Policeman turned hotelier, James Byrnes establishes first Victoria Hotel in 1880s Nambucca Heads

In Nambucca Heads there has been two Victoria Hotels.

The second Victoria Hotel was built in 1920 on the site of the now Woolworths supermarket and had one of the finest outlooks in Nambucca Heads.

Sadly there is no view from the supermarket which stands there now and Woolworths can never claim to be the social hub the second Victoria Hotel was in its day. It was demolished in 1961.

James Byrne, trooper and hotelier

James Byrne, trooper and hotelier

However, the first Victoria Hotel, presumably named for Queen Victoria, still stands in a renovated state today as the Riverview Boutique Motel on Wellington Drive, Nambucca Heads. 

The land it was built on was bought by ex-policeman James Byrnes at a Crown auction in 1879 for six pounds eight shillings.

James Byrnes had a colourful history. He was a mounted-trooper known as one of the best horseman in the police force and reputedly a crack rifle and pistol shot.

He was the first officer at the Macksville Police Station. After leaving the force he was a hotel licensee at Smithtown and Kempsey.

Victoria Hotel 1887

Victoria Hotel 1887

By the time he had the Victoria Hotel built he must have had a huge falling out with the law because he had a gaol sentence, which prevented him from becoming the first licensee. The hotel was built at the foot of Goat Hill near the Government wharf on Buckman Street now called Wellington Drive.

It was said to be a fine commodious building with Baltic Pine flooring and pride of place in the kitchen was “Black Bess” a commercial fuel stove built by the Crown company in Brisbane. The stove is still in place today.

In 1888 the hotel was advertised for sale in the Sydney Morning Herald described as having 13 large rooms, two storeys with balconies all around and with splendid views and increasing business averaging 25 pounds cash each week. 

Black Bess, the Crown fuel stove still in place today

Black Bess, the Crown fuel stove still in place today

The hotel had twelve licensees between 1887 and 1920, the first being James Byrnes nominee, John Davis, a shipwright. John Davis is of the local shipping and fishing Davis family.

One of the licensees in 1901 was a woman, Mrs Annie Jackson, who formerly had the Club Hotel in Armidale. The first Victoria Hotel’s license was transferred to the second Victoria Hotel in 1920. 

After selling the hotel James Byrne was a storekeeper in McKay Street, Macksville in 1908 and later became a beekeeper.

He died in 1921 at the age of 75. James Byrnes is buried at Macksville Cemetery. There is no evidence of him marrying and having children. 

The first hotel Victoria became the Ranch accommodation house and it went through several changes of use before becoming the Riverview Motel, which is still operating today.

This article was written using the resources of the Mary Bolton Pioneer Museum at Macksville and the Headland Museum at Nambucca Heads and the Riverview Boutique Motel.

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