The British Hotel has the oldest continuous licence in Port Adelaide, issued on March 24 1847. James Wakeling, the first publican, moved from the Port Hotel opposite the wharves to become licensee. Originally a stone single story building alongside the river, The British Hotel was rebuilt in 1876 as a two-storey hotel for owner Henry Ayers (later Sir Henry).
Designed by W.Beattie, it had twenty two rooms, including a bar, taproom, kitchen, three parlours and ten bedrooms. Ayers sold the hotel in 1877 to James Ralph Russell who had been a publican since September 1863. In October 1848, Russell, a former proof-reader with the London Times, sailed for South Australia with his wife Ann and four sons on-board “Fortitude”.
Due to a measles epidemic on board, the ship changed course for Moreton Bay, north of Brisbane River, where the passengers remained for six months. The family settled on the mainland for a time before sailing to Sydney where they boarded Wild Irish Girl for Port Adelaide, arriving in August 1849. The Russell's lived on a farm at Woodville where three more sons were born. Three daughters born at Port Adelaide all died in infancy. Russell was a publican until December 1870 and established a family dynasty at the British. His sons ran the hotel for a number of years; James Thomas in 1871, Arthur from 1872 until March 1881 when Walter took over for a year returning as publican from July 1885 until March 1906. Russell served as publican until March 1907, when John McGrath became licensee and operated the establishment under the name ‘McGrath’s British Hotel’.
Following McGrath's death in 1932, his daughters Elizabeth and Esther joined forces to run the business as legislation enacted in 1908 (the Licensing Act) prohibited single women from holding a publican’s licence. In 1935 an amendment to the law was put before the Legislative Council and accepted. The result was that Esther McGrath was granted a publican’s licence the following year and assumed sole responsibility for McGrath’s British Hotel. In doing so, she became South Australia’s first independent female hotel operator following repeal of the 1908 Act.
The Russell family sold the hotel to the South Australian Brewing Company in 1937, but it remained under the direction of Esther McGrath until 1952, when Harry Crabb and Harold Garrett became licensees. Several more individuals would assume management of the property between 1964 and 1993.
The British Hotel experienced a decline in business during the latter half of the twentieth century and was eventually forced to close its doors for a number of years. In 2006, Bruce McFarlane purchased the property, and carried out a full renovation, an effort that won the ‘Special Project’ category of the City of Port Adelaide Enfield’s inaugural Heritage Awards. The hotel re-opened in 2009 and currently serves as a pub, restaurant, function centre and venue for live music.
Old British Hotel Port Adelaide
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