A Rich History
The refurbished George Hotel in Lydiard Street North is the third `George’ to occupy the same site.
The first was initially known as the “George Inn” and was Ballarat’s second officially licensed hotel, being built only months after Craig’s Royal Hotel which opened as the ‘Ballarat Inn’ by Bath in June 1853.
The “George Inn” was built by George Howe and Francis Herring who originally arrived in Ballarat very early in it’s history, on the 1st September 1851, at the same time as other early Ballarat notables James Oddie and Thomas Bath. According to the early Ballarat historian, W.B. Withers, Howe and Herring “jumped” a claim of Oddie’s and proceeded to take 37 Ibs weight of gold out of the ground.
Howe and Herring built their “George Inn” on the present site, the western side of Lydiard Street midway between Sturt and Mair Streets, which was then opposite the police camp occupying the area between Lydiard and Camp streets from Sturt to Mair Street. At this time Camp Street ran on the diagonal and intersected with Grenville Street at Mair St. And so The George Inn stood atop a green grassy mound looking east across the Government Camp and towards the Gravel Pit diggings.
We are fortunate that in “Lydiard Street North, Ballarat” 1855 by W.B. Benson, which hangs in the City of Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, we are given a good impression of the original building. It was a wooden two story structure with a first floor balcony. The upper flow had six windows divided by four raised flat columns into three bays reminiscent of English regency styling as seen on early Colonial buildings, particularly in Tasmania. Eight supporting columns contained crossed timber infills at balcony level. Below the balcony the columns appear to be a flat open design and the three bays on the northern end between the columns was inbuilt with a central entrance and window either side. A large two storey section with a top clerestory can be seen at the rear. A small single story hip roofed verandah residence style structure stood on either side.
Early Ballarat historian Nathan Spielvogel speaks about the first George hotel structure a century ago when the licensee of the then George Inn was Charles Foster and the big balcony was decorated with tree ferns. The George was also patronised by the more fashionable members of the mining community. The arrival of rail transport to Ballarat in 1862 had a dramatic effect on Lydiard Street.
This first building stood until the 1880’s and was the scene of many notable occasions. At a meeting of the Ballarat Agricultural & Pastoral Society at The George Hotel on 14th June 1856, arrangements were made for the first ploughing competition and on the 22nd May 1873, the Ballarat Coursing Club was formed, also at a meeting at the George.
For many years aspirants for Parliamentary honours addressed open air meetings from the George balcony to the crowded assemblages on the roadway below.
The second George hotel, of brick construction, was an impressive double storied building. It had paired round verandah columns on the ground floor, whilst the upper storey had flat columns and interspersed railings. The upper floor had embellished window detailing and the building had prominent signage. The third George Hotel, also of brick construction, was erected in 1902 at the end of the Victorian era, with a three storey balcony verandah which is unique in Victoria. The local architects E. & B. Smith designed the new building which was true to style, in that classically with each subsequent story the level of decoration decreases. It was built by J. McGregor and had 30 bedrooms and four bars in the overall total of seventy five rooms, which also included four sitting rooms and a billiard room. The ground floor facade and the main entry were decorated with marble and the staircase was of walnut. The overall cost including furnishings was seventeen thousand pounds.
There have been subsequent alterations to this surviving building which has been renovated in recent years as the result of two apparently deliberately lit fires, in 1978 and 1988.
The George Hotel at Ballarat has architectural significance primarily for its three level cast iron veranda, which is unique in Victoria. The hotel and its veranda form an extremely important streetscape element in this part of Lydiard Street, which is the best surviving example in the state of the pre-boom period of provincial city development. The veranda, along with the verandas of the Old Colonists Hall and Alexandria Tea Rooms opposite, imparts a unique character to the streetscape.
The George Hotel at Ballarat has historical significance because of its association with its predecessor on the same site. The original George Hotel was one of the first such establishments in Ballarat, played a role in the town’s early mining history, and a significant role in the events that culminated in the Eureka Rebellion.