History

Located on historic Lydiard Street in the heart of Ballarat, Craig’s Royal Hotel is the legendary Australian gold-rush era grand hotel. Built in 1862 on the site of Bath’s Hotel, Ballarat’s first officially licensed pub, Craig’s has been a goldfield icon since Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, slept in its ornately decorated rooms in 1867 and Dame Nellie Melba famously sang from its balcony in 1908.

Host to poets, princes and prime ministers over its 150 year history, the hotel is a true icon of the Victorian period. Now, after 5 years extensive restoration, the magnificent accommodation, dining, meeting and banquet facilities are re-establishing Craig’s as the finest boutique heritage hotel in the region.

SPELLING OF BALLAARAT – DOUBLE ‘A’

This is no typo! ‘Ballaarat’ is the original spelling and may still be seen today, paying homage to its long history.Prior to pastoral settlement in 1837 Aboriginal people inhabited the land in the area which was to become known as Ballarat. This word is of native origin from “Balla” and “Arat” meaaning ‘resting place’.The official spelling of the City of Ballaarat had a double ‘a’ from the time of the proclamation of the township in 1852, the incorporation of the municipality in 1855, the creation of a borough in 1863 and the declaration of a city in 1870. It remained that way for 143 years until local government amalgamation in 1994!.
  • 1853
    Thomas Bath opens The Ballarat Hotel in June 1853.
  • 1854
    Hotel became known as “Bath's Hotel”.
  • 1855
    Eureka Stockade Royal Commission of enquiry into the conflict was held at the hotel.
  • 1856
    Hotel became temporary Council Chamber for Ballarat municipality while new Council offices were built.
  • 1857
    Walter Craig purchases Bath's Hotel.
  • 1865
    American ship the C.S.S. Shenandoah visits Melbourne. The Shenandoah's mission was to enlist recruits for the Confederate Navy and one of those activities was a Shenandoah Ball, held in the main dining room of Craig's hotel.
  • 1867
    Queen Victoria's second son Prince Alfred “The Duke of Edinburgh” visits Ballarat and is hosted at Craig's Prince's room specially prepared for the Prince.
  • 1867
    Noted Australian Poet and horseman Adam Lindsay Gordon enters into arrangement with Craig to conduct the stables at Craig's hotel. Craig's stables had a capacity for 40 horses.
  • 1870
    Craig dreams of Nimblefoot winning Melbourne Cup and of his own death.
  • 1870
    Craig's death in August 1870 and his horse Nimblefoot wins the 1870 Melbourne Cup.
  • 1873
    Hotel sold to George Hawthorn and later to J J Goller.
  • 1875
    Hotel purchased by J H B Speering and within 2 years sold to Fred Wilkins.
  • 1875
    The Melbourne Racing Club was formed by a group of prominent local squatters at a meeting convened at Craig's.
  • 1877
    New owner George Thompson.
  • 1881
    Prince Albert Victor and his younger brother George visited Craig's and the goldfields.
  • 1883
    William Bentley purchases hotel.
  • 1889
    The western portion of the hotel in Bath Lane was added for kitchen and servants quarters.
  • 1890
    Work began on the corner of Bath Lane & Lydiard Street to replace Bath's two storey hotel of 1853 with the corner tower section which was in harmony with Walter Craig's south wing. It took 8 months to complete at a cost to the hotelkeeper William Bentley of £10,000.
  • 1895
    Mark Twain visited Ballarat on a world speaking tour and stayed at Craig's.
  • 1901
    The hotel underwent extensive alterations and every room was redecorated in the latest ornate fashion.
  • 1903
    E L Bentley sold hotel to Stephen Seward.
  • 1907
    Hotel put up for auction (rented at 1,200 pounds per annum).
  • 1908
    Dame Nellie Melba noted Australian opera singer performs from Craig's balcony of the Reading Room.
  • 1926
    Craig's became sewered.
  • 2010
    The "New" Craig's is completely restored and fully re-opened with 41 rooms, 5 banquet and meeting rooms, historic bar, coffee shop and atrium Gallery bistro.

Other famous guests:

Lord Kitchener
Duke & Duchess of York, (later to become King George V and Queen Mary)
Duke of Clarence
Duke of Windsor
Duke & Duchess of Gloucester
Sir Robert Menzies
Sir Donald Bradman

“THE DREAM CUP OF 1870”

During its long history, the Melbourne Cup has been postponed only twice, in 1870 and in 1916. The Spring of 1870 really was dismal.  In September the city was deluged by six inches of rain, and again in October by a further 4.5 inches.

Trainers had a most difficult task to give their horses sufficient work in preparation for the V.R.C’s spring meeting.  Over 100 horses were stabled near Flemington, but for weeks on end the running track was under water. On Tuesday, 27th October 1870, the VRC stewards inspected the course at Flemington and announced that the spring meeting would be postponed for one week. The steward’s decision turned out to be a wise one.  The weather picked up well and on both Derby and Cup Days the going was surprisingly good.

The main effect of the racing on Derby Day was to bring the Hotham Handicap winner, Nimblefoot, from long odds to a prominent place in Cup discussions.  Nimblefoot was an aged gelding, whose form over the previous three years had been so poor, that the handicapper had assessed him at only 6.0 for the cup.
Ballarat publican Walter Craig had paid $200 for the horse and had sent him back to his native Tasmania in the hope that a long spell would bring him back to his early form. It was from there that Nimblefoot came back to do his Cup preparation under the care of the prominent Flemington trainer, W. Lang.

By post time for the big race, the attendance was estimated at 30,000. 28 runners lined up for the cup, and the big field included the winners of the previous three cups.

The race provided one of the most controversial finishes in cup history.  At the final turn Lapdog and Nimblefoot broke clear, and all the way down the straight had the race between them.  Inside the distance Lapdog led by a half-length, but young Day on Nimblefoot, got the last ounce out of his mount, and as they hit the line only inches separated them.  Most onlookers were certain that Lapdog had just lasted long enough, but the Judge gave the race to Nimblefoot.  The time of 3.37 was a new race record.

THE DREAM

About the four months before Cup time, Walter Craig dreamed that he was watching the running of the Melbourne Cup, and was amazed to see it won by his own horse “Nimblefoot”.  He walked over to the jockey and while congratulating him, he noticed that the man wore a mourning band of black crepe, “Why are you wearing that?” Craig asked.  “Oh” replied the jockey “the horse belonged to Walter Craig who died three months ago”.
The morning after the dream, Mr Craig told his story to several friends and it was even recounted in the Melbourne Age of Monday, 9th November 1870, the day before the Cup.

Come Melbourne Cup day 1870, excitement in Ballarat centred around Craig’s Hotel.  About four o’clock in the afternoon a telegram came for Mrs Craig.  When she read it she burst into tears. Nimblefoot had won the Cup.  His rider wore a black armband, for Walter Craig had died early in the morning of the 17th August 1870.

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