Royal George Hotel

The first license for the Royal George Hotel was granted to Michael Geoghan on 5th June 1876 in newly erected premises then being used as a boarding house (Watson 1966). Like many of his time, he had ambitions to open a business that would receive the patronage of the better classes of society. He appears to have been disappointed in his ambitions, as the license was sold on only two years later to a Mr. George Collier.

George Collier was born at Johnsonville, just north of Wellington, in1842. His father, John, used to trade back and forth between Wellington and Lyttelton, bringing such things as bread and stores to the earliest settlers, and young George would accompany his father on his business excursions. When George had completed his education in Wellington, Collier Snr. helped his son onto a farm in Canterbury, probably in the Leithfield area. George continued to visit Lyttelton, as one result of which he married Ann Wallace on 24th September 1868 at the bride’s home in Lyttelton, the Rev. A. Reed presiding. The couple ran the farm with every success, but George’s heart was not in the land. Coming to town he took the City Hotel, then the White Swan, and then the Royal George in 1878. Collier was interested in horses, and had the stud stallion “Sorcerer” standing at the White Swan stables. He was also a civic-minded gentleman, and was elected to the new Linwood Town Council in October of 1882 (MacC476).

He held the license of the Royal George for eight years and then went on to other things. He took the A1 Hotel on the corner of Colombo and Cashel Streets in 1896, and later started an aerated water business, but the premises were destroyed by fire. He was uninsured and in consequence was ruined. The extent of the financial damage is not known, but his health broke down shortly after, possibly as a result of the stress, and he had to retire. He died in October 1917 at the age of 73.

The third publican was Charles George Dann, a man of long experience in The Trade. Over the years he had held the licenses of several of the City’s old hotels, amongst them the Devonshire Arms (later the Durham Arms), the Oxford Hotel, and the long-vanished Garrick Hotel, and his residency at the Royal George lasted for two years or so from 1886 to 1888. No event of particular note is known from his period, and he seems to have been a competant but otherwise unremarkable publican. His wife Elizabeth, however, deserves especial note as she was the first woman pharmacist in Christchurch.

Elizabeth Ashton was born about 1836 at Blackley, near Manchester, and married chemist Richard Robinson in 1860 (Giles 1997). The cotton famine of the 1860’s, the result of the disruption caused by the American Civil War, hit the textile idustry of the British Midlands very hard, and many people elected to try for a new life in the colonies. The Robinsons decided on New Zealand and in due course, together with their two children, the young couple arrived at Lyttelton on 4th January 1865. Mr. Robinson set up shop as a pharmacist in premises on the north side of Cashel Street between Colombo and High Streets, at what is now the Triangle Centre.

The couple prospered initially, but then tragedy struck: Richard died on 11th December 1871 of Cerebral Effusion following inflammation of the lungs. He was 33. Elizabeth, then aged 36, with five children and pregnant with a sixth, carried on the business. Although she had no formal training in chemistry or pharmacopoeia, her association with her husband over the years had given her the necessary practical knowledge to continue trading as a druggist. In 1879 the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand was founded and on 28th June 1881 Elizabeth Robinson became the first woman to be granted registration as a practicing pharmaceutical chemist. Despite her lack of formal credentials, her nine years business experience at the shop was considered to be sufficient qualification for admission to the professional association.

In 1885 Elizabeth married hotelier Charles Dann at the Church of the Good Shepherd. His first wife, Celia, had died at their residence in Armagh Street in 1882. In 1886 Mr. Dann took the lease of the Royal George Hotel. Elizabeth sold her business to one Joseph S Cooke, and the Danns, together with various offspring, moved into the Hotel, which became their home for two years. In 1888, for reasons now unknown, the Danns decided to depart the Royal George and took up residence in Woolston. Following the death of her daughter Elizabeth Kaye in 1891, Elizabeth’s health began to break down and she died at Woolston on 11th April 1895. Charles George Dann died in 1919 at the ripe age of 88.

Like so many local hotels of that time, the Royal George came into the hands of brewing interests, in this case Ward and Co., in the 1890’s. The Hotel was leased to several publicans during this period and in 1928 the freehold of the property was sold to Mr. and Mrs Harrell. Mrs Harrell’s untimely death in 1936 – she was struck and killed by a motor car in Moorhouse Avenue – greatly affected her husband Thomas and shortly afterwards the freehold was sold to William and Mary Maloney. Theirs was not a happy relationship, and by 1942 the title was in the name of William Maloney and Mary Isobel Wilby. It was still owned by them in 1954.

Bill Maloney was one of his own best customers and a drinker of a most morose nature. He was wont to lock himself away for up to a week at a time with quantities of whisky. The staff had to come in after these self-inflicted retreats to clean up the mess. Bill Maloney was not the tidiest of men and half-eaten pies, chips, cigarette butts and other less mentionable material would be strewn about the place and ground into the carpet. One Sunday morning, in a fit of unexplained rage, he attempted to throw his long suffering wife off the first floor verandah. The fate of the unfortunate woman is not recorded.

The Royal George changed hands many times over the decades and the licensees were a mixed bag indeed. At one end of the scale was the original Mr. Geoghan, whom the police, in their report to the Licensing Bench on the occasion of his initial application for a license, vouchsafed to be a gentleman of reputable character. Dick Harper, who held the license in the 1970’s, was quite disreputable. His tenure was fairly brief, as it was discovered that he was using the upstairs rooms for the storage of stolen property and large quantities of radios, televisions and such were found by interested police officers when the property was searched.

The next licensee was a Mr. Cremin, who took his position in about 1954. A man of rather more pleasant disposition than Bill Maloney, it was his custom to save up pennies and halfpennies and throw them from the upper verandah to the children on Guy Fawke’s Night. The George was a busy place in those days, with five full-time bar staff. Back-door sales of up to 600 half gallon jars on a Sunday morning were not uncommon, and, like any other hotel in the area, after hours drinking was a commonplace. The patrons were lucky to have the services of Mrs Blaney to call on in emergencies. She had a small shop next to the pub, where the carpark is now, and she was affectionately known as “Ma” Blaney, after the legendary “Ma” Blaney who ran Tattersalls Hotel in Dunedin for 37 years. “Ma” Blaney’s premises were a haven for patrons fleeing the police who from time to time would check up on illicit trading.

The Hotel has been redecorated and altered many times over the years. There has been no accommodation on the premises since the 1950’s, and what is now the public bar was created by removing the wall between the old Sportsman’s (i.e the public ) bar and a separate private bar at the rear. The entrance to the Sportsman’s bar was on the corner of the building, a standard design feature of the early Hotels. The old public bar, of course, had the usual island bar in the middle of the room and was a very popular meeting place. Such was the affection for it of some of the regulars that just before the last alterations were about to begin in 1975, a group of them stole in late one Saturday night with saws and crowbars, removed the island bar and took it away as a souvenir.

Today the Royal George continues under the steady and experienced hand of Mr. Ray Newman. It has a very strong regular clientele and a thriving Social Club of some seventy members. The patrons have always been sports fans, and indeed it was at the George that the Linwood Rugby Football Club held its third annual general meeting in 1888, as it did not then have its own clubrooms (Crooks and Stove 1986). Mr. Loughrey was in the chair and Mr. A J White, founder of the home furnishing firm of the same name, was the President. Mr. Marshall was secretary and Mr. Trigg was treasurer. The balance sheet showed a credit of £4 and a few shillings. The association between the George and the Linwood Rugby Football Club continues to this day, and the bank balance of the Club is at least a little better than it was 106 years ago.

As always, the Royal George is essentially a working man’s pub, with working men’s entertainment as, for example, the famed Boogie Down Dancers (Thursday and Friday, lunchtime and evening shows). Under the management of veteran licensee Ray Newman it maintains an atmosphere that is uniquely of New Zealand. Time passes but it does not seem to touch the Royal George very much at all.

Bibliography.

Crooks, Dion, and George Stove. 1986. “One Hundred Years of Green and Black: Linwood Rugby Football Club 1886 – 1986”. Clarity Press.

Giles, Lois R. 1997. “Chemist and Druggist: New Zealand’s First Woman Pharmacist”. The New Zealand Genealogist, Vol. 28 No. 248, pp380 – 1.

McDonald Dictionary of Canterbury Biographies, Library of the Museum of Canterbury.

Press files, New Zealand Room, Canterbury Central Library.

Watson, J E. 1966. “Early Christchurch Hotels”; unpublished report copies of which are held by the Canterbury Public  Library and the Canterbury Museum Library.

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