The cover has the blue ‘TWO PENCE HALFPENNY SWAN’ stamp of Western Australia cancelled with a SHIP MAIL ROOM/ 1/ SP 17/ 98/ PERTH W.A and there is a fine printed ‘Belt and Buckle’ corner advert for De BAUN’S PALACE HOTEL/ PERTH, W.A. It was addressed in blue crayon to J. R. Hayes, Kalamazoo, Michigan, U.S.A. The reverse was not seen (Figures 1 &2).
The Palace Hotel, Perth was built for John de Baun, a well-known figure in Western Australia during the 1890s gold boom years as an entrepreneur and investor in real estate and builder of one of the finest hotels in the Colony (for a reputed sum of £64,000 in 1895). The hotel was designed by the architectural firm, Porter and Thomas.
John de Baun was originally from New Jersey, USA, and he came to Australia first settling in Victoria in the 1880s. He moved to New South Wales, eventually to Broken Hill, where he built his first hotel, the Garden Hotel, with the money he had made since arriving in the country. With the success of the hotel, De Baun went on to invest in the stock exchange, during which he experienced fluctuating financial success. In 1892 he came to Western Australia, firstly settling in Coolgardie where he became convinced of the gold-bearing potential of the new field. He went on to invest in several business ventures, including some successful ventures in the stock market, which enabled him to pay his debts.
De Baun decided to invest in real estate in Perth, buying land mostly along St. George’s Terrace, as well as building two hotels in the city, first the Palace Hotel and then the Melbourne Hotel (which to-day has a De Baun room desirable for functions). On 24 December 1911 John de Baun died and probate of his will was granted to the West Australian Trustee Executor and Agency Company Limited.
The Palace Hotel was located on the corner of St. George’s Terrace and William Street Perth, and it was built on the site previously occupied by the first licenced premises in the Colony, the King’s Head Hotel, which was owned by William Dixon until 1831, when he reassigned his land grant to William Leeder, and the hotel became known as Leeder’s Hotel. By 1833, the hotel had become one of the leading hotels in Perth, frequented by the gentry as well as the civil and miliary officers. In 1845 additions were made to Leeder’s Hotel and it became known as the Freemason’s Tavern, as it now contained the first masonic lodge in the Colony. On Leeder’s death it was taken over by his wife and it was partly tenanted by the Lodge of the Oddfellows in addition to the Freemasons.
In 1894, John de Baun purchased the Freemason’s Hotel from Mrs. Leeder and built the new one, Palace Hotel, for the former one was well past its prime. The three storey Palace Hotel was designed by Ernest Saunders Porter and Edmond Neville Thomas who had designed many hotels, but this was their first in Perth. It was described as ‘though typical of the period…. it was more flamboyant, even ostentatious….redolent of the bourgeois luxury and splendour of the Paris of Napoleon III….although slightly smaller in scale…in its day , as sumptuous hostelry as any in Melbourne and Sydney’. The Palace opened its doors on 18 March 1897. Part of the original building is preserved with the current BankWest site.
Addendum (December 2011): A photo of John de Baun, the large fat man, with a small voice, is seen in Figure 3.
More than 2000 sites on the Trove newspapers of W.A. were seen with a reference to John de Baun, but most of the above information was found on the W,A. Government Historical Buildings site concerning De Baun’s Palace Hotel, Perth.