Red House Hotel

From Hotels of Ballarat
Red House Hotel
Picture needed
Town Ballarat
Street Main Road
Closed 20 January 1859
Known dates 1858-1859
Demolished Destroyed by fire 1859

The Red House Hotel was a hotel in Ballarat, <1858-1859.

Site[edit | edit source]

The hotel was in Main Road, in the Ballarat East Licensing District.[1]. It was between George Oakey, greengrocer, and Robert McTaggart, ironmonger.[2]

Background[edit | edit source]

History[edit | edit source]

In June 1858 the licensing court required a report on the hotel before issuing a license. The license was issued but with a caution to John Rolfe to maintain the hotel in a clean condition.[3]

On 20 January 1859 the hotel was destroyed in a fire which also destroyed its accompanying store and that of the neighbours. The neighbours alleged that the publican, John Rolfe, had deliberately lit the fire in order to claim on the insurance. The coroner's court found that he did not light the fire, but said he had not done enough to extinguish it before it took hold of the buildings:

INQUEST ON THE FIRE AT THE RED HOUSE HOTEL. At the instance of the Northern Insurance Company, and Mr Oakey, one of the persons burnt out, the District Coroner held an inquest at the Red Hill Hotel, on Thursday afternoon, into the circumstances attending the origin of the recent fire at the Red House Hotel. Mr Randall appeared on behalf of the Northern Insurance Company. Mr Lewis on behalf of Mr Oakey and the Fire Brigade, and Mr M'Dermott on behalf of Mr Rolfe, the proprietor of the hotel in which the fire originated, A jury being empannelled with Mr George Gray as foreman, proceedings commenced by the jury leaving the loom to view the site of the fire. On their return the coroner proceeded to call evidence.

John Rolfe deposed-Am proprietor of the Red House Hotel recently burnt. It consisted of ten rooms besides the store, it was burnt on Saturday, night or Sunday morning, I am not sure which. The store was attached to the house and contained stores of all kinds also straw out of the packing cases. I could not help that, but was as careful as I could. There was no entrance to the store from the house. Have not estimated my loss accurately, My stock, I may safely say, was worth about £100, house £400, moveable utensils and furniture, £170. I was doing a good business, very good indeed, as everybody on Ballarat well knew.

At the moment of the fire I was in bed. I heard of it first by somebody calling out "Fire" from above. It broke out in the store without all question. It was about two I think. Had gone to bed about one o'clock. Saw all safe over the house before that. Not in the store; was not there after six o'clock. All was secure when I went to bed, a small smouldering fire only being in the kitchen fire-place. When I rose up I could see through the pattern of the paper to the fire in the store, and said "My God, Harry, look sharp; here's the place on fire." Can't say the least how the fire originated; only there is one thing I ought to state. A boy (Bent) went into the store for some ham a little before bed time. About twenty minutes, this was, before we went to bed. He had a small oil lamp in his hand, with one pane broken, over which I put his hand, that he might not set fire to anything. He returned with the lamp in the same manner as he went and brought a hammer. I sent him back with it, and sent the barman (H. Blewitt) with him, that he might not set anything on fire. The boy still held the lamp in the same manner this time. They both returned immediately. I was insured for £500 in all. Paid £23 19s 6d premium on 9th March last. Was not dressed when I left the house. Had on my hat, a pair of stockings, and shirt onIy, my other clothes I threw on my arm. I rushed up stairs to see all were out of bed, and pushed one man out of the window. There was no possibility of any one getting into the store, as it was locked, and I found the lock since the fire. To Mr Randall-The barman had the key of the store. I saw him and the boy both come out of the store. I was the last to bed. No certainly not, I did not go to the store that night, I had no business there. I was not long after the rest going to bed, for I was sick. There were two rooms between my bedroom and the store. (The witness explained the plan of the house.) Have been there about 2½ years. I should think the house, fixtures, and labor of erection was worth £400. I thought I would insure for something. Did not insure for full amount. My policy of insurance was at the bank.

Have not a wife and family that I know of. Did not call out about them that night. It was one of the lodgers who sung out fire. Don't know who he was or his name. He was never there before. Should know him again. He is not here. I wish he was. He said the police knew where to find him. I woke Blewitt. I rushed up stairs to the lodger who gave the alarm. His place was not on fire. He told me he was catching bugs and thus saw the fire. I broke Mrs Oakey's window, though nobody seems to know. I think the morning's meat had been got in the over night. Generally bought our vegetables of Mrs Oakey, but she said cabbages were going to be dear, and so I bought some that day from a German. Generally dealt with our neighbors, and was always on excellent terms with them. Had no combustibles in the store to my knowledge. We had only one fireplace, and one stove standing on wooden blocks standing on the floor, with tin or iron between. Can't tell how much wines and spirits I had. Can't tell indeed at all ; my mind has bean too much agitated about this sort of thing, and I won't attempt to say. Oh, no ; I hadn't a hogshead at all. I didn't you know have things at all in a large way ; oh, now, I wouldn't attempt to say; I couldn't you know. As near as I can say, suppose from ten to twelve gallons of wine and spirits besides the larger stock of bottled liquors. Ours wasn't a large way you know. Ours was a small trade. Had perhaps seven cases of bottled ales and porters. Had no draught ale at all. At a rough guess about 45 bottles of spirits, perhaps. Then there were bags of sugar, rice, &c. There were two bags of sugar, one ham, half chest tea, 14 or 15 lbs tea and coffee; but I wouldn't be bound by anything I say now you know. £6 worth butter, one bag rice, cask haricot beans, spice, apples, raisins, currants, &c, were in the store. To Mr Lewis-My bedroom adjoined Mr Oakey's. His premises were not on fire. My housekeeper, Mrs Bromige, and three children used to be with me. She and they were at Buninyong that night, their proper place of residence, where they had been five weeks. They were at the hotel on the Friday before the fire, and went away that night. Did not tell Mrs Oakey I sent the girl into the store for the ham. Oh no, certainly no-nonsense - never said anything of the sort. Mrs Bromige was with me two and a half years. She came back after leaving, to see to the kitchen again, as my cook did not do well, and I discharged him and had to get another. The cook came, and I think. Mrs Bromige went away the same day. His name is Snelling. He came on Friday last, I think. He went to Corduroy Hotel, and I went there for him. Don't know if I said anything of importance to him about the evidence. Mrs Oakey's place was not burnt down before the store - certainly not. Asked Mrs Oakey to insure some three mouths ago, when I extinguished a little fire we had in the kitchen. Asked her several limes to insure. To the jury-Don't know how the man up stairs knew about the fire. Don't know him, but he lost his revolver in the house. His bedroom was, I think, the large room, next Mrs Oakey's. He said he was catching bugs, you know, and looking out at the broad moonlight. Can't say what he saw. Don't know where he is. Don't know if his name is Morris. I would like to have him here, if I could.

Edward Snelling deposed - Was cook at the hotel. Went to bed about ten, having put out my fires perfectly safe, except smouldering embers. I was alarmed in the night, and my first impression was Rolfe was turning out a drunken man, and I heard him say "Oh, my God, the place is on fire!" He was then pushing a man out in his night shirt. I ran to the kitchen, and found it all right. It opens into Rolfe's room. As I returned I saw the fire coming through from the store into the back of the bar. Was not in the store after dark. Never saw saw a man more careful of fire than Rolfe. I thought him sometimes foolishly careful. I am certain the fire originated in the store, and nowhere else. Had made my usual preparations for the next day's meals. Had our morning's meat in and the other meat ordered. To Mr Randall-The store was full of stores; could only just get into it. Can't form the slightest idea of what other stores were there except my own stores. To Mr Lewis-I was not discharged by Rolfe for drunkenness; can't tell when I left, nor when I went back. I came back four days before the fire, on Tuesday night. Mrs Bromige was there then, but not the children. She did not cook when I was there; she went away on the Friday evening. Did not notice if she had any carpet bags or swag with her. Can't tell if Rolfe could possibly see the fire from his bed-room. On my oath Mrs Oakey's place was not burnt down before the store was half alight. Don't know at all what Rolfe did with the man, what he did next, where he went to, or what be said. I went and put on the rest of my things, got what I could together, and walked out of doors. Rolfe did not ask me where I thought the fire began. There is a bushman who only stopped at the house one night; I wish he was here, as I think he would throw a great deal of light on this point. Don't know his name. I am now living at the Corduroy Hotel.

Henry Blewitt, barman, deposed- That he went to bed, about one o'clock on the night of the fire, and that there were about twenty lodgers there, who had gone to bed before him. He corroborated, Rolfe's evidence generally, and stated that he slept in the same room with Rolfe. Saw him to bed, and heard him vomiting, I was awakened by Rolfe saying, " Rouse up Harry for God's sake, the house is on fire." Rolfe was in his shirt and going through the door. Witness then heard him go up stairs and rouse the lodgers. He alarmed the next door people, and then went to the back to alarm the servant. Saw the flames bursting through from the store into the bar. Should not imagine any snuff could fall from the lamp in the store. To Mr Randall- The boy got the ham with one hand; and kept the other over the broken pane of the lamp. Did not hear Rolfe say who first saw the fire. Heard somebody say, the stranger (s'pose), saw it, and got out of the window and slid down the roof. To Mr Lewis-The store was built a little more than seven weeks ago. Had slept with Rolfe ever since I was barman. Stood at the store door when the boy went in for the ham.

Matilda Hynes, domestic servant at the hotel, deposed--That she slept in a little cottage at the rear of the hotel, and went to bed about half-past eleven o'clock. She was very restless and did not sleep. Heard noise, as of glass breaking, and Mr Rolfe very loudly calling the boarders. She looked out and saw smoke from the top part of the store only. Rolfe came to rouse me. He had his shirt on, and that only. I was in the store that night about half-part seven. To Mr Lewis-Never told Mrs Oakey I couldn't sleep because I thought something was going to happen-the idea of such a thing (laughter.) Lost nothing in the fire. My boxes were not packed up more than usual Mrs Bromige's things were there two, and were, all saved. Don't know how many there were packed up there before the fire took place. Those boxes had always been there during the 5 weeks I was there. Mrs Bromige nor Mr Rolfe never cautioned me about the boxes, but told me to be careful of fire. To a jury-I saw the fire from the side of my room. Daniel Hy. Lamb deposed in corroboration and the enquiry was then adjourned till next day at noon.

ADJOURNED HEARING. The resumption of the proceedings commenced, after considerable delay from divers causes, at the Red Hill Hotel on Friday afternoon, by the swearing in of a new jury, man in the absence of George Rees, one of the twelve sworn in on the previous day. Mr Randall and Mr Lewis appeared for their respective clients. Mr M'Dermott was absent.

Robert M'Taggart, ironmonger, next door to the Red House Hotel, deposed that he in bed at two a m. Sunday, and smelt fire, hearing also a noise as of dry deal chips crackling in the Red House Hotel ; heard also unusual shuffling of feet in the hotel next Oakey's, and looked out upon the hotel and store and saw smoke arising from the north east corner of the hotel There was then no appearance of fire in the store. I cried out, " Fire, fire, fire,' and immediately three men ran out of the hotel. One was, I believe, Rolfe, another Snelling, and another I don't know. They ran close by me down the road, and were dressed ; they may not have had shoes on. Don't know where they went to, but they seemed to have gone up a right-of-way leading to the cottage behind the hotel. Saw the light of the fire through Oakey's window before I saw it in the hotel. Time was no cry of fire till I made it. Am sure I would have heard it if there had been a cry of fire in the hotel. Knocked at the hotel, and all the houses about. I rushed back to the hotel. The door was open, but the hotel was not in flames. The glare I saw through Oakey's made me believe the fire began in the hotel, on the side next Oakey's. The flames appeared, to the best of my belief, to come up first from the back part of the hotel. I lost nothing by the fire. Rolfe and I were always on the best of terms, I am not insured. Saw Rolfe in the yard after, and heard him cry out " Oh my children." He had no children in the house. To Mr Rolfe-Saw no door open but yours. Fire in the store might have shown itself at the far end of the building, from not having burst through the roof. You might have shouted "Oh Matilda" instead of "Oh my, children." Have had no offer of reward to make myself active in the matter, by no earthly person.

John Sayle, a miner, deposed-Was in bed about two a.m. on Sunday, in my tent at the rear of the hotel, and heard the cry of " fire." Got up, and saw smoke rising from the left hand side of the hotel. Dressed and went out, and saw a man at the rear of the hotel. Believe him to be the barman. He was dressed. Saw no one with him. Went over to the cottage, and helped other two or three to bring out the trunks there. The girl was dressed. - Rolfe assisted. The flames first appeared near M'Taggart's side of the hotel. I think the fire originated on M'Taggart's side.

Emma Oakey deposed—Am the wife of George Oakey, and kept a greengrocery and poultry store next the Hotel—was roused on Sunday morning by the sound of a bell and the voice of M'Taggart—don't know what I first saw—went outside after rousing my child and servant, and the part of the hotel next my place was on fire-I should imagine I can not swear, that part of my place was burnt down before Rolfe's store-On Monday morning saw Matilda Hynes, and she told me she was asleep in bed at the time of the fire-she said afterwards, Rolfe was partly dressed when she first saw him, but she was not asleep as she was restless, and expected something was going to happen-Mr Cornish heard her say so-I told her she had said she was asleep, and she said "oh, did I, then I made a mistake "-she told me all her boxes were in her room and were saved-Cornish asked her if her boxes were always kept there and she said "they there were then," and that they were packed ready-Rolfe had had his vegetables of me over six months-on the Saturday before the fire he did not buy any- Mrs Bromige, Rolfe's sister, was in from Buninyong twice during the week before the fire -saw her go back on Friday night, when she took a carpet bag with her-Rolfe was dressed as usual after the fire was over saw a young man there whose name I have heard was Nutt-he asked me to see if any of the boxes being carried away was mine-it not mine. To Mr Rolfe-About 7s a-week was the value of the vegetables you used to buy. Did not see the remains of a chest of drawers and chest of tools. To Mr Lewis -I did ask Rolfe how the fire occurred, but I was so confused I could make no statement. John Cornish corroborated that part of Mrs Oakey's evidence with which his name was connected. He added that the girl Hynes said the boxes had been put into her room " for convenience of being moved again." The store was still standing when the hotel and Mrs Oakey's place were on fire. Could not say if the store was then on fire. The store was 8 or 10 x 5 or 6 feet. I know Mrs Oakey lost £800. To Mr Rolfe - It is reasonable for people who had no drawers to keep linen &c., in boxes, and keep them in a place appointed. Grace M'Taggart, wife of Robert M'Taggart, was called, but gave no evidence of any pertinence.

Mr Rolfe at this juncture requested half an hour's adjournment, to give him time to procure his legal adviser, who had been guilty of very bad behavior in staying away. He never knew such a thing in all his experience. The coroner granted the privilege requested, but Mr Rolfe declined afterwards to delay the enquiry by an adjournment.

George Oakey deposed that on the night of the fire, about half-past twelve, he saw Rolfe go with the girl Hynes to the door of the cottage at the rear, and said something respecting fire to her, and immediately came laughing back the platform towards the hotel. About an hour after witness was aroused by the cry of fire. To Mr Rolfe-You might have been saying, " Be careful of fire, "Til" . Mrs Oakey recalled, said Rolfe and Mrs Bromige had many times advised her to insure, as the place might go down with a run. To Mr Rolfe-Don't know if it was at the time of a fire in your kitchen, that you asked me to insure. Didn't you often say "this b-y place will go down with a run?" Mrs Bromige told me of the fire in the kitchen. Mr Rolfe protested that he was not in the habit of using such language. Mrs Oakey ironically concurred in the protest.

Henry Blewitt recalled by Mr Rolfe, identified a lock produced as similar to that which fastened the door. The closing of the door of the store would arouse the people in the house, If asleep he wouldn't hear. It went hard enough to wake anybody sleeping in the house as it was necessary to slam it to. Rolfe frequently said he wished Oakeys would insure as he was afraid of their convivial meetings. To Mr Lewis-Did not swear yesterday that I locked both locks of the store door. If the question were asked I swear I said I did not. The boxes removed were taken to a house opposite to Cook's the butcher, and belonging to him I believe. Don't believe there were more than seven boxes. There was a black bag belonging to a boarder, and a boarder carried bis own bag. Don't anything about the furniture in the house.

William Nutt, a fruiterer and greengrocer, deposed that at the time of the fire he saw them getting out things from the back of Rolfe's premises. Saw two women and a man removing a bundle, a carpet bag, and a deal box. About that time Mrs Oakey came and said she had lost her box with £300 in it, and some clothes. Witness then went to the back, and heard that the boxes were gone up the road, and he went up as far as the Robin Hood, when a policeman said the boxes had been taken into a house two doors from Sonnenburg's.

Thomas Carson, miner, boarding at Rolfe's hotel, stated that he had not gone to sleep before the cry of fire arose. He looked out at the back, but saw nothing then, but on further search saw flames coming through the roof of the store. Returned to his bedroom, and while dressing heard Rolfe calling to the boarders to get out, and saw him knocking out one of the windows to enable people to escape. Rolfe had a shirt on then. Witness assisted in getting out boxes, and after the fire had possession, Rolfe complained of cold and barefeet, and a pair of boots and a coat were given to him. Never saw anything saved from the hotel, but my own things. During his sixteen months' stay, witness never saw a landlord more careful of fire. Rolfe used commonly to go out and challenge the girl as to her light being safe.

This closed the enquiry, and the coroner summed up to the jury, remarking that he saw nothing in the evidence materially controverting that produced by Rolfe and his witnesses, save the contradiction between that of Hynes, Oakey and Cornish, which did not at all affect the enquiry. The jury then retired to consider their verdict, and after an absence of some duration returned with the following verdict : -" The fire took place on the twentieth instant, on Main Road, Ballarat, and originated in the Red House Hotel, but in what manner or where, there is no evidence before us to show ; but we are of opinion that proper exertions were not made by the proprietor of the hotel to extinguish the fire when first discovered.[2]

Community Involvement[edit | edit source]

The People[edit | edit source]

  • In June 1858 John Rolfe applied for a license. (Spelled as Rope). The court postponed the application for one week for a report on the hotel.[1] Issued one week later with a caution.[3]
    • In February 1859, Rolfe was a witness into the inquest into the fire at the hotel.[2]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1858 'EASTERN POLICE COURT.', The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), 16 June, p. 2. , viewed 29 Sep 2019,
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 1859 'INQUEST ON THE FIRE AT THE RED HOUSE HOTEL.', The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), 26 February, p. 2. , viewed 01 Oct 2019,
  3. 3.0 3.1 1858 'EASTERN POLICE COURT.', The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), 23 June, p. 2. , viewed 05 Dec 2019,

External Links[edit | edit source]