The Northcote Arms Hotel originated in November 1853 when the firm of Wharton & Burns requested contractors to work on a blue stone hotel being constructed in Northcote on the Merri Creek. The hotel, a solid two storey building was built on Section XV of the Northcote subdivision (now 438 Queens Parade, North Fitzroy).
The first publican may have been a man called Pearson but it certainly by March 1854 Charles Ritter was the owner and licensee of the hotel. In October of that year a tender was requested for the painting of the hotel. This may have been a prelude to the sale of the lease of the hotel in November 1854 after the death of Ritter. It was described as
“…containing fifteen large sized rooms, and two spacious cellars, besides substantial stabling, bullock yards and gardens, and would in consequence of the salubrity of its situation, and the splendid scenery by which it is surrounded, stand unrivalled as a first class family hotel.”
In December 1854 Angus McDonald became the new publican. The Northcote Arms Hotel was well placed to attract trade moving both to the Plenty goldfields and the pastoral areas of the Ovens valley but that did not stop it attempting to lure Melbourne residents out to what was the outer reaches of the city. On the 19th June, McDonald organised a grand full dress ball at the hotel.
The hotel appeared in the Argus newspaper several times over the next couple of years. In April 1855 the hotel advertised for a cook and the following month played host to land sales auctions.
Towards the end of April 1856 McDonald was the victim of an hold up when Michael Nedley, Michael McGuire and John Walsh were accused of stealing a cashbox with £27 in cash inside. All three men were arrested at the scene and committed for trial. The cash box had been retrieved, unopened in a nearby drain. At the pretrial hearing Walsh was set free. At trial Nedley was given five years hard labour on road construction, McGuire was freed.
At the same time the hotel was placed for auction, the advert commenting that the hotel
“…was finished thoroughly in cedar and Spanish mahogany, all features being complete for a first rate trade. “
Although the advert mentioned the opening of a local quarry (probably the Dennis family quarry on Heidelberg, Fairfield) and the large and permanent increase in trade, it also mentioned that the hotel could be converted into a house for minimal cost. Clearly business was not as good as the hotel made out.
On 27th April 1858 Samuel Brownlow became the new publican at the hotel. He organised pigeon shooting as a drawcard for the hotel. A year later Brownlow was in court after bring charges against Daniel Clancy for using obscene language. It nearly backfired when Brownlow attempted to “screen” the defendant and Brownlow was threatened with the loss of his license.
Brownlow found himself involved in a second court case in August 1859. Louis Solomon had purchased the hotel the previous year after it failed to sell at auction. At the time the owner, Alexander Walker had claimed the hotel was leased to Samuel Brownlow for £300 per annum and after some haggling with Solomon sold it for £1,700. It was subsequently discovered the rent had only been £150 per annum and in fact Brownlow had left the hotel, being several months in arrears with the rent.
Brownlow did not testify at trial, making himself scarce, although his wife did declare that the amount of rent paid had never exceeded £150. Walker stated that it was Brownlow who had approached him suggesting that he exaggerate the income from the hotel to assist in its sale.
Under Brownlow’s management the hotel had clearly become run down as it was stated by Walker during the trial that the hotel had cost between £6 -7,000 to build and was now worth only £1,700. It also came out that the hotel had been placed for auction on three separate occasions and had “begun to stink in the market.”
During cross examination the defendant stated that £1,600 would be a reasonable amount for the hotel as “Northcote is a developing area….there are not many houses there at the moment and there can’t be any less.” The Argus reported that this brought great laughter to the Court. Clearly Northcote did not enjoy a great reputation as a booming suburb. Solomon lost the case.
Meanwhile Brownlow’s troubles did not end with his departure from the hotel. In December of that year he was arrested on charges of lunacy. The Argus reported that
“…the unfortunate man appeared in a deplorable state and seemed to be suffering from delirium tremens.” He was remanded to Western Gaol for seven days for medical treatment. He was discharged a few weeks later."
Brownlow having long since deserted the Northcote Arms Hotel, a new publican Isaac Knowles Glazebrook was employed. Glazebrook left the hotel only a short time later, possibly due to poor health; he died only four years later.
With the arrival of Glazebrook the hotel undertook a name change and became the Egremont Hotel. Louis Solomon was obviously trying to distance the hotel from its less than savoury past. Glazebrook’s replacement was Henry L. Davis.
In June 1860 the hotel was placed for auction but didn’t sell. Then in March 1861 the hotel was robbed by three escaped convicts, William Sullivan, George Franklin and John Doyle.
The three convicts were soon apprehended but the hotel was soon back up for auction again, being described as a “bargin”. The auction, in July 1861 did little for the hotel and by December 1864 it was on the market again, being listed as “the house lately known as the Egremont Hotel.”
It may have finally sold as August 1865 tenders were sought for the masons and carpenters to work on the former hotel, now a house.
But the ill fated hotel still had one last flourish in it. In 1868 Joseph Thomas applied for a beer licence for the Northcote Arms Hotel. It was listed as such in the 1870 directories but had disappeared by 1871.
The building still stands and is currently used for both residential and commercial purposes.
List of known publicans
1852 ? Pearson
1854 Charles Ritter
1854 Angus McDonald
1858 Samuel Brownlow
1859 Isaac Knowles Glazebrook
1859 Henry L. Davis
1868 Joseph Thomas
Hotel closed between 1864 and 1868 and reopened from 1868-1870.
It was known as the Northcote Arms Hotel between 1853 and 1859, the Egremont Hotel between 1859 and 1864 and reverted to its original name in 1868.
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 7 November 1853
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 23 October 1854
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 26 April 1855
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 23 May 1856
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 3 August 1859
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 23 December 1859
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 23 July 1861
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. 1848-1956), 23 August 1865
Cole, Robert K. Index of Hotels 1841 – 1949. Unpublished manuscript.
Edge, Gary (2004). Surviving the six o’clock swill: a history of Darebin’s hotels. Melbourne: Darebin Libraries.
Sands and McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory 1864- 1974. [Microfiche]. (1974). Melbourne, Australia: Sands & McDougall.