Royal Reels: Gambling


The cover had a red-brown ‘TWO PENCE HALFPENNY STAMP DUTY’ on yellow paper stamp of Victoria cancelled with a duplex BALLARAT/ 2 T/ NO 11/ 98 with the barred numeral ‘5′ as obliterator. It was addressed to T.R. Hayes, Battle Creek, Michigan, U.S.A. There was a ms. ‘per Sydney & Alameda to Frisco’ (Figure 1).

The flap on the reverse had a blue printed double oval with ‘FEDERAL PALACE HOTEL/ MELBOURNE/ COLLINS STREET WEST’ and there were 2 postmarks, a transit SAN FRANCISCO/ DEC 14/ 1898/ PAID ALL, as well as a roller cancel for BATTLE CREEK/ DEC 18/ 7-PM/ 18 98/ MICH, with a wavy flag/ ‘1′ (Figure 2).

When it was completed in 1888 for James Mirams and James Munro on the corner of King and Collins streets, the Federal Coffee Palace was the largest hotel in Australia. Architects Ellerker & Kilburn won the competition to design the hotel, which eventually cost £90,000 to build and some £20,000 to furnish. They teamed up with runner-up William Pitt to create a vast ornate temperance hotel of nearly 500 rooms, including 370 bedrooms, two dining rooms, a café, shops, two drawing rooms, reading, writing and reception rooms, and two billiard rooms. It was entered through a magnificent arcaded lobby running through four floors with a glass roof and an ornately balustraded white and red marble staircase. One hundred and sixty-five feet above it rose a four-storey domed tower that in 1967 became the home of touring car driver and Melbourne social identity Peter Janson. A picture of the Federal Palace Hotel, Collins St., Melbourne is seen in Figure 3.

Temperance having proved a financial failure, the hotel was eventually granted a licence. In 1897 it became the Federal Palace Hotel and in 1923 the Federal Hotel. For many years it was a focal point of Melbourne society gatherings and business conventions. Ships coming up Port Phillip Bay were guided by the blue star light that shone from the truck of the flagstaff on the dome. In 1972 the hotel was sold and, sadly, demolished to make way for commercial development.

A particular feature of the city’s boom years were the temperance hotels, known as coffee palaces. A small number of hotels (such as the Tankard Family Hotel in West Lonsdale Street), had always refused to sell alcohol, but the coffee palaces were much grander.

The opening of the two most extravagant temperance hotels — the Grand in Spring Street (now the Windsor Hotel) and the Federal on the corner of Collins and King Streets — coincided with the 1888 Exhibition in Melbourne.

The Federal had seven floors crowned by an iron-framed domed tower. Bedrooms were on the top five floors, while the majestic ground and first floors contained dining, lounge, sitting, smoking, writing and billiard rooms. There were six ‘accident proof’ lifts, gaslights, electric service bells, and an ice-making plant in the basement to keep kitchen supplies fresh, and to cool the lemonade and ginger beer. The Federal was licensed in 1923 and demolished in 1973.

The ornate interior of the Federal Palace Hotel As well as an example of a piece of the ornate salvaged ironwork from the hotel with the initials ‘F C P’ (Federal Coffee Palace) are seen in Figures 4 & 5.

Categories: Places