Random History: Atlantic Hotel

I’m finding more and more that the study of history is really just a study of coincidences, serendipity, chance encounters and the thrill of the chase. Often little snippets of history land in my lap, quite unheeded, take hold and open out into a lovely little slice of the past. It is this sort of history I love best and really what I started this blog for. Sharing these intimate, small pieces of history, rather than labouring over precise, extensive, academic history, seems to me to be more true to the moments and lives being studied in the first place.

Of course there is no substitute for serious scholarship and I do my fair share of that and will continue to. But these ‘Random Histories’ are just as if not more fascinating for me.

Mort Street in Balmain looks like this, these days (image from Google Street View)

That very cute little milk bar on the corner was the Atlantic Hotel until probably 1908 when it lost its licence in, as far as I can tell, a government imitative to reduce the number of hotels in Sydney.

Just two years prior to that event, the owner, Mrs Maloney, had an architect draw up plans to add an extra bedroom over the kitchen and the State Records of NSW has just opened access to some beautifully digitized plans, including for this work. You can see these plans here.

When I did a very quick Trove search for this hotel I mostly came up with things about deaths. In the funeral notices there were a number of people, women mostly, which was interesting, that had lived at this hotel up until their deaths. I think we forget the way hotels were used in the past – as places for living as much as for visiting. Then there were at least three inquests in only a few short years. One for the death of an infant. Again, this place as a place to live and die is evident.

In the photo above and I’m sure if you went to this milk bar, there is nothing that would suggest this was a place were these probably rather ordinary lives were lived, that this was a place where people who probably had no where else to go were living and dying. Finding out these snippets from a randomly chosen plan of a hotel digitized by an archive is a great example of this kind of Random History.


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