South Brisbane’s early days
After the opening of Moreton Bay to free European settlement in 1842, a busy port sprang up on the south bank of Brisbane River. A number of pubs were soon established in South Brisbane to cater for visiting squatters’ men, sailors and other visitors.
Numerous farms were established in the West End and Hill End areas from the 1840s (see my post The Origins of Orleigh Park), but by the 1860s residential development was underway. This led to the establishment of the Boundary Hotel in 1864.
By the 1880s, the population was increasing rapidly with numerous subdivisions of former large holdings. There was growing interest in the establishment of new hotels.
Nicholas Walpole Raven
Nicholas Walpole Raven was born in around 1840 in Tasmania. His parents, the Reverend John Raven and Eliza Jones met when both were sent to be teachers at the small town of Hamilton. Nicholas grew up in Hamilton and moved to Sydney as a young man in 1858. I haven’t found a photo of Raven, but a jail admission record describes him as 5 foot 6 1/4 inches (168 cm.) tall, of sallow complexion with black hair and brown eyes.
His first wife Amelia Chauding died after just a few years of marriage and he married Jane Robertson a year later in 1869. He was later quoted as complaining that he “never had a day’s happiness after being two months married’ and went on to say that Jane was under restraint in an asylum at one time in Queensland. However Raven himself exhibited unusual behaviour throughout his life.
Not long after their marriage, he was fined the hefty sum of £20 for selling 14 sides of bacon that were “unfit for the use of man” to a certain Isaac Israel. He spent some time in North Queensland pearl fisheries where he operated a trading vessel. Back in Sydney to visit his wife Jane in 1876, after imbibing perhaps too much alcohol, he shot himself in the head and was arrested for attempted suicide. The year 1878 finds him in Cairns where he served 2 months in jail with hard labour for assault. By 1880 he was established in Brisbane and reunited with his family.
Raven had a number of attempts at gaining public office over the years. In 1883, he rashly stood against the sitting member for North Brisbane, the popular and brilliant lawyer Samuel Walker Griffith. He had just become premier after the previous incumbent, Thomas McIlwraith, resigned after failing to pass key legislation. Raven had a grudge against Griffith dating back to when the latter was Attorney-General some years previously.
Raven’s electioneering meeting at the Albert Hall was filled to capacity, and he entered the hall to “mingled shouts of derision, sham applause, and hooting“. Things quickly descended into pandemonium and he was escorted out the back door after the meeting to avoid trouble.
Griffith won the election by 1,139 votes to 190. The satirical newspaper Figaro published a poem to mark the event.
Ah! distinctly I remember, it was in this same November,
This same month that we are now in — month that even now’s not o’er,
There came forth a man unshaven, who believed he was no craven,
And he said, “My name is Raven; praps you’ve heard of me before?
And you’ll likely hear again of, since you’ve heard of me before.”
Quoth the people, “Nevermore.”
You can read the entire poem here.
The “Musgrave Arms” – a pub that never was
Early in 1884 Raven purchased over 3 acres of land on Montague Road adjacent to Rogers Street. This had been part of the farm established by pardoned convict Billy Coombes in the 1840s, that had changed hands several times as it was cut into smaller pieces from the 1870s (see my post The Origins of Orleigh Park).
With a land boom underway, speculators were getting rich buying up land and selling it a few years later at a much higher price or subdividing and also making a handsome profit. Unusually, Raven did neither but instead began building a number of houses and renting them out.
The surrounding neighbourhood was growing quickly with nearby subdivisions such as the Hill End Estate selling well. Raven decided to establish a hotel on a part of his land to be called the “Musgrave Arms”, presumably after the then Governor, Anthony Musgrave. The closest pub to Hill End was the Boundary, requiring a long walk there and back.
As well as being in a growth area, the block was also conveniently located close to Winterbottom’s omnibus terminus (see my post Omnibus Families of the Southside).
In February of 1884, Raven applied for a provisional licence, which was used where the intended building was not yet constructed. His application was rejected, which was not an unusual occurrence. Another 5 applications were rejected and one postponed at the same licencing court sitting.
He had another attempt later in the year. This time he was joined by John Drake who sought a provisional licence for a hotel on Vulture Street to be named the “West End Hotel”. The location was provocatively close to the West End School as well as the Primitive Methodist church, whose members were strong opponents of alcohol sale and consumption.
This gave rise to a satirical letter to the editor, which listed numerous objections to Drake’s proposal. Both applications were rejected on the basis that no further hotels were needed in the area. Raven had one further unsuccessful attempt in 1885 and soon after a bigger barrier was erected in his path to becoming a publican.
The temperance movement and the Licencing Act of 1885
The temperance movement grew steadily in Australia through the second half of the 19th century. Societies advocating total abstinence such as the Rechabites, Good Templars and Women’s Christian Temperance Union, allied with various non-conformist churches, grew in size and political influence.
The Queensland Parliament passed a new Licencing Act in 1885. It was heavily influenced by the temperance movement and introduced significant changes from the old Act. Apart from items such as reduced opening hours, a major innovation was the introduction of local option polls.
With the receipt of a petition signed by at least 10% of rate payers in a given area, a poll was held on one of three options. They were total prohibition of the sale of alcohol, reduction in the number of hotels or ceasing the issue of new licences. Voting was restricted to rate payers, who were mainly upper and middle class landowners.
Drunkenness was seen to be a working class problem, and the temperance groups pressured Griffith’s government into denying this group a vote in fear that they would not favour prohibition.
In practice, polls were mostly held on the third option of stopping further hotel licences being issued, as it was not opposed by hotelkeepers, who instead saw it as preserving their monopoly. In Ipswich, the temperance movement had a series of victories implementing the second option and the number of licences was reduced in steps from 13 to 7. In an interview, the manager of the Ipswich Brewery commented that after the closure of the first 3 hotels, sales of beer and spirits increased.
Prohibition comes to Kurilpa
The first poll of rate payers in West End took place in September of 1886 and covered the whole area of the Woolloongabba Divisional Board, which was the local government at that time. The temperance advocates were successful, with the result that no new hotel licences could be issued for two years and only then if another poll was held that reversed the decision.
Despite this, Raven decided to build his hotel, most likely in the second half of 1889, and he moved in when the building was completed. In this year, despite his chequered past, he was also appointed a JP and began sitting as a magistrate in the South Brisbane Police Court.
In 1890, he organised another local option poll to try to overturn the previous outcome which would allow him to seek a licence for the “Musgrave Arms”.
By this time, the Borough of South Brisbane had been formed. The poll covered Number One Ward, which roughly comprised the suburbs of West End and Highgate Hill.
Polling took place at the West End School of Arts (see my post The West End School of Arts), and the temperance groups were once again successful. As another poll was not permitted for two years, Raven let the building for that period to the Salvation Army. They used it to house their “Prison Gate Brigade” which was a half way house for newly released jail prisoners.
Meanwhile, in 1889 a poll was held in adjacent Number Two Ward covering the South Brisbane area, in which the temperance lobby was not successful. Taking advantage of this, William Brown gained a licence to open a new hotel on Browning Street, then called Stephens Street, in the heart of West End, but conveniently located just outside of Number One Ward. The Melbourne Hotel opened in 1891.
Raven patiently waited two more years and then launched another campaign, using the argument that investment flowing from construction of new hotels would create employment in what was a period of deep economic depression. To trigger the poll he needed to collect the signatures of at least one tenth of the 1,005 ratepayers.
The temperance lobby sprang into action again. The Reverend W. H. Harrison, speaking of alcohol, thundered from the pulpit of the West End Wesleyan Church that “the best thing to do with every evil was to destroy it altogether”.
One newspaper report commented that “The real issue of the poll was whether a licence should be granted to premises on Montague road, the property of Mr. N. W. Raven”
After the announcement at the West End School of Arts that the temperance lobby had once again been successful with 353 votes to 280, Raven was reported as saying “What is the result ? The result is this : Some people who say ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ have by their action today taken the bread out of their neighbours’ children’s mouths.”
There was a celebration at the Vulture Street Primitive Methodist church where a humorous poem entitled “The Battle of West End”, unfortunately not published, was read out to much amusement.
Further polls were held over the years in the Number One Ward and later the state electorate of Kurilpa up until at least 1925. With a continuing strong temperance movement, all supported the ban on new hotel licences.
As a result, the Boundary Hotel remained the only licenced hotel in the area for over 100 years.
The West End Club, Raven’s revenge
The 1885 Licencing Act had a loophole which exempted clubs from the provisions of the Act. It had been drafted with prestigious institutions such as the Queensland Club in mind. Two thirds of the members of the upper house of parliament were members and the six premiers of the time all served as presidents of the club.
Following complaints from publicans about abuse of the exemption by unlicenced hotels masquerading as clubs, an amendment was passed in 1886 requiring clubs to be registered. The organisation had to be established for the provision of “accommodation, meat and drink” and occupy suitable premises. A minimum of 50 members was required.
A registered club was still free of all the restrictions of a licenced hotel such as opening hours and didn’t have to pay yearly fees for a licence or for billiard and bagatelle tables. However, only members who paid an annual fee could be served alcohol.
After losing the second local option poll, Raven went down this path and formed the West End Club. The annual membership fee was 1 shilling compared to the Queensland Club’s 12 guineas, 250 times as much. Around this time, the name of adjacent Hill Street was changed to Raven Street.
The West End Club was registered by the South Brisbane Licencing Court in October of 1892. The newspaper report of the opening mentioned that the president was none other than Richard Kelly, who I’ve written about in my posts The Mistress’s House and The West End School of Arts. It goes on to say “Dancing and singing was kept up with great spirit until 12 o’clock, when the president closed the evening. Several omnibuses and other conveyances, well filled with the members and their friends, left for North Brisbane”.
The Act tried to prevent clubs running as virtual pubs by requiring all profits to be distributed amongst members. However Raven received income from rental of the premises and also was employed as manager of the club.
In 1894 Raven, burdened with mortgages against the property of almost £5,000, sold it to Caleb Woodward, a graduate of Dublin University and a Toowoomba based surveyor. Woodward employed Elizabeth Perry as manager of the club. Previously, she had been the licensee of the Court House Hotel in Toowoomba and before that ran a hotel in Southport with her husband.
It was here that the problems began. Perry found herself in court soon after starting in the job, accused of selling alcohol to non-members. She got off on a technicality.
The following year she was back in court and fined £10 for the same offence. After Perry initially refused to serve two non-members who were in fact undercover constables, they told her that they had come from the bush, were thirsty and were meeting a friend. She relented and served them two glasses of ale.
Elizabeth Perry died later in 1895, and Ferdinand Simonson was appointed manager. He had been a representative for Toowoomba’s Perkins Brewery and later the publican of the Transcontinental Hotel.
By June of 1896, Simonson had already been fined twice and following further complaints, action was taken to close the club down. At the South Brisbane Police Court, Senior Constable Long of the West End Police stated that he had seen people lying drunk outside the club and had frequently observed butcher boys and hawkers enter the premises. Constable William Armitage added that he had seen women, boys and girls going into the club with jugs to purchase beer.
The court cancelled the club’s registration. Ironically the manager Simonson, as president of the Licensed Victuallers Association, had himself lobbied Premier Griffith in 1886 to tighten the law concerning clubs. Also, the building owner, Caleb Woodward, later served as a Licensing Justice in the Toowoomba Licensing Court. The club was wound up and a large array of items sold at auction.
In 1904, the governance of clubs was once again under review. The West End Club was still in parliamentarians’ minds and there was mention of “notorious proceedings” there.
Caleb Woodward put the land he had purchased from Raven up for sale in 1896 but the club building didn’t sell and he rented it out initially as a private residence. He retained ownership until a few years before his death in 1914.
In 1893, Nicholas Raven had another attempt at winning the seat of Brisbane North. This time he was running against the then premier Sir Thomas McIlwraith as well as Sir Charles Lilley. At his major rally, he was taunted by comments about clubs and beer. He managed only 55 votes, slightly above the number of informal votes. Raven moved to Perth in around 1896, whilst his wife Jane and many of their 10 children returned to Sydney.
In Perth, he was living with Katherine Natrass who took on the name Katherine Raven although there seems to have
been no bigamous marriage. Raven was back to his old tricks as in 1898 he was charged with having sides of bacon on sale that proved to be full of maggots.
After ten years in Perth, he returned to live with his family in Sydney. His presence wasn’t particularly welcome, especially as he tried to control the movements of his daughters, the youngest of whom was already 17 years old.
In March of 1906, Raven had been drinking at a hotel with his son-in-law Percy Singer. An argument broke out when they arrived home. His family said that Raven went upstairs and returned with a revolver. However a neighbour testified that Raven had run out of the house calling for help before breaking a window to get back inside. In the scuffle that ensued, Raven’s wife Jane was shot through the lungs and Singer had a bullet lodge in his throat. Raven was knocked down with a heavy stick by his daughter Jane.
The Bald Faced Stag Hotel in Leichardt where Raven and Singer had been drinking and the Raven house in Railway Street, Petersham. (Google Earth)
The ensuing attempted murder trial attracted nation-wide interest. Raven spoke at length about being related to Horatio Nelson, one of his sons was named Horatio Nelson Raven, and of how he had written to the Czar offering to assist as a naval officer in Russia’s disastrous war with Japan. The jury, believing he was acting in self defence, found Raven not guilty.
He died in 1914 and his self-delusion continued beyond death, with the funeral
notice describing him as “Captain Raven late of London”. Mental instability persisted in the family and daughter Jane committed suicide by taking poison in 1911. Another daughter Frances spent two years in a mental hospital with what was described as a persecution mania, although the opinion of the judge in her 1946 divorce case was that this was largely due to her abusive husband.
Raven’s wife Jane passed away in 1927.
The temperance movement remained strong in Brisbane and in 1929 the Queensland Prohibition League opened the alcohol free Canberra Hotel at the corner of Anne and Edward Streets at a cost of £120,000.
At the time of writing there were 96 licensed premises in West End and Highgate Hill, including 8 with hotel licences. In addition there were 8 detached bottle shops.
The West End Club building today
The building has served a large number of purposes over the years. Already by 1930 it had been a private home, and housed campaign headquarters for the Reverend B. Van Eyk’s Monster Healing Mission, meeting rooms for the Hill End Progress Association as well as the Wattle Football Club and served as the West End Mission Home.
At the time of writing, it was operating as the Ehden Bar and Kitchen, and the building once again served as a place of dining and meeting of friends recalling its days as the West End Club. On the exterior, there are traces of the veranda beams and original corner entrance, and the attractive sandstone walls are visible in the basement.
It’s no longer the pub with no beer.
September 2022 update : Nicholas Walpole Raven spent 8 years unsuccessfully trying to obtain a licence for the hotel he had built but was defeated by local temperance activists. How ironic that his pub is finally licenced after 138 years and that it’s named after him!
© P. Granville 2021-2022