Saturday, May 26, 2012

Eden's Great Southern Hotel - Murder, Mayhem & Espionage!

A landmark in the township for more than one hundred & fifty years, the building now known as the Great Southern Inn started its life as a store, & after being converted to a hotel, has seen its share of murder, mayhem & even a taste of cold war espionage.

Originally constructed as a store using locally made bricks from the Adelaide brick works for local businessman & whaling operator George Barclay in or around 1857, the two storey structure opened its doors as Barclay & Teas’ Twofold Bay Stores. Although it is unknown exactly when Barclay commenced his general store business, it was certainly by 1849, when the Eden Bench of Magistrates granted him a spirit merchant’s license for his seven roomed slab built shingle roofed cottage in Chandos Street. This remained active until his death in 1864, but from 1860, the premises were described as “a brick building in Imlay & Chandos Streets”, obviously the building now known as the Great Southern.

After Barclay’s death, the business was carried on first by his estate & then later by his widow Isabella, & in 1871, a correspondent wrote “Passing along Imlay Street…the traveller first reaches an immense building in brick, known as the Twofold Bay Stores. These stores are the property of, & carried on by, Mrs. Isabella Barclay…” Although it is uncertain exactly when Isabella closed the business, in 1879 her husband’s estate was sequestered, & during 1880 insolvency hearings were held.

It was around this time that the building became a hotel. In May 1880, the Bombala Herald announced that “Mr. John Hopkins has leased the large premises formerly the property of Mrs. Barclay, & intends to open the same shortly as a first class hotel.” No stranger to the trade locally, Hopkins had held the license for the Roan Horse Inn at South Pambula (or Yowaka as it was then known) during the 1870s. By June 1880, the new publican had completed his renovations & opened the new hotel, the Bombala Herald again reporting on the endeavour, noting that “The hotel commands a splendid view of the Pacific & it is to be hoped Mr. Hopkins will be repaid for his outlay.” Naming his business the Great Southern Hotel, the Eden Bench issued Hopkins with his license, renewing it in 1881 & in November 1882, the Bega Gazette reported that “Mr. Hopkins hotel [is] quite full…”

The Great Southern Hotel prior to the 1890s addition of the balcony.

With few public meeting places available in the township, hotels & inns were often the venue of choice for everything from political gatherings to sports entertainments, & the Great Southern was no different. In 1887, a public meeting was held there in support of the proposed Bega to Eden railway line, while in 1888 when the NSW Premier & father of Federation Sir Henry Parkes visited the district, he was entertained at a public breakfast at Great Southern. During 1901, visiting football teams were also treated to after match dinners at the hotel.

By 1890, Mr. Axam had taken over management of the Great Southern, but in January the following year, a change of ownership was announced, when it was remarked that “…a gentleman from Goulburn is about to take charge. It is to be hoped that he will prove as genial a host as the present landlord…” This began a rapid change of publicans, James Haugh in charge by March 1891, but in November, when the venue was advertised for sale or let, it was noted that “The present lease expires in February. The building is large & well-built & offers a grand opportunity to make good profits. The climate of Eden is unsurpassed in the colony in summer time. Eden is now a port of call for the famous Pambula goldfield, being only a few miles from it…” By 1893, John T. Merry had taken over, announcing that the building had recently undergone thorough repairs “…including a magnificent balcony…”, but in August it was noted that the Great Southern had closed, stating that “The building is evidently too large & elaborate for a small country town, unless the place goes ahead more rapidly.”

Imlay Street, showing the Great Southern to the right, after the 1890s addition of the balcony.

Evidently, not everyone agreed with this opinion, because just a couple of months later Henry Wellings was granted a new license for the Great Southern & in 1897, Eden was being advertised as “The best sanatorium in NSW…” while it was stated that “The Great Southern Hotel provides the best accommodation of any hotel south of Sydney. It is admitted by all that the climate & hotel accommodation cannot be surpassed…”

During 1898, the Great Southern was the scene of the sudden death of well-known Pericoe Station proprietor John Alexander. Shortly after this, however, the hotel became the scene of the tragic murder of an infant. After the remains of a male child were found dead on the beach near the Eden wharf, a jury found that the death had been “…caused by suffocation…” returning a verdict of “…wilful murder against some person or persons unknown…” At the time both Harriet Stafford & Mabel Bourke (also spelt Burke) were employees at the hotel, & when the young, unmarried Mabel went into labour, she claimed that Harriet not only assisted her during delivery but then took the new born baby boy away, later returning to tell her that the child had been born dead, & that she had wrapped him in a parcel & thrown him off the wharf.  However, autopsy reports showed that not only was the child born alive, but that two distinct marks were found on the throat like those of a finger & thumb. Although Harriet denied all knowledge of both the child’s delivery & his subsequent death, she was subsequently found guilty of “concealing the birth of a child” & was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment.

The Great Southern to the right, C. 1910.

By 1903 Sabina Pike, fondly known to many as “Aunty Pike” had taken over as publican. As the wife of James, a former publican at Eden’s Commercial Hotel, she would have been well versed with the requirements of the job, & a 1903 Directory of Trades & Professions noted that that “…at Mrs S. Pike’s Great Southern Hotel will be found one of the very best conducted houses, not only on the south coast, but in the state, for Mrs. Pike thoroughly understands her business. The cuisine & internal arrangements in this house reflect the greatest credit on the management.” However, with the opening of the Australasia, Mrs. Pike moved on to the town’s newest hotel & in 1906, the Great Southern was advertised to let, the announcement referring to Eden as “The sanatorium of NSW..." & the hotel as “…one of the best Tourist Hotels in the State…”, standing on “…absolutely the best site in the town…”, noting that the building was constructed of brick, with a slate roof, & good water supply, consisting of thirty rooms, including two sample rooms & a “…splendid balcony view of the town, harbour & ocean…”

The Great Southern Hotel, C. 1920's.
James Haugh had returned the hotel by 1909, advertising “…the oldest & best known hotel on the Coast…” stating that boats could be arranged for picnic parties. Although he was still in charge by 1912, Mr. & Mrs Len Schafer had taken over by 1914, & in October, with the impending departure of volunteers for the battlefields of WWI, the couple hosted a “…sumptuous…” farewell supper for the young men, including J. & P. Donnelly, J, Ryder, J. & W. Peisley, W. Stewart & P. Aldridge.

The Schafers were still in charge of the hotel in 1921, but by 1923, Walter James Norman had taken over, & in June that year, was granted a renewal of his publican’s license. Next was Sam Wilton, from whom “Steele” Rudd had taken over in 1926, becoming one of the first in the township to install electric lights. As one of the last to hold the license for Pambula’s Club Hotel, he came to the Great Southern with experience in the industry & prided himself on being able to skip up to 1,000 times non-stop in front of hotel guests. During his time at the Great Southern, his hotel had a narrow escape from destruction as a result of the disastrous 1926 bushfires. A report of the incident noted that that “The residents of Eden have had terrifying experiences. On Friday the town narrowly missed destruction…A cyclonic burst of wind wrecked the balcony of the Bank of New South Wales, & a massive chimney of Rudd’s Great Southern Hotel. Under a cold change at night the bush fires died down considerably, but there is a danger of revival.”

Rudd's Great Southern Hotel, C. late 1920's.

Still in charge of the hotel in 1930, Rudd eventually sold out to Vincent “Barney” Welsh, under whose management the business became known as the Hotel Eden, & during his time the premises became the scene of an unusual protest. In October 1945 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that “A group of 60 men, led by one of the principal trawler owners in Eden, declared the two local hotels "black" at an open-air meeting yesterday afternoon. Reasons for the action were alleged overcharging & that hotels did not adhere to hours for opening to serve beer. A deputation was appointed to visit each hotel & ask if publicans would agree to the men's terms. They allegedly received the reply that it was intended to carry on as usual. Pickets were appointed to watch for defaulters.” It is thought that this may have been the catalyst for the establishment of the Eden Fishermen’s Club.

Great Southern Hotel, C. 1920's.

It was also under the Welsh’s management during 1953 / 54 that the hotel became peripherally involved in one of the most dramatic Cold War spy incidents in Australian history. Leading up to the so-called Petrov Affair, KGB Colonel & Third Secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Canberra Vladamir Petrov had been meeting clandestinely with a range of secret informers, including French Embassy employee Madame Ollier, to secure cipher information. Fearing retribution after the shooting death of Soviet Security Chief Lavrentiy Beria, Petrov offered to provide the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) with evidence of Soviet espionage in Australia in return for political asylum. Defecting in April 1954, the former KGB agent provided evidence of Ollier’s Soviet associations, including claims that she had met with him in Cooma to discuss espionage matters on Christmas Eve, 1953. The French woman was sent to Noumea, interrogated, arrested & returned to France for further questioning & although she admitted to having formed Soviet contacts she denied meeting with Petrov in Cooma on the date stated. This assertion was, in fact, backed up by an official declaration by Mrs. Eileen Welsh, wife of Hotel Eden publican “Barney” Welsh, who stated that Madame Ollier had checked into the hotel at 12.30 pm on December 24, 1953, & remained until January 2, 1954. With the journey then taking at least five hours, it is highly unlikely that the meeting could have taken place on the day & time stated by Petrov, although given Ollier’s admissions there is some likelihood that she had been involved in such clandestine activities. In the wake of Petrov’s defection, the Australian Embassy in Moscow was expelled & the USSR Embassy in Canberra recalled. Diplomatic relations were not re-established until 1959.

Great Southern Hotel to the right, C. 1930s.

 Hotel publicans were also frequently called upon to help out in times of need, & the Great Southern was no different. In 1934 when Mrs. Middlemis, wife of the Gabo Island lighthouse keeper, was confronted by medical problems as a result of her pregnancy, Mrs. Rudd came to the fore. After Eden fisherman Mr. Warren had made a 10-hour round trip to & from Gabo to transport the seriously ill woman to Eden, the publican’s wife cared for the patient until the doctor from Pambula could attend. 1953 also saw the hotel called upon to accommodate numerous travellers caught by flash flooding between the Kiah & Genoa Rivers. After Fred Woods & his crew had made the mercy dash to Edrom to transport the passengers from a bus & about 150 cars & trucks to Eden, the hotel saw every room occupied, with beds spilling over into the lounge area.

Great Southern Hotel, C. 1940s.

Following the wake of the shock 2010 closure of the Australasia, the Great South Inn became the township’s only hotel, a situation that has not been reflected in Eden’s licensing history since the 1840’s.

© Angela George.


  1. fantastic effort...noteworthy. wondering about the appearance and subsequent dissapearance of the chimney in the southern corner ???

  2. Hi Robert, that was probably the chimney that was destroyed by "...a cyclonic burst of wind..." during the 1926 bushfires. Both "The Hobart Mercury", (14 December, 1926) and "The Queenslander", (18 December, 1926) have write ups about it. Cheers :)