By MICK ROBERTS ©
IN its final days, the Brighton Hotel, in the NSW Central Tablelands’ town of Oberon, wasn’t the place for the faint-hearted.
Remembered as a ‘blood house’, due to the frequent fights in its bar, many unsuccessful attempts were made by authorities to have the old stone and fibro hotel demolished.
The landmark pub, sitting at the south-west corner of Fleming and Oberon Streets, traded up until 1936 when its owner had the business rebuilt and re-licensed further down the road as the Tourist Hotel.
The Brighton was arguably Oberon’s best-known building.
After its closure as a pub in 1936 it became firstly additional accommodation for the newly built Tourist Hotel, and later a boarding house, home to many of the town’s identities, until a fire in 1956 did what many authorities were unable to do – destroy it. I’m getting ahead of myself.
A hotel had traded on the site of the Brighton since 1871 after John Hogan built the Welcome Inn. However, Hogan was not the first licensee.
Patrick McGann was 36 years of age when he received the license of the Welcome Inn during January 1871, and with his wife, Ann, and six children, they hosted the pub for a couple of years.
The McGanns remained at the Welcome Inn until 1874 before going on to host the Cricketers’ Arms Hotel and the Bushmen’s Inn, respectively at Bathurst.
Patrick McGann died on March 4 1912 aged 77 at Lithgow, while his wife, Alice predeceased him on October 1 1899 aged 61 years. The Lithgow Mercury reported on March 4 1912:
Mr. Patrick McGann, sen., who had resided at Oakey Park with his son for the past 10 years, died at Lithgow this morning. He enjoyed good health up to six days ago, when he was the victim of a paralytic stroke. A resident of Lithgow and Bathurst districts for practically all his life, the deceased was a widower for many years, and has left a family of six children, all grown up; The interment is to take place tomorrow, at Bathurst.
John and Ann Hogan took over the running of their pub after McGann’s departure.
John was 57 years of age in 1874 when he took-over the license of the Welcome Inn. While the inn was opened to cater for local travellers and farmers, it was also increasingly becoming a popular stop-over for tourists visiting the nearby Jenolan Caves.
Originally known as Fish River Caves, the growing tourist attraction was just 30kms from Oberon.
John was said to be in “delicate health” for a number of years” before his death at the age of 64 in 1881, so it seems the pub would have been run by his wife, Ann.
In an unusual practice, the old publican was buried in the backyard of the pub, as was Ann, his widow, 20 years after her husband’s death. Their graves remain on the site, near Ramsgate Lane.
It’s no surprise then that Ann would take over as licensee of the Welcome Inn after her husband’s death in 1881.
Ann reportedly had the pub completely rebuilt during April 1882, with the Bathurst Licensing Court granting confirmation of her conditional license in November of the same year.
Ann retired from business in November 1887, with the license of the Welcome Inn transferred to 43-year-old William Plummer.
Plummer was born in Cornwall, England, and came to Sydney with his parents as a 12-year-old boy in February, 1857.
His father, James Plummer went to the NSW goldfields of Tambaroora where he achieved success, following up the rushes and mining till his 72nd year, when he died at Hill End.
A young William Plummer helped his father in his mining endeavours at Tambaroora, going later with him to Wattle Flat and The Turon. At Dirty Swamp, in the Bathurst district, William invested in a crushing plan, but unfortunately the field was a failure and he returned to Wattle Flat, before proceeding to Hill End. It was there that he had the unique experience of driving a dray, which, on one occasion, held a cake of gold weighing 500 ounces.
When William was 28 years of age he married Priscilla Edith Everingham, and went into business as a dealer and auctioneer. He later went to Wiseman’s Creek, near Oberon, where he became a publican, and shortly after was given the opportunity to host the Welcome Inn.
William Plummer immediately changed the name of the Welcome Inn to the Club House Hotel. He remained host of the Club House Hotel at Oberon for less than five years, when fire totally destroyed the single storey pub in 1893. The Bathurst Free Press reported on Monday February 27 1893:
Fire at Oberon.
PLUMMER’S CLUB HOUSE HOTEL DESTROYED.
NARROW ESCAPE OF OTHER PROPERTY.
[From our correspondent]
Plummer’s Club House Hotel, the property of Mrs. Ann Hogan, was burnt to the ground last night. Nearly all the furniture and contents were also destroyed, and the children got out with difficulty. The house was insured for £375, and the furniture and contents for £700. A stiff easterly wind was blowing at the time and Mrs. Hogan’s other property adjoining was saved with difficulty.
Plummer, who had a missing eye from a mining accident, applied for a temporary license for a four-roomed weatherboard cottage adjoining where the Club House Hotel once traded, in March 1893. He traded from the cottage for less than a month before selling his stock and closing the pub on April 1 1893.
Ann Hogan, now 66, applied on April 10 1893 for a transfer of Plummer’s license, claiming to have come into legal possession of it after he had abandoned the hotel. The license was granted, however, it would be another five years before the hotel was rebuilt.
Plummer, meanwhile, found himself almost penniless. A friend helped him out, and for the next 11 months he was put in charge of the Wyndham Hotel, a timber inn west of Pambula on the NSW South Coast.
Later he became proprietor of the Australian Arms Hotel, McGrath’s Hill, near Windsor. In 1899 he took over Tattersall’s Hotel at Penrith. He retired to Bondi in 1913, where he died on September 14 1923 at the age of 79. He left a widow and three sons and three daughters.
Meanwhile an application to the licensing courts in 1898 for a two storey hotel to replace the Club House Hotel was successful, however, probably due to the economical depression of the time, the project never proceeded.
At this time there was only one other pub in Oberon – The Royal Hotel. However, its monopoly on trade was about to end.
In 1900, hoteliers, Tonia and Jane Kisbee leased the site from the Hogans, building and licensing a single storey brick hotel, with verandah facing Oberon Street. Ann Hogan would live just long enough to see the replacement hotel built on the site of the Welcome Inn. She died on March 7 1901 at the age of 84.
The old landlady was given special permission to be buried beside her husband in the backyard of the newly completed Brighton Hotel. The Lithgow Mercury reported the death of Ann Hogan on Friday, March 29, 1901:
DEATH OF MRS. HOGAN, SEN.
FROM A CORRESPONDENT
By the death of Mrs. Hogan, sen. the district, has lost one of its pioneers, and a veritable land-mark in the history of Oberon has been removed by the relentless hand of the grim destroyer.
Mrs. Hogan left Ireland at the age of seven years, and resided until her decease, at the ripe age of 84 years, around Oberon. For many years she and her family lived at Duckmaloi and Buckimall, on the Duckmaloi River, where her eldest son Mr. John Hogan, now resides.
During those days the Hogan hospitality was far-famed. A church was built at Duckmaloi by the late Mr. Hogan, and in those days the whole congregation would sit to a meal after the service. A bullock would be always killed, on such occasions, and almost eaten, too.
For many years wealth and prosperity were the share of the deceased, but of late years the tide of fortune turned against her. She kept a hotel for many years in Oberon; it was afterwards burned down, and only lately has been rebuilt.
Mrs. Hogan’s skill in surgery was remarkable, and when Oberon was termed “Bullock Flat” many a sufferer has experienced relief at the hands of this clever old lady, who could skilfully set a broken bone. She has assisted many of the present population of Oberon into this world, and tended carefully others out of it. She was the mother of eleven daughters and five sons, all of whom survive her. She was a grand horsewoman, and until a few years ago thought nothing of a ride to Bathurst and home (60 miles) in a day.
For some years she has lived privately at Oberon with several of her grandchildren. Nearly four years ago she was stricken with paralysis, and since then has been bed-ridden, lovingly tended by her only unmarried daughter and a daughter-in-law. Her grandchildren are numerous, and she leaves a number of great grandchildren.
Mrs. Hogan was a woman of sterling worth — verily one of the old sort, fast dying out, alas! She suffered little pain for a long time, and calmly passed away on Thursday morning, surrounded by many members of her family, to whom she was a devoted mother. Her husband, who had predeceased her by many years, was interred in a portion of his land near her late residence, and where she also wished to lie. Her wish was respected, and a few hundred yards from where she lived so long she sleeps the “long, last sleep,” deeply regretted and mourned by all who know her. Her descendants are legion in the district.
The Brighton’s new publican, Tonia Kisbee was born in Yorkshire, England in 1849, and was 52 years of age when he was granted a license on December 10 1900. He came to Australia in the early 1880s, and settled in Brisbane, but soon after he accepted the position of head porter at the Wagga Wagga Railway Station. Later he was transferred to Cootamundra, where he left the railway department and took the license of the Commercial Hotel.
From the Commercial he bought the Carrington Hotel at Harden, where he lost the place – a fine, two-storied building – and valuable furniture by fire.
From Harden he became licensee of the Monaro hotel at Woolloomooloo. Kisbee, who suffered with rheumatic gout, found the sea-air did not agree with his complaint and relocated to the Blue Mountains where he hosted the Hotel Wentworth at Wentworth Falls before building and opening the Brighton Hotel at Oberon in December 1900.
Kisbee was only at Oberon less than two years when he died, aged 53, from rheumatic gout in July 1902. His wife, Jane continued hosting the hotel before retiring in 1909. She died in 1932 aged 85.
Well-known local hotelier, John Michael Kelly took over the license of the Brighton from Jane Kisbee in August 1909. Known by all as Jack, he had previously hosted the Empire Hotel at Bathurst. Kelly was 37-years of age when he took the license of the Brighton, where he remained as host until 1921. He died at Glebe in 1924 aged 52.
Approval was given to add a second storey to the Brighton Hotel in 1923. Despite concern expressed by the Bathurst Licensing Bench in March 1923 that the second storey was to be constructed of “fibro-cement” and that the bedrooms were too small, the application was eventually granted. The Brighton, originally a brick and stone single storey building, simply had a ‘fribro’ storey added to its top – a decision that would come back to haunt future owners.
The new two-storey Brighton was completed in September 1923, and within seven years the licensing court’s again raised concerns over the jerry-built extensions.
By July 1930, the National Advocate was reporting that the Bathurst Licensing Court was objecting to the renewal of John Edward Hotham’s license of the Brighton Hotel on the ground that certain improvements were necessary.
Hotham told the court that he had been advised not to repair the hotel because a contract had been entered to purchase a new site for its rebuilding. There began a protracted battle to have the pub rebuilt – a battle that would last almost a decade.
The local Licensing Police would eventually recommend that the hotel be closed and demolished. Some unusual evidence was given at Bathurst Licensing Court later in 1930.
Sergeant Buchan told the court that he found the hotel in “a filthy state”. Dogs were sleeping in some of the beds, while there was a cemetery in the backyard, containing two graves. No one at the court hearing seemed to know who the graves belonged to, although they were the last resting place of the pub’s founders, John and Ann Hogan.
The upper story of the Brighton Hotel, Sgt Buchan explained was extremely “flimsy, and if one trod on the dining-room floor the whole of the upper part of the building rocked”.
The Brighton’s roof leaked, and the drainage from the laundry and bathroom was defective. The hotel had no proper receptacle for garbage, which meant rubbish was strewn about the yard, and there was just one bathroom on the entire premises.
The sergeant’s damning report had not finished there, and he went on to explain how the glass in the doors on the outside of the hotel were broken and cracked in places, and the window frames had rotted with age.
The evidence given by the police officer was made even more remarkable in that the two storey hotel had been rebuilt from a single storey inn less than seven years earlier. The hotel was under 10 years old! And now the authorities were calling for the building’s complete demolition and replacement.
Despite several attempts by the licensing authorities to have the Brighton demolished, the building survived until wealthy hotelier and former Labor politician, Greg McGirr bought its freehold in 1935.
McGirr started his public life at Parkes and was one of the pioneer members of the Labor movement. He first entered Parliament as the Member for Yass and later on when the electorates were altered to allow three members to be elected, he was one of those returned for Cootamundra. He was Deputy Premier and held the portfolios of Health and Motherhood and of Labor. He retired from politics in 1925, and began acquiring many country hotels. At his death in 1949 he owned 37 hotels throughout country NSW, as well as large grazing interests. The National Advocate reported on January 8 1935:
OBERON’S NEW HOTEL
Former well known Labor politician, John Gregory McGirr, who owns a chain of hotels throughout the country towns of the State, has acquired still another hostelry, the Brighton Hotel at Oberon, which when rebuilt will be known as the Tourist Hotel. Yesterday Mr. Mc Girr was in town and appeared as the applicant in the Bathurst Licensing Court to have material alterations made to the Brighton Hotel and to alter its name to the Tourist Hotel. Mr. McGirr submitted the plans, which he stated had been approved by the Licensing Board and he asked for nine months to complete the work. The Licensing Inspector, approved the plans but asked that in addition a gauze window and door should be provided for the kitchen and dining rooms and also air vents for all bedrooms. Mr. McGirr gave an assurance that such additions would be incorporated in the work. The Inspector mentioned that no hotel in the inspectorate have the suggested new name. Both requests made by Mr. McGirr were acceded to.
Work was nearing completion on the new Tourist Hotel at Oberon in September 1935. And in keeping with form, the Lithgow Mercury reported on May 28 1936 that owing to “unforeseen circumstances”, it was necessary to postpone the opening of the new hotel from June 1 to June 8. Finally, the Lithgow Mercury reported on Wednesday June 10, 1936 that the pub had opened:
OBERON’S TOURIST HOTEL
IS MODERN BUILDING THE OFFICIAL OPENING
(From Our Own Correspondent)
A large number of residents and visitors were present at the social evening held on Monday night to celebrate the opening of the new Tourist Hotel at Oberon. Among the visitors was Mr. “Gus” Kelly, M.L.A., who performed the opening ceremony. A very enjoyable evening was spent. Many references were mode to the splendid type of building erected, which is a decided asset to the town, whilst thanks were expressed to Mr. E. English, the proprietor, for his hospitality. Mr. English was extended good wishes for success in the enterprise. The new hotel is built on the southern side and western end of Oberon-street, on one of the best building sites in Oberon. Facing north, the full warmth of the winter sun is obtained, a decided advantage in this rigorous climate, whilst at the same time it is well sheltered from the westerly blasts. A feature of the building is the big cantilever awning, the first of its kind in the town. The front wall is tiled in a color scheme of red and white, which is most attractive, and runs the entire length of the building, a distance of some 60 feet. The bar is perhaps the most important portion of the building, and in this respect special attention has been paid to the comfort of patrons. The room is approximately 30 feet square, and contains an island bar, which will enable customers, to be served quickly and efficiently. It is fitted with all the latest mechanical devices. The commercial room is situated on the ground floor, and contains a big open fireplace, while the furniture and fittings will appeal to the most critical. Adjoining is the big dining room, conveniently situated and accessible from all parts of the building. The hotel is connected to the town electricity supply, and the fittings have been suitably chosen. Another big feature is that all bedrooms are connected with a hot and cold water supply, including wash basins. A sitting room is provided on the first floor for the convenience of guests, and here again a suitable fire place has been built. The bathrooms are of Roman type and provide for hot as well as cold showers. From the balcony an excellent view of the town and surrounding country is obtained and this portion of the building will get the full benefit of the winter sun. Garages and stables are provided for those who require housing for car or horse, and the concrete yard at the rear will consider-ably decrease the mud nuisance. The furnishings throughout the hotel are excellent, and every care has been, given to the comfort of patrons. A large number of windows throughout the hotel make the building well ventilated and naturally lighted. The proprietor (Mr. E. English) is very well known in Oberon, having controlled the old Brighton Hotel for a number of years, whilst he has always taken an active interest in public affairs.
Despite the attempts to have the Brighton demolished, the old pub was retained for accommodation purposes in connection with the new hotel. The Brighton’s sign was replaced with the Tourists’ and the old pub eventually became a boarding house.
Despite the sign being changed to the Tourist, prior to its closure as a hotel, the building continued to be known by all in the town as the Brighton. It housed many of Oberon’s identities over the following 20 years.
Flames finally claimed the Brighton about 1956, according to Kevin Hogan, a descendent of John and Ann Hogan. “I watched it burn again I think in 1956,” Kevin posted in Hoop – History of Oberon People Facebook Group in April 2020.
Another member of the Group, Matt McMahon wrote: “Dad said it was locally known as the blood house due to the number of fights in the bar. He also said that the pub was a hub for itinerant workers and farmers, [who] would head into town early and collect workers for the harvesting of peas, potato’s, timber, wool and other vegetables.”
While the Tourist Hotel continues trading, the only reminder of the Brighton is the graves of John and Ann Hogan. Their lonely headstone near the corner of Ramsgate Lane and Fleming Street is a silent link to another time. Sparks Electrical now trades from the site.
* With thanks to the members of the Facebook Group, Hoop – History of Oberon People
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2020
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Categories: NSW hotels