Sunday, December 3, 2017

Thomas Mooney, Part Two

Mr. Thomas Mooney had commisioned to be built, the National Hotel, just around the corner from Astley’s Amphitheatre, and also had a tunnel built to direct thirsty theatre patrons migrating from performance's end straight to his hotel rather than have them leave by the front and naturally gravitate toward the White Hart. It all seemed rather dramatic, but it was effective.

One has to wonder, whence came the money for such a venture? The usual explanation is that a person had made their fortune on the goldfields, but such was not Mooney’s case, for he had quite the adventure—both physical and literary—before his arrival here in Melbourne.

Mooney was Dublin born between 1809-1815 (dates vary) and went to America in 1841 on a speaking tour, taking in all the towns that he could, and Canada, to boot; and all of it for the purpose of addressing Irishmen about independence. Just how effective he was at lecturing it is not reported, but he had made a good deal of gingerbread (the door takings) and wrote a popular book, ‘Nine Years in America’ being a compendium of letters sent to his brother Patrick back in Ireland, published in newspaper columns and then set to press as a volume in 1850.

He also wrote a significant two-volume work entitled the ‘History of Ireland from its First Settlement to the Present Time’ even before he came to Australia. I found a version printed in Boston of 1853 though it was likely first printed long before that (and took great liberties with the truth, and made a few wild conjectures). It sold very well and it is upon its renumeration that I think he emigrated to Australia and built the National Hotel.

The ‘Ovens and Murray Advertiser’ the paper of record for Beechworth and surrounds, made much sport of keeping up with Thomas Mooney’s shennanigans; his ever increasingly calls for Fenian belligerency; his self-serving and Yankee style oratory; odd financial schemes; and the general escalation of silly anecdotes—and some of those gems I will post next. For now though, let us hear from the Age, of 10 Oct 1859:—

“Mr Thomas Mooney, better known as ‘Mooney,’ the whilom agitator of Melbourne
and the Ovens [Beechworth area] has started a paper in America under the title of ‘Mooney's Falsern and Placerville Express.’ The Golden Era noticed the event in a paragraph which was republished in the Express as follows: — ‘Mr Thomas Mooney, who possesses the varied talents peculiar to the cultivated Irishman, with all his dashing and go-a-head ways, announces that he has shut down the curtain for ever on the story of his matrimonial troubles, (as befits a genuine disciple of Caudle), and in the same breath offers himself as a candidate for the office of General Controller. Mooney compels our admiration and disarms our wit.

In the brief space of three or four months he has established a newspaper, published a volume of history, enacted a romance by carrying off from the custody of her watchful relatives a blooming bride, and entered the field of politics as an applicant for one of the first offices in the gift of the people. What brilliant coup will this young reprobate of fifty (born therefore, 1809) next be up to? (Forty only, 'pon honor. — En. Express.) By the way, anent the history of Ireland, now republishing in the columns of the Express, we perceive that Mr Mooney has gone backward to the days of the Egyptians, and is new floundering among the gods and goddesses of the heathen mythology. Does he intend eventually to prove that Venus was an Irishman?’”

Monday, November 27, 2017

Thomas Mooney (1809— ca.1887) Part One

Thomas Mooney ("bird of passage") is one of those footnote creatures, and in his case, he built the "National Hotel" and later had a brief fling with the Royal Hotel connected to the Theatre Royal. He was a man who made a decent bag of money on American speaking tours as a "Fenian" platform speaker, and I suspect, ran off with money that he should not have.

His story is long and interesting, so here is part one:—

Entry, Truth, 24 feb, 1912, EARLY MELBOURNE No. 126 by “Old Chum” (J. William Forde”)

“The Mr. Thomas Mooney who built the Amphitheatre for Mr. G.B.W.Lewis in the latter part of 1854 was merely a bird of passage, and disappeared whence he came when the roaring fifties begand to get quiet, about the year 1857. He was typical of many other agitators who have ventured on Australian soil in the last 60 years: an immense amount of ‘blow’ with little or no lasting merit. A successor to Mooney in the ‘gas line’ was one Osborne, but of him more anon. Mr. Mooney’s stock phrase was that every Australian should ‘have a rifle, a farm and a vote.’ There was no land open to the public at that time, so that Mooney had a ‘peg’ on which he could hang his hat. When he opened the National Hotel—or rather, when he became its tennant—Mr F. A. Harris having had the liscence before him, did a good business, as the gold fields attracted men from California where Mooney had graduated in stump oratory. When he built—largely, if not entirely, on credit— the Amphitheatre, he had wisdom enough to make an underground passage from the circus to his hotel, and thereby scooped in much of the coin that might have gone elsewhere. It will be seen that, if Mr. Mooney had not secured the underground passage to his drinkery, the circus patrons, on coming into Spring Street would have simply walked accross to the ‘Old White Hart’ and there, slaked their thirst. The ‘National’ and the ‘Old White Hart’ were the only public houses in the locality in 1854. When the circus, or Astley’s Amphitheatre was done away with, the underground passage was closed up, and all public entrances to the building being from Spring Street. Mr. Mooney returned to California early in 1857, I think, and I have heard rumours against his commercial credit, which went down after he gained the Pacific Slope."


And until next time, let us leave him. There is much more to come, and the Australian Press continued to have fun with him long after he left Australia.

Cafe de Paris

As coming posts will feature comments on the Café de Paris, Bourke Street, I present here for your preparation (from my own collection of Illustrated London News Prints) the Theatre Royal, Royal Hotel, "Vestibule" and the Café de Paris.

The whole building and its parts have a fully fanned-out history — from tainted to aspirational— some of which has been touched upon in earlier entries on Mr. Gregory and Mr. Henelle.

Click to enlarge, s'il vous plaît.


Miss Findlay, Canada

I interrupt the historical flow of late, to bring a tinted image of a Miss Findlay, by Notman of Canada. The 1870s included the First Bustle period, the evolution of which is fascinating for the cascade of necessities that followed incidents of utility.

Prior to the bustle springing into being dresses where thrown over a crinoline cage covered in an underskirt. The underskirt was a thing a simple utility: it provided support and  a barrier between the cage and the expensive outer fabric. Princess Alexandra, when crossing a brook — so the story goes — pinned the hem of the outer fabric (difficult to clean when soiled) several inches above her hem line, exposing some of the underskirt (no shame there as she had a quite expensive underskirt) and the pinning up brought into being an aesthetic of two complimentary skirts.

It slowly became imitated, then elaborated, and finally evolved beyond its parent event; material was hiked up, slowing over the fashion seasons, moving to the back where tie mutated into bows and other rear furniture was added. The aesthetic required a visual balance so ladies hair became braided and raise, and increased in visual mass, and in turn hats became smaller, higher and more concentrated with bird, bows and flowers enough to balance out the silhouette.

All because the Princess of Wales protected her hem from a little walk out in the grounds.

Colour too moved. The heaviness of colours of the 1860s with the heavy, dark shades (a simple lack of chemical innovations and limited dyes, and of course the dark mourning promoted by Victoria) made everyone so throughly sick of the sombre that the 1870s saw a hunger for light fabrics, with muted day tints: fadé as the Fashion Journals of Paris called them. The 1870s also saw the manufacture of machine made trimmings sold by the yard enabling women with home machines to decorate their dresses as insanely as they wished.

It was a very pretty period, as Miss Findlay, below, will attest.


Achilles King (1830-1873)

Achilles King is a minor figure in Melbourne; a man good with money but unlucky with litigation and ingrates. He is a mysterious figure, a native of Milano, Italy, whose name probably was not King; or perhaps it was. It was a great Italian patriot and is remembered for exuberant celebration upon Garibaldi's success. Who was he really? We have no idea.

I post here in thanks for his finance of the early Melbourne Theatrical world. We tend to pay attention to the creatures before the limelight and seldom to the generous financiers.

“Gentleman, charge you glasses
raise them high, and let them sing
let the clarent lament and the crystal praise
the glorious Achilles King”


From the “Weekly Times” 25 Jan 1873 p9.

“Death of Achillies King:—We regret to have to record the death [22 Jan] of Mr. Achilles King, and the more so that it occurred under melancholy circumstances. Mr. King having died an inmate of the Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum. The deceased gentleman was well known in Melbourne for the excellent manner in which he conducted the old Cafe de Paris at the Theatre Royal, and more recently the Athenaeum Club in Collins street. He came to this colony in the year 1853, and for about twelve years carried on the businees of a commission agent.

Being an active and shrewd man, and possessing, as he did, a thorough knowledge of mercantile pursuits, he was in the early days frequently despatched to the other colonies to execute commissions, and he made some money. When Messrs. Spiers and Pond, in 1863, expressed their desire to go to England, he entered into partnership with Mr. Mallam, their manager, and purchased the good will of the Cafe de Paris from them, and also that of the refreshment rooms on the Victorian and suburban lines of the railway, for £6,000. After the lapse of about eighteen months the firm of Mallam and King was dissolved, and Mr King carried on the cafe himself, while Mr. Mallam took the railway refreshment rooms.

Subsequently Mr. King obtained a lease of the Princess's Theatre for Bix years, and expended about £3,500 in improving it, and shortly afterwards the well-known disagreement between him, Mr. Barry Sullivan, and Mr. Ambrose Kyte, with reference to the use of the Vestibule of the Theatre Royal, took place. Many of our readers will remember that time when the building was for several days in a state of siege, and injunctions upon injunctions were obtained in the Supreme Court by either of the disputants to restrain the others from doing something or other. The end of it was that Mr. King gave the Cafe up in disgust, and from that time henceforward he was never the same man. The persons who took the business from him were unable when the time came to pay the amount they had stipulated for it, and he had to re-take possession. But by the time there had been a large falling-off in the business, and though he fought a hard up-hill battle for twelve months, he had finally to succumb. In the meantime he could not let the Princess's Theatre, and he was compelled to effect a compromise with his creditors. He was naturally of an excitable temperament, but after this he frequently lost all control over himself, and everybody noticed the alteration in his looks.

He went to New Zealand shortly after the compromise, and was absent about eighteen months. In the beginning of the year 1868 he returned to Melbourne, apparently much better in health, and carried on the commission business again for twelve months, when, in January, 1869, he entered into partnership with Mr. J. G. Knight, in connection with the Atheneum Club, and in conjunction with him conducted the club until June, 1871, when the furniture and everything in the place was seized under a bill of sale, and the club was closed for awhile. Mr. King then devoted the whole of his attention to the hotel, 82 Collins street, which he had opened in April, 1870, but his failure deranged his mind, and he had to retire from business altogether.

He became more and more disordered in his intellect, and had taken passage on board a vessel for England, but on the day for the departure he conducted himself so peculiarly on board the ship as it lay alongside the Sandridge pier, that it was deemed advisable for his own safety to confine him, and he was taken to the Yarra Bend Asylum, where he has remained ever since — a period of about eighteen months, and he died from acute disease of the brain. The deceased was a native of Italy, and was well connected, He was highly educated, and spoke several languages. His friends will regret his death under such distressing circumstances.”

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Edmund Howard Gregory (1825-1910)

Recently, in Melbourne, we have had the re-opening of a Melbourne institution: “Brunettis” a cafe that has produced, for decades, good coffee, great pastries and suitably splendid cakes (I buy my Birthday cake from them each year), and it put me to reflecting of an earlier time in Melbourne’s history when European restaurantation had a representative in this city. His name was Edmund Howard Gregory, confectioner and pastry cook, who struggled in his career here, to make for himself a good reputation from the moment he and his small family stepped off the boat.

Edmund was born on the 28th of January 1825 to George Benjamin Gregory and wife Mary. George was a confectioner and baker who had come to London from Shropshire to bring the family trade to the city. The earliest address I have is Everett Street, Brunswick Square near the Foundling Hospital in Bloomsbury—fashionable at the time they lived there. He must have done fairly well, as Edmund, having learned the rudiments of the trade under his father, was sent to the continent sometime before 1841, as Edmund is not in the 1841 census of London: had gone to Paris.


In Edmund Gregory’s newspaper ads in Melbourne papers some years later he referenced of three palces in which he worked in Paris: Chez Tortoni, Au Rocher du Cancale, and the Café de Paris (on the Boulevard des Italiens). Given that the average age for an indenturing was about 14 years old, it would have been 1839 when Edmund began his ‘apprenticeship’ and however he managed it, he worked in Paris, first with Urbain Dubois at Café Tortoni (Urbain was only in Paris from 1840-1845); and secondly under Pierre Fréderic Borrel. Chronologically I cannot fit his time at the Café de Paris in sequence, but I believe it was his earliest placement, being at that unoticeable and inditiguishabe stage.


Urbain Francois Dubois (1818-1901) was a supposedly a former Chef to the Rothschild family, and is famous for the invention of “Veal Orloff.” An article references Dubois as a teacher of Gregory only many years later, when Dubois had become famous.


P. F. Borrel (1788-186?) was a showman of food and dining—called by one journalist the “Rothschild of Gastronomy”—who had taken over “Au Rocher du Cancale” at 58 Rue Montorgeuil in 1816 when the founder, Alexis Balaine, an ex-oyster salesman at Les Halles, who had made a great and glorious small fortune of 10,000 from 1806-1816. He had amassed this by setting up late night, post-theatre oyster “rooms” where gathered, society’s wide-awakes, dandies, fops, gastronomic high-collars and well-connecteds; and often there was singing. Borrell, when he took it over, decorated it in splendid style, as Alexis had never done, and turned the entire late night dining requirement into an experience. Borrell too, made a small fortune, spending much of it on an estate that he had to let go when he went bankrupt in 1846. The “Rocher” closed (it reopened in another place later, but by that time it was wholly disassociated from Gregory and Borrel).


Edmund, his place of work closed, returned to England, aged 22 and with a wealth of experience, and even an resonant claim to the Borrel connection whose book had been selling well in England since 1832 when Borrel published it. On the 9th of Septmeber 1847, at St George’s Bloosbury, Edmund married Emma Brooks, daughter of William Brooks and Sarah Bugg, fruiters of Marchmont place. By the end of their life they were to have 13 children.


In 1853, Edmund emigrated to Melbourne and set himself up as a confectioner and cook (catering to Dinners, Balls, Suppers, Déjeuners, Wedding Breakfasts etc) at 54 Collins Street where he made enough money to sell the business to Messers. Wollcott and Mansfield (“Successors to E.H.Gregory”) and acquired a liscence that same year for the “Royal Hotel in Bourke Street” opening in 1855, advertising “Wines, Viands, and Delicacies.” He next stretched himself a little too far (taking after Borrel, I think) and opened the “Hall of Commerce” resaturant, advertising himself as the coolest “endroit” and the only place in Melbourne to eat and drink where the “hot wind is not felt.” He took on as his cook-mate, a Mr. F. Chambers, ex-chef of the Albion Tavern, and Simpson’s Divan in London. They offerred cold collation daily and “true” grilled chops or steak. 


In 1854, the was a Newspaper column trumpeting:—
“Grand Promenade Concerts” at the Concert Hall and Saloons in connection with the New Theatre Royal, Bourke Street.

“It will be open to the public on this and every evening, with a series of Grand Operatic and Classic Concerts, supported by the finest vocal talent in the colony, when the whole premises will be open as a Promenade Concert Room. 

And brilliantly illuminated with gas. The proprietor, Mr. E. H. Gregory, has the honor to announce to the public, that he has obtained from the Officers of the 12th Regiment their kind permission for the use of The Military Band on this evening, which will be ably conductcd by Mr. Callen. 


The following artistes will appear tills evening: Mons. Emile Coulon. ‘ Mrs. Hancock. Miss Octavia Hamilton [an old favourite of this blog]. Miss. Stewart. Miss Minnie Clifford. Mr. George Clifford. Mr. Peck, Violinist. Mons. Bial, Pianist. Doors open at half-past seven. Concert to commence at eight.” 


Edmund’s Hall of Commerce didn’t go as well as hoped, and in 1856 he was to sell the liscence to F. W. Spiers but the grant was denied as the premises did not provide close “coveniences” for his patrons in whom he wished to include ladies. The Hall did not pass to Spiers — pas que je sache. Regardless, Gregory and Chambers moved to establish a restaurant at Cremorne Gardens, that desparate lifeboat of city-park culture that was a kind of antipodean, laudable, but poor-man’s Vauxhall Gardens. There he offered “Dinner, Teas and Suppers at Melbourne Prices” and curiously he was still dealing out of the Hall of Commerce, which he perhaps was still maintaining.


Then in 1857 he landed what was to secure a life-time apoointment to Parliament House as the official provisioner and purveyor.


In that same year, 1857, he heavily advertisied, “E. H. GREGORY’ Restauranteur, COOK, AND CONFECTIONER. Pupil of Borrel of ‘Rocher de Cancale, and of the Cafe de Paris, Paris. Purveyor, by appointment, to the Parliament Houses, Contracts to supply BALLS, DINNERS. &c., Entire or in part, in Town and Country. Fruit Ices a la crème, and a l’eau, daily from ten o'clock, at Gregory's Hall of Commerce Restaurant. The Ices at Gregory's are made precisely as he for has prepared them at Chez Tortoni, Café de Paris, and at the Rocher de Cancale, Paris.” He was flying his flag fully unfurled. Interestingly, Felix W. Spiers and George Hennelle’s advertisement is often above his, simply advertising themselves as wine sellers catering to businesses, boarding houses and trade—they were trading next to the Theatre Royal. The difference in press-pizzazz is apparent, and I have no doubt it was representative of Gregory’s attitude and the reason why he eventually established a “Café de Paris” of his own, though not entirely on his own.


Having overextended himself, Gregory declared insolvency, and the follwoing year the Café de Paris at the Theatre Royal opened under Spiers and Hennelle; Gregory was not involved in the partnership, but was engaged, it looks, to run the place. Spiers must have known a good thing when he saw it, and perhaps, Spiers’ wisdom in money matter reined in Gregory’s Borrel like drift that may have been fine in Paris but could not work here in Melbourne. Spiers was familiar with Gregroy’s chops, both metaphorical and actual. Hennelle, of whom we know little didn’t last too long with Spiers at the Café de Paris and his partnership with Spiers was quickly dissloved in 1858, to be replaced, with equal speed with William Pond. Hennelle quickly become insolvent, then soon after suffered terrible injuries when some masonry fell on him as he was walking past the new building site of the Post Office. 


In 1859, Edmund, safe from commercial risk, set up a “Cooks, Pastry cooks and Confectioners Provident Society” out of the Hall of Commerce—classic Victorian social gravity.


In 1865 he reclaimed the liscence for the Royal Hotel from Achilles King, who had purchased it earlier—perhaps Edmund was trying to find extra income for the failing Café de Paris which folded in 1865. He had been in partnership with George Hennelle (who was lame, and may not have been a great business man; Gregory had advertised only once that he had secured a “glacier” from Café Richelieu in Paris, and I wonder if that was Hennelle—I suspect the claim was dropped simply because readers would have wondered what the heck a glazier was doing at the Café) and so in 1866 he wrapped up his time at the Café de Paris, and the assignee sold the liscence to Achilles King. 


Gregory concentrated on his Parliament House work which saw him in good stead, and in 1873 was noted in one paper giving a testimonal for a gas cooker (among many other testifying persons about town), and in the 1881 International Exhibition in Melbourne he served as Judge on the Preserved Meats and Fish Jury.


In 1889, aged 64 he retired, with Parliament voting him a gratuity of 1,500 pounds for 32 years of service. There was also a suggestion too of a 350 pound pension per annum but in the light of the generous gratuity and the past bonus of 650 pounds, which had been going on for quiet some time, a pension was turned down. 

His wife, Emma died at their home in Clara Street, South Yarra on the 9th of may 1901 and he, nine years later on the 15th of February 1910, in Ballarat at his daughter’s home—“A good kindly man…an old colonist, and first caterer to the Parliamentary Refreshment Rooms.”