By MICK ROBERTS ©
A TRAGIC accident ended the life of Annie Teresa Cain, one of Brisbane’s most charismatic and generous publicans.
Two days before Christmas, Annie jumped-off a tram at Bronte, in Sydney’s east, and was struck by another tram. She was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where she died at the age of 52 on Christmas Eve 1943.
The one-time glamorous businesswoman, who had owned two Brisbane hotels and was left a fortune of £60,000 after the death of her husband in 1921, had hosted national and international celebrities and politicians, living the social high-life, before she sadly died penniless, and on a pension.
The Truth newspaper reported her few remaining friends in Brisbane were reading the cards which brought them her Christmas greetings when the accident ended her life.
“Sometimes when one casts one’s bread on the waters, there is no return tide — at any rate, in this life,” reported the newspaper.
Annie, it seems, was not much of a business woman. Much of the £60,000 estate she inherited from her husband, she spent doing good deeds, and in business investments in which she allowed her heart to rule her head.
Born in Queensland in 1892, Annie Teresa MacDermott was 19 when she married 34-year-old Brisbane publican, John Cain in 1911.
Cain, host of the Paddington Hotel, was well-known around the racing tracks of Brisbane and owned racehorses.
The pair went on to host a number of Brisbane hotels together, including the York and Royal in Queen Street, before John’s premature death after a long illness at the age of 44 in 1921.
Annie, now 29, was said to have been a “handsome woman” and wasn’t prepared to sit back and rely on her husband’s legacy to sustain an income.
After her husband’s death, she gained the license of the Royal Hotel, which she hosted until the opportunity came along to purchase the freeholds of two Brisbane hotels – Lennon’s and Daniells.
Lennon’s was on George street and the Daniell, next door, was on the corner of George and Adelaide streets.
Lennon’s Hotel was opened by hotelier John Lennon in 1884 and was designed by architect Francis D. G. Stanley. By the time Annie considered taking its reins, it had become one of the city’s most fashionable hotels.
Annie intended making Lennon’s Hotel “Australia’s winter resort de luxe”. She went to work utilising her husband’s inheritance to travel and stay in the best hotels in Sydney, Melbourne and even visited the United States, in a quest to make Lennon’s Australia’s most exclusive hotel.
In 1923, at the age of 32, Annie began a major refurbishment of the old hotel. A new façade, featuring polished trachyte, was added to the historic hotel. A new ballroom, with a spring-floor, opening onto a palm court – similar to that of Sydney’s exclusive Wentworth Hotel – was also added. She spared no expense.
Annie needed a capable manager for her new hotel and engaged John Anthony O’Hagan, a steward she met on a coastal steamer on one of her many excursions. O’Hagan was made licensee of Lennon’s in 1925 on an agreement that provided for him acquiring a share in the hotel. The deal soon soured.
The deal in fact became became so sour that both parties had to place their cases in the hands of legal representatives. Finally, Annie initiated proceedings asking freedom from her agreement to sell O’Hagan a 10 years’ lease of Lennon’s Hotel.
As a result, in 1928 Annie regained the license of her beloved Lennon’s Hotel, while O’Hagan was offered the freehold of her adjoining Daniell Hotel.
This seems to be the beginning of the downfall of Annie and her business enterprises. She lost the freehold of the Daniell Hotel, and was soon fighting-off creditors. Now in her early 40s, Annie had two mortgages on the hotel, and other creditors were knocking on her door. She was declared bankrupt in 1933, and lost everything, including her beloved Lennon’s Hotel.
Now penniless, rumours circulated about the much-loved publican and her whereabouts. She had mysteriously disappeared from Brisbane’s social circles. The Brisbane Truth reported on November 17 1935:
ANNIE Cain, about whom, more stories have been circulated than Greta Garbo – in that she has been said to be in Brisbane, Sandgate, keeping a salon in Sydney, managing an hotel in Melbourne, housekeeping at a mountain hotel, living in Canada and New York, and what not – is really leaving for America by the New Orleans in a week or two. Several old friends are giving the charming ex-proprietress of Lennon’s a send-off dinner.
Annie left Brisbane for the United States later that year, where her daughter – her only child – and her husband now called home. She remained there for three years with her daughter, Masie Powers and her son-in-law, Edward Ferdinand Powers, before returning to Queensland in 1938.
Annie made her home in Currumbin, before moving to Sydney where she met her tragic death on Christmas Eve 1943. The Brisbane Truth reported on Sunday, January 2, 1944:
Lennon’s Ex-Hostess Passes: Had £60, 000 – Died ‘Broke’
DEATH came suddenly, tragically, to the former glamorous hostess of glamorous Lennon’s, Mrs. Annie Teresa Cain; came on Christmas Eve, in Sydney, even as her few remaining friends in Brisbane were reading the cards which brought them her Christmas greetings.
Once possessor of a fortune of £60,000, this poor old lady died penniless, and lived to learn, without, any bitterness, that sometimes when one casts one’s bread on the waters, there is no return tide — at any rate, in this life!
For Mrs Cain had perforce, in the latter years of her life, to draw her country’s old-age pension as her sole income.
Much of the £60,000 estate she inherited from her husband, she dissipated in the doing of good deeds, and in business investments in which she allowed her heart to rule her head.
On the day before Christmas Eve, Mrs. Cain, who had latterly lived in Pacific-road, Bronte, Sydney, alighted from a tram in Macpherson-street, Bronte, and was struck by another tram. She was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where she died, on Christmas Eve.
Mrs. Cain went into Lennon’s after her husband, John Cain, died in 1921. Mr. Cain had been a hotel-keeper, conducting the Royal Hotel in his own name, and being, interested, in partnerships, principally with Mr. Terry Ahern, in other properties and businesses. He was like Mr. Ahern, his friend and associate, a well-known racing figure.
When his will was filed for probate, the estate was sworn at £61,214 – realty £22,081, personalty £39133. The widow was appointed sole executrix and, with the exception of three legacies of £500 each to deceased’s three sisters, was sole beneficiary.
Mrs. Cain made an enormous success of Lennon’s — from the social view point. The hotel was the Mecca of both city and country Society, during her regime, and was famous not only through Australia, but throughout the world, particularly in the European countries whence came the wool buyers, year after year, to make it their social headquarters in the days when parties were parties, and lasted from one day’s sales to another, with sometimes not even an hour’s break for a sleep. It was not cafe society, but the bon ton whom Mrs. Cain, genial, charming, dignified, picturesque, attracted. Lennon’s for flowers… Lennon’s for oysters… Lennon’s for cocktails… Lennon’s for parties, for tête-à-têtes…
Had Mrs. Cain been content with hostessing, her undoubted metier, she might have preserved her fortune, or most of it. But every lame duck that had a stile to climb, every crank who had a boat to float, every amateur who had an experiment to be financed, found her a too-ready listener, so long as they had the Open Sesame — her friendship, or the friendship of her friends. This overwheening and indiscretionary charity, combined with some ill advised business ventures, heavy taxation, and a further factor or two, finally saw her ‘broke’. It was an amazing performance, to get through £60,000 in so short a time, thought those who did not know in what manner the fortune had been dissipated.
Anyway, gone it was, in the end, and the unfortunate woman, who had certainty cast her bread on the waters, who had never turned a deaf ear to any cause or wanted to know if it was deserving, found few whom she had helped ready to help her.
Finally, she lived for a long time, on her pension, at Currumbin, in a loneliness that was a remarkable contrast to the gaiety, and crowds and festival and joyousness she had known at Lennon’s. Then she went to Sydney, led by the Fates, to die on the eve of the season which, in the past, she had graced with many a lovely party, many a lovely charity.
“Her fortitude and lack of bitterness in the years of her adversity were an inspiration to others,” a woman friend told ‘Truth’ last week. “I never heard her say a bitter or unkind word of any one whom another might have blamed. She was a wonderful, good, kind woman.”
Annie was buried without fuss, in a private interment; a sad end to such a remarkable woman.
Meanwhile Lennon’s Hotel was demolished in 1939 and adjoining buildings were acquired to build a new hotel designed by architect Emil Sodersten.
The new Lennon’s Hotel opened in July 1941 but a year later the hotel was requisitioned for use by the United States Army.
General Douglas Macarthur, his family, and many of his 300 staff moved into the hotel until the end of World War II. An extension of Lennon’s Hotel, designed by Karl Langer was completed in 1957.
Brisbane City Council then bought the building to knock down while a new Lennons went up in Queen St in 1972, then one of the tallest buildings in the city.
In 1995, the pub became the Lennons Country Comfort Hotel and then Chifley at Lennons in 2003.
Lennons was renamed ‘NEXT Hotel’ after a $37 million makeover in 2013. A restaurant and bar was named Lennons to continue the tradition of the 1884 hotel. It is located at 72 Queen Street, Brisbane.
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2021
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