Week 27 – Family Businesses – The Federal Hotel

Federal Hotel c1898 (postcard sold at auction $496)

130 years ago, on the 4th July 1887, the Federal Hotel in Fremantle was opened to the public and this weekend some of the Herbert cousins are getting together to celebrate the occasion.

Our great-grandfather on my mother’s paternal side, James Albert Herbert 1841-1893, had the hotel constructed. The story below has been put together by my cousin Raymond John Herbert (John) and with his permission has been added to my blog. The Federal Hotel was known as Rosie O’Grady’s for twenty years until 2016 and under new ownership it’s name has been restored.

In 1875 the brigantine ‘Mary Herbert’ was lost at sea with the loss of all crew, including its owner, James Herbert.

After his father’s death, James Albert Herbert relinquished the liquor licence of the Rockingham Arms, which his father owned, and continued with the lease of the Freemasons Hotel.

In his will, James directed that James Albert was to carry on the business as a publican and he be allowed to retain, for his own use, the soda water machine. James Albert, as trustee, was also empowered to carry on any business venture or speculation. Mary, his wife, was to be paid an income from James estate for life.

The business flourished and James Albert continued to expand the families’ manufacture of aerated waters, introducing the use of the Codd’s patented bottle. In December 1881, at the Perth Exhibition, he received a second order of merit for his cordials. They were described as being clear in appearance and well flavoured.

In September 1885, his son was taken into the business, it to be known as J.A. Herbert and son, and new machinery was installed at a factory located in Henderson Street, Fremantle.

Two events occurred in the year 1885, which may have contributed to the construction of the Federal Hotel. On the 19th of September 1885, an advertisement appeared in the local paper, inserted by the trustees of the estate of the late Anthony Cornish. The advertisement offered for sale the Freemasons Hotel. James Albert’s lease was to expire on the 31st December 1888.

Also, on the 10th of September 1885, the foundation stone of the new Fremantle Town Hall was laid, over a cavity in which the bottle containing a document, newspapers and coins were deposited. James Albert’s name appeared on this document, as a councillor during the current municipal year of the Fremantle Corporation.

Opposite the new town hall, James Herbert (his father), had purchased Lot 379 William Street in 1866. The site was located in a quite area of Fremantle, away from the bustle of the port and the old end of town.

The Construction

In May 1886 the following article appeared in the Fremantle Herald newspaper:

The Federal Hotel was designed by Mr J. C. Inskip, of Melbourne, and the works were carried out under the superintendence of his manager, Mr Thos. Whitney, M.S.A., A.V.I.A.
The papers of the day described the Hotel as having three sides of a square, the frontage being 70 feet to William-street and each wing being 125 feet in depth; and in the design, if not perfection, it would be extremely difficult to point out where improvement could be introduced.

It was also reported in the papers that the builders, Messrs, Jardine & Ruthven of Adelaide, have faithfully followed out the plan and completed a building which is a credit to both architect and contractors and an ornament to Fremantle. Their subcontractors were Mr J. Sowden (ironware, etc.) and Mr John Bryant (painting and glazing).

The Opening

On the 24th June 1887, a family tragedy occurred with the shooting of James Albert’s father-in-law, John Snook, by his step mother’s (Mary Herbert) nephew, William Conroy.

At the Jubilee celebration for the town’s children, held at the Fremantle town hall, Councillor John Snook was acting as one of the stewards for admittance. At about 11 o’clock in the evening William Conroy, licensee of the National Hotel, went to the entrance of the Town Hall and asked to be admitted. John Snook denied him admittance, explaining gentlemen were not admitted.

The children left the hall at midnight and the stewards and other persons who had been carrying out the proceedings went to supper in the hall. At about half-past one in the morning, Conroy returned to the hall and asked for Councillor Snook. He came out, and after a few words had passed between them, Conroy drew from his tailcoat pocket a revolver and deliberately fired a shot at Councillor Snook’s head.

John Snook survived the shooting but was in a critical condition. He was in a very precarious condition, but it was thought that the shock to the system to such an old gentleman would prove of greater danger than the wound itself.

The Federal Hotel was scheduled to be officially opened on the 1st July 1887 but due to the failing health of John Snook, the following advertisement was placed in the local newspapers.

Daily News Saturday 2 July 1887. The Federal Hotel Opening Deferred.
Owing to the dangerous illness of Mr Snook the FEDERAL HOTEL, Fremantle, will not be opened for a few days. J. A. HERBERT. Fremantle, July 2, 1887.

John Snook eventually died on the 25th September 1887, at his residence in Suffolk-street, Fremantle. He was aged 70 years. William Conroy was hung on the 18th November 1887.

Also in 1887, a second tragedy occurred, James Albert’s wife Annie, had a stillborn child.

On the 5th July 1887, in the Western Australian newspaper, it was published that the Federal Hotel was officially opened to the public yesterday.

The opening of the Federal Hotel was received favourably by the press, it being described as an imposing building, and externally complementing the Town Hall in style. The furnishing throughout, even to the smallest item of glassware or china, had been imported direct from London and delivered on the premises ready for placing in their special positions. The measurement and plan of the building had been sent to England to a first-class London manufacturer.

It was also noted that judging from the popularity and esteem both Mr and Mrs Herbert have enjoyed so many years in the Freemasons Hotel, there should be a bright and prosperous future awaiting the proprietor’s enterprise and energy.

The Inquirer and Commercial News on the 13th July 1887, published on account of the Federal Hotel opening, the following story:

Mr J. A. Herbert, of Fremantle, the popular proprietor of the “Freemasons”, has just built and opened the most commodious hotel in Western Australia. It is situated immediately opposite the Town Hall. Some persons have remarked that the hotel is far beyond the requirements of the times; and that the owner cannot hope to benefit, though his family might in the next generation, from the extensive, if not lavish outlay he has bestowed upon it.

On the 9th of July 1887 the Governor and his wife, Lady Broome, visited Fremantle and paid a visit of inspection to the Federal Hotel. Mr Herbert, the proprietor, courteously showed the Governor and party over the building and His Excellency was evidently pleased with all he saw. He complemented Mr Herbert on having by far the finest hotel in West Australia. The house itself is the most commodious in the colony and its fittings and appointments are in keeping with the building itself, being elegant and serviceable.
James Albert supplied his hotel with his popular cordials and aerated waters, also including his own wine, sourced from his vineyard at Rockingham. In the West Australian dated 25th October 1887, a report from the Indo-Colonial Exhibition noted that in the exhibited wines, James Albert Herbert submitted a white wine, vintage 1883. It was produced from his Rockingham Vineyard of 2 ½ acres, from mixed grapes.

His Rockingham vineyard was located on his farm, Wheatfield Cottage, and had been purchased by his father in 1867 and conveyed to James Albert in 1871. It was described as a small farm of 160 acres; the whole well fenced with wire fencing and divided into four paddocks. Two and a half acres have been planted with vines and fruit trees in great variety, all in full bearing order. Four-roomed Stone Cottage, good well of water, hay shed (40 feet by 20 feet), and stables.

From a short family history paper written by Floris Herbert, she wrote that the grapes were carted by Ross James to the Federal Hotel, and there, made into wine and sold at the Hotel. Supposedly, James Albert also employed a fiddler to entertain the guest.

The Sale

The global long depression, during the 1870’s to 1890’s, was a period of falling price levels and falling rates of economic growth.

In the decade between 1880 and 1890, British investors began to withdraw from providing further funding to the Australian market.

In this environment of slow rates of economic and population growth, James Albert had invested in the construction of the finest hotel in West Australia. This was transformed in a few years, in the colony of Western Australia, as substantial reserves of gold were discovered at Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie in the 1890’s. Unfortunately, James Albert was not to benefit from this prosperity.

In November the 25th 1887, a newspaper ad appeared for the sale of the Federal Hotel on account of James Albert’s failing health.

In February 1888, James Albert filed for liquidation with liabilities set down at £11,000.

It is not clear as to when the hotel was officially sold to Alexander and John Forrest. From a newspaper account on the 18th of November 1890, in the supreme court civil sittings, Alexander Forrest states by affidavit, that on or about the 31st of August 1888, all the real estate had been absolutely transferred to himself and his brother by one Hammond, who, at the time, was acting as trustee in the matter of a then existing liquidation, at the instance of James Albert Herbert.

James Albert obtained his bankruptcy discharge at the first general meeting of his creditors held on the 31st of July 1890, by a resolution of the creditors.

In the W.A. Bulletin, dated the 19th July 1890, an article was published stating that “ We are sorry to see that J. A. Herbert, that old and respected Fremantle Boniface (innkeeper), has been compelled to yield to the pressure of the bad times and just as things bid fair to boom. However, we hope there is a good time coming for him as well as the rest of us, and that we shall yet see him the boss landlord of W.A., which his enterprise entitles him to be”.

The End

At the age of 52 years, James Albert succumbed to heart disease. The following obituary was published in the West Australian on the 4th of December 1893.

We regret to have to record the death of Mr James Albert Herbert, an old and much-esteemed resident of Fremantle. The deceased gentleman was largely identified with the advancement of the port. Some years ago he was the proprietor of the Freemasons’ Hotel, and eight years ago he built the Federal Hotel.

His enterprise, however, did not meet with its deserved reward, and latterly Mr Herbert led a retired life. Deceased was in his fifty-second year at the time of his death. The funeral took place yesterday and was largely attended, the Masonic fraternity being well represented by members of St. John’s and Harmony lodges, Fremantle, and Lodge of Emulation, Perth.

In 1885, James Albert and Mary Herbert had signed a Memorial of Lease for Fremantle Lot 379 on which the hotel was built. Mary was to receive monthly rent from James and this was paid to her, until her death in 1910, by subsequent owners of the hotel.

(c) Raymond John Herbert, great grandson of John Albert Herbert, 2017

Federal Hotel built 1887 became known as Rosie O’Grady’s now back to its former name. Photo by Daniel Beaujouan




About Jenny MacKay

Just a person who is looking forward to retirement and enjoying the golden years!
This entry was posted in 52-Week-Challenge, Blog, Herbert and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Week 27 – Family Businesses – The Federal Hotel

  1. Pingback: Week 28 – Family Connections | jenealogyscrapbook

  2. As always – I learn so much from your blog Jen

  3. tstatton says:

    What an amazing story! What interesting ancestors we all have. Thanks for sharing one of your ancestor’s stories. I do hope you enjoyed the reunion with everyone.

  4. sunshinechick007 says:

    MY HOW interesting… I WISH I could find similar well written bits about my ancestors… each of us is so much more than a name and a date on a tombstone… our true lives are in the DASH. Thank you Jenny for sharing this. *U* Kathleen

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