Royal Reels: Gambling


This exuberantly postmarked cover has multiple duplexes of SYDNEY/ JU 16/ 9-30 P.M./ 91/ 3 cancel associated with the 3-oval ringed N.S.W. obliterator which cancels the 9 purple ‘ONE PENNY’ New South Wales and the single blue 2d stamp, making a total postage of eleven pence. At the same time it makes it difficult to identify the receiver and most of the address, but it can be confidently stated that it was sent to Nestved, Denmark , possibly The Editor, Nested Avis (Figure 1).

The reverse has two reception postmarks and one is clearly shown as Nestved but both give no clue as to the date of arrival. Of particular interest is that the envelope’s tab has a strong clue of the sender for there is a blue oval which is printed GRAND CENTRAL/ 151/ COFFEE PALACE/ CLARENCE ST./ SYDNEY (Figure 2).

Næstved has roots as far back as 400-500 BC. Archaeological material from this period has been found in the soil under Næstved, and tells of human life here long before the Vikings. The town lies on the Island of Zealand and is one hour away from Copenhagen. If my guess is confirmed about the addressee is the editor of a Danish newspaper, the Grand Central Coffee Palace may have been requesting publicity.

Sir James John Joynton Smith (1858-1943), hotelier and racecourse and newspaper owner, was born on 4 October 1858 at Bishopsgate, London, eldest of twelve children of James Smith, master brass finisher, and his wife Jane, née Ware. Baptized James John, he had a London School Board education, at 12 worked for a year in his father’s shop, before signing on, under an assumed name, as cabin-boy on a steamer to Naples, Italy. He worked in P. & O. liners and he reached Port Chalmers, New Zealand, in October 1874.

After working in hotels Smith prospered as a hotel licensee in Wellington. He married Ellen McKenzie, at Auckland on 20 April 1882. In 1886 he went alone to England, where he gambled away his savings, and thereafter, he eschewed gambling. In 1892-96 he managed the Grand Central Coffee Palace Hotel, Clarence Street, an important temperance hotel in Sydney. Having divorced his wife, he married Nellie Eloise Parkes; her family were experienced hoteliers. In 1896, by now known as Joynton Smith, he laid the foundation of his fortune when he leased the run-down Imperial Arcade Hotel, renamed it the Arcadia, between Pitt and Castlereagh streets.

In February 1901 he was made justice of the peace. Seeing the tourist potential of the Blue Mountains, where he established the first electric-light plant, he bought the Imperial Hotel, Mount Victoria, leased the Hydro Majestic, Medlow Bath, and bought the Carrington Hotel and two theatres at Katoomba.

Smith always saw himself as a sportsman and was adept at making money from sport. He was an ‘avid dog fancier’ and owned and on 15 January 1908 Smith opened Victoria Park racecourse at Zetland on land he had reclaimed. The ‘first course in Australia to cater for ladies in the provision of retiring rooms’, it was a showplace for horse and pony racing and trotting, the most modern and with the best facilities of the hitherto disreputable pony tracks. In March 1912 Smith was nominated to the Legislative Council; never active there, he retired in 1934. In 1916-18 he was an independent alderman of Sydney Municipal Council for Bligh Ward. Supported by Labor, in December 1917 he was elected lord mayor. A ‘fluent and logical’ speaker, fond of wise saws, though he had trouble sounding his r’s, he was patriotic, tireless and innovative in raising war loans. He was appointed K.B.E. in 1920 and next year visited London in triumph.

Defeated in municipal elections in December 1918, Smith resolved to launch a newspaper to present his views. Entrepreneurial skill and ambition enabled Joynton Smith to prosper in free-wheeling Sydney through his concentration on the pastimes of the people. Cocking a snook at wowsers and snobs, Smith enjoyed his wealth and knighthood and was generous with time and money for community causes. About 1916 his second marriage ended in separation and his wife went to England. Predeceased by an adopted son Thayre, Sir Joynton Smith died at Hastings on 10 October 1943 survived by his third wife Gladys Mary Woods, and by their son and daughter. His estate, sworn for probate at £326,000, was the subject of protracted, costly litigation. A photo of Joynton Smith is seen Figure 3.

Joynton Smith took over management of the Grand Central Coffee Palace from 1892 until 1896 and I can find no reference to when it changed to a regular hotel. This page was taken from a document held in the State Records of New South Wales in 1889 before Joynton Smith’s time of management. It is labeled Name of Company Grand Central Coffee Palace Coy. Ltd with a registered number of 000369 with a Capital of £ 60,000 (Figure 4).

The Company published in 1889 a 110 pages book as The Grand Central Coffee Palace visitors’ guide to Sydney: and the various health and pleasure resorts in the vicinity. It was described as “Handsomely illustrated with wood engravings especially executed for this work”, and it included an index. Perhaps the words “health and pleasure resorts” suggests that it was still a temperance hotel in 1889. There is no doubt that it was a beautiful building (Figure 5).

An advertisement appeared in The Sydney Mail on Saturday November 9 1880 as a Prospectus for The Grand Central Coffee Palace Co., Limited, Sydney which was offering 60,000 shares of £1 each, with 20,000 shares fully paid up at £1 and 40,000 are offered to the public at 2s. 6d per share at application, 2s. 6d, on allotment and the balance in ‘calls’ of 2s. 6d. per month. The Directors, Solicitor, Bankers, Manager: Mr Richard Southwood, Secretary, and Brokers are named (Figure 6).

Immediately under this advertisement was a very fine drawing of the proposed building (Figure 7).

The term Coffee Palace was primarily used in Australia to describe the temperance hotels which were built during the period of the 1880s Although there are references to the term also being used to a lesser extent, in the United Kingdom. They were hotels that did not serve alcohol, built in response to the temperance movement and, in particular, the influence of the Independent Order of Rechabites in Australia. James Munro was a particularly vocal member of this movement. Coffee Palaces were often multi-purpose or mixed use buildings which included a large number of rooms for accommodation as well as ballrooms and other function and leisure facilities. The construction of buildings for the temperance movement coincided with an economic boom in Australia and the use of richly ornamental High Victorian architecture.

Subsequently, many such hotels were given prestigious names such as “Grand” or “Royal” and were designed in the fashionable Free Classical or Second Empire styles. The movement reached its height in Victoria and particularly in Melbourne. Catering for families, the Coffee Palaces were most popular in the coastal seaside resorts and for inner city locations popular with intestate and overseas visitors. Ironically as the temperance movement’s influence waned, many hotels applied for liquor licences. Many were either converted into hotels or demolished; however, some fine examples still survive.

This paper relied heavily on the Australian Dictionary of Biography for the information on Sir Joynton Smith.

Categories: Places