Wyndham History

Hotels in the Township of Werribee.


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Hotels in the township of Werribee

Four hotel sites were developed in the township of Wyndham, now Werribee, dating from the mid to late 1800s.  Those same sites are occupied by hotels to this day and known as: the Racecourse Hotel, Bridge Hotel, Commercial Hotel and Park Hotel. However, today’s hotels are not the buildings originally built on those sites, nor are they the names given to the original buildings.

The Racecourse Hotel

The first hotel in the township was built on the site currently occupied by the Racecourse Hotel, on the corner of Cottrell and Werribee Streets. 

A reference to the proposed first hotel appeared in the Geelong Advertiser in September 1849, coinciding with the mapping of the new township of Wyndham.

Blocks of land, on both the north and south side of the Werribee River, with Werribee Street forming the central axis, were marked out by assistant surveyor William Malcolm.  In 1850 Charles Nantes of Geelong purchased numerous blocks including the land on the corner of Cottrell and Werribee Streets, the corner block costing £40.

The first hotel, built between 1849 and 1851, was known as the Bridge Inn and initially only provided accommodation for travellers and stables for horses until a liquor licence was granted.  Elliot Armstrong bought the hotel and applied for a publican’s licence in November 1850.  It was granted in April 1851.  Armstrong was the licensee until his retirement late in 1879, the hotel also known as Armstrong’s Hotel.

The Wyndham District Road Board and the first Wyndham Shire councillors conducted the Shire business at Armstrong’s Hotel until the first shire office was ready for occupation in January 1867.

Earlier, Edward Snell the surveyor and engineer for the Geelong-Melbourne Railway Company wrote in his diary that he stayed at the Bridge Inn on several occasions during his employment with the company from 1852.

Elliot Armstrong died March 17, 1880.  Though hotel ownership remained with his family, local farmer Michael Wall had obtained a three year lease of the business from January that year, becoming the licensee.

In 1881 the hotel became known as the Racecourse Hotel, the name change probably influenced by Wall’s association with the Wyndham Racing Club. Extensive renovations inside the hotel and the addition of new stabling that year increased the Net Annual Value of the property from £50 to £65.

Michael Wall’s lease of the hotel ended in December 1882.   He was unable to renew the lease and commenced building his own hotel near the Werribee Railway Station.

The Racecourse Hotel was rebuilt following a destructive fire in 1888.  A 20-roomed single storey weatherboard hotel replaced it.

Licensee Mrs Mary Ann Dixon, in 1911, advertised the qualities of the hotel in the following extract from the Werribee Shire Banner, September 7:

FIRST-CLASS Accommodation for Travellers and Visitors at this Old-established Hotel, which is replete with every convenience, and the many facilities offered therein for the comforts of the General Public will be duly appreciated. The choicest and best brands of Wines, Ales and Spirits are kept at this establishment. FISHING AND SHOOTING. BUGGIES AND HORSES ON HIRE.

In March 1932 the hotel was again destroyed by fire.  Though hotel occupants escaped the blaze, the local Fire Captain was injured whilst fighting the fire.  The hotel was rebuilt of brick at a cost of about £2,300 and reopened in October 1932.

Alterations and extensions thought to have been made in the 1950s form the basis of the present hotel.

The Bridge Hotel

The present building is the third hotel developed on this site. The first hotel was the Railway Hotel built in 1855 on land purchased by Thomas Stephens.  The site was a large block extending from Watton Street through to Synnot Street, half an acre in size. The hotel’s first licence was granted in March 1855.

Patrick Murphy purchased the hotel from Stephens in 1856.  It was a substantial and attractive wooden building with about 13 rooms.  There were large gardens, stables, coach house, piggeries and fowl houses.

The Railway Hotel burnt down in 1862.  Using local bluestone Murphy rebuilt, opening his new hotel as the Camp Hotel in 1863. He advertised first-class accommodation and transport for fishing excursions.

Patrick Murphy owned the adjacent blocks of land, two acres in total.  He built sale yards at the corner of Synnot and Werribee Streets where stock agents conducted regular sales of farm animals for many years.

Murphy was one of the town’s most prominent citizens.  He was a Manager of the Wyndham Town Common and became one of five appointed as Trustees of land reserved for Roman Catholic Church purposes.

Following Murphy’s death in 1869 his hotel and properties remained in Trust for his heirs (all daughters) and managed by a succession of lessees and licensees.

During the following decades the Hotel’s trading name changed to reflect the name of successive new management:

  • Streat’s Camp Hotel, licensee John Nathaniel Streat, 1869–1875;
  • Mahony’s Camp Hotel, licensee John Dwyer Mahony until his death, 1875–1878.  The licence was then transferred to his wife Sarah Mahony, licensee from 1878 until her death in 1882.  Following Sarah’s death the hotel operated under several short term licensees.
  • Balfour’s Camp Hotel, licensee William Balfour until his death, 1887–1907.  The licence was then transferred to his wife Martha Balfour, 1907–1913;
  • Shields’ Camp Hotel, licensee Martha Shields, formerly Martha Balfour, 1913–1925.

In 1925 Murphy’s Trustees sold the Camp Hotel.  It was purchased by Arthur Fry and demolished.  He built the brick art deco hotel which opened in 1926 as the Bridge Hotel, the basis of the present building.

The Commercial Hotel

The first hotel on this site was the Railway Hotel built by Richard O’Connor on the corner of Watton and Bridge Streets.  O’Connor first built a store on this corner in 1869.

From 1869 to 1874 the Wyndham Shire rate book noted his occupation as a storekeeper.  Though O’Connor did hold a beer and wine licence during some of that time, he was not issued with a Publican’s licence for his public house, named the Railway Hotel, until October 1874.

Sometime in 1896, the Railway Hotel became the Anglers’ Hotel and in March 1904 the Shire Council granted O’Connor permission to demolish his hotel and rebuild.  In June 1905 O’Connor applied to the Geelong Licensing Court to have the name of the Anglers’ Hotel changed to the Commercial Hotel.  Permission was granted.

Richard O’Connor had been the licensee of his hotel since its beginning and in January 1907 the Geelong Licensing Court allowed him to transfer his licence to Mrs Johanna Cooke. O’Connor retained ownership of the hotel.

Richard O’Connor died on 5 September 1907, aged 70 years.  Mrs Cooke continued as licensee for a number of years and in 1920 the Commercial Hotel was advertised for auction.

A For Sale advertisement from the Werribee Shire Banner, 16 September 1920 described the hotel:

The COMMERCIAL HOTEL, situated on the corner of Watton and Bridge-streets, having a frontage of 124 ft. 11 in. to the former, and running back to right-of-way, with a depth of 179 ft., together with the good-will, etc. The Hotel is a two-story brick building with balcony, overlooking the Werribee River. It contains 22 rooms. There is also good stabling, loose boxes, feed house sheds, and all necessary hotel conveniences. Electric light and water laid on, also very large underground tank. The whole of the buildings, both inside and out, are in splendid condition.

This building remains as the basis of the present hotel.

The Park Hotel

By 1882 the Werribee township already had three hotels and in Mr Chirnside’s opinion it was three too many! Though the population was considered small, sporting activities in the district were drawing many sportsmen who wished to stay overnight but could find only limited accommodation.

The first building on the site was designed to cater for visitors wanting to participate in events including hunting, racing, fishing and coursing.  Sportsmen had complained of a shortage of accommodation, prompting local farmer and racing enthusiast Michael Wall to rectify that need.

Wall purchased the land known as Pontings Paddock on the corner of Watton and Station Streets where he built his Werribee Club Hotel in 1882. He applied for a Publican’s Licence for a house containing 30 rooms; it was refused.

The proposal for a fourth hotel caused debate within the community and formation of a Temperance movement was attempted but did not succeed.  Understandably the other hoteliers feared that their businesses would be affected and, at the Licensing Court hearing in December 1885, even the Excise Department representative considered it would be unfair to grant another liquor licence for the Werribee township.

After several prior applications Michael Wall was successful and was granted his licence by the Wyndham Licensing Court, held in the Shire Council chambers, on 24 December 1885.

As the name of the hotel suggests, it was intended to be a club venue but its proximity to the Werribee Railway Station gave it a great advantage in capturing wider patronage.  Michael Wall advertised the attributes of his business in Melbourne’s Argus May 19, 1886, as follows:

Fishing and shooting parties conveyed to the grounds at reasonable charges. Private compartments for families. Meals at all hours.  

Michael Wall remained the licensee until the late 1890s.  During the next decade several licensees were appointed though Wall retained ownership of the hotel.

In March 1907 the Licensing Court allowed the Werribee Club Hotel to be renamed Wall’s Hotel.  Later, Denis Canny became the new licensee leasing the hotel for three years.  He advertised first class accomodation; wines, ales and spirits of the best brands together with good stabling; horses and buggies for hire.

Canny purchased the hotel from Michael Wall for £10,000 in mid 1912 and the Canny family ran the business for many years. 

Both the business name and building design changed several times over the next one hundred years.  During that time this public house was, at various times, known as Canny’s Hotel, Tudor Inn and Werribee Hotel.

Following substantial internal and external refurbishment, including alterations to the courtyard, the hotel reopened as The Park Hotel on the 16 August, 2012.

Compiled by Rosemary Harrigan, Werribee.
October 2014.


Rosemary Harrigan, “Hotels in the Township of Werribee.,” Wyndham History, accessed December 2, 2022, http://www.wyndhamhistory.net.au/items/show/1686.


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