The story of the original United Service Hotel & Tavern
Perth Allotment L3 was originally gifted to colonial merchant and all-round important person George Leake, by virtue of him already having a lot of money. He swiftly on-sold it to a consortium consisting of a Portuguese boatman named Joseph Moore and a Mrs Hodges. Moore had the money — Mrs Mary Anne Hodges had the advantage of not being a filthy foreigner and thus was permitted to be granted title over property (even if she was a woman*) in what was then very much an infant British settlement. The property was fully assigned to Mrs Hodges by the year 1832 — Year 3 of the town of Perth’s existence. By then, a dwelling house, bakery, outhouses, drains and fences had been erected on the lot and an invisible line separated the Hodges’s family properties from that owned by Moore.
* I am being sarcastic. Don’t @ me.
Mrs Hodges did have family with her in the Swan River Colony. Her daughter and son-in-law lived under the same roof as she, as did her husband. She was no widow. George Bell Hodges, and son-in-law James Dobbins were both serving in the 63rd Regiment of Foot, part of the British Army currently on posting to Western Australia. The Perth Barracks, where they would otherwise have to had bivouacked, was only a short walk away from Mrs Hodge’s property on the other side of St Georges Terrace and Barrack Street.
On 1 January 1833 Mrs Hodges applied for and was granted a publican’s licence for her property and what became known as the United Service Hotel came into existence.
There was a reason why Mrs Hodges’ name was on the title deed and liquor licence instead of her husband. Serving soldiers were not supposed to be involved in trade, much as Joseph Moore was not allowed to openly own real estate while not being a British subject.
This prohibition on going into business, or owning land— was certainly not enforced when one was a serving soldier of the officer class. This same class were probably the ones insisting the loudest their subordinates were not allowed to to follow their example. The commanding officer of the 63rd regiment got a free grant of land from the Governor as soon as he stepped of the boat in 1829. Captain Frederick C. Irwin’s estate of Henley Brook in the nearby Swan Valley was one of the best in the colony. Those under his authority hated him. The wider population of the settlement got to know him too during his first brief period as acting-governor. They burned his effigy in celebration when he handed over to his successor.
At least one future historian will make the mistake of believing that because Hodges was eventually able to be the name on a title deed that he must have been an officer, and a Captain too, no less. His fellow Privates would have found the very idea hilarious, and laughed as hard as they did when Irwin (by then promoted to Major, and Commandant of all British forces in Western Australia) desired to inspect his troops in full dress uniform and regally fell off his horse on the parade ground.
So it was Mrs Hodges who had to be both the name and the presence behind the counter for the time being while her men were on duty. She was the baker, general store proprietor, and after 1 January 1833, holder of a publican’s licence. Her as yet un-named public house on L3 would soon be known as The United Service Hotel.
Her husband was still in one of those Services (but presumably off duty) during August 1833, when, as he was serving beside her behind the counter of their general store, a labourer rolled in through the doorway inebriated as a newt and agro to boot. William Glover was there to pay a bill for some sugar. All goods in the Swan River Colony of this time were exorbitantly expensive and sugar was no exception. Glover attempted to pick a fight over the price, but Hodges refused to rise to the bait. Glover next attempted to get a rise by questioning the fighting prowess of the British soldier.
Hodges was aged in his early to mid-forties. His record had been good and he would have know that if he did not draw attention to himself, he would soon be eligible for a honourable discharge after many years of service. His son-in-law Dobbins (half his age) had no such concerns. Suddenly Private James Dobbins was standing before Glover with a hand on his shoulder prepared to throw him out the store.
Unfortunately, slouching in the doorway, and immediately outside, were some of William Glovers’ own comrades. Dobbins went down under a pile of bodies. A female voice (whether belonging to Mrs Hodges or Dobbins is not recorded) raised the call of hue and cry to summon assistance constable. That call was of “Murder!”
“Corporal Dobbins was murdered down at Hodges’s”The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 28 Sep 1833 p. 153
Was the word that reached the the soldiers in Barracks. The doughty men of the 63rd Foot swiftly mobilised and descended on Mrs Hodges’ store…
Dobbins was not deceased. Some bruises would be the extent of the injuries suffered by any of the parties involved in the affray. The extraordinary feature of this episode is not that Glover then brought a charge against Dobbins for assaulting him (charge dismissed, Glover ordered to pay court costs) but that Glover remained alive to even contemplate such a course of retribution.
There was an attempt made to arrest Glover by Hodges, but it failed…
He was sitting down in my shop bleeding when Hodges and two other soldiers came and said Glover was a prisoner, I refused however to give him up unless to a Civil authority. Hodges appeared as much excited with anger as Glover was.The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 28 Sep 1833 p. 153
This shop belonged to a Mr James Solomon.
The first mention of the name: United Service Hotel appears in a newspaper dated 5 July 1834. It must have been a familiar name by then, for this title was address enough alone to advertise that an auction of a nearby property was to be carried out at that location. The allotment now being offered for sale in this advertisement was L7, just down the road, which the Hodges family promptly purchased. L7 was registered to the name of George Bell Hodges, so he was, by now, no longer a private soldier, just a private citizen.
With far more room to expand on this new site, the United Service Hotel was transferred to this location.
However, the infrastructure on Perth Allotment L3 remained, and was also physically closer to the military establishment— who had guaranteed pay days of grog money. The original building was rebranded the United Service Tavern, so who better to run it than Hodges’ own kin, now he was a private citizen as well?
The seeds of misfortune germinated almost straight away. Joseph Moore, silent co-owner of L3, died very suddenly late October 1835. The Hodges found themselves having to deal with a new party who wanted to cash in their equity in their unexpected new possession. The question was resolved in court by the beginning of the year 1837 not in the Hodges family’s favour.
While this setback was being resolved, presumably with much expense, and a block of land now half it’s previous size — another merchant, one who had loaned them the money to purchase L7, now attempted to auction the same out from underneath them. It all proved to be a book keeping error on the merchant’s part. George Hodges was understandably irate and took Lionel Samson to court over the matter. Hodges lost this case as well, He retained ownership of L7 but now he was now on bad terms with the major supplier of produce he needed to sell.
Hodges may have had no choice but to put the original site of the United Service Hotel up for sale by the beginning of 1840. Also included was the good will, custom and the very name of the establishment his son-in-law had run for him for the past five years. (Notice it W[illiam] Samson, not his brother Lionel, that assisted this event)
The name of the United Service Hotel on L7 changed over time from Hodge’s United Service Hotel, to just Hodge’s Hotel — then Royal Victoria Hotel, (after the new British monarch in 1837) — eventually it was just the Victoria Hotel. But by now it was too late to save the family business in Western Australia. The Victoria Hotel was also sold by the end of the year 1840.
Sale of the Victoria Hotel.—This old established house and extensive premises, with well stocked garden, &c, was sold byThe Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 12 Dec 1840, p. 2
private contract, yesterday for £1,300.
The proprietor has made a sacrifice in disposing of this property in consequence of the opposition created by the establishment of a cheap eating house, called a club; on the opposite side of the way.
The Hodges family remained in Western Australia for a few more years, regularly announcing their imminent departure, until most of them boarded the colonial Brigantine Emma Sherrat bound for a new life in India on 19 February 1845, via a stopover on the island of Mauritius.
The merchants of Perth awaited anxiously for the return of the Emma Sherratt to their shore for they awaited news of how well the produce the vessel was carrying had sold in the new market of Mauritius. The days became weeks, became months, with no sign of the harbinger of all their futures. Four months later the Emma Sherratt did return to Fremantle.
In a nice piece of bastardry, George Hodges had delayed the return by taking out a lawsuit against the vessel’s master, Captain Harding, over some unspecified matter relating to the voyage to Mauritius. The court case delayed the return trip by seven weeks. Hodges would never return to Western Australia, but he still had family remaining there.
On 20 August 1845, James Dobbins and his wife left Western Australia and sailed for Mauritius in the steerage hold of the very same vessel, the Emma Sherratt. Captain Harding might have fed them to the sharks en-route to the island for all the trace in the historical record that remains afterwards of them.
If you know better, do let me know!
Mrs Mary Ann Hodges, who for my money is the real hero of this testosterone drenched tale, died or was buried in Kolkata, West Bengal (then part of British India), on 21 April 1865 at the age of 70. George Bell Hodges lived another three years before joining his wife in the same burial plot on or about 20 December 1868. His social status at the end of his life was recorded as being a gentleman.