Kalgoorlie’s pub riots: WA Premier threatened at Wilkies in 1898 and two men killed during 1934 racial riots

Wilkies Hotel, Kalgoorlie, outside of which the riot occurred. Picture: Town & Country Journal, April 23, 1898.
The crowd outside Wilkies Hotel, Kalgoorlie. Picture: Town & Country Journal, April 23, 1898.

A NUMBER of disturbances between miners and the authorities in Kalgoorlie centred on the pubs – the diggers unofficial meeting places.

One of the first occurred in March 1898 when Western Australian Premier John Forrest visited the goldfields to officially open the railway to Menzies, about 130kms north of Kalgoorlie.

The WA government had introduced the ‘Ten Foot Regulation,’ which restricted miners in their search for alluvial gold to a depth of 10 feet (three metres). Alluvial miners were unhappy with the law and many defied the regulation.

Some miners were gaoled, Mining Minister Edward Wittenoom’s effigy was paraded through Kalgoorlie, and in March 1898 Premier Forrest was mobbed by 10,000 angry diggers in Kalgoorlie to open the Menzies railway.

A successful and wealthy publican, Tom Doyle was also arrested in connection with the riot.

Doyle was host of the Kanowna Hotel, about 20kms east of Kalgoorlie.

Tom Doyle. Picture: WA Sportsman, August 31, 1901.

After the discovery of gold in the area in 1893, the town of Kanowna was gazetted in 1894 and the population grew from 2,500 in 1897 to over 12,500 by 1899.

By the late 1890s the town boasted 20 pubs! However, the gold was rapidly exhausted resulting in a slow but steady decrease in the population. 

Doyle was the son of an Irish farmer, who arrived in Kalgoorlie three days after the discovery of gold. At the age of 28 he went to Kanowna after hearing that his mates had struck gold there, and soon after his arrival he too struck pay dirt.

It was reported that everything Doyle touched turned to gold and after opening the Kanowna Hotel, he later became mayor of the town.

Doyle, at the age of 30, was reportedly involved in the 1898 riot at Kalgoorlie and was later arrested by police.

The popular publican was charged with disorderly conduct with his appearance drawing a large crowd outside the court house and causing intense interest in Kalgoorlie. Doyle was discharged for lack of evidence.

Doyle sadly was not to live to a ripe old age and died aged just 37 in 1905. He was found dead in a stable with a bottle of cyanide near the body. His death was believed to be a case of suicide. Doyle’s marital affairs were unhappy.

A case for marriage separation had been filed by his wife, and was to have been heard the morning of his death.

Doyles Kanowna Hotel, Kanowna. Picture: Kalgoorlie Western Argus June 25 1896

By 1917, Kanowna was a ghost town and Doyle’s pub was no more. The Northam Advertiser reported on November 24, 1917:

Kanowna’s Early Days

Day by day, the relics of Kanowna’s first-time greatness are being obliterated, leaving vivid recollections in the minds of the pioneers and traditions which will yet provide an interesting chapter in the early history of these goldfields.

This week has witnessed the demolition of the Kanowna Hotel, where the late Tom Doyle attained the summit of his greatness, Lord of the Leads, Mayor of the City, and Chief of Bonifaces— lifted off his feet, to be borne along by the wave of prosperity only to be dashed on the rocks and left a derelict on the sands.

None of the early residents fail to remember innumerable incidents associated with the house and its famed proprietor, such as the night of his election to the mayoralty, when one hogshead after another was drained on the verandah, till the whole fraternity had been super-irrigated, and the overflow was running down the gutter; or the celebrated banquet to Sir John Forrest, at which the goldfields water scheme first came to light, and champagne flowed as freely as beer on the other occasion.

Another notorious riot occurred in the towns of Boulder and Kalgoorlie as a sequel to the death of an Australian born man after a quarrel with an Italian in January 1934.

The Kalgoorlie race riots erupted on January 28, 1934 and have been described as Australia’s worst ethnic conflict.

The accidental death of volunteer fire brigade captain, local sporting identity and miner George Edward Jordan after a bar-room brawl sparked the riots.

An inebriated Jordan had twice been booted from the Home from Home Hotel by Italian barman Claudio Mattaboni.

Home from Home Hotel, West Hannan Street, Kalgoorlie, was razed by rioters after George Jordan was killed by its Italian barman. Picture: Western Australian Museum.
George Jordan in his position as volunteer fire brigade captain. Picture: Perth Mirror, February 3, 1934.

When Jordan returned the next day to settle scores, Mattaboni pushed him out onto the street. Jordan fell, striking his head on the curb, and later died from a fractured skull.

Rumours that the Italian had murdered the popular miner caused widespread violence and was the catalyst bringing to the surface long held resentment toward non-‘Britishers’ on the goldfields. Resentment for the perceived jobs losses and working conditions saw property belonging to the Italian and Slav communities – hotels, homes and shops – razed and looted.

A mob looted and wrecked the houses and business premises of the ‘foreigners’. The Sydney Mail reported on February 7 1934 that three pubs, a wine saloon, a boarding-house, a brick club building, and 13 shops owned or occupied by Italians were wrecked, looted and burned.

Two men were killed and at least six wounded, while property was damaged to the extent of some £60,000. Police took three days to restore order.

As a consequence of the riot, police secured 83 convictions and 14 men received gaol sentences.

For more history of the pubs of the Western Australian goldfields visit: Last century almost 100 pubs serviced the thirsty gold mining district of Kalgoorlie

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