Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The first Whau publicans: the Priestley brothers

On 28 July 1861, land agent Michael Wood sold seven sections of land partly bounded by Great North Road, Rosebank Road, a new road called Princes Street (the stub of which is now called Elm Street), and a cross-road which no longer exists called Victoria Street (around where the Peninsula Inn is today). The buyers were traders, brothers John and Charles Priestley, who arrived in Auckland on the Imaum from Hobart in 1854. They were based in Opotiki for at least the next five years, where Charles was convicted and fined £6 16/- 8d including costs for aggravated assault and knocking out five teeth of one William Wilcox in 1856.

The brothers purchased the corner site, in the heart of the future Avondale Shopping Centre, for £200. By April 1862, John Priestley had secured the first hotel license in West Auckland for the Whau Hotel, described in 1863 as “the large and handsome two story house of 10 rooms, well finished, painted, and papered,” complete with outhouses, stables, and a “well of good water” (from the spring which still runs down from Station Hill and on along part of the Rosebank Peninsula), and two acres of land. The brothers were onto a good thing: with no other licensed hotel between Edgcombe’s Great Northern at Western Springs and the Waitakere Ranges, along with the military blockhouse just a few miles distant on the Manukau Harbour and the promise of a Whau Canal, they stood to be quite successful in the enterprise of hotel-keeping in this district.

The Priestleys’ hotel was associated with another more tragic first: West Auckland’s first documented case of possible death by drinking. Hugh Henry of Titirangi went off on horseback to Auckland city on the 15th of November 1862. On the way there, he stopped at the Whau Hotel, and Charles Priestley served him with ginger beer. Henry returned from the city in a spring cart pulled by his mare, and met up with Priestley and one of Priestley’s friends driving back in Priestley’s cart. All three had “a nobbler of brandy each” at the Great Northern. Arriving at the Whau Hotel, Henry stayed there two hours, drank three glasses of rum, and took 1½ pints with him when he left. He returned 10 minutes later, saying he had broken the bottle, and asked for more. He was found the next morning in a gully near his home, underneath his overturned cart, the mare still attached. He died shortly afterward at his home.

The Priestleys decided to sell the hotel in June 1863. But, by September the hotel remained unsold, and now William Swanson forced a sale. In December, the hotel was sold – and the Priestleys left the district. The hotel was to remain on that site, now that of Ray White Real Estate and adjacent buildings, until at least 1870.


  1. Your posts are fantastic. This blog is awesome and I love it. Working tonight as usual but taking a break for now. Will catch up soon.

  2. Glad you like the blog, OITS. Don't forget, if there's anything from your area you would like highlighted, you know where to find me. Ciao.

  3. thank you for that wonderful information. I am researching my great great grandfather Charles Priestley. He left Auckland and went to the East coast near Gisborne married a widowed Maori lady. John stayed in Auckland but eventually went back to England. Papers past has provided me with a lot of interesting information about them, but this was new news!