25 June 2016

Colonial gold rush architecture: Craig's Royal Hotel in Ballarat

Two amazing events happened in mid C19th that determined the importance of Victoria’s central gold fields. Firstly the leaders of the Port Phillip district had campaigned for Separation (from New South Wales) for a decade. This culminated in a petition being sent by the City of Melbourne in 1849 to the queen in London. Victoria broke away from NSW and formally became a separate colony in July 1851. The population of Victoria was growing rapidly, as were the facilities built to provide services south of the border.

Secondly once gold was discovered in Bathurst NSW in 1851 by Cal­ifornian digger Edward Hargraves, gold fever spread rapidly! In the very same year (July 1851) news of gold finds, in Clunes and then in Bunin­yong and Ballarat, spread goldrush fever to Victoria. Within 6 weeks there were 20,000 men in Ballarat living in tents and shanties. 30,000 ounces of gold were carried by secured coach to Melbourne.

The newly growing city of Ballarat required churches, schools and police stations, but mostly it needed pubs. Thomas Bath (1820-1901), a navy man from Cornwall, arrived in Australia in 1849. He opened The Ballarat Hotel in June 1853, a simple building that was perfectly situated in Lydiard St. Soon called Bath’s Hotel, this establishment was the first (or second) licensed hotel in the Ballarat goldfields.

Craig's Royal Hotel
Note the double storey loggias, towers and detailing.

Resentment on the goldfields was simmering because of the heavy monthly licence fee levied against working men digging for gold. In Oct 1854 at the Eureka Hotel in Ballarat, a public meet­ing was attended by thous­ands of miners; the hotel was burned down and three diggers were gaoled. Miners held a further meeting to demand their rights and the police responded with even more aggression.

Led by Peter Lalor, the miners formed a stockade at Eureka with c500 men. In Dec 1854 the Gold Commissioner organised the police AND the army to defeat the min­ers. It was a total tragedy - martial law was imposed and all armed resist­ance collapsed; 30 diggers and 6 policemen lay dead inside the stockade. Many more later died of their wounds.

The first trials started in Feb 1855 but public opinion seemed to be on the diggers’ side. Most of the diggers were given a light sentence or acquitted. So why include the Eureka Stockade and Rebellion in this post? Because the Eureka Stockade Royal Commission of Enquiry was held in Craig's Royal Hotel in late 1855. When Governor Charles Hotham's Royal Commission report was finally submitted, it presented rather critical judgments about the admin­istration of the gold fields, and particularly the Eureka Rebellion. The report made important recomm­end­ations, mostly sympathetic to the working men in the gold fields. Only one recommendation, to restrict Chinese immigration, was offensive.
Dining Room
Also used for weddings and balls

After the Eureka crisis had passed, Walter Craig purchased Bath’s hotel in 1857 and planned a bigger and more elegant hotel on the same site. By 1862 Craig's Royal Hotel had stone paved stables with 75 stalls and a hay-loft. A handsome Coach Office was added to the hotel where travellers could book coach tickets to all parts of the colony. So busy was Ballarat that 15-20 coaches arrived and left Craig’s Hotel daily.  “There were coaches and cabs, arriving and departing crowded with passengers, at all hours of the day, the street full of drays loaded with produce, waiting their turn at the weigh-bridge, the crowded bar, and nearly every room engaged: see a party of miners dividing their gold; see a committee, all farmers, miners, merchants, passengers, cattle buyers and sellers, all adding to the immense business and connection this Hotel has deservedly obtained”.

Craig's Royal Hotel has always been the scene of glittering social events in Ballarat but the next famous event was unexpected. An American ship the C.S.S. Shenandoah visited Melbourne in January-February 1865 with a mission to enlist Australian men for the Confederate Navy. Perhaps the Americans travelled to the gold fields because they though all those fit young working class lads would make good recruits. The local newspapers barely mentioned the American Civil War - they noticed only visiting American Civil War officers waltzing blushing Ballarat belles around the hotel's ornately decorated ballroom. It was a successful subscription ball, held in the officers’ honour.

Ballarat's connections with the Great and the Good continued in 1867 when Queen Victoria's second son Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh arrived and was hosted at Craig's Royal Hotel. Clearly the prince's ornately decorated room, specially prepared for his visit, was admired. [It must have been. In 1881 the royal princes Albert Victor and George inspected the Ballarat goldfields and chose to stay at Craig’s. As did the Duke of York/later George V and his wife Mary  in May 1901; they travelled by train from Melbourne to Ballarat to celebrate Australian Federation].

Original cedar bar

Also in 1867, the famous Australian poet and horseman Adam Lindsay Gordon created a business arrangement with hotel owner Walter Craig to conduct some of his business at the hotel's excellent stable facilities. Gordon specifically referred to Craig's pony in his poem “The Bankers Dream”.

Walter Craig died in August 1870 and his widow died soon after. Throughout the rest of the C19th, the hotel was sold to many new owners, renovated and expanded. Regardless of who owned the hotel, and despite the intense competition from other hotels, important people visiting Ballarat maintained the fame of Craig’s Royal Hotel. In 1895 the American author Mark Twain visited Ballarat on a world speaking tour. Famous Aust­ral­ian artist Daryl Lindsay (1889-1976), born and raised in the gold fields but too young to remember Mark Twain, recorded the details of the famous American author’s visit as told to him by his father. The most famous of all was Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba who performed from Craig's balcony in 1908.

The photos in this post are modern but it is reasonable to say that each of the major renovation since 1862 has been historically and architecturally sensitive. Extensive alterations and ornate redecor­ations took place in the Edwardian era. All the major structures retained their grand Victorian proportions, especially the main staircase leading to the private dining room and suites.

Imposing Victorian staircase

Bedroom with Victorian furniture and light fittingss

Recently Craig’s has been fully restored once again so that this grand colonial building could retain its former glory. Note the sumptuous Melba Suite and its regal mahogany bed; an Oriental Suite with its elaborately carved, antique Chinese wedding bed; the dramatic archways and marble fireplaces were uncovered; and the original Craig's Bar was preserved, complete with its carved Australian cedar details.


Andrew said...

It is a wonderful building and I am old enough to remember two major renovations to the hotel. I first visited after the renovation in the early 80s. Was it Craig's where Lola Mendez broke up the furniture to put on the fire in her room? It does get cold in Ballarat.

Leon Sims said...

Time for another visit to Ballarat seeing we are closer these days. The area has so much early Victorian history.

Train Man said...

The Ballarat Heritage Weekend in May this year was a lot of fun for all the family. The performances in particular were very suitable for the children.

Hels said...


don't you love blogging as a source of new and vital information :) The Daily Telegraph (Feb 2016) said Irish dancer Lola Montez gatecrashed a military parade in Berlin where she was arrested after slashing an officer across the face with her whip, then seduced composer Franz Liszt in Dresden. Divorced in the USA for the 3rd? time in June 1855, she sailed for Australia’s gold fields.

She became the talk of the town in dusty Ballarat where in Feb 1856, miners woke to the “war of the whip”, after Montez horsewhipped newspaper editor Henry Seekamp in a hotel bar the night before. He retaliated in kind, then the two grabbed each other’s hair as onlookers drew revolvers. The attack followed Seekamp’s criticism of Montez’s renowned Spider Dance in his Ballarat newspaper.

Hels said...


I think rural cities like Ballarat (pop 2015 = 101,000) never grew into huge metropolises and so didn't have to pull down every gorgeous 19th century building. Domestic and commercial structures, full of gold rush optimism, were saved - pubs, churches, cemeteries, police facilities, banks, courts, schools etc.

Time for another goldfields visit from me, too !!

Hels said...

Train Man,

Agreed. What a super community cultural festival the Heritage weekends have become. While the mining exchange, Botanic Gardens, Gold Museum and Chinese cemetery were our favourite sites, everyone loves the horse and carriage rides and the steam trains.

Have a look at The Known World Boutique City Apartment, a fully self-contained one-bedroom flat in the heart of Ballarat. It sits over the city's best book shop.

Annie ODyne said...

great post, great hotel. a good time to visit Ballarat is for the Organs Of The Goldfields festival but book ahead. The gold wealth gave the churches some massive organs and they all get a workout for everyone to enjoy without the formality of worship.

Hels said...


Yes! A ten day Summer Festival of Classical Music with 24 different recitals sounds brilliant to me. And popular festival meals and wines sound even better.

Kirstan Ross said...

Gold rush pubs must have attracted treasures. A small revolver, Russian bear grease and sealed liquor bottles are among an amazing haul of loot found during an archaeological dig at an old Melbourne pub. 250,000 artefacts have been found in rubble at the site of the demolished Mistletoe Hotel which opened in 1855, on the north side of the city.

The excavation has uncovered a variety of items reflecting an explosion of wealth coming into Melbourne and providing a really dynamic picture of the hotel’s past. And reflecting its gold rush history, there was even gold — some turned into a stick pin — and early coins uncovered.
Hundreds of bottles were found including beer, wine, champagne, cognac, gin and rum.