Carters' Arms Hotel (1867-1989)

The earliest reference to the Carters' Arms' was January 1866 when an notice was placed that Mr Callaghan would address electors at the Carter's Arms' Hotel on the 17th January. John Roberts definitely had a liquor licence granted in 1867, although presumably he or someone else held it in 1866. Long after passing the licence on, Roberts continued to live in Arthurton Road, often working as a carrier. It was during his time as the publican that high quality clay was discovered on the land immediately behind the hotel. This later became the site of the Northcote brickworks.

In 1870 the hotel was run by Edwin Witton, who changed the name of the hotel to Wittons’ Arms' Hotel. In February 1871 Witton's wife Catherine passed away. Aged only 35 she had been suffering ill health for some time. Auctions were frequently mentioned as occurring on the land opposite Witton's hotel in Northcote. Auctions occurred frequently on land opposite the hotel and were advertised as such in The Argus and The Age. At one point 130 large red gum trees were sold with the proviso that they be removed from the land they occupied adjoining High Street.

In 1875 John Roberts regained the licence for the hotel to be known as Roberts' Hotel. This presumably was Witton's Hotel. In October 1877 Roberts only daughter Mary married John Watson of Northcote.  

George Leith became the next publican, being listed there in 1882. The following year he fell foul of the law, being charged with selling alcohol on Sundays. A fine of 20s was imposed with Leith saying that the alcohol was sold quietly in the backyard to a neighbour. It was a small penalty by the standards of the day.  

In March 1887 George Leith applied for the licence to be transferred back to John Roberts. Sadly Roberts died only four months later. F. G. Hurst took over the licence but only held it a short while before passing it on to Emma Beer in March 1888.  Emma had previously held the licence for the Bridge Hotel before moving across to the Carter's Arms'. A year later the newspaper reported the death of Emma Beer. Her husband took over the running of the hotel with the licence formally transferring to him in July 1889. Almost immediately Gustave Beer was in trouble with the authorities for having a drunk on the premises.  He was fined 2s. 6d by the Northcote Police Court. 

In 1891 the newspapers reported the death of Mary Roberts at her home, the Carter's Arms'. The deaths of both John and Mary Roberts perhaps indicates that they remained the owners of the hotel throughout its early life although allowing others to hold the licence for the hotel. 

Owen and Mary Connelly held the licence during the 1890s and the hotel again was brought to the notice of Magistrates when they were caught selling hogsheads of beer with outdated stamps on it. In 1895 Mrs Connelly's mother, Margaret Abernathy sued the Northcote Council after tripping on sand on the footpath outside the hotel. During the court case it was revealed that Mr Read was the current owner of the hotel.  There is no record of what the court's verdict was. Mrs Abernathy died at the hotel the following year.

The area around the Carter's Arms' could be very rough. In January 1890 Constable Collins requested that Edward Gibson moved his horse and dray which was obstructing the roadway near the hotel. Gibson became verbally abusive and as Constable Collins moved to arrest him he was assaulted by up to five 'larrikins.' The struggle was said to to continue for up to half an hour with the policeman being thrown though a shop window before being dragged back out into the street to continue the fight. Collins took one of his assailants with him through the window.  Collins was so badly battered that when police reinforcements arrived they initially believed him dead.

Gibson was heavily fined and paid them, Robert and John Johnston and John Stephens were also fined but as they did not have the money were subsequently sent to Pentridge stockade for a three month sentence. A year later Michael Clark was charged with striking a policeman with a bottle outside the Carter's Arms'. 

In August 1905 Thomas Kane became the new publican and was followed shortly afterwards by Margaret Malone.

In 1911 Mary Kelly purchased the hotel.

In 1913 publican John Fagan fell afoul of the law when he was charged with selling bottles of Dunville's whisky which contained a weaker strength whiskey. Mr Fagan's defence was that the bottles were part of the stock he inherited when he took over the licence in 1911 and had no idea that the whiskey was anything less than was stated on the bottle. A £5 fine suggests that the magistrate was unconvinced by his defence.

In 1915 Fagan transferred the licence to Arthur Miitchell. Again there was minor liquor transgressions. For Mitchell it was having the bar door open and trading after hours. By now the six o'clock closing was in place and infringements of this were common in hotels. Constable Williamson had entered the hotel at seven  minutes past six and found twenty five men in the hotel. As the police entered through the rear of the hotel the publican was heard to say

'Out you men, the police are here.'

There was a rush for the back door only to find more police there waiting for them.  A £5 fine was imposed.

The following year a brawl in the backyard of the hotel resulted in one man losing his sight in one eye. No one was convicted of the crime.

In 1917 Mitchell attempted to pass the licence onto Denis Foley. This was opposed by police on the grounds of Foley's past career as a bookie.  The magistrates reserved their decision and later in the year the licence passed from Mitchell to William Cadden. Now the hotel began to have the appearance of a revolving door in regards to licensees. Seven publicans in eight years before the hotel began to settle again the early 1920s.

The close proximity of the hotel to the Northcote brickworks no doubt attracted many thirsty workers from there and probably gave the hotel a rowdy reputation which would account for the high turnover of publicans. The hotel also had to fight off a strong challenge from the Licencing Board which was keen to find hotels to close down.

In 1922 there was a succession of licensees linked to the hotel including F. Mulcohy, Patterson and Mary Kelly.  

Mary Kelly acted as the hotel's manager although not holding the liquor licence herself.  She was also the centre of a prominent court case.   Joseph Lapish of High Street Northcote passed away in October 1921 leaving the then considerable sum of £20,000. His will directed £2 per week to his brother Edward and a hefty £5,000 to Mary Kelly. Furthermore her son Thomas Kelly would inherit £10,000 when he turned 25 (he was then 12 years old). In the months prior to his death Lapish had been practically bed ridden at the Carters Arms' and under the care of Mary Kelly. Christopher Cooper, the licensee of the hotel, stated that Mr Lappish owed the money to Mrs Kelly, however the courts seemed unconvinced by that. The plaintive in the case was Mrs Lapish who was undoubtedly unhappy at the idea of her husband's money all vanishing into the hands of the Kelly's.  

The court case ended in an anti-climax and Mrs Kelly and Mrs Lapish reached an agreement and the case was dropped.

The licensees continued to rotate with Mary Kelly herself taking the licence in 1927 and again in 1929. She was to hold the licence for the next fifteen years. Kelly would find herself in front of the magistrates on a fairly regular basis with minor infringements of the liquor laws. In 1934 it was the sale of alcohol after hours. In this particular case Senior Constable Nolan noticed barman Patrick Walsh hand a prohibited bottle of liquor through the door to a man. The policeman then discharged his revolver at the man who ran away!  Shooting at a man for buying a bottle of beer seems a little bit over zealous.

The following year Walsh was in trouble again. Stanley Taylor told Magistrate E. O'Grady that he was parked in a rear lane behind the Carters Arms' hotel when he was approached by an unknown man. Taylor offered to obtain some beer for the man who agreed and paid him some money. Walsh appeared in the lane with the beer only to discover that the unknown man was in fact Constable D. Bremner in disguise. Another fine.

The lane behind the Carters Arms' was obviously not a good place to loiter as the following year a man was hit over the head during a fight where bottles were freely used as weapons. In 1937 another fight behind the Carters Arms' saw First Constable Fennessy assaulted.

Mrs Kelly found herself back in front of the courts in 1934 over a civil case against Albert Edwards for monies lent and not paid. During the course of the case it was revealed that Mrs Kelly had been left a widow after losing her husband in the First World War. She had built up considerable resources as a result of her conducting hotels and dealing in properties. It was estimated that her worth was £100,000 and included four or five hotels and a number of houses. A not inconsiderable fortune to accumulate in less than twenty years.  Mrs Kelly and Mr Edwards were engaged and she had, over several years, lent him not insignificant amounts of money. Mr Edwards claimed the monies were for building works he carried out and not loans. The fact that Mr Edwards had neglected to inform Mrs Kelly that he was married during the course of their engagement may have contributed to the souring of their relationship.

The court case continued until 1940 and involved 53 witnesses and over 170 exhibits before the court eventually found in favour of Mrs Kelly. 

In 1942 the licence for the Carters Arms' Hotel passed from Thomas Kelly to Elizabeth Gallagher. Thomas was Mary Kelly's son and the hotel had been sold the previous year to  an investor. Thus ended a 30 year link with the Kelly family and the Carters Arms' Hotel.

In 1949 Albert Kenny became the publican at the Carters Arms'. Meanwhile the lane at the rear of the hotel continued to attract strife. In March 1955 police raided an illegal operation in the lane by SP bookies playing 'Crown and Anchor.'

Kenny was to remain at the hotel until 1968 when T. Doherty took over. 

There were still a few dramas for the Carters Arms' Hotel. In 1973 a fire broke out in the kitchens of the hotel and it took three hours to extinguish the flames although the fire was contained to just the kitchens. Although the lights were turned off Hurricane lamps were switched on and drinking continued in the main bar throughout the incident.

In 1980 a report by the Fire Brigade stated that many of Northcote's hotels, including the Carters Arms' Hotels were significant fire hazards with no fire exits and often not even fire extinguishers.

In 1988 the Northcote Action Group Residents Concerned for the Built and Natural Environment opposed the planned demolition of the Carters Arms' Hotel as part of the Northcote Central Shopping Complex construction. The developer argued that as he had already sold part of the land to the Northcote Council for planned road widening, it was impossible to save the hotel. Even its advocates had to acknowledge that the hotel was run down.  

Despite their efforts the hotel was demolished in 1989. Although one of the original stained glass windows was initially installed in Toto's restaurant which was built on the site, the window disappeared when the restaurant closed.


Known publicans
1867 John Roberts
1870 Edwin Witton
1876 John Roberts
1882 George Leith
1887 F. G. Hurst
1888 Gustave Beer
1893 Owen W. Connelly
1895 Mary W. Connelly
1905 Thomas J. Kane
1907 Margaret Malone
1911 John M. Fagan
1915 Arthur Mitchell
1915 Arthur Richard Bastian
1917 William M. Cadden
1918 James T. Solomon
1919 Mary Maguire
1920 Christopher Cooper
1922 F. E. Mulcohy
1922 ? Patterson
1923 E. B. J. Willis
1926 Margaret Sullivan
1927 Mary Kelly
1928 Maurice Sullivan
1929 Mary Kelly
1942 Thomas Kelly
1942 Mrs E. Gallagher
1949 Adrian Fuller
1949 Albert Kenny
1968 T. Doherty

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.

Lewis, Robert (2002).  The first twenty: recalling 1928-1948.  Balwyn East, Vic: Publishing IT.

Various articles 1922-1940 The Argus (Melbourne, Vic : 1848-1956)

Varous articles 1968-1988 Northcote Leader (Northcote, Vic: 1882- )