Helena Selwood’s Lake Wakatipu Hotel had many owners and a change of name before she purchased it in 1901. Its history is interesting.
In 1871 John Black Kerr purchased the land from the crown upon which the hotel was subsequently built in 1877. He was the key businessman in the small town of Kingston, being the shopkeeper, postmaster, and the agent for passengers and goods for the Lake Wakatipu ferry Antrim. He also owned the local jetty (Kerr’s Jetty), and in 1871-1876 was the proprietor of the Ship Inn as well as the Royal Mail Hotel.
He recognized the expected benefits of the coming railway and, in 1877, commenced building a two-story hotel at the western end of Kingston on his land adjacent to the planned rail terminal. He sought a license for his new hotel in June 1877 but some locals objected to it on the grounds that: “… there was no necessity for any additional hotel accommodation at Kingston. The Bench decided that there was no necessity for more than two hotels at Kingston and therefore refused the application.” (Lake Wakatip Mail, 7 June 1877).
The local correspondent summed it up this way: “Tuesday last was the annual licensing day. In the case of Mr Kerr, much sympathy is felt on the account of the large and commodious premises he has lately built, which will go in a measure to ruin him, if he does not succeed in obtaining a license for his new hotel. Kingstonites as a body seem to be a very (un)happy family, if I might judge from appearances. There is only about a dozen inhabitants there altogether, and yet they cannot agree among themselves. They do say that small communities are the worst to govern, and so it appears.” (Cromwell Argus, 12 June 1877)
The tetchiness continued at the December 1877 hearing when Mr Anderson, who built his new Railway Hotel alongside John Kerr’s new Terminus Hotel, and who had been granted a license, objected to John Kerr receiving a license. “Considerable argument ensued between counsel and the Bench. The Bench after brief deliberation, granted the application.” So John Kerr’s Terminus Hotel was up and running – for a short while.
This item was published in The Evening Star 6 May 1878: “Fatal Fire at Kingston. Queenstown, May 6 (1878). The sad news was brought in here yesterday of the total destruction by fire that morning, at half-past five o’clock, of Kerr’s (Terminus) Hotel and Anderson’s Railway Hotel, and of the loss of three lives, besides four or five men being seriously injured in escaping from Kerr’s upper bedrooms. Two of the men burned to death were railway navies, and the other a traveler.” A very thorough inquest determined a verdict of “Accidental Death”, and surmised that the young single traveler, a smoker, fell asleep while smoking in bed.
Within a month, plans were lodged for a replacement two-story hotel. This building was underway at the time the railway was officially welcomed to Kingston on 10 July 1878. A special free excursion train carrying over 1,100 people and drawn by four locomotives arrived at Kingston at noon and stayed for two hours. Mr Kerr must have been sufficiently prepared because he provided lunch “… commendable in quality and quantity”.
Soon after this John Kerr opened his replacement Terminus Hotel. It received very little supporting advertising, maybe because, by 1883, he was the only recorded hotelkeeper in Kingston. Sadly, John Kerr was tragically killed in a rail accident at Kingston on 13 March 1887. His estate was transferred to Thomas Perkins, representing the Trustees, and then briefly transferred to John MacPherson and others before being sold to Thomas Spear in January 1888.
Thomas Spear entered the hotel business with some energy. He had been the owner-operator of the Mountaineer, the steamer that plied the waters of Lake Wakatipu. He immediately renamed the hotel the Lake Wakatipu Hotel.
The hotel and location must have been sufficiently attractive for the newly appointed Governor of New Zealand, the Earl of Onslow, and his wife Lady Onslow, to stay a few nights at the hotel in November 1889. They summed up their visit and expressed themselves “… as very much pleased with Kingston and its neighbourhood”.
However, someone was unhappy with the situation when, on 23 December and again on 25 December 1889, two separately located room fires occurred in the Lake Wakatipu Hotel which, through quick action, were smothered. A thorough enquiry was held and although there was evidence of a disaffected staff member, the “… jury brought in a verdict of arson against some person or persons unknown, of having feloniously, willfully and maliciously set fire to the said hotel on the two days mentioned, with intent to injure Thomas Spear”.
In evidence Thomas Spear gave some interesting information about his hotel. His two-story hotel contained 34 rooms, and the building was of wood with a small portion of stone. His domestic staff consisted of a cook, housemaid, waitress and barman and “also a boy acting as boots”. He had a mother, a brother and a sister staying at the hotel.
Also staying at the hotel was a carpenter who was, in 1889-1890, putting on an extension to the hotel, increasing the upstairs frontage from five rooms to seven. In August 1890 it was reported: “The accommodation of Mr T. Spear’s Lake Wanaka Hotel, Kingston, has been considerably enlarged by the addition of eight bedrooms.” The dining room was also extended and natural lighting improved throughout the hotel.
The accommodation license was transferred to William Imrie in 1892, whilst Thomas Spear obtained the license for the Live and Let Live Hotel at Garston, but still retained the ownership of the Lake Wakatipu Hotel. In 1893 William Imrie’s license for the Lake Wakatipu Hotel was transferred to Mrs Elizabeth McDonald, and on the death of Thomas Spear the hotel was purchased on March 1895 by Mrs McDonald. She retained the hotel with annual license renewals until 1901.
According to police records at the National Archives, the 1900 annual licensing report of the Lake Wakatipu Hotel, in the name of Elizabeth McDonald, consisted of “… a two storeyed house, 3 sitting rooms, 10 bedrooms, 2 stabling, 2 closets, and 1 urinal. Good condition. Next licensed house: Garston 12 miles distant.”
Helena Selwood took ownership of Lake Wakatipu Hotel on 16 August 1891. It was the only hotel in Kingston at that time. The property consisted of a number of sections (Block 1, Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 21, 22 23 and 24; Titles 2/37, 13/123, and 42/128).
The hotel went through trouble-free annual relicensing but in 1904 it was, yet again, totally destroyed by fire. It was quickly rebuilt as a one-story hotel, and was retained by Helena Selwood until 1913 but leased for a troubling period from 1906 to 1908.
In September 1906 Helena leased the hotel to William Young, late of Omarama Hotel, for a five-year term. However, she immediately had problems recovering payments and was forced to take Young to court: “At the Lumsden SM Court on Tuesday last: The only civil case heard was that of Helena Selwood v W. Young (Kingston), claim £58 0s 7p made up of goods taken over, fire insurance premiums, and a dishonoured postal note. Mr Evans appeared for the plaintiff. Judgement by default was given in plaintiff’s favour, with costs of £6 5s.” (Mataura Ensign, 20 March 1907).
William Young failed to pay his dues but with Helena Selwood’s approval he on-leased the property in July 1907 to Hannah Taylor Soper, widow of Garston, and Alfred Edward Soper, farmer of Garston. Hannah Soper took on the lease with energy and advertised through the first half of 1908 that she had “acquired this property”, but she had only acquired the lease.
In the absence of ongoing payments, Helena Selwood gave written notice to Hannah Soper and Alfred Soper on 29 September 1908 of their “… failure to perform the covenant to insure contained in the said lease and fell into arrear with their rent ultimately owing to this Declarant the sum of £58 6s 8d for rent and £14 12s 0d for Insurance”, and “THAT I served a written demand upon each of them, for payment of the said arrears but they failed to pay the same and the same has never been paid.” She was forced to re-enter her premises under police supervision and “… recovered and obtained peaceable possession of the same and have ever since enjoyed and do still enjoy peaceable possession of the same”.
After a further four years of regained possession, Helena Selwood sold the Lake Wakatipu Hotel to Robert Cameron on 29 July 1913.
The hotel went through several ownerships from 1913 until 1983 when it was destroyed by fire, the third hotel fire on that site. The hotel was not rebuilt.