Roald Amundsen wasn’t happy in Hobart in 1912. Apart from being besieged by media wanting the scoop story of his epic trek to the South Pole, we’re told he recorded in his diary that his room in Hadley’s Orient Hotel was ‘miserable’.
Really? The man had just spent months sharing a tent with four smelly Norwegian mates and some huskies and he found a warm hotel room a bit squeezy?
It’s hard to imagine he’d have much to complain about in Hadley’s these days, especially if he stayed in the spacious suite that now bears his name.
It was founded as the Golden Anchor Inn, soon to be taken over by pardoned convict and housebreaker-turned-cook John Webb. His catering skills and cunning use of ice imported from Mt Wellington established its reputation.
Webb hosted Australia’s first-ever royal visitor when in 1866 Prince Alfred (now of RPA Hospital fame) stayed here with his entourage.
In the late nineteenth century the Hadley family took it over and developed the hotel to the height of modern luxury, with an elevator, electricity in every room and one of those new-fangled telephones on every floor.
After spending the best part of two centuries as the place to stay in Tasmania, present manager Jon Lister admits Hadley’s had fallen into a state of dilapidation and suffered from ill-conceived attempts to modernize its appearance. ‘It had slipped to #37 on Tripadvisor!’
His approach has been to bring it back to its glory days through ‘restoration rather than renovation’. A team of heritage architects and historical advisors was engaged and the result was a $2 million ongoing building project. Hadley’s Orient Hotel proudly reopened last year.
The potted palms in the foyer, the heavy studded armchairs and the polished wood of the balustrades would suit a gentleman’s club; and indeed it was the home of the Tasmania Club in the 19th century. The painting above the reception desk of a very young Queen Victoria and her family completes the picture.
We can imagine it looking much like this when Dame Nellie Melba checked in in 1906. Over the years, Hadley’s has been particularly popular with thespians. Theatrical impresario J.C. Williamson and his company used to stay here when presenting shows in the nearby Theatre Royal (also a glorious heritage building well worth a visit), as did Gladys Moncrieff and Tony Hancock.
Its location in the centre of Hobart is still a huge advantage, directly across St David’s cathedral, on the corner of Murray St and Macquarie St. This is the only place in Australia where all four original sandstone buildings have been preserved, so we’re told. Several times.
‘This is a leisure hotel,’ insists Jon Lister. ‘While we cater for functions, we put the comfort of our residents first.’ W.G.Grace and his English cricket XI stayed here in 1892; now the international cricketers and corporate groups stay at the company’s other heritage property, the Old Woolstore Apartment Hotel.
Jon and his team try to keep Hadley’s primarily for families and couples. Many of them choose to dine in the hotel’s comfortable surrounds. So do we.
How could we refuse the Hadley’s tradition of High Tea? It sounds so ridiculously old-fashioned and genteel. In my ignorance, I thought ‘high tea’ referred to the high rack of plates bearing the delicate offerings. The menu notes set me straight. ‘High Tea’ began life as the working man’s light meal served in the late afternoon, and eaten standing up or perched on high stools – hence the ‘high tea’.
In the wicker chairs between the palms we try the Hadley’s edition – cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches, a selection of macaroons, tarts and chocolate eclairs, followed by the scones with jam and cream and washed down with the tea of our choice.
Amundsen would have loved it, surely. It would have to be better than a picnic in the snow, eating those seals and penguins.
Where: 34 Murray St, Hobart 7000, Tasmania. See hadleyshotel.com.au or phone +613 6237 2999
How much: Double rooms from $209 a night.
Top marks: Location in central Hobart, a short stroll to major attractions such as the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Salamanca Place and the Theatre Royal.
Black Mark: Car parking wasn’t an issue in Hobart in 1834. Now guests must leave their vehicles in the multi-storey complex a block away.
Don’t miss: Hadley’s High Tea.
The writer was the guest of Tourism Tasmania and Hadley’s Orient Hotel.
First published: Sun-Herald, Sydney, 22 March 2015