub in Kalgoorlie.

      • John Savage the customer you refer to happened to be my father Cliff Goddard. He left my mother with 4 children to raise in the 60’s “what a man” not a fathers bootlace that’s for sure. Nina Fords husband “Benny” later committed suicide due to Nina’s constant demands for money and more money after running off to Kalgoorlie. Benny had had enough and swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills… I remember Benny as being a very kind man…. [EDITED]

  2. Nice detail. I am a descendant of Alexander Francisco, who was my great, great, great grandfather. I don’t suppose you know the name of the wine and spirits shop that he and his wife opened next door ?

  3. HI my great grandfather was Alexander John Purcell, He used to manage the Commercial Hotel back in 1905, and I think the Cleopatra at some point? then on to the Oddfellows until he died 1911. He originally came over from Melbourne, and married in Kalgoolie before moving to Perth, they had 4 children, youngest my grandfather. I thought with the amount of work in the area he did back then, he would be mentioned more, Ide love to find a photo of him.

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