When ex-convict and talented pastry chef John Webb bought a hotel on Hobart’s Murray Street, he set up a ballroom and roller rink.
In the years that followed, the hotel, later known as Hadley’s Orient Hotel, visited royalty, Antarctic explorers, opera stars and foreign globetrotters through the convict-built building.
The hotel has come a long way from its construction in 1834 to the present day.
Amy Jackett, director of arts and cultural experiences at Hadley, says the building was a house and cake shop before being converted into a hotel.
dr Jackett says that when Webb consolidated his building purchases in 1862, he had big ideas and made Webb’s Family Hotel the place to be in Hobart Town.
“He really grew the hotel and had some wild and imaginative ideas to make it a very special place for locals and travelers alike,” she says.
One of the signature flavors at the ice cream parlor was cucumber.
Webb was the first to capitalize on the commercial exploitation of ice and eventually managed the ice houses on Kunanyi/Mount Wellington.
“Later his son Alfred opened an ice cream parlor right next to Hadley’s, so the ice cream could be made and enjoyed for a long time,” says Dr. Jacket.
The Captain’s Secret
With the help of Hobart City Council, Hadley’s has documented stories from throughout the hotel’s history.
The Trail of Terrific Tales is publicly available and uses the voice of actor Ben Winspear and soundscapes produced by Emily Shepherd, Yyan Ng and Al Future.
It takes visitors on an immersive audio track with short stories about the hotel.
One is the story of a mysterious scruffy man who turned out to be a Norwegian polar explorer who would go down in history.
“In 1912, a captain checked into the hotel looking very untidy and unshaven and was almost denied a room,” says Dr. Jacket.
She says the visitor ended up getting a small room in the hotel and went into hiding.
“It turned out that the guest was Captain Roald Amundsen, who had just returned from discovering the South Pole and won the race to the South Pole,” she says.
“From his room he wrote secret letters to the King of Norway and his brother.
“Soon the world found out and journalists in Tasmania were so excited they tried to break down the door of his hotel room to get in for an interview.”
Last year, Australian geologist and explorer Douglas Mawson briefed his fellow expeditioners over lunch at Hadley’s before heading to Antarctica, also in the race to the South Pole.
The wrong gentleman
Another colorful personality the hotel saw through its doors was Lord Lymington, but all was not as it seemed.
“This was a guest who checked in and very proudly posed as Lord Lymington, and he was apparently very charming and influential,” says Dr. Jacket.
“But it was all a case of mistaken identity – he wasn’t a lord at all.
“He made this whole story up to escape and elope with another woman, even though he was already married and had nine kids.”
The fake lord got away with it for a few days.
“He was given a very special place at the Theater Royal and was treated very well for a while,” says Dr. Jacket.
After some investigation, he was caught and had to face charges of desertion in court.
In 1905 the hotel was visited by the American couple Mr. and Mrs. Glidden, who traveled the world in their 24 hp Napier car.
The couple had driven around the world, from the Arctic Circle to Tasmania.
“This is in the very early days of the car and they’ve put a lot of effort into getting the car around the world,” says Dr. Jacket.
“They even swapped out the rubber tires for steel tires for a while so they could travel over railroad tracks.”
When they parked in front of Hadley’s, they drew a huge crowd.
For many who live in Tasmania it would have been the first time they had seen a car.
The Tasmanian Nightingale
A 19th-century advertisement describes the hotel as having a piano in every room and as the building faced the town hall it was the site of many events and performances.
A memorable performance is that of Amy Sherwin, also known as the Tasmanian Nightingale.
Sherwin grew up on a farm in Huonville and used to sing in the paddocks, says Dr. Jacket.
“She was spotted by a member of an Italian opera company who happened to be having a picnic nearby. He just thought she was so talented.
“Two weeks later she was singing opera in this big theater in Melbourne and then she traveled the world and became the first Australian singer to make it overseas.”
On a home visit in Tasmania, she sang to a full house at Hadley’s.
“Apparently the people of Hobart were so excited that they unhitched the horses from their carriage and carried them to Hadley’s themselves, where they came to sing.”
dr Jackett says Sherwin woke up early at 4 a.m. to take music lessons, and she and her family loved the piano.
“When bushfires swept through Huonville, that was the only thing they tried to save,” she says.
“All the family members picked up the piano and carried it into the river and threw wet blankets over it, but it actually caught fire.
“She kept it forever in her Tasmanian home as a reminder of her family’s special dedication and devotion to the piano.”
Paris, New York, Hobarttown
The hotel was also home to the state’s first roller rink, which opened in 1867.
“That would have been incredibly novel at the time,” says Dr. Jacket.
“Roller rinks had only just appeared in Paris and New York, so it was very new to Hobart, so that’s where we were.”
dr Jackett says about 200 men, women and children signed up to learn to skate.
“If you can imagine those in their long ball gowns and gowns that had to be specially shortened for women to attend,” she says.
But the roller skating instructor moved away and the venture didn’t last long.
The Hadley family took over the hotel in the 1880s and were art collectors, some of them artists themselves.
As a tribute to art history, the hotel hosts an annual art prize.
This year the winner will be announced on Friday 22nd July, with the landscape exhibition open to the public from Saturday 23rd July to Sunday 21st August from 10am to 4pm.