Peacock Hotel

(1854 - )

On 7 September 1854 Horace William Bastings was granted a license for the Peacock Inn. It was certainly in operation by November of that year when the Argus listed an auction of a butcher’s shop and slaughter yard located near the Peacock Inn.

Whilst Horace was establishing the Peacock Inn, his brother Edwin was building the two storey blue stone general store across the road. The Bastings family were clearly entrepreneurial as Horace was soon selling off four and a half acres of market gardens with over 100 fruit trees.

The Bastings brothers also showed a strong community spirit as was exemplified by their noteworthy contributions in fighting a fire at Mr. Goy’s chemist shop. In October 1855 Horace was again applauded by the Argus after showing considerable assistance and kindness to a man named Radford who had the great misfortune of falling off the Rucker’s Hill embankment. Poor Radford had the further misfortune of having the horse and cart landing on top of him.

On a lighter note Horace Bastings arranged a sports day for Boxing Day 1855. Events included a cricket match, pigeon shooting and a footrace.  Prizes included “…a fat pig” and numerous cash prizes.

In January the hotel was the scene of a fatality when Charles Ellis threw himself from an upper storey window onto the street below. A passing constable noted that Ellis

.”…put his feet out of an upper storey window.  He appeared
to balance himself in the window for few seconds, when he
threw himself head foremost out, on the ground.”

Ellis suffered a fractured skull and subsequently died of his injuries. Ellis’s companions stated that Ellis had been “wrong in the head” for a few years before the accident and had suffered from insomnia. 

Only two months later the Argus reported that John Bethune, aged 28, died at the hotel. No cause of death was noted. 

On 16 April 1856 the Licensing Board noted a change of publican, William Bastings replacing Horace. We know of four Bastings in Northcote at the time, Edwin and Horace were brothers as were Edgar and William. The relationship between the two sets of brothers is currently unknown. In 1857 Horace Bastings was to take over the license for the Quarry Hotel, East Brunswick.

In January 1857 William Bastings found himself involved in a case before the Elections Qualifications Committee of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria. It has been alleged that Mr Bennett had been engaged in purchasing votes. Mr. Lokey a farmer on the Merri Creek reported that at a meeting with Mr Bennett at the Shannon Hotel he had mentioned that some potential voters were “poor.” Mr Bennett referred them to his relative Mr. M’Vea, who would be prepared to pay them. 

Later Bennett approached William Bastings outside the Peacock Hotel. Earlier Bennett had attempted to rent a room at the hotel during the election. He now offered Bastings a note with the figure 20 on it, adding that he had friends who might be encouraged to visit the hotel during their travels along High Street. The implications being that Bastings would get £20 and increased patronage in exchange for his vote.

Later, on election day, the Peacock was used as a polling station. Edgar Bastings testified that Bennett had a room at the hotel and that an agent for Bennett, Mr Moody kept a ready supply of alcohol (provided by the hotel) on hand. Moody would approach voters and ask their voting intentions. Often they were invited into Bennetts room for a drink (or drinks) before heading upstairs to vote. 

The Bastings brothers stated that they were politically opposed to Mr Bennett but nevertheless continued to supply alcohol as well as allowing Bennetts to place a voting poster in the bar. The Committee ruled that there was no evidence that Bennetts had knowingly influenced voters by plying them with alcohol and there was no evidence of anyone receiving payment in exchange for votes.

The following year Bastings was involved in a messy court case with fellow publican Samuel Brownlow. In 1855 Brownlow had approached Bastings with a deal to share the profits of the hotel in exchange for Brownlow paying a sum of £577 10s. It seemed a good idea and Bastings signed the agreement. The only flaw in the process was that Brownlow did not have the money.  

After trying in vain to get rid of his unwanted investor, Bastings eventually agreed to allow Brownlow to purchase an amount of ale under the name of the Peacock Hotel in exchange for relinquishing his investment in the hotel. Unfortunately for Bastings Brownlow did not pay for the ale and the sheriff not only reclaiming Brownlow’s ale but also the Bastings stock as well. Fortunately for Bastings the magistrate proved sympathetic and found in his favour. Brownlow would reappear later at the Northcote Arms Hotel.

Shaking off the court cases Bastings enjoyed a Christmas sporting event on Boxing Day 1859. A silver watch was one prize in a day of competition which included hurdle racings and a sack race.

In September 1862 a significant event happened in the history of the Peacock Inn when the license was transferred from the Bastings family to George Plant. The Plant family was to own and run the hotel for the next fifty years.

On July 4 1863 the Epping District Road Board used the Peacock Inn as the registration centre for dogs. This link between the hotel and local government was to strengthen over the years, especially after George Plant became involved in local politics.

Plant was continue encouraging sporting events at the Peacock and on 7 January 1865 arranged a quoits match, with a silver cup as a trophy. A 100 yard race was also arranged from the Peacock Ground. It is unsure where the Peacock Ground was located but it may reference to an area later known as Plant’s Paddock which lay at the bottom of Rucker Hill, on the east side of High Street.

Another popular sporting event frequently held at the Peacock, and indeed several of Darebin’s hotels, was pigeon shooting. In June 1866 Plant advertised a Handicap sweepstake pigeon match. Later that year he even advertised an Intercolonial pigeon shooting match. 

Another interest of Plant’s was greyhounds and in May 1871 the Argus writes of the successful rabbit coursing held at the Peacock Inn. The star greyhound was Dot who killed eight rabbits and Tim Whiffler and Fly with six rabbit kills each. Needless to say, a large number of pigeons were also shot on the day.

On 7 May 1875 George Plant’s son, George Henry Marples funeral left the Peacock Inn bound for the Melbourne General Cemetery.

In 1880 and 1883 the Argus reports the sale of cattle from cattle yards adjoining the Peacock Hotel. These yards may have been on the opposite side of Bastings Street where the Northcote Theatre now stands. 

Clearly Plant was dabbling in land development as in the 1883 cattle sales it was stated that apart from the cattle, Plant was selling allotments in High Street, Frederick Street and Mitchell Street.  

By 1885 W. H. Clark was listed as the publican at the Peacock Hotel, a position he was to hold for four years. The decision to hire a publican to run the hotel may have been influenced by a court case in February 1884 when Plant was charged with “exposing for sale an inferior brand in a Hennessy bottle.” Plant stated that the contents of the bottle had contained dregs from assorted bottles, was unlabelled and not intended for sale but had become inadvertently mixed with other bottles. The magistrate accepted the defence and a minimal fine was imposed. Given that Plant was a local councillor and a Magistrate in his own right he probably felt that remaining the licensee was a conflict of interest.

Richard Walker held the license in 1890 but the after a “distress warrant” was issued for the seizure of goods for none payment of bills, Plant regained control of the hotel. Walker had incurred debts of £946 and did not have the money to pay. It was about this time that the hotel was rebuilt.

Plant did not take the license himself but instead his wife , Catherine, became the next licensee. She was to hold it until 1910. Plant himself died at the Peacock Hotel in September 1895. He was 61 years old.  

The Peacock Inn was the centre of social life in Northcote during this period with a large number of different societies and clubs using the building as a meeting place. In October 1902 the Northcote and District Poultry Pigeon and Canary Improvement Society met at the Peacock.  Frederick Plant, son of George and President of the Society, clearly having the same shared interest in pigeons as his late father, although George was more into shooting rather than improving pigeons.

A building attached to the south side of the hotel was even used as the Northcote Council Meeting Room until the construction of the Northcote Town Hall. That building is currently used as a bottle shop.

Frederick Plant’s talents not only rested with pigeon improvements, he was declared the champion of a three month billiard championship held at the Peacock in 1910, not to mention that he served as Mayor of Northcote, no less than five times, the most by any Councillor.

In 1910 Mrs Georgina Hore became the new publican at the Peacock. She stayed at the hotel for seven years before Margaret Campbell took over on the 3rd December 1917. 

In August 1919 the hotel made a rare appearance before the magistrate when Campbell was charged with men illegally on the premises. Constables Wilkinson and Burrows had entered the soft drink bar and tried to proceed to the main bar only to be blocked by Mrs Campbell. In the main bar were twelve men and the remnants of beer in several glasses. In her defence Mrs Campbell argued the men were merely passing through the main bar to get to the billiards table and the glasses were leftovers which had not been yet cleared away. She was fined £2.

The license for the Peacock was now to pass through several hands quite quickly, unusual for a hotel noted for having only seven publicans in sixty-three years (and that included license transfers from son to father – Horace to William Bastings, and husband to wife – George to Catherine Plant).  

Amongst the publicans in the 1920s were Frederick Bailey, Elias Phillips, and Martha Coghlin. With these changes in licensees came an increase in the number of liquor offenses. In January 1921 Elias Phillips had to explain to magistrates when there were a number of men in the bar outside hours. Phillips was fined £2.

It was also in 1921 that the Plant family severed their links with the hotel by selling it. In the mid 1920s Martha Coghlin became the licensee / owner. Around 1932 she extensively remodelled the hotel which included art deco decoration features. 

The hotel seems to have attracted little attention during the next fifty years, there are few records of liquor offences which suggest that it was well run. In 1982 the Mayor of Northcote, Socrates Papadopoulos, commented that recent renovations to the hotel were an example of sensitive alterations and the new owners, Mrs Seka Sumonja and her husband were to be complimented.

In 1985 Guy Potts and Tony Powell, took over the running of the hotel. The hotel reinvigorated its restaurant and like many pubs was also a live band venue. The following year, however, they incurred the wrath of Council over the unauthorised placement of external signs.  

The hotel was renovated in the early 1990s although it was subsequently damaged in a fire.

List of known publicans

1854 Horace Bastings
1856 William Bastings
1862 George Plant
1885 William Clark
1890 Richard Walker
1891 Catherine Plant
1910 Catherine Hore
1917 Margaret Campbell
1919 Frederick Bailey
1920 C. H. Bolton
1920 Elias Phillips
1922 Isidore Rosenberg
1923 H. Thorn
1924 James P. Graham
1925 Martha J. Coghlin
1927 Agnes F. Davies
1936 I. Coghlin
1937 Joseph Kelly
1939 W. A. Cameron (as agent for Joseph Kelly)
1945 O O’Dea
1953 F. Trainer
1960 A. M. Trainer
1974 D. R. Tarrant
1982 Seka Suumoja
1985 Guy Potts & Tony Powell

Butler, Graeme (1982). City of Northcote urban conservation study. Alphington: City Of Northcote.

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.

Lemon, Andrew (1983). The Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne: Hargreen.

Northcote Leader (Melbourne), Newspaper, Northcote 7 January 1921

Sands and McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory 1864-1974. [Microfiche]. (1974). Melbourne:  Sands & McDougall

Various articles 1854-1939 The Argus (Melbourne, Vic : 1848-1956)