Commercial Hotel (now Northcote Social Club)

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On December 13 1854 John M. Moor was granted a license for the Shannon Hotel in Northcote. The hotel was there from at least November as advertisement for land sales mentioned that the land was 'a very short distance from Basting's, Peacock public-house, and Shannon Hotel. In the April 1855 Licensing Meeting for the District of Burke the Shannon was noted as having Maurice J. Moore as the publican. It is highly possible that J. M. Moor and M.J. Moore were, in fact the same person.  Shortly afterwards Denis Hayes became the new publican. Things did not start well and by July Hayes was forced to auction a collection of furniture and goods, including large quantities of wines, beer and spirit, to pay for outstanding rent.

The hotel, from its earliest days had a reputation as being the resting place for teamsters and bullock drivers. This no doubt gave it an air of being a bit of a 'rough' pub.

In September that year the Magistrate granted Hayes a license for the Shannon Hotel, noting that the hotel had previously been licensed but that it had lapsed. It is possible that Hayes had been forced to temporarily close the hotel until he could restore some of his finances. At the same hearing the former publican, Maurice Moore was granted a license for the Bayview Hotel in St. Kilda.

In September 1856 Cr. Keeley addressed electors of the East Bourke district at the Shannon Hotel as he attempted to win a seat in the Victorian Legislative Assembly. Hotels were commonly used by politicians as public meeting spaces and it was not uncommon for hotels to act as polling booths during the actual election. This did lead to the occasional accusation of the local candidate bribing potential voters with free drinks. 

In July 1857 William Jones, Samuel Tucker and Charles Taylor were all charged with attempting to pass 'base coin.' In other words fake money. Both Jones and Taylor had separately entered the Shannon Hotel and requested a 'nobbler of brandy', both paying with a half crown. In the second instance Miss Honara Hayes noticed that the coin was 'bad.' Both men left the hotel but Honara checked the till and located the other half crown was also faked and informed her father, Denis. Denis Hayes, together with Sergeant Stephenson then searched for and apprehended the three men. The following month the case came to trial with the landlord's three children, Ellen, Honora and 13 year old John all providing evidence. William Jones stated he did not know the coin was base and the Magistrate dismissed the case.

In September 1858, new publican M. B. Muir, formerly of Adelaide, advertised in The Argus newspaper. He stated that he had 'laid in a stock of wines, spirits, ales, porter, &c,. of the best quality, respectfully solicits a share of public support. The house has been renovated and improved. Dinners got up on the shortest notice. Private rooms for weddings and other parties. Good beds, stabling, stockyards, and accommodation paddocks for cattle and horses.' Muir had gone by 1860 so clearly his marketing strategy was less than successful. He was followed in rapid succession by Henry Drowley and the Cecilia Murray. By July 1860 Cecilia was already in trouble. She found herself being sued for debts accrued by her deceased husband. Furniture and stock from the Shannon Hotel were seized for auction, being valued at £94 19s. It was well short of the £1,396 which was owed.

In 1859, an insolvency case was launched against the estate of Denis Hayes by Maurice J. Moore. Before W. B. Noel, Commissioner of Insolvent Estates, Hayes ascertained that his estate was valued at £1,630 and liabilities of £900. His last insolvency had been in 1856. The case dragged over many months, partly due to the non appearance of Hayes to the insolvency court. Somehow Hayes managed to keep creditors at bay and continue owning and leasing out the Shannon Hotel. As Hayes had a wife and eleven children it is little surprise that he often found it hard to keep ahead of insolvency.

In December 1862 Hayes found himself in court in a dispute with the licensee Elizabeth Bray. After disputes with Mrs Bray, Hayes had negotiated with them to vacant the premises and move to another hotel nearby. As he entered the building he noticed Elizabeth Bray was still there it was stated that he '....forcibly thrust Mrs Bray forth, using great violence, almost chocking her, and striking her over her hands until they were bleeding.' A witness stated he say Mrs Bray with blood on her hands. Hayes countered that he had arrived at the hotel to find it empty and after surveying the 'dilapidations all over the premises', Mrs Bray arrived and began to berate him, calling him an 'old Irish hog.' He then gently restrained her and carried her to the door. During this she scratched his hands with a key. She then cut her hand on a broken window pane. Hayes considered himself the injured party in this encounter. The Magistrate thought otherwise and he was fined 40s with another 40s damages. It was stated during the court case that Denis Hayes was the owner of the building and that the Bray's were tenant licensees. Curiously the hotel was referred to as the old Shannon Hotel even though the building was only eight years old.

Incredibly Elizabeth Bray was confirmed as the licensee of the Shannon Hotel in April 1863. It could not last long of course and by September William Sawbridge was the new licensee. He lasted barely any time and by December the license was being transferred to Bertram Plant. The Plant family already owned and operated the Peacock Inn. By April 1864 Hayes had clearly had enough of the revolving door of licensees and took over the running of the hotel himself.  

The following month Hayes was in court as Jane White found herself defending an accusation of endangering the lives of her children through her intemperate drinking. The charge was brought by her husband. Hayes found himself involved after Jane attempted to trade her dress for beer. Apparently Mrs Hayes agreed before having second thoughts and returning the dress! The case was dismissed when Jane promised to temper her drinking habits. This was not the only time Hayes was involved in a case of this nature. In 1874 Hayes was charged with supplying alcohol to a 'dipsomaniac' despite pleas from the man's wife and a written notice to that effect. Hayes was found guilty of supplying liquor to a person in a state of intoxication and fined £5, the maximum penalty allowed under law. At the time of the offense Hayes had been away from the hotel and the man, Mr. Oliver, had been served by Haye's daughter, who swore he was not intoxicated when she had served him. The Herald described Mr Oliver as an 'unmathematical man' - that is he never knew when he was full! 

In later years Dinnie Hayes, son of Dennis would become almost a local legend as a cab driver in Northcote. Wearing corduroy breeches and riding boots he would take his two wheeled cart from Lonsdale and Swanston Street up to Northcote and back for 6d a ride.

In 1877 the first meeting of the Northcote branch of the National Reform and Protection League was held at the newly renamed Shannon Hotel, now known as the Commercial Hotel. The name changed occurred around 1875 probably when Patrick Maheron became the new landlord of the hotel. In October of that year police lodged a complaint against Maheron for failing to keep a light lit outside his hotel during the evening. Maheron was also the owner of the building and leased it out to successive licensees until at least the 1880s when Marie Flanigan became the owner.

In 1880 William Rough, late of the Commercial Hotel, Northcote was declared insolvent due to a failing off of trade at the hotel. His liabilities were listed as £277 and assets as £61. He joined Hayes, Muir, and Murray who all ran into financial difficulties whilst running the hotel. William Rough may well be the William Brough, listed as the publican in 1878.

In 1880 Patrick Mahoney became the licensee, followed by Michael Mahoney the following year. In rapid succession Kate Boxill, Henry Maynard and John Humphries followed. Between 1878 and 1883 there had been as many as eight licensees of the hotel. This could indicate that it was a 'rough' pub or it reflect the poor condition and lack of trade at the hotel. It then developed some degree of stability with John Humphries staying there until at least 1889. On the 26 March 1889 his youngest daughter Eliza died at the hotel. She was 19 years old.

The previous year Humphries was forced to call the police after Robert Lawson came into the bar extremely drunk and demanding to be served beer. He was refused service so he hit Humphries who promptly hit him back. Outside the hotel Lawson was arrested by Constable's Warren and Curtin.  His language was described as the worst that Constable Warren had ever heard.  Lawson was convicted of insulting behaviour, resisting the police and damage to police uniforms. He was fined for all three offenses.

In 1890 Humphries died at his Helen Street residence, aged 65. He was succeeded as the publican by Michael Jones. Jones was brought before the Northcote Police Court in November 1893, charged with no cancelling the stamps on certain hogheads of beer. O. W. Connelly was also charged at the same time, both getting a £2 10s fine. Jones was luckier in August 1896 when he was charged with Sunday trading. Constables Warren and Malcolm saw Annie Aston of 56 Station Avenue Northcote go into the hotel yard and come out a short time later with the shape of a bottle under her clothing. The police admitted that they did not taste, smell or see the beer and the case was dismissed.

In July 1891 a meeting was held for the purpose of forming a branch of the Progressive Political League. Cr. Munro was elected chair and a political platform was discussed. The idea behind the meeting was that if the workers united into one powerful organisation, working with all workmen throughout the colonies they would have a voice in any legislation that would effect them. This would be achieved through the election to Parliament of candidates pledged to follow the principles established by the Progressive Political League. The foundation of the League could have said to have been successful as it morphed into the Australian Labor Party.

By the early 1890s the hotel had fallen into a state is disrepair and the Council had it sold for demolished in 1894. The sale price was £3! The year was a good one for Michael Jones, not only did a brand new, two storey brick rendered hotel arise from the site of the old Shannon Hotel but his wife also gave birth to a daughter. In April 1906 Ellen Jones took over the licence of the hotel after the death of her husband Michael. She remained there until her death there in September 1934. She had held the licence for the Commercial Hotel for a remarkable 28 years. 

Like all of Darebin's hotels the Commercial Hotel had to survive the Licensing Court Deprivation Sittings. The purpose of these sittings were to reduce the number of hotels operating within Victoria. Although a large number of hotels were closed, the Bridge Hotel was the only hotel to close in Northcote.

In 1923, Ellen's daughter Vera married Frank Joseph Trainor. Presumably this is the same Joseph Trainor who became the Preston Hotel publican in 1925.

Like most publicans, Ellen had, on occasion, needed to front the Magistrate's Court. In August 1926 it was allowing drunken persons on the premises and having people on the premise after closing time. A £5 fine was imposed. 

After the passing of Ellen, Florence Cooper took over the hotel. She immediately invested £600 in improving the interior of the hotel. Around the same time Henry Thornhill was arrested in the rear yard of the hotel, suspected of running an SP booking racket. As Thornhill was alone at the time he argued that as there was no 'user' therefore there could be no crime. The magistrate agreed the case was dropped. There was no evidence that anybody at the hotel knew that Mr Thornhill was in the yard of the hotel.

In 1937 the licensee was the impressively named Henry Linacre Bell Towers. He left the hotel to take up the licence for the Swanston Family Hotel in the city, the licence falling to the equally well named Wadys Welsley Towers. Perhaps his brother?

James Baxter, like so many publican before him, found himself on the wrong side of the six o'clock closing when he was discovered by the police with eleven men still drinking at 9.20 pm. No just a little bit past six o'clock! As the police arrived, people were seen scattering everywhere with Mrs Baxter caught with a tray containing four pots with beer still in them. Given that they were caught red handed, the Baxter's pleaded guilty and collected a £2 fine. Interestingly the fines do not seem to have increased from the 1890s.

The Commercial Hotel operated in a time warp, seemingly unchanging through the years. Only after the hotel changed hands in the early 2000's did it undergo a cultural change and was reborn as the Northcote Social Club. Since 2004 its primary attraction has been as a live band venue and a second renovation in 2015 has helped build on that reputation.


List of known publicans

1854   John M. Moor
1855   Maurice J. Moore
1856   Denis Hayes
1858   Matthew Bailey Muir
1860   Henry Drowley
1860   Cecilia Murray
1860   Elizabeth Bray
1862   Thomas Bray
1863   Elizabeth Bray (April)
1863   William Henry Sawbridge (September)
1863   Bertram Plant (December)
1863   G. Plant
1864   Denis Hayes [still Shannon Hotel in 1875]
1875   Patrick  Maheron [Commercial Hotel] also referred to Patrick Mehern
1878   William Cutler
1878   William Brough
1879   William Rough [Brough?]
1880   Patrick Mahoney
1881   Michael Mahoney
1881   Kate Boxill
1882   Henry Maynard
1883   John Humphries
1891   Michael Jones
1906   Ellen Jones
1935   Florence Cooper
1937   Henry Linacre Bell Towers
1938   Wadys Welsley Towers
1939   James Baxter
1949   Leo Stewart
1960   A. O. Pilgrim
1967   A. L. Gilchrist
1969   C. H. Norris
1971   V. J. Shaw


Cole, Robert K. Index of Hotels 1841 – 1949. Unpublished manuscript.
Edge, Gary (2004). Surviving the six o’clock swill: a history of Darebin’s hotels. Melbourne: Darebin Libraries.
Sands and McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory 1864- 1974. [Microfiche]. (1974). Melbourne, Australia: Sands & McDougall.
District Court (1855, September 5). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 4
Melbourne Criminal Sessions (1857, August 18). The Age (Melbourne, Vic.: 1854 - ), p.5
Insolvency Court (1859, October 5). The Age (Melbourne, Vic.: 1854 - ), p.6
New insolvents (1860, July 7). The Age (Melbourne, Vic.: 1854 - ), p.7
Court case Bray vs. Hayes (1862, December 3)
Melbourne Licencing Meeting (1863, December 2). ). The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.: 1861 - 1954), p.3
Police. City Court. (1864, May 18). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 7.
A warning to publicans. (1874, February 3).  The North Eastern Ensign (Benalla, Vic.: 1872-1938), p.2
Betting charge dismissed. ((1935, June 22). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 28