The Albion Hotel was built in 1887 by William Byrne. At the time St. Georges Road was still a muddy track following the Yan Yean Pipe line into Melbourne. A major incentive for the building of the hotel was the proposed Circle Railway running from the Gippsland Railway line at Oakleigh through Camberwell, Kew, Alphington, Fairfield and Northcote and connecting with North Fitzroy. It was envisaged that this railway would bring large amounts of people in and through Northcote.
In the end only the Camberwell to Alphington section was completed by 1891 and that had closed by 1893. But Byrne had not put all his eggs in one basket. In 1891, with P. Callaghan, he opened the Croxton race course further down St. Georges Road. This ensured he had a steady traffic of thirsty punters walking past his hotel on their way to the horse track.
Even before the racecourse had opened the police had had a number of issues with the Albion Hotel. In 1889 the police were objecting to the extension of J. Coleman’s license for the hotel. Various issues included gambling, having the bar door open outside opening hours, serving alcohol outside hours (especially on Sundays), and serving alcohol to the “old men from an adjacent charitable institution.” This referred to the Inebriates Retreat located only a short distance away. Clearly some of the inhabitants of the Inebriates Retreat were not quite fully committed to their recovery from alcoholism. The Magistrate was presented with evidence from the publican’s lawyer that the hotel was in fact very well run and that whilst alcohol might have been served outside hours it was to boarders in the hotel which was permitted under the law. The Magistrate noted that the charge of serving alcohol on Sunday’s, although illegal, was common and not grounds for refusing a license. The license was granted.
In June 1890 the license was passed onto Michael Kelly, formerly of the Carriers Arms Hotel in North Melbourne. The following year Byrne took over the direct running of the hotel himself, the license being transferred on the 27 August 1891. Byrne only held the license for a year before passing onto Margaret Dawson. Two years later she was fined £2 for Sunday trading.
The hotel was host to a sad event on 13 July 1896 when an inquest was held there into the death of four year old Olive Bennett who had been killed whilst playing on the train tracks at Clarke Street. Olive had been playing with a little boy when they both decided to cross the tracks. The boom gates had been operating but the children ducked under them. Despite the best efforts of the train driver he had been unable to stop the train in time. The little boy was uninjured.
On 12 February 1901, Miss Catherine Moon was woken up by the sound of an explosion at the hotel. Downstairs in the billiard room the hotel’s iron safe was found to be damaged after thieves had attempted to blow up the safe. They had placed a stick of dynamite inside the key hole of the safe but had only succeeded in blowing off the handle. Catherine Moon had taken up the license of the hotel after the death of her father, the previous publican.
On the 20 October 1917 the Northcote Leader noted that Corporal W. Vickery, son of the present publican at the Albion Hotel had been wounded in action. Corporal Vickery was either very lucky or very unlucky as he had previously been wounded at Gallipoli and Pozieres. In this latest injury he a fractured right thigh and a tetanus infection.
In October 1922 there was a brief flurry of excitement when Constable Torney attempted to arrest Charles Slattery for drinking outside the Albion Hotel. Slattery bolted with Torney in hot pursuit. In his eagerness to escape Slattery jumped into the Merri Creek and waded across the armpit deep cold water hoping for safety on the North Fitzroy side of the creek. It availed him nothing as he was later arrested hiding in a crop of wheat. A magistrate fined him £3 for evading arrest and another £2 for being drunk and disorderly.
In December 1925 the safe at Albion Hotel again was the target of thieves. This time they heaved the safe out of a window and escaped with the whole safe and its contents of £65. To add insult to injury, when police arrived to investigate the crime, thieves broke into their police vehicle and stole a kit bag belonging to Senior Detective Bruce. James Watt was later charged with larceny over the robberies.
Breaches of the liquor laws were fairly common at the Albion. Publican George Coleman was fined in May 1925 and in the following year the new publican Isabella O’Connor faced charges of serving alcohol after 6pm, having the bar open, and having people on the premise after 6pm. She was found guilty of the second and third offenses and fined a total of £8. The following year Isabella faced the courts again for the same offenses and received yet another fine, only 10 shillings this time.
In 1931 Isabella O’Connor transferred the license to Bartholomew O’Connor. By 1935 the license was noted as having passed from William Sexton to Francis Dalton. The next year Francis transferred the license to Emily Dalton. Mrs Dalton was clearly a woman not to be messed with. In June 1938 Emily came down stairs at the hotel and entered the Men’s Lounge where she accosted three youths and accused them of going upstairs. One, Harold Thomas Arthur, denied the charges but Isabella pulled back his coat to expose a clock he had stolen. Mr Dalton now came in and between them they restrained Arthur until the police arrived. In court Arthur claimed that he had gone to the lavatory in the yard but finding it dirty had come back inside and gone upstairs to find another. Finding the clock he had started a bit of “horseplay with it.” He denied hiding in his coat, saying it was just tucked “under his arm.” The Magistrate, noting that Arthur had four previous convictions of larceny, found him guilty of theft and sentenced him to three months imprisonment.
In July 1940 Emily was back in court, as a defendant this time, for the familiar charge of charge of selling alcohol outside licensing hours. She protested that at the time of the sale she was in the kitchen and unaware of the offense but nevertheless received a £2 fine.
The Daltons relinquished their license in 1943 with Margaret Ryan becoming the next publican, substituting for Anastasia McCarthy. McCarthy later took over the license in 1947, a role she was to hold until 1958. It was during McCarthy’s time as publican when the Albion Hotel again featured in the news after escaped prisoner George Thomas Howard was arrested at the Albion by Senior Detective Thomas. Howard had been charged with attempting a robbery at the Merri Creek Quarries after being found with two plugs of gelignite in his coat. Whilst on remand he cut his way through the floor of his Pentridge cell and escaped. A mere 36 hours later he was found propping up the bar at the Albion.
Like most hotels the Albion Hotel has gone through many changes in the one hundred plus years of its existence. In the late 1980s it was a noted place for good meals (as claimed by the food review in the Northcote Leader August 1989). For lunch you could have a braised steak or a shepherd’s pie and a beer for $2.05. Even the evening meal was cheap with six oysters costing a mere $6. On Thursday nights Country and Western ruled the hotel but on Friday and Saturday nights the Albion Hotel became a destination for comedy with their bistro/comedy room.
List of Known publicans
1889 John Coleman
1890 M. Kelly
1891 William Byrne
1892 Margaret Davoran
1898 William Byrne
1900 Catherine Gordon
1904 Mary Ann Moon
1905 Eugene F. Piercer
1912 John Vickery
1918 George Thomas Orger
1918 John T. Coghlin
1924 George Frederick Coleman
1925 Isabella J. O’Connor
1926 George Coleman
1927 Isabella J. O’Connor
1933 Bart O’Connor
1934 Jim Sexton
1937 Mrs E. Dalton
1943 Margaret Ryan
1947 Mrs A. McCartney
1958 P. Lindquist
1962 O. K. Dorfler
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