Pub Crawl Through Time: The intriguing history of the Hampton Arms Inn

Edward ScownGeraldton Guardian
Hampton Arms Inn current owner Brian Turnock.
Camera IconHampton Arms Inn current owner Brian Turnock. Credit: Edward Scown

Hotel, tavern, bar. We know them all simply as ‘the pub’. Where generations have gathered to celebrate, commiserate and everything in between. It’s a place where romances blossom, business deals are sealed and long-standing friendships are made and tested.

In this series Pub Crawl Through Time, the Geraldton Guardian explores the colourful history of Geraldton’s favourite watering holes. In part five, we visit the Hampton Arms inn.

To understand the origins of the Hampton Arms Inn, you have to go right back to the foundation of Geraldton itself.

There were two proposed locations for the port: Champion Bay and Drummond Cove. We all know how that decision worked out, as Geraldton was built around the superior port. But the second option was more than good enough for smugglers in the emerging mining settlement.

Sandalwood was big business and to avoid the £1.10 per tonne tax, most of the wood was shipped out of Drummond — then known as Smuggler’s Cove — right under the nose of Police Constable John Drummond himself, who was often away on duties.

It wasn’t just Sandalwood though. The secluded port was prime real estate for liquor smuggling and Francis Pearson was one of many buyers for the bootleg booze.

Pearson had moved to the settlement in 1851 to build and run the smelter at the Geraldine Lead mine — the first smelter in WA — and quickly discovered there was more money in selling drinks to the miners.

Despite being a well-respected man in the settlement, welcomed by workers and the gentry alike, Pearson was a thorn in the side of the local magistrate Lockier Burges, who made drinking alcohol practically illegal in the area. Debates would break out frequently between the two. After one particularly heated argument in 1853, Pearson quit his job at the mine and moved to Lynton, near Port Gregory, where he built a small stone cottage and ran a not-so-legal bar out of the living room.

Despite the deterioration, the Inn stands as a rare example of Colonial era architecture.
Camera IconDespite the deterioration, the Inn stands as a rare example of Colonial era architecture. Credit: Edward Scown

Despite the magistrate’s objections, he seemed to get away with this and even gained a licence. With the opening of copper mines in the area, business boomed and Pearson bought a sizeable property in Greenough, where he and his sons took what they learned in Lynton and opened the Hampton Arms Inn on May 1, 1863.

It was the first pub in the Greenough district and the closest alternative was the newly-opened Geraldton Hotel, so it became the centre of social life in the pioneer farming community.

When the Inn was entered on to the State heritage register in 2001, then Heritage Minister Judy Edwards said it remained one of very few colonial hotels to survive.

“As the district’s first hotel, it was a focal point for Greenough settlers for social gatherings, balls and political meetings,” she said.

“It also provided shelter during times of flooding when settlers on the western side of the Greenough River were cut off from settlement on the eastern side.”

The surrounding fields became popular sporting venues. One of the first club cricket matches in the region was played on a neighbouring paddock in 1865, with reports of an “excellent spread provided by Mr Pearson” making Statewide news.

Guests outside Hampton House c1910.
Camera IconGuests outside Hampton House c1910. Credit: Geraldton Regional Library

Aside from being Greenough’s own John Lee Pettimore, Pearson was a fine blacksmith and had a workshop attached to the Inn where he could repair visitors’ wagons and harnesses, making his pub a popular stop for travelers.

That popularity continued through several owners after Pearson’s death — one of which was ironically a policeman, Henry Eaton — until the Midland to Walkaway railway was built in 1894. While it made moving goods to and from Perth much cheaper and easier, it meant few people needed to travel by road and the Wayside Inn’s customer base dried up, forcing then owner James Criddle to close.

“We used to get all the drovers travelling from Mingenew to the Murchison in those days,” Mr Eaton said in a 1934 article for the Geraldton Guardian and Express.

“But when the Midland line was built it took away our trade.”

Pearson’s daughter Elizabeth Wiley bought the property in 1904, perhaps in an attempt to keep it in the family, but was forced to sell in 1915 to a Mr A.A. Vince, who used it as a farm house, and it deteriorated over the next 63 years.

The hub of Greenough’s social live was gone — but not if the McKechnies had anything to do with it.

The ballroom set up for a family wedding in 1915.
Camera IconThe ballroom set up for a family wedding in 1915. Credit: Geraldton Regional Library

In 1978 Alastair and Robin McKechnie bought the decaying pub and set about their mission of restoring it to its former glory.

They opened a restaurant in 1979 and restored the ballroom before relicensing the pub in 1981. The famous red doors were retained, as were the low entrances to the kitchen, which anyone 5’8” or taller would find themselves ducking through.

They ran it until 1984, when it was sold to Judy Kennington. Mr McKechnie wrote a book detailing the process of restoring the pub, which can be found at the Geraldton Regional Library.

Ms Kennington became Mrs Turnock not long after buying the Inn. Brian Turnock stumbled upon the Hampton Arms on a stargazing trip and fell instantly in love with the beautiful young woman behind the bar.

“Judy used to do the lunches. I wondered in here, met her and the rest is history,” Mr Turnock said.

The couple ran the Inn together since that day and became well known for putting on massive meals for guests. Mr Turnock recounted a time when they put on meals for 530 people every day for five days. On top of that, the Inn provided about 100 meals on wheels.

They ran a second restaurant for a short time in the early 1990s, which was shut down after a sharp decline in tourism following the Greenough family massacre in 1993, which happened not far from the Inn.

“We got through it. It was all about enjoying ourselves, rather than making money. We just prefer people being happy,” Mr Turnock said.

That attitude is what inspired the opening of a book shop in one wing of the Inn. Books slowly became the main business, but even that is in question as Mr Turnock prepares to shut the old pub down.

Brian Turnock wants to see the Hampton Arms preserved, but the business side is still in limbo.
Camera IconBrian Turnock wants to see the Hampton Arms preserved, but the business side is still in limbo. Credit: Edward Scown

Mrs Turnock passed away in November 2021. While they had spoken about closing in recent years, her passing made the decision an obvious one.

“We spent all our lives here. We’ll probably end up on the walls like in The Shining,” Mr Turnock said.

Mr Turnock doesn’t plan on selling but the business remains in limbo while he decides what to do: whether he will re-open it or keep it as a family home for his sons remains to be seen.

In a repeat of what it was 100 years ago, the Hampton Arms Inn now serves as Mr Turnock’s home. He lives in the old shearing shed while he slowly works on restoring the main building, which has degraded over the years it has sat vacant.

While Greenough’s oldest pub might be gone for now, who knows when the next McKechnies will arrive.

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