Tattersall’s Hotel once stood in Victoria Parade, Thursday Island and would have been a well-known landmark on the town’s streetscape, located next door to the Burns, Philp & Co. building and bond store.
An image of the hotel, reproduced from an 1897 calendar and advertisement, shows it to be a substantial, two storey structure with wide verandas on both levels. It appears that the lower level contained the hotel’s bars as well as dining rooms and kitchen. The upper level contained the accommodation area. The advertisement describes the hotel as being “one of the coolest hotels in the island” as well as pointing out baths and every convenience as particular features. Mr. W.A. Burns was recorded as the hotel’s licensee or manager.
In June 1899, a major fire swept through this area of Victoria Parade. Newspaper reports at the time describe the fire as having started in the Burns, Philp and Co storehouse, however the exact cause of the fire was unclear. The fire started at around 6.30pm, however the Burns, Philp & Co. premises were locked at this time, preventing access and resulting in a slowing down of the firefighting efforts. Many of the town’s residents along with officers from the Military Barracks, as well as crew members from the HMS Mohawk, in port at the time, helped to fight the fire. A plentiful supply of water was close at hand, available from the harbour, with the tide fortunately being high at the time.
However, the best efforts of those who fought the fire failed to save the Burns, Philp & Co. premises along with the adjoining Tattersall’s Hotel and both were completely destroyed, together with a substantial quantity of valuable stock. The damage was estimated to have been in the vicinity of £12,000.
This fire highlighted the lack of an organised facility to fight fires such as this on the island and the need to develop some form of fire-fighting response, including having suitable equipment on hand.
This image shows the Tattersall’s Hotel as it appeared in 1897, only some two years before being destroyed in this disastrous fire.
Brian Randall – Specialist Librarian, State Library of Queensland.