This advertising cover for the School of Arts Hotel, Roma, Queensland, Proprietor: E.J. Galton was addressed to C/o The Postmaster, Port Moresby, Papua and in addition to the blue AIR MAIL vignette, there was a purple handstamp with Australia/Papua/New Guinea/ July 1934/ first Official Air Mail as well as a straight 2-line handstamp (or manuscript) stating essentially the same message. The two air mail stamps, 6d OS overprint dull brown and 3d green were postmarked BRISBANE/ 11-A 24 JY 34/ QUEENSLAND [Nelson Eustis # 390] (Figure 1).
A photo of the School of Arts Hotel, Roma when T. O’Sullivan was the proprietor is shown with a caption ‘The Arrival of the First Motor Car in Roma by the Hon. J.W. Blair (Figure 2).
There were two hotels of that name, the first built in 1883, and a publican’s licence was granted to Ellen Hogan in that year; the second was built in 1918, probably built after a fire had destroyed the first. The second building was more magnificent than the first, but some of the public were concerned that the fine facade of the hotel was defaced by the yellow advertising signs (Figure 3).
In Queensland between 1843 and 1900 there were six more School of Arts Hotels listed in major towns: Brisbane (suburb of Sandgate), Charleville, Cooktown, Ipswich, Mackay and Toowoomba. The actual origin of the name given for these Hotels could not be found by the Librarian at the State Library of Queensland. Her conjecture was that “there was a relationship to the term School of Arts, an institution founded in many centres during the nineteenth century in order to provide facilities for working class to study and attend educational lectures. Applied or useful arts, and not fine arts, formed the subjects of study, and the classes were in this way important forerunners to technical schools and colleges that we know to-day. Subsequently their function became mostly social and was a meeting place for the male population. An earlier name for these organizations was the Mechanics’ Institutes, again where a trade etc. was learnt derived from the Australian Encyclopaedia)……My own opinion is that the owner of the (hotel) premises probably had a sense of humour and considered that his School of Arts was also a place of learning – Life and all that goes with it).”
“Queensland country hotels were 30 or 40 miles apart. This distance was dictated by the endurance of a horse on a day’s journey, as all transportation in this era was made by this means. There were no effective roads. Timber was the readily cheap material and in order to accommodate the large number of people and their horses, Queensland hotels were large buildings with many rooms. They also had accommodation or pasturage and a creek nearby, for the horses for the length of the rider’s stay. Due to their timber construction, these hotels were very vulnerable to fire.”
An unnamed Queensland journalist provided an alternate suggestion: “I don’t know for sure, but I believe that these hotels were named as a blind so innocent women would not know that their husbands and sons were actually drinking and gaming in these places. They were originally called the School of Arts, minus the ‘hotel’ and were supposed to be places where males could learn much about their lives and communities….whether it’s true or not I don’t know. Of course, I am one of those innocent women who never would have guessed that my husband was out drinking instead of learning.”
An unnamed director of a regional Queensland gallery had another suggestion: “There is a long and hallowed history of Schools of Arts in almost every major town in Queensland, and probably other States as well. As for them being called School of Arts Hotels, I don’t know about these unless those that are still in existence converted themselves into more commercial operations. A I understand it these schools were ‘THE’ centres for learning/ culture/ higher consciousness of what civilization could be. I think they held books for loaning out, or at least to be available in reading rooms, so they probably formed the basis of our regional library network.”
A nice mixture of opinions, so take your pick!
Many thanks to Janette Garrad, Library technician at the State Library of Queensland, and to John Russell, Queensland for polling two of his friends on the School of Arts Hotel, both for providing a glimpse into early Queensland history.