By MICK ROBERTS ©
AS gold slowly vanished from Hill End, in the central tablelands region of NSW, so did many of its pubs.
Of the dozens of pubs that traded in Hill End during the early 1870s, the Commercial Hotel in Short Street would prove one of the more resilient.
As the gold petered-out, one-by-one, over the following decades, more than 20 pubs would close their doors.
When the Commercial Hotel finally called last drinks, it was one of three pubs that had survived Hill End’s dramatic population decline. Today just the Royal Hotel remains to service the thirsts of the heritage listed town.
The Commercial Hotel was established by Irishman, Hugh Hanna in 1872, and traded for over 30 years before closing in 1904.
Hanna hosted at least five colonial pubs during his short and shameful life. He married and had three boys, over the 16 years he called the colony of NSW home, before his death at the young age of 34 in 1876.
Hanna landed in Sydney in 1860 from Antrim, Ireland at the age of 22 as an assisted immigrant on the ship Dirigo. He married Kate Whitty in Sydney in 1863, and by 1865, the pair had had their first child, John, before taking-on a pub at Sodwall Creek, near Oberon.
The Hannas hosted the Main Creek Hotel at Sodwall Creek from 1869 to 1871, before, with their six-year-old son, they took-on the Freemasons Hall at nearby Rydal. They had a short stay at Rydal, and in 1872 they opened the Commercial Hotel in the bustling gold-mining town of Hill End.
Competition would have been fierce, with over 25 pubs trading in the town.
While the Hannas were hosts, the Commercial narrowly escaped a disastrous fire, which destroyed several business places in Short Street, Hill End. Hanna’s pub was saved by the demolition of a next-door general store in 1874.
The following year, the Hannas left Hill End for Sydney, where they hosted the West End Hotel in Bathurst Street.
In 1876, the Hannas took over as hosts of the Lambing Flat Hotel in Wexford Street, Haymarket. It was here that the family’s life fell to pieces, with the Irish publican convicted of serious domestic violence charges against his wife, Kate and his eventual untimely death.
Hanna pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife, which was widely reported in newspapers of the day. Kate was in the court room, her “body covered with marks of violence”.
The publican copped a huge fine of £30, together with two guineas professional costs, and was ordered to keep the peace for six months with a whopping surety of £80 himself, and two sureties of £40 – an enormous amount of money for the times.
Kate needed not worry about her personal safety and her husband keeping the peace. Within a few months he was dead, at just 34.
Hugh Hanna, according to his death certificate, died in the Sydney Infirmary on March 21, 1876 from Phthisis, or what is commonly known today as Tuberculosis (TB), an infectious disease that most often attacks the lungs.
Interestingly, his death certificate does not list any marriage details or children. This would indicate that Kate and the three boys, aged five, three and 11, previously had left the abusive Hanna. Also interestingly, Kate never personally published any death or funeral notice – although her brother, Hugh Hanna’s brother-in-law – did!
The fate of Kate after her husband’s death remains unclear. She took over as host of the Lambing Flat Hotel, in Wexford Street, Haymarket, for a short period after her husband’s death before taking the license of The Rock Lily Hotel in Main Street, Gosford. The widow disappears from official records after this time.
Meanwhile the pub the pair established at Hill End continued trading until 1904. Suitably, the last publican of the Commercial Hotel was an Irishman, John Millen. He hosted the pub for 10 years, from 1894 until its closure.
For more on the history of Hill End’s pubs visit: And then there were two… The last of Hill End’s 25 pubs
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2023
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Categories: NSW hotels