Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

The California Inn


In 1938 an article written by Newcastle historian W. J. Goold gave a history of the buildings and businesses that had once lined Newcastle's streets including some of the famous old Inns in Watt Street. From King Street corner to the water front there were several, including McGreavey's Victoria Inn, Commercial Inn, Ship Inn and the California Inn.

The California Inn was opened by Maurice Magney formerly part-owner of liquor Stores in Sydney and licensee of several Inns in the Singleton district, including the Robin Hood at Jerrys Plains, Prince Albert at Mt. Thorley, Queen Victoria Inn at Glennies Creek (1847) and, Lady Mary Fitzroy at Chain of Ponds in 1849; and Queen Victoria Inn at Glennies Creek again until March 1851 when he relinquished the license and moved to Newcastle.

According to later prison records, Maurice Magney was born in Hamburg. He arrived as a free passenger in Australia on the Captain Cook in 1834.

Although little has emerged about the life of Maurice Magney before he came to Australia, he was entrepreneurial and community minded so that over the years his name became well known throughout the district. He possessed enough fortitude to see him through several set backs including three bankruptcies.

Sydney Store

Maurice Magney formed a partnership with Scotsman James E. Stephenson (came free per ship Duckenfield 1834) in Sydney some time after their arrival. Their circumstances were similar to many other new chums arriving in the colony before the gold rush days; some were chancers for sure, but there were others too, men who envisaged a new life full of potential. They were adventurous and enthusiastic and came in their thousands to settle; to create a better way of life for themselves and their families.

Magney and Stephenson operated a business selling oaten hay, from premises in George Street Sydney opposite the Royal Hotel; they began advertising early in 1839. By April 1839 they were selling cognac, brandy, rum and other spirits from the same premises [1]. A few months later they advertised as a Wholesale Wine and Spirit Store (same premises). By September 1839 they had been in business for about 15 months according to one article, however at this time they came into financial difficulties and a receiver was appointed. Goods from the Store were auctioned that same month.

There was quite a bit of controversy about the collapse of their business. Several letters and comments in various newspapers were published including the following in The Colonist:

We have often been surprised at the number of stores which are opened for the sale of wines and spirits, and that mostly by young men, who also dub themselves general agents. An instance of the folly of the course pursued by merchants, and its effects, was shown the other day in the Insolvent Court, in the case of Magney and Stephenson, whose creditors were left minus some 5000/.

There are many others we doubt not who would be found in the same predicament if tried. The first step towards establishing a house of the sort has something suspicious on the face of it. A young man is anxious to go into business; he takes a house ; a merchant supplies him with a certain quantity of goods, and takes a warrant of attorney over his whole stock. Once established "in trade," that is with his name on a door, and sundry cans and casks in his "stores," this embryo merchant gets credit here, there, and everywhere, the merchant who first set him going still holding the warrant of attorney over the whole of the property, and perhaps waiting the dis-honouring of the first bill to make a clean sweep. In the meantime the young merchant sells as much as he can, and gets ready money "to carry on the war with," and treats his friends, and so forth, and at length closes his shutters, and leaves his secondary creditors in the lurch. This is the credit business in wines and spirits. The same system is pursued in other callings, but they are not so fruitful in "consequences" as the one we have been speaking of

Sydney Gaol

Stephenson and Magney were taken to court - His Honor directed the defendants to be committed to jail for two months under the 8th clause of the local Insolvent Act, for having contracted with the opposing creditors without any expectation of being enabled to liquidate the same [3]. Records reveal they were sent to Sydney Gaol and from there may have been transferred to Carters Barracks to serve time as this was often where debtors were held. They were released 25 March 1840.

Jerry's Plains

Following his release from gaol Maurice Magney moved to the Hunter district. He married Honoria Mullane at Black Creek July 11, 1842.

In 1843 while residing at Jerry's Plains he fell victim to the disastrous depression that had befallen the country and was declared insolvent. He overcame this however and by 1847 had been granted a publican's license. He spent another four years in the Singleton district before moving to Newcastle.


The Maitland Mercury reported in 1851 that he had opened the California Hotel next door to Dr. Bowker in Watt Street Newcastle, the license date being March 15, 1851. James McGreavy's Victoria Inn was on the opposite side of the street. The land and building of the California Hotel belonged to Beresford Hudson and according to records dated 1856 it was situated 30 yards from the nearest hotel. [4]

From 1849 when gold was discovered in California, Australia was gripped by gold fever. Thousands of optimistic gold diggers departed New South Wales, mostly from Sydney but some from Newcastle as well. The towns were depleted of men and labour. There were others with wiser heads who could see a living was to be made from the gold rush other than by prospecting. One of these was Captain Francis Lodge of the Eleanor Lancaster, who, after taking a ship load of gold diggers to San Francisco late in 1849, remained in harbour, dis-masted the Eleanor Lancaster and converted her to a store ship where he intended to remain for some time.

Many never made the fortune they longed for and returned every bit as poor as they left, however the lure of California remained and when Australia announced they had their very own gold fields in March 1851, the rush was on. Gold diggers from around the world arrived in Australia in their thousands to try their luck.

Hopeful diggers departed Newcastle and the Hunter in droves in any way they could, even those who were bonded left if they could although penalties could be harsh if they were caught. Men who owned businesses in town were less able to leave but they could still increase their livelihood in other ways. Maurice Magney in naming his hotel The California may have hoped to tap into the romance and excitement of the gold rush. He probably hoped it held nostalgic appeal to those returning from California.

Coaching Business

Soon after opening the California, Maurice Magney teamed up with Samuel Smith, a feisty, combative but successful coach driver from Maitland who ran a three-horse coach daily to and from Newcastle. The following year Magney also took up a contract to provide a two-horse mail cart to and from Newcastle Wharf and the Post Office at Newcastle and East and West Maitland daily. By 1853 he was running a four horse coach to Maitland and back.

The Caledonia was another Newcastle coaching inn in the fifties. One coach set out from the California at 7 a.m. and arrived at Gorrick's Fitzroy Hotel in Maitland, at 10 a.m., three hours before the despatch of the up-country mail. An opposition coach left the Caledonia at 3 p.m. for Yeoman's Northumberland Hotel in West Maitland.

In 1859 Maurice Magney announced he had rented extensive premises near the Market Wharf which he had fitted up in first rate style and opened as The Market Wharf Inn.

The Albion Hotel

The name was changed a few years later from the California Hotel to the Albion, and under this name it was known for many years. Robert C. Watt held the license for the Albion in 1866. [5]

Alexander Watt

Robert Watt's brother Alexander Watt took over the license and remained publican until he took over the license for the Criterion Hotel and then the Great Northern Hotel.

Many coroner's inquests and community meetings took place at the Albion Hotel over the years.

The Albion was put up for auction in February 1876 however was passed in, the bidding only reaching £1700 Newcastle Chronicle 17 February 1876. The Albion and two brick houses at the rear were to be auctioned again in March 1884. [6]

George A. Whyte

George A Whyte took over the license from Alexander Watt in March 1876

Edward Scott and William Greenway's Closet System

The license was held by Edward Scott in 1878. [7] It was in this year that a solution to Newcastle's appalling waste disposal system was offered. This was William Howard Greenway's Patent Closets system which was installed at the Albion in that year....

The other day we visited Scott's Albion Hotel, Watt-street, where Mr. W. H. Greenway's patent closet is in operation. Some time ago a description was given in these columns of the system as it worked in Croasdill's estate, Hunter and Perkin. streets, where all cleanliness is observed by residents in private houses, and now we are enabled to turn to a place where of necessity the closets are more indiscriminately and largely used, viz., in a much-frequented hotel. In Croasdill's estate the cleanliness and absence of offensive smells in working the patent are most remarkable.

At the Albion Hotel, and in fact any place of constant and multifarious resort, such a high state of perfection is absolutely unattainable, but the comparison enables one to gauge the immeasurable superiority of Mr. Greenway's system over the pestiferous, but legalised, cesspits of Newcastle. When the old pit at the hotel was filled in by Mr. Fisher, the contractor, he had one of the most odoriferous jobs he ever under took; not because cleanliness was neglected by Mr. Scott, but because the place was in constant use. There has been no diminution in regard to the number of lodgers, etc., in the Albion Hotel since Mr. Greenway's' patent has been constructed--some two months--but the change for the better is most noticeable

Robert Morgan

According to an article in the Newcastle Morning Herald, James McIntosh held the license in April 1885, however his name does not appear in the licensing records. The license was transferred to Robert Morgan in June 1886 [9]

Mary Ann Ralph - Ralph's Family Hotel

In 1891 the license for the Albion was transferred from Robert Morgan to Mary Ann Ralph. She was also granted permission to alter the sign of the house to that of Ralph's Family Hotel. [10]

Robert Morgan took out a license for the London Tavern in Market Square. He died from complications of carcinoma of the tongue in July 1892

Thomas Martin Kerney

In 1903 the license for Ralph's Family Hotel was transferred from George E. Garratt to Thomas Martin Kerney, the house to be known as the Suburban Hotel. [11]

In August 1904 the death was announced of Mrs. Elijah Abell of the Junction. She was a former owner of Ralph's Family Hotel and for several years was the licensee. She left a family of six sons and three daughters, one of the former being Mr. Frederick J. Ralph who had left Newcastle for South Africa. She was a sister of George E. Joseph and A. W. Garratt. [12]. George Garratt died at Cooks Hill in December 1914 having been a publican for many years in Newcastle.

The Suburban Hotel

Frank Silva applied for a license for the Suburban Hotel in 1906. [13]

The Suburban Hotel closed in 1933 - At 11 oclock last night by order of the Special Licensing court, the license of the Suburan Hotel, in Watt street expired. This is the first hotel in the Newcastle electorate to close as a result of the Local Option vote, and the occasion was taken as an opportunity to farewell the licensee Mr. F. Silva and Mrs. Silva. There was a large attendance of friends of both. [14]


The children of Maurice and Honora included :
Maurice b. 1843 died 18 April 1852 aged 9 years and 14 days- The advancement he made at his early age in his studies and his quick abilities stamped him as an intellectual and intelligent child (Maitland Mercury)
Honoria born 1844, died 27 February 1853;
John Bede b. 1844, died 9 March 1911;
Herman Augustine b. 1848, died 1 August 1897;
Thomas b. 1852;
Honora b. 1853, died 27 February 1853;
Martin b. 10 April 1855 at the California hotel;
Mary Ann born 4 May 1857; died 29 September 1858
Rosalinda died 1925

Honora Magnay nee Mullane died at Tarella, 46 Edgecliffe Road, Waverley on 7 June 1900.


Australian Inventions


[1] Sydney Monitor 8 April 1839

[2] The Colonist 1 February 1840

[3] Australasian Chronicle 31 January 1840

[4] Certificates for Publicans' Licenses. State Archives NSW; Series: 14403; Item: [7/1507-1508]; Reel: 1239

[5] Certificates for Publicans' Licenses. State Archives NSW; Series: NRS 14411; Item: 7/1514; Reel: 1243

[6] Newcastle Morning Herald 13 March 1884

[7] State Archives NSW; Series: NRS 14411; Item: 7/1514; Reel: 1243

[8] Newcastle Morning Herald 24 September 1884

[9] Newcastle Morning Herald 11 June 1886

[10] Newcastle Morning Herald 3 July 1891

[11] Newcastle Morning Herald 13 February 1903

[12] Newcastle Morning Herald 13 August 1904.

[13] Newcastle Morning Herald 18 May 1906

[14] Newcastle Morning Herald 9 September 1933