Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

18 November 2009

Vulcan Hotel, St.Bathans

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were at the end of the 20th century. I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.

St Bathans was born of a gold boom in 1863. A year later it had ten hotels, forty businesses and a population of up to 2000 in the surrounding hills and gullies. Across the road from the pub you can look down into ‘The Glory Hole’, a blue lake that was once a hill 120 metres high! Gold fever hit St Bathans in a big way and, blinded by the urge to win metal above everything else, the early citizens tolerated a mushroom shanty-town of ‘corrugated iron, red iron, tin, gin cases, staves and canvas’. But there seems to have been born into gold miners a need for dignity and a prayer for permanence and so, as the town survived into and beyond the 1870s, more substantial buildings appeared, some of them with sufficient stamina to have lasted into modern times.

St Bathans today is like a time capsule from which it’s possible, in just a couple of hours, to get an appreciation of the composition of a goldfields town: a public hall that was the miners’ billiards saloon, the Bank of New South Wales Gold Office of the late 1860s, the stately old Post Office and postmaster’s residence, the ruins of the 1866 public school, damaged irreparably by earthquake in 1948, the church of St Alban the Martyr given to the town by Captain Dalgety and shipped out, pre-fabricated from England in 1883, and the stone cottage, one of the earliest permanent buildings in the town, first occupied by Sam Hanger who owned the first Vulcan Hotel.

Bank of New South Wales Gold Office

There’s been a Vulcan in St Bathans since 1869. Sam Hanger’s first one was a little farther north than is today’s, an impermanent affair thrown up to cater for thirsts rather than architectural appreciation. Twelve years later, they replaced corrugated iron with a structure of sun-dried bricks that became the new Vulcan: it stood until early 1914 when it was burned down. In its turn it was replaced by red brick which was also destroyed by fire. The Vulcan’s licence was transferred at this time to the Ballarat Hotel, which was not in use.

It had been built in 1882 and is the uniquely handsome little Vulcan Hotel in my illustration.
Through the left hand door is a narrow, intimate public bar and beyond that, the lounge bar. There are four accommodation rooms, one of which is said to be haunted. The hotel is owned by a company mainly consisting of local shareholders. I can’t think of a nicer place to hold a shareholders meeting.


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By Don Donovan