Topic: The Hamilton Hotel

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  The three Hamilton Hotels 

Hamilton Hotel 1865 - 1874

The first Hamilton Hotel, for there have been three, was opened in March of 1865 by Captain W.E. Turner formerly a commander of the colonial paddle steamer, the PS Rangiriri. Although not granted his license to operate till the 7th of March, Captain Turner was obviously confident as he started advertising his new hotel as early as the 2nd of March, 1865. (1)

In December of 1867 Turner put the hotel up for sale and the following February it was purchased by a Mr Joseph Pennington. (2)(3) Mr Pennington held onto the hotel for a similar length of time to Captain Turner before selling it, and a few other choice assets (including Captain Moule’s old residence), for £750 to Mr Thomas Farrell. (4)(5)

The hotel became the venue for various meetings of the settlers including those of the Hamilton Highway Board, the Waikato Jockey Club and the shareholders of the Hamilton Flour Mill Company (Limited).

The hotel changed hands once again in May of 1872 when it was purchased by James Harper. (6) Harper added a billiard room and an extra 25 bedrooms. (7) In July of 1872 the Waikato Times reported on a “rather serious drunken riot” at the hotel that resulted in the arrest of “five natives”. (8) Two years later Harper was charged with being in breach of the Licensing Act for allowing beer to be sold and consumed on a Sunday. As it was his first offence he was fined just 4 shillings and costs. (9) The following month there was a destructive fire in the town centre. James Harper “was most active in saving property, and hospitable to those rendered homeless.” (10) Yet according to Norris, “The Hamilton Hotel had fallen on evil days” (11) and three months later the Waikato Times reported that they were “glad to learn that Mr Harper has sold out of the Hamilton Hotel, and we trust that he will enter upon a new sphere of business better suited to his habits and capacity.” (12)

Gwynne’s Hamilton Hotel 1874 - 1897

Gwynne's Hamilton Hotel c. 1882 
Gwynne's Hamilton Hotel c. 1882

The hotel’s reputation improved considerably after its operation was taken over late in 1874 by Mr Richard Gwynne and his wife Sarah (formerly of the Junction Hotel in Newmarket, Auckland). (13)

The hotel became “the centre of Hamilton life... Whenever there was a public function in Hamilton, the Gwynnes were in the thick of it.”. (14) The Gwynnes made several additions to the hotel including another 14 bedrooms, a large commercial room, a dining room and several sitting rooms. (15)

As well as being a hotel owner, Mr Richard Gwynne was “an enthusiastic gardener [who] laid out and kept the grounds in admirable style.” (16) This article describes a concert held in the gardens of Gwynne’s Hamilton Hotel which “were lighted up with Chinese lanterns and blazing tar barrels...” (17) Richard Gwynne was also one of Hamilton Borough’s first councillors.

Sadly, Richard Gwynne “expired” aged 57 in May of 1883. The “intelligence” of his passing was reported in the New Zealand Herald. (18)

Sarah Gwynne carried on business at the hotel for many years and continued to be actively involved in the local community until she retired in 1897. After her death in 1906, Mrs Gwynne was described in The Observer as “an incomparable of the model landladies of the province and a woman of uncommon kindliness, geniality, and force of character.” (19)

Fire! Fire! 1898 - 1922

Following Sarah Gwynne’s retirement, the hotel was taken over by William Bright and his wife Agnes, formerly proprietors of the Queen’s Hotel in Thames. (20) The Brights were in charge not quite a year when fire broke out across the street. Because there was no fire brigade in Hamilton at this time, the damage was extensive, with fifteen buildings being destroyed at an estimated cost of £12,000. The Waikato Times building was saved by its brick wall. The Waikato Argus reported that “The wind at the time was blowing right across the street... and the flames spread rapidly...”. (21) Within about half an hour the first Hamilton Hotel, along with its stables and honeymoon cottage, was destroyed.

Victoria Street c. 1899The Hotel being rebuilt (just right of centre) after the July 1898 fire

The new Hamilton Hotel (Bright’s) was opened on the 4th of March 1899 under the ownership of L.D. Nathan & Co. It had fifty rooms, a frontage of 81 feet, and extended back in two wings a distance of 68 feet. The Waikato Argus described it as “brilliantly lighted, look[ing] exceedingly well and had the effect of brightening up that portion of the street considerably.” (22) It became the headquarters of the newly formed Hamilton Club until they opened their own premises on Grantham Street.

The second Hamilton Hotel c. 1900
The second Hamilton Hotel c. 1900

Little of note occurred between 1899 and 1922 other than an altercation in 1915 between a leading Auckland musician and a well-known  Auckland sharebroker. The broker, Arthur Coe, hit musician Johan Wielart and called him a liar and a German. Wielart was born in Holland to Belgian parents. (23)

The license for the hotel changed hands a few times. When the second fire to hit the hotel happened in 1922, the licensee was former All Black Jock McKenzie. (24)

Hamilton Hotel 19223 April 1922 The second Hamilton Hotel burns

Hamilton Hotel 1922The remains of the second Hamilton Hotel, April 1922

The fire on the 3rd of April destroyed the second Hamilton Hotel and took three lives. They were Donald ‘Rory’ O’Moore, a travelling salesman for Chemicals Ltd., Nellie Partridge (nee Wood) who was a maid at the hotel, and Horace Moore-Jones, who initially escaped the fire but returned to save the lives of others. He died in hospital as a result of the severe burns he suffered. Horace Moore-Jones was well known as an artist, particularly for his work “Simpson and his Donkey”. He was in Hamilton because he had decided to start art classes in the town and was boarding at the Hotel. (25)

Hamilton Borough Council Minutes April 1922
Condolences from the Hamilton Borough Council 1922

Hamilton Hotel the Third 1923 - 1980 

Twelve months later a new Hamilton Hotel - designed by Auckland architects H Clinton Savage and Henry S Moran - opened. Made from concrete and concrete block, its style is described as Beaux Arts and is the only one of its kind in Hamilton.

It didn’t impress many, but for reasons other than its appearance. According to the Auckland Star it contained just six bedrooms while the whole of the ground floor was designated as a bar area. (26) Accommodation in the town was already scarce. Waikato Winter Show attendees reportedly slept in chairs because they couldn’t get beds. (27) Alterations in 1925 added 45 rooms  and a further 25 were added in 1929, extending the Victoria Street frontage to 170 feet. (28)(29)

Hamilton Hotel c. 1947The third Hamilton Hotel building c.1947

Now it was fit for dignitaries. Various Governors General stayed at the hotel as did Prime Minister Coates. But the most famous guests of all were in 1953 when the Queen and Prince Phillip stayed a night during their Coronation tour. (30)

The golden years did not last and in 1975 the hotel's owners, Jepsen Holdings Ltd, were put into receivership. It was put up for auction but did not sell. Attempts to sell privately were also unsuccessful. In 1977 it was sold back to Consolidated Hotels, who had sold to Jepsen in 1973, and three years later they closed the hotel. (31) In 1980 the Waikato Times reported on the worry the loss of the hotel could cause the central city. 'Hamilton was trying to persuade people to use the centre of town -- "but with only one hotel left [the Commercial Hotel] we haven't a hope [Councillor John Webb]."' (32)

In 1981 the hotel building was sold to charitable company Hamilton Arts Centre Ltd who developed it as an arts and community centre which became commonly known as Left Bank. (33) In 1985 it was listed as a Category 2 building.

See pictures taken by Kees Sprengers of the Hamilton Hotel in 1982 here. 

There are more photos to view online in the Related Items box below.

The former Hamilton Hotel buildings 2010 
The former Hamilton Hotel in 2010



1. New Zealand Herald 2 March 1865, p. 1
2. Daily Southern Cross 9 December 1867, p. 1
3. New Zealand Herald 1 February 1868, p. 6
4.New Zealand Herald 19 October 1870, p. 1
5. Daily Southern Cross 4 November 1870, p. 2
6. Waikato Times 2 May 1872, p. 3
7. Daily Southern Cross 26 November 1873
8. Waikato Times 2 July 1872
9. Waikato Times 5 March 1874
10. Waikato Times 14 April 1874, p. 2
11. Norris, 1963, p. 214
12. Waikato Times 18 July 1874, p. 2
13. Auckland Star 3 December 1874, p. 3
14. The Observer 5 January 1907, p. 4
15. Waikato Times 7 December 1874, p. 2
16. ibid
17. Waikato Times 13 December 1879, p. 2
18. New Zealand Herald 28 May 1883, p. 5
19. The Observer 5 January 1907, p. 4
20. Thames Star 24 August 1897
21. Waikato Argus 19 July, 1898, p. 2
22. Waikato Argus 7 March 1899, p. 2
23. Press 19 May 19 May 1915, p. 6
24. Auckland Star 2 April 1930, p. 9
25. Various newspaper reports 3 & 4 April 1922
26. Auckland Star 15 May 1923, p. 3
27. Auckland Star 6 June 1923, p. 7
28. Auckland Star 16 September 1924
29. Auckland Star 8 August 1929, p. 8
30. Waikato Times 31 December 1953, p. 4
31. Waikato Times 31 March 1980, p. 8
32. Waikato Times 5 June 1980, p. 1
33. Waikato Times 27 March 1982, p. 5


Coates, I (1962) On record : Being the reminiscences of Isaac Coates 1840 - 1932. Hamilton: Paul's Book Arcade

Norris, H.C.M. (1956) Armed settlers : The story of the founding of Hamilton, New Zealand, 1864-1874. Hamilton: Paul's Book Arcade

Norris, H.C.M. (1964) Settlers in depression : A history of Hamilton, New Zealand, 1875-1894. Auckland: Paul's Book Arcade

Simmons, A., Byrnes, G., & Doolin, E.R., (1989) Buildings of historical significance in central Hamilton. Hamilton, NZ: Waikato Regional Committee, NZ Historic Places Trust 

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