Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Alfred Ramsden and his hotel


The New Lynn Hotel, 1890s.  JTD-11A-04959, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

The old New Lynn Hotel at 3178 Great North Road exists only in memory. Normally, things start at beginnings. Here, I’ll start at the end.

It was demolished in January 2009. It had been owned by the Waitakere City Council from 2005, after the last private owners, the Bartulovich family, had applied for resource consent in 1995 to have the old building knocked down. It had been targeted by arsonists in 1972. It would be again in 2002. The council refused consent, slapped a heritage order on it instead in 1999 – and after legal proceedings the family agreed to sell the building to the council. 

The council also bought two adjoining properties for a reported $650,000. There were hopes the old hotel could be restored for around $250,000, and perhaps sold to a private operator. There was talk it might even be a character restaurant. 

But … no.

Structurally, it was cracking, toppling, needed to be bolstered up to prevent collapse, and was beyond repair. In the end, what the Bartulovich family had in mind in terms of the building’s fate, happened anyway. The demolition cost around $150,000.

Today, it’s an early childcare centre’s carpark. The Bartulovich family acquired the building, and nearly seven acres of surrounding land, via a mortgage default sale in 1940. Most of the extra land was subdivided during that decade. 

Before them as owners was Reginald Frederick Collard from 1929, who ran a bakery in New Lynn shopping centre. We shift backwards to the previous title, back to the original five acres around the hotel. There was an intermediary owner in 1923, then we come to dairy farmer William John Pugh from 1913. So, during the First World War, Jersey cows would munch their grass contentedly in the vicinity of the old hotel, now a converted residence. 

Pugh had purchased the hotel from Hancock & Co, the old brewing firm. They’d had the hotel under that name from 1907; before then, it was the property of the Captain Cook Brewery Ltd (another name, same firm), and before that, Moss Davis owned it until 1904. Davis, for Hancock & Co, purchased the property for £65 in 1891 from George Westcoat Wyman, formerly of Mangere but at that time living in Portland, Oregon in the US. This was just a concluding transaction; Wyman had already involved that company with the hotel, selling part of the property to Hancock’s founder Samuel Jagger back in 1886 for £1090. 

Wyman himself had given a mortgage to Alfred Ramsden back in August 1882, but Ramsden had defaulted within a year; so Wyman obtained title via the Supreme Court, in August 1883. 

It operated as a hotel with a license to sell alcohol from 1882 through to 1906, when it was decided that the New Lynn Hotel’s right to that license had to cease. The voters in the vast Eden electorate had chosen the reduction path, so the licensing committee decided the 24-year-old hotel had seen its last pint served. It had gone through a number of proprietors over that run. 

1882 Alfred Ramsden 
1882 William Amos Clarke 
1883 Walter Caddy 
1884 Frederick Harris Clements 
1886 Robert Tyler Penk 
1887 John Stuart Milne 
1889 Richard McVeigh 
1890 Elizabeth Patterson 
1894 Mary Dickson 
1899 Louisa Hertz 
1902 Robert Cartwright 
1903 Ellen Jane Featon (the last New Lynn Hotel publican) 

It had a brief revival, in another fashion, as Charles Shaw’s Temperance Hotel/Boarding house from 1907, but that venture didn’t last long. 

So now, we’re at the beginning, really. A man named Alfred Ramsden, who decided that a spot on the main road above New Lynn, on the way to Henderson and the Waitakeres, four years before Waikumete Cemetery and before there was much in the way of townships at New Lynn and Glen Eden – would be fine to build a hotel. 

Alfred Ramsden is said to have been born in 1847 in Lancashire, England, but “Ramsden” wasn’t the name of his unmarried mother, Mary Ann Ramsdale. In 1851, Mary was a weaver, lodging in Preston with three-year-old Alfred. A year later, she married Johnathan Sommersgill, and Alfred would come to have seven half-siblings, all bar at least one surviving to adulthood. 

By 1861, Alfred Ramsdale was working as a cotton factory worker in Preston, and married Elizabeth Sparnon in 1866. He and Elizabeth would have 12 children. Then, by 1871, we see an Alfred Ramsden in Dalton, now a brickmaker. 

At the end of the next gap in his life, Ramsden had reached Victoria, Australia in 1879 (according to him) with around £500-£1000 in his pockets. Next, we see Alfred Ramsden in Hawke’s Bay, successfully tendering to Napier City Council for supplying bricks in May 1880. 1881, he was a builder in Carlyle Street, Napier, industriously burning lime and firewood and creating a nuisance as well as mortar. Ramsden in Napier had a pattern he’d repeat elsewhere during his business career – he bought property after property, likely with mortgages, and then moved on. In October 1881, he put up for sale his brickworks known as “the Blacks”, a Temperance Hotel, cottages in Carlyle Street, and two more with a view of the bay. 

By March 1882, he’d reached Auckland. In that month, he paid John Tait £70 for six acres on Great North Road in New Lynn, had apparently set up a kiln, and advertised for men to make and burn 500,000 bricks. Things moved quickly (perhaps too quickly, given the fate of the hotel). Two months later, Ramsden applied for a license for his New Lynn Hotel, which was granted in June. Ramsden leased the hotel to Clarke in July – and that was the end of his involvement. 

He’d already moved on by that stage, living in the central city and working as a building contractor, breaching some by-laws, tendering for contracts. At some point during 1884 though, he shot through to the Australian colonies, carrying (according to him) 10s 6d in his pockets this time, leaving behind him unpaid mortgages. He said that on arriving back in Australia, (he later recalled) he pawned his watch for £1 10s, and paid 7s 6d for a breakfast. 

Another gap, but in April 1886 he re-emerges as the proprietor of “The Great Australian Coffee Palace” in Sydney, a dining room and 60-room accommodation hotel. Which he put up for sale in June that year. It finally went for £3500 by auction in September. In October 1886, Ramsden was bankrupt. He told the assignee that he’d left behind property in both England and New Zealand, but all had been lost due to foreclosures. He was allowed to keep his household furniture and tools, as well as to keep working, and applied for release in 1887. 

He headed south, made a new start in Melbourne – and in April 1888 opened his “Oriental Coffee Palace” there. This business seemed to be much more fortunate for him. Ramsden set his family up in Elsternwick, today a Melbourne suburb south-west of the CBD, and became involved with the local Primitive Methodist Church Sunday school. 

Then in April 1891, Ramsden’s pattern emerged again. There was a sale of a number of properties he owned or had leased. He’d moved his family to rooms at the coffee palace, and tried to placate his creditors. His estate was compulsorily sequestered in October 1891, showing liabilities of £98,000. By now, Ramsden claimed he had bad eyesight “from the heat and from white roads” and said he was unable to read the legal documents put before him at his insolvency hearing, where he recounted his career to that date. 

News of Ramsden’s bankruptcy was reported on both sides of the Tasman. The Otago Daily Times remarked: “The easy way in which the insolvent progressed from half a guinea and the proceeds of his watch in pawn in 1884 to £97,000 of debts in 1891 is remarkable. Surely Mr Ramsden affords another instance of the truth of the distich, which is the only remaining consolation of so many among us:- “Tis better to have boomed and bust / Than never to have boomed at all.” 

By 1895, Ramsden was in Western Australia, writing dud cheques, and being hauled into court by at least one person annoyed that the cheque bounced. In 1897 a four-storey building Ramsden had been contracted to erect in Perth, collapsed. Ramsden adamantly defended his work, but he was on a downward spiral. In October that year, he was arrested for deserting his wife. 

1898 found him in South Australia – where in Perth he filed for insolvency again in 1899. He was jailed as an insolvent debtor in 1900. He was discharged from bankruptcy again in May 1901, and in July, he was charged with being in default of a maintenance agreement for two of his children. 

In 1906, Ramsden went back to Victoria with his family looking for him, and tried starting the “Mount Lofty Brick and Lime Manufacturing Works” in the Snowy River district. That venture lasted to 1907. In January 1908, “of no fixed abode”, he was committed to the Yarra Bend Asylum, suffering from “delusional insanity”. A note on the case file states “mother and sister both said to be insane,” which may have been information from him. “Talks of making money in large sums. Says he has built churches. Says he has £1500 of furniture in the [illegible] Coffee Palace … Talks of large interests he has as a contractor and maintains that now he is defrauded. Says he still has property which is wrongfully in the hands of others … Says he was arrested by the police for entering his own property. Makes rambling statements about owning furniture in a coffee palace … Becomes excited in talking about being defrauded out of his money and property …” He escaped in September 1908, just nine months after his committal. Apparently, he was never recaptured. 

In 1911, there were “lost relative” notices in the New South Wales Police Gazette from Elizabeth Ramsden. In July that year, Ramsden was in court at Katoomba on an indecency charge. As a result, the police declared him “found”. 

In July 1914 at Robe, South Australia, he was arrested for being idle and disorderly, and sentenced to seven days’ gaol, suspended provided he left town. He did. In September he was apprehended as a mental defective at Mount Pleasant, South Australia, but was discharged. In 1915, he was sentenced to an indefinite time in custody as a “habitual inebriate.” He was released in August 1916 on license, but was picked up again, charged not only with being drunk, but for using indecent language. At that point, it was noted he had 11 previous convictions. He was sent back to the inebriates’ home. He was released again, on license, in October 1918. 

It looks like he then took up something of the swagman’s lifestyle; his swag was stolen in 1921. In 1923, he turned up in Victoria again, tried and fined at Melbourne for offensive behaviour. 

His last appearance in the press three months later was truly strange. 

“There were yells, shrieks and screams in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, during the week, as Constable Murfitt was working his beat from Brunswick Street. Farther down the street he saw girls scurrying across the road, and an elderly man waving his arms and giving out Indian war whoops that struck terror into the hearts of the fleeing lassies. “It was the time for the homeward journey for several hundreds of girls employed in the big factories in the locality. The man was making a dart at each group as if he would embrace them, and then would fling his arms up and utter a piercing yell which set the girls going helter skelter. He arrested the man, who gave the name of Alfred Ramsden, pensioner, of Bentleigh, and charged him with having behaved in an offensive manner. “At the Fitzroy court on Saturday last, Ramsden was fined 20/- for what Dr. Wheeler called disgraceful conduct. When Ramsden said he could not pay he was informed that the alternative of three days' gaol would give him a chance to have a good clean up and forget his Wild Indian proclivities.” 

 (Frankston and Somerville Standard, [Vic], 13 June 1923, p.6) 

Just less than two months later Alfred Ramsden, builder, brickmaker, contractor, hotel and coffee palace owner, was dead. He lies at St Kilda Cemetery, Melbourne. 

A man with, arguably, a far more colourful story than the hotel that he’d built in a West Auckland suburb. Like him, now just receding into history.

1 comment:

  1. This is amazing! I live in one of Ramsden's bulidings - the old Coffee Palace in North Melbourne, built in 1888. Two wings were demolished and the surviving main section was renovated into apartments around 2005 - I own one of the apartment units, which still has the original big sash windows, high ceilings and hardwood floors. I'm trying to research the history of the building and the characters involved with it over time - so happy to have found this article as I knew Ramsden went bankrupt shortly after opening the illustrious Coffee Palace but didn't have any further intel on him. Thanks for sharing this!