Monday, April 20, 2015

The Australian House, 1861-1885

The Australian House, 1861-1885
By Glen A. Mofford

     The Australian House, a hotel and saloon, opened in February 1861 on the southeast corner of Humboldt and Government Streets by John Wilson. The hotel was a modest two-story wooden building perched on stilts on the water side and connected to north side of the James Bay Bridge.
One advantage of having a hotel on the banks of James Bay included some wonderful fresh fish dinners as reported in the Colonist, “A large codfish having been caught yesterday in the vicinity of James Bay, will be served up at the Australian House corner of Government and Humboldt Streets today.”[1] 
     Wilson and his new partner, Walter Miles, added nine small rooms on the top floor and two waterfront cottages in the back and a saloon on the main floor reopening the hotel on Saturday May 16, 1863. 
     The following year, Wilson & Miles sold the Australian House to William Seeley. William Compton Smithfield Seeley and his wife, Ann, arrived in Victoria from England in 1859. Seeley built and repaired organs. In 1860 Seeley modified the barrel organ at the Christ Church Cathedral so it could be played with a keyboard.[2] In 1869 Seeley salvaged the organ from the Christ Church Cathedral fire. In spite of it being badly damaged, the organ was repaired and Seeley installed it in the saloon of his Australian House “for the benefit of [the] musically inclined guests.”[3]

On November 22, 1864 Ann Seeley gave birth to twin girls in their room above the saloon. The Seeley’s had two boys, Thomas and James. Thomas died on November 2, 1873 at the age of fifteen from pneumonia. James took over the hotel business when William Seeley died.

     An event took place inside the hotel on May 9, 1865 which nearly ended in disaster. William Seeley was
going about his daily business cleaning lamps in a room adjoining the bar when a man entered the hotel. Seeley recognized him as Edmond Dillon, a cabinet maker who owned a shop a few doors down from the Australian House, and asked him if he could be of service. Just as the words escaped his lips, Dillon pulled out a revolver and shot Seeley, the ball entering above the navel and resting inside his left side. Seeley screamed “You have murdered me!” and cried for help while reaching out to Dillon to prevent a second shot. Emanuel Bavare, an employee at the hotel, ran to Seeley’s defence and the two managed to wrestle the gun away from Dillon and subdue him until the police were summoned. Fortunately for Seeley the wound was not life threatening and the doctor removed the small size ball.[4] 

     The accused, Edmond Dillon, came up before Judge Cameron charged with assault with a pistol with intent to kill. It was reported earlier that the unprovoked attack upon Mr. Seeley was not out of character for Dillon as he was subject to “violent paroxysms of rage, during which he [Dillon] assaults anyone he happens to meet.”[5] Dillon was found not guilty due to insanity and was remanded to an insane asylum in San Francisco where he died shortly afterwards in February 1866.[6]

     Seeley survived and his hotel and saloon business thrived. In 1867 Seeley added a “Water Cure Establishment” onto the south end of his hotel where, for a small fee, those customers wishing to enjoy the healing powers of sea water baths could immerse themselves in their choice of hot, cold or tepid baths. Seeley also purchased a number of small boats for his patrons to use while staying at the hotel.

     Apart from his hotel business, Seeley also purchased a soap works factory located a few doors down from the hotel on the north side of James Bay. The Crown Soap Works promised to provide “the best soap in the country” manufactured by W.C.S. Seeley & Co.

     By December 1885, William Seeley had owned and operated his hotel for twenty-one years. He decided it was time to retire and asked his son, James to take over the business. James Seeley, with his partner William G. Stevenson, purchased the license of the Australian House and changed the name to the Arlington Hotel. A new generation of Seeley’s successfully continued the family business.
     Three years later, in December 1888, William Seeley died. Shortly after his death, son James leased the hotel where the name changed to the Bay View Hotel. The hotel continued to do a good business right up to 1904 when the City of Victoria purchased the hotel and the property in order to fill James Bay in and plan the building of the Empress Hotel.

       [1] Daily British Colonist, March 5, 1861, page 3.
       [2] For more regarding the history of organ music and Seeley’s contribution see:
     [3] Harry Gregson, A History of Victoria, 1842-1970, (The Victoria Observer Publishing Co. Ltd.: Victoria, 1970), pages 16-17.
     [4] Daily British Colonist, May 9, 1865, page 3.
      [5] ibid., page 3.
     [6] Daily British Colonist, February 6, 1866, page 3.