Victoria Hotel, Darwin, Australia | CruiseBe
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Victoria Hotel, Darwin

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The Victoria Hotel, or The Vic as it is commonly known, is a heritage listed pub located in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. Built in 1890, it is an important historical building and tourist attraction of inner Darwin.


Ellen Ryan was one of the Territory’s wealthiest women, owning land and several mining leases in the Northern Territory. In 1888, Ryan moved into the Territory hotel trade, lodging an application with the licensing board for a prestigious two story hotel to be built in Smith Street. Ryan went on to become a pioneer publican in the Territory.

Located at 27 Smith Street Mall in Darwin, the Victoria Hotel was built for the northern Australia gold rushes of the 1870s, and was completed on 8 September 1890. The Victoria Hotel is a two story building of local and multi-coloured porcellanite stone, with a facade dominated by a parapetted gable and verandahs.

Constructed by H.C. Debross, it was built for a reported cost of £4,000 and was the first stone building in Darwin. Following its completion in 1890, the building dominated Smith Street and remained that way for over half a century.

Originally called the North Australia Hotel, the pub's name was changed to the Victoria Hotel in 1896 and is characterised by its colonial-style architecture and construction.

1897 cyclone

The hotel lost part of its roof and was damaged internally during a cyclone on 6 January 1897. Known as the "Great Hurricane", it killed 28 people, sunk 19 vessels in the harbour including the entire pearling fleet and caused around £150,000 damage throughout the town. Structurally however, the hotel was one of only a few buildings that remained intact and it was repaired shortly afterwards.

Early 20th century

In 1908, the hotel accommodated Henry Dutton and Murray Aunger, the first motorists to cross the Australian continent from south to north.

In 1915, the hotel was one of several to be nationalised by Northern Territory Administrator, John Gilruth. Known as the government take-over, the hotel was the vocal point for political turmoil and union unrest between 1911 and 1919 in what was known as the Darwin Rebellion.

Darwin Rebellion

Ross and Keith Smith and other aviators connected with the air race from England to Australia stayed here in December 1919. In the 1920s and 1930s, the connection with aviators was maintained as many of them have signed their names on a masonry section that has been preserved. The connection to aviators was mainly due to Christina Gordon, who took over the hotel in the early 1920s. Gordon turned the Vic into a first class hotel where formality prevailed, including the wearing of coats in the dining room.

The well-known Government architect, B.C.G. Burnett, who had a very significant influence on Darwin architecture from the late 1930s, stayed at the hotel for several years.

1937 cyclone

The hotel lost its roof for the second time in March 1937, during another cyclone. Although not as formidable as the 1897 cyclone, it still caused considerable damage to the town and killed one person. The hotel was quickly repaired.

World War II

During World War II, the hotel was occupied by United States and Australian naval authorities who remained there until the end of the war. However, in September 1941, rioting soldiers in the Darwin city area caused superficial damage to the hotel such as broken windows and furniture. With many troops stationed in Darwin, a fight broke out in the hotel that quickly spread outside into Smith Street. Although the damage was blamed on the soldiers, records show that civilians were involved in the riot.

On 19 February 1942, Darwin was bombed by Japanese air raids, the largest attacks mounted by a foreign power against Australia. It was the same fleet that had bombed Pearl Harbor, though a considerably larger number of bombs were dropped on Darwin, than on Pearl Harbor. The attack killed at least 243 people and caused immense damage to the town. They were the first of many raids on Darwin. Despite this extensive destruction to the town, the Victoria Hotel survived with little damage. Ironically, just as much damaged was caused to the hotel by the September 1941 soldiers riot, as the Japanese bombing raids.

In September 1946, the pub reopened under the ownership of the Lim family, who bought the hotel from the Gordons. The Lim's operated the hotel for nearly 20 years, selling it in 1965. During this period, the hotel was a popular 'watering hole' frequently attended by crocodile shooters, buffalo hunters and mining prospectors, as well as the local office workers and bank staff.

Cyclone Tracy

On Christmas Day 1974, the hotel survived another direct hit by a cyclone, when Cyclone Tracy hit the city, which killed 71 people, destroyed or severely damaged 95 per cent of Darwin dwellings, causing damage estimated at the time of over A$800 million. The hotel was significantly damaged, but survived structurally, losing its roof for the third time in less than 100 years.

The cyclone left Darwin nearly uninhabitable, so it was not until 1978 when reconstruction of the hotel occurred, as housing took priority. Some original stonework was repaired at this time, particularly in relation to the Smith Street gabled parapet. Other stonework repairs were minimal as it was still in generally good condition, despite the severity of Cyclone Tracy. The hotel has had several refurbishments since Cyclone Tracy.

Present day

Today, the Vic Hotel is a popular tavern and nightclub. The hotel complex includes surrounding retails shops and offices accessed via Smith Street Mall and the Vic arcade. The Vic is popular with backpackers, and regularly hosts live bands. Those interested in history should check out the old cellar near the entrance. It shows how the pub originally operated.

In 1999, the hotel facade was registered on the National Estate as a Historic site (place ID: 19127), for its historic associations with important events and individuals for more than a century.

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