The Royal Mail Hotel

The Royal Mail Hotel stood at Somerton on Sydney Road in the vicinity of where South Pacific Tyres now stands.  The picture above is of the two storey ruins of the old hotel in 1963.  We don't know a great deal about the early history of the hotel only from the records in the Cole Hotel Index, Broadmeadows Rate Books, various other snippets and sources. 

The hotel would have seen busy times and like all the hotels dotted along that stretch of Sydney Road which were original stops between Melbourne and the gold fields during the initial gold rush years of 1851-1870.

Henry Gyles Turner (18311920), historian of Victoria and banker mentions in his trip notes from 'A Canter up to the Murray and Scramble Back' which was then an account by an enthusiastic young man traveling up the Sydney road in 1859 and of the towns on the way.

'I have an indistinct idea that the Royal Mail Hotel where we had just breakfasted is situated in a suburb called Somerton, but as I found it impossible satisfactorily to solve the question of the boundaries of these places I can only say that we passed through Brunswick, Pentridge, Somerton, Donnybrook, Kinlochewe, and other doubtless important townships scattered along the sides of a fine smooth road, and when we reached the Rocky Water holes about 20 miles from Melbourne began to experience a sensation of being out of town'.

We know that John Hill and his wife Hannah of the Somerton Hotel fame owned the hotel in earlier times until Peter Foreman took over in 1864.

On Friday 17th of August 1860 at the Donnybrook Police Court, the case of   ILLEGAL SALE OF SPIRITS, THE QUEEN V. HILL where John Hill is accused of serving alcohol when his premises the Royal Mail Hotel at Somerton were unlicensed.  The defendant, landlord of the Royal Mail Hotel, Somerton, John Hill was summoned for selling two nobblers of gin on the 15th instant, his house being then unlicensed, and he not being there and then a licensed person in accordance with the act, the case was dismissed without costs.

On Saturday 27 July 1861 the Argus advertised that at the EAST BOURKE ELECTION - JOHN MACGREGOR would ADDRESS the ELECTORS on Tuesday the 8th at 7.30pm at Hill's Royal Mail Hotel,  Somerton.

Again in 1861 a article in the Argus titled 'Robbery from a dwelling' refers to the hotel as - "Hill's Royal Mail Hotel at Somerton" and refers to Hannah Hill wife of John Hill.  so it is possible the Royal Mail Hotel was unlicensed and became run down for a number of years before Peter Foreman took it over.

What we do know is that the hotel stood for many years close to the edge of Sydney Road and traded from early times to approximately after Peter Forman died in 1869 the owner, licensed victualler (innkeeper) and publican.

   On the Monday 20 April 1868 an advert appeared in the Argus for the Sale of the Royal Mail Hotel on the Sydney Rd, Somerton.  Proprietor leaving through illness and title guaranteed and for particulars apply to A. Barnard, Bourke Street but on the 16th of January 1869 at his residence The Royal Mail Hotel, Somerton, Sydney Rd,  Peter Foreman passed away.  He was noted in the Argus report as 'an old colonist, much respected by his circle of friends'.

After Peter died in 1869 the hotel was put up for sale by Mrs. Agnes Foreman who at this time was the owner and licensee and the wife of Peter Foreman. 

The Argus, Wednesday 1 December 1869

Royal Horse Bazaar.
To Speculators, Hotel-keepers, and Others.
For Positive Sale.
M'CULLOCH, CAMPBELL, and Co. have received
Instructions from Mrs. Peter Foreman to SELL
by AUCTION, at the Royal Horse Bazaar, on Thursday,
December 2, at twelve o'clock,
The above well-known hotel, now in good order,
with every convenience for a roadside trade,
and doing a good paying business. With the
hotel will be sold 26 acres of first class land,
fenced, and under crop.
The property is for positive and unreserved sale, In
consequence of Mrs. Foreman's early departure for England.

Agnes Foreman sold the hotel to William Bestwick an attorney who was in partnership with George Hyde of Hyde Brothers, carrying on the business of hoteliers, corn and hay factors and Cab proprietors, George Hyde was the publican.  Later in the March of 1870 Agnes then sold the hotel furniture and stock.

The Argus, Tuesday 22 March 1870.

Great Clearing Sale of
Farm Implements, Dairy Utensils, Quiet Dairy
Cattle &c, at Royal Mall Hotel, Somerton.
M'CULLOCH, CAMPBELL and Co. have received
Instructions from Mrs. Foreman to SELL by
AUCTION, at the Royal Mail Hotel, Somerton, on
Tuesday, 22nd March, at eleven o'clock,
The whole of her very superior hotel furniture, consisting of drawingroom, parlour, dining
room, bedroom, and other furniture ; kitchen ranges, furniture, and cooking Utensils, bar
fittings, including beer-engine and all glassware. Farm Stock. 26 head quiet well-bred hand-reared cows, heifers, and steers 8 pet sheep, lambs, 1 buggy horse, 1 draught horse.
A large number of fowls, geese, turkeys, and ducks.  Farm Implements. Hay dray with frame, water-cart, iron plough 1 first class double seated buggy, several sets harness, studio saddle and bridle Hay rake, 18 water casks, water - trough, and several lots sundries. Dairy utensils, milk dishes, churn, buckets, &c. Large quantity of firewood. The auctioneers have pleasure in calling attention to the above sale. The furniture is really first class, and the Stock are very quiet. The whole for positive sale, in consequence of Mrs. Foreman having disposed of the hotel and grounds.

The last year of licensing seems to have been in 1870 when Matthew Stephens was issued a license for the hotel and on the 29th of January 1872 the hotel was up for auction again with instruction from Mr. William Bestwick for the sale of the hotel with its 20 rooms, furniture and stabling as he intended to retire from business.

'At Twelve O'clock.
At the Rooms of the Auctioneers. To Spoiling Publicans, Enterprising Farmers, Speculators, and Others.
Sale by Public Auction of
On the Sydney-road, l8 Miles from Melbourne
With 283 Acres of Fine Land, Two Acres of which is Orchard, in Full Bearing.
NAYLOR and Co are Instructed by Mr. Bestwick, who is retiring from business, to SELL by AUCTION,
at their rooms, 82 Collins Airport West, on Monday, January 20, at twelve o'clock,
That old established roadside hostelry, The Royal Mail Hotel, situate at Somerton, on the Sydney road, l8miles from town, containing 20 rooms, excellent stabling, and every convenience for a large business,
Together with the farm, consisting of 20 acres, and orchard of 2 acres. In full
bearing.  Title perfect. Terms-One third cash, and balance by bills at six and 12 months, with 8 per cent, interest added. Note.-The furniture, dairy stock, &c, may be taken
at a value Loss by the purchaser.

Another small description of the Royal Mail Hotel can be found in "Bulla Bulla a History of the Shire" Where it says, 'taking the Somerton Rd and proceeding eastwards towards the present Hume Highway the 1860 traveler would meet with another small wayside stop, set amidst the sparsely timbered plains and well grassed hills.  Refreshments
could be obtained at either the Royal Mail Hotel or the Somerton Hotel
before they both lost their licenses after 1911' (1916)

Sometime in the following years the Lehman family purchased the hotel and surrounding land.  The family used the two storey bluestone hotel building as a home and farmed there. The Lehman family came to Victoria between 1865 and 1867 from South Australia but is it unclear at this time the exact time of occupation of the property, possibly after 1872.

The hotel stood for many years on the edge of Sydney Rd.  The Lehman family moved from the site after a terrible accident when their daughter Martha Lehman was burnt to death in 1937 in an upstairs bedroom.

What happened to the building and grounds after the Lehman family left is unknown.  We know by the picture taken in 1963 it was still standing as a ruin on Sydney Rd and some frontage of the property demolished in the first road widening in 1943, however the rest would have been taken after the second widening in 1963. The ruins of the hotel stood for many years along Sydney Rd and according to locals were demolished after the war and it is probably after 1963 any last vestiges of the hotel would have been removed.

This hotel was occupied by a few families from early times:- John Hill of Somerton, the Foreman family of Peter and Agnes and lastly the Lehman family of John Reynolt and Martha and possibly more we are not aware of at this time.  Both pioneers of Victoria their family stories can be viewed on pages on this website.

John Hill of Somerton

Peter Foreman and Agnes Jarron

John Reynolt Lehman and Martha Hill


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