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IN THE EARLY DAYS
THE FIRST DECADE
The usual order of forming a township in Australia in the old times was first a hotel, next a general store, followed by a blacksmith's smithy, and saddler's shop. Another hotel was the pretty sure to follow. Rockhampton was no exception from the order, for the Bush Inn, as previously stated, was the first building of any importance here. It started on the site of the present Criterion Hotel in a very modest way, but was considerably enlarged and improved after the Canoona rush. Mr Parker, the proprietor, died in 1860, and the following year his widow married Mr J. A. Wat, who owned the principal butchering establishment in the growing town. In 1862 Mr John Ward took the hotel, which was named the Criterion. Later in the year he transferred it to Mr Thomas Nobbs, of North Rockhampton. Mr Nobbs kept the hotel for a good many years., when the lease expired, and Mr John Cramp, who meanwhile had married Mr Watt's widow took over the hostelry. It has changed many hands a good many times since then. About a dozen years ago it was rebuilt, and the handsome three-storied brick building of the present day is one of the finest hotels in Queensland.
The Criterion Hotel is a three storeyed masonry building situated on the corner of Quay and Fitzroy Streets in Rockhampton. It has formed an integral and vital part of the social and cultural life of the town and City of Rockhampton since 1891.
The first building to be erected in Rockhampton was in 1857 a store. Richard Parker a resident of Gayndah erected the first hotel (or inn) for Rockhampton some six months later. Both Parker and Palmer had erected their buildings on what was crown land. Parker had built the inn opposite to Palmers store, and was in partnership with a man called George Gannon.
Parker and Gannon's establishment was known as the Bush Inn and was constructed of iron-bark slabs and shingle roof. In 1858 the discovery of the Canoona goldfield rapidly changed the fortune of the Bush Inn. The Bush Inn enjoyed overwhelming patronage and clientele over the four months that the rush lasted.
The Bush Inn was enlarged upon and rebuilt in 1859-60. The rebuilt building was of a single storey. The entrance to the public bar was from the corner of Fitzroy Street and Quay Lane, and the business premises extended along the Quay Lane aspect of the block. The layout of the Bush Inn now included a coffee room approached through a garden, and a billiard room at the Fitzroy Street end of the building.
Parker died in 1860 bequeathing the property to the eldest of his two daughters Dorinda Ann Parker. After his death Parker's widow Maria, kept the Inn going until remarrying with Mr. John Watt in 1861. The Bush Inn transferred licenceeship in 1862 to Mr. John Ward. Ward changed the name of the establishment from the Bush Inn to the Criterion Hotel. Ward also constructed the Rockhampton Hotel on Victoria Parade, a short distance from the Criterion.
Ward however did not maintain the licence very long, and before the end of 1862 had transferred it on to Thomas Nobbs. The Criterion was further rebuilt at this stage into a two storeyed weatherboard building with a first-floor verandah fronting onto Fitzroy Street.
In 1865 J A Watt died and his widow Maria married John Cramp who was her business manager. In 1866 the lease on the Criterion expired. John Cramp and his wife, Maria took up the licence on the premises. Maria Cramp returned to the hotel owned by her eldest daughter, Dorinda. Maria Cramp kept the premises going with her husband until her own death in 1875, at the age of 39. Dorinda then took over the running of the hotel following the death of her mother. A brick extension was made to the Criterion after its purchase in 1875.
Dorinda Ann Parker in 1874 married George Silas Curtis. Curtis was to become a prominent member of the powerful Rockhampton Chamber of Commerce, and also was to become in the 1890's the leading advocate of the separation movement in central Queensland. The marriage of Curtis to Dorinda Parker began a family association with the Criterion Hotel that was to last until 1947.
With the influx of wealth from the rich gold mine of Mount Morgan and with the growth of the importance of Rockhampton as the Port for access to the mine, the role of hotels such as the Criterion increased in the business and trade community.
Dorinda Curtis is credited with being responsible for the decision to construct the grand new three storeyed building at the corner of Quay and Fitzroy Street in 1889. It is unsure how much influence that George Curtis had in the business decision to construct the new building. In the rebuilding of the Criterion hotel the local press said that he also had an eye for improving the physical appearance of the town of Rockhampton. This was an ongoing process, with new construction work a physical manifestation of the wealth of Mount Morgan gold and its contribution to the town.
More information is available on the Queensland Heritage Register