[MELBOURNE] View of The Royal Hotel, Footscray, circa 1873.
Albumen print photograph, carte de visite format, 66 x 102 mm; no photographer’s imprint (verso blank); the print is a little pale and has scattered foxing; the mount is clean and stable.
A rare and possibly unique early view of the original Royal Hotel, Footscray, with its owner Frederick Droop posing outside. (Note also the pet wallaby beside the ladies on the upstairs balcony).
Built in 1872 by its first owner, Frederick Droop, this imposing basalt masonry edifice at the corner of Barkly and Droop Streets was opened in early 1873. Known as Droop’s Royal Hotel, it was for many decades the largest commercial building in the area. In the 1870s Footscray was at the very western edge of the metropolis, and was a natural stopover place for travellers between Melbourne and either Ballarat or Geelong. The Royal advertised itself as ‘Footscray’s Premier Hostelry’ and boasted stabling for horses (note the horse and groom at the far right of this photograph). The building was completely reconstructed in the Moderne style in 1940-41. Today it retains this Art Deco appearance and, even though it is no longer a licensed pub (it is subdivided into commercial and residential properties) the Royal Hotel signage has been preserved on the facade.
This carte de visite view of the Royal Hotel was probably taken around the time that the pub first opened, in the autumn of 1873. The square-edged mount and the style of clothing worn by the people in the photograph accords well with this date. No doubt commissioned by its proud owner, Frederick Droop – the top-hatted figure in the centre foreground – the photograph would have been taken by a travelling photographer.
The Royal’s life as a public house got off to an inauspicious start, with Droop almost immediately bringing legal proceedings against the first licensee, Henry Bew. (Bew is possibly the figure seen at the left of the hotel entrance in the photograph). Bew, it seems, had falsely claimed to have obtained a publican’s license from another man, Robert Brown. The following extracts from Melbourne newspapers of the time give a good outline of the shady business dealings associated with the Royal Hotel in its first months of existence:
From the Williamstown Chronicle, 8 March 1873:
‘I ROBERT BROWN, of Collingwood, mason, do hereby Give Notice that I desire to obtain, and will, at the next licensing meeting, apply for a PUBLICAN’S LICENSE, for a house situate at he corner of Droop and Barkly streets, Footscray, and to be known as the Royal Hotel, containing nine rooms, exclusive of those required for the use of the family. The seventh day of March, 1873. ROBERT BROWN.’
The following notice appeared in The Age, 29 May 1873:
‘Footscray Court.— Wednesday, 28th May. Use and Occupation.—Frederick Droop sued Henry Bew for £9 3s. 6d., rent for use and occupation of premises known as the Royal Hotel. Mr. Hopkins appealed for the plaintiff. From the evidence given it appeared that the parties had, through their agents, entered into negotiations for a three years’ lease, upon certain conditions being complied with, among which was that a billiard table of the value of £120 should be out in the hotel by tho tenant. Pending the execution of the lease, Bew entered into tenancy, and paid one shilling for one week’s rent, promising that when the workmen who were engaged finishing the house had completed the inside work, he would pay rent at the rate of £120 per year. Mr. Gillott, who appeared for the defendant, contended that his client could not be sued for use and occupation until the execution of the lease had been completed, and could only be proceeded against for trespass; on account of the technical nature of the case, the bench reserved their decision for one week.’
From The Age, 19 June 1873:
‘At the instance of the police, the licence for the Royal hotel was cancelled. It appeared from the evidence given that Bew, who is the occupier of the hotel, obtained a licence in Brown’s name, since the granting of which he had continued to sell liquors. Brown, however, refused to transfer the licence to Bew, and also neglected to comply with the act by not putting in an appearance within twenty-eight days. Bew now applied for a publican’s license for the house known as the Royal Hotel. Mr. Gillott, for the applicant, proved the service of the required notices. Mr.
Hopkins on behalf of Mr. Droop, the owner of the property, opposed the application.’