By Mick Roberts ©
ALTHOUGH Melbourne’s Apollo Inn clearly displayed 1844 on its parapet, there seems to be a discrepancy in the pub’s establishment year.
The Apollo Inn was rebuilt from a single-storey structure, containing four bedrooms and four sitting rooms, into an imposing two-storey hotel sometime between 1865 and 1899 (any help with an exact year would be appreciated).
My research leads me to conclude that the error in the establishment year may have occurred when the old inn was rebuilt into a two-storey hotel structure. The year 1844 on the building’s parapet has lead to the belief that the Apollo Inn was established during that 12 months. However, the real establishment year of ‘The Apollo’ was 1847.
Newspapers of the day reported a “new license” was granted to Joseph Newman on Tuesday, April 20, 1847 on the southwest corner of Russell Street and Flinders Lane for a hotel to be known as the Apollo Inn.
Newman, who had hosted other Melbourne pubs, remained as host for just under 12 months before transferring the license to 31-year-old painter and glazier, Charles Ollis.
Charles and his wife Charlotte were from Portsea, Hamphshire, England before making Melbourne their home. The couple, with their three young children, moved into the pub when Charles was granted the license on March 7, 1848.
The Ollis family had a shocking introduction to their new business when a patron trashed the bar room. The Melbourne Daily News reported on November 28, 1849:
Unfounded Accusation against the Police — Yesterday morning, a ruffianly looking fellow, who gave his name Peter McPhale, was brought before James Smith, Esq, J.P., at the police court, charged with having been guilty of an atrocious outrage at the Apollo inn, in Flinder’s-lane, on the preceding evening. Acting-chief constable Bloomfield, who lives within a few doors of the Apollo, stated that at about six o’clock on the proceeding evening, he received information that some party had entered the bar of the house alluded to, and had smashed every thing in it. He immediately proceeded towards the house, and an arriving within a few step of it, saw two tumblers thrown from the door, but as he merely saw the arm of the person who threw them, he was unable to identify him. On entering the house, Bloomfield found everything in disorder, the fixtures had been torn down, the beer-engine had been damaged and broken bottles, decanters and glasses shewed that the work of devastation had been carried on to no ordinary extent ; the desk and rail around it had literally been smashed to pieces. The prisoner, who appeared not to be drunk, though in a very excited state, when remonstrated with, put himself in a fighting attitude, but was at last prevailed upon to leave the premises, and when in the street, Bloomfield desired him to be off, but so far from obeying this order, McPhale threatened to punch his head and advanced towards him, Bloomfield retreating, because as he said he was armed with a loaded whip and was apprehensive that he might be induced to use it, in consequence of the lion being roused within him. Ashley, of the detective force, was sent for and seeing how matters stood, quickly took the prisoner into custody, who then commenced kicking violently and throwing himself on the ground, vowed he would not budge an inch. With great difficulty he was got as far as Elizabeth-street, where the gutter being several feet in width Bloomfield crossed first, leaving Ashley and the prisoner on the opposite side. McPhale no sooner observed that he had only one to contend with than he commenced a ferocious attack upon Ashley, and it was ultimately found necessary to fairly drag him through the stream in order to get him to the watch house. Mr. Ollis, the landlord of the Apollo, stated that the prisoner came to his house about half past five o’clock on the previous day, and having had a glass of ale became exceedingly noisy and requested to he supplied with another glass, which was refused, upon which he threatened he would pull the house down, and seizing one of the rails of the desk threw it at the land-lord’s head and forthwith commenced the work of destruction. In defence McPhale said that he had been used with great and unnecessary brutality during his escort to the watch house, and that in his way hither he had had his pocket picked of forty-eight pounds, in notes, which he had that day received. Mr. Ollis denied that the slightest unnecessary violence was used towards the man: with respect to the alleged robbery, McPhale upon being questioned no the point told so lame a tale as to where he had obtained the money, that it was quite clear his story was a fabrication. He was committed to goal for one month with hard labour, for resisting and assaulting the constables.
Despite this setback, the Ollis family went on to run the pub for over 20 years.
The Ollis family had the pub through the roaring 1850s, playing host to many a successful gold digger, who, reported the Newcastle Herald on January 15 1927, “used to flock to this link with the past and knock down their piles in quick fashion”.
Charlotte Ollis died at the pub at the age of 43 in July 1858, leaving Charles to care for six children aged between 12 and two. However, Charles also died at the young age of 47, six years later, on August 30, 1864.
The running of the pub was taken over by the second eldest of Charles’ sons, Joseph. The family remained associated with the hotel until 1873 when Joseph died at just 27 years of age.
The following year the license was taken over by John and Catherine McLachlan, who went on host the pub until 1884.
Owners of the hotel, Messrs Sydney Arnold, Best, and Co., and Percy Henry sold the property, with a frontage of 22 metres (72 feet) to Flinders Lane by 13 metres (44 feet) to Russell Street, at auction in 1923 for £17,500.
The freehold of the hotel was purchased by Debenham (Australia) Pty Ltd, of Flinders Lane, which extended their premises by building a new warehouse in 1927.
Christina Umhauer, the last of a long line of licensees, surrendered her lease and licence of the Apollo Inn, which closed for business on Saturday, January 1, 1927.
Reporting on its demolition, The Weekly Times described the Apollo Inn on January 29 1927 as Melbourne’s ‘most ancient hostelry’, adding that it was the place where John Batman would ‘take his glass’. However, this would have been impossible, as Batman, known as the founder of Melbourne, had died in 1839, almost a decade before the pub opened for business.
During demolition, workmen discovered an old florin among the debris bearing the date 1821. The coin probably dropped from the hand of an old pioneer and fell through a crack in the floor of the hotel.
Another discovery the workmen made was that the old blue gum timber used extensively throughout the building was practically as good as on the day it was used to build the pub. And the doors of Australian cedar, were, reportedly in a fine state of preservation.
The Apollo Inn wasn’t the only historic pub lost to Melbourne in 1927, with the nearby Coach and Horse also falling victim to ‘progress’.
The Melbourne Argus reported on February 1 1927 that “in Flinders lane also the Coach and Horses Hotel, one of the oldest city landmarks, in the block between Russell street and Exhibition street, has given place to modern business premises”.
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2023
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