Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 19, June 1975
By BRIAN CROSBY
The story of the "Royal Mail" is closely linked with that of my Grandparents, George and Catherine Crosby.
The 1900 Cyclopedia records that the original Royal Mail Hotel was built by Mr. George Crosby on the corner of Normanby Road and Wharf Street in 1895. At that time the largest hotel in Paeroa, it had two stories with a balcony on two sides and contained 50 rooms of which 40 were bedrooms. There were two private sitting rooms on the first floor and five on the ground floor. The handsome dining room measured 70 feet by 40 feet and there was a fine billiard room with an excellent table. From 1899 Mr. S.J. Atkins was the proprietor for some years but Mr. Crosby continued to be the owner and later was landlord.
After arriving in N.Z. from Ireland in 1873 George Crosby was engaged in station life before commencing business with a "dray" in the carrying line between Tauranga and Rotorua. Subsequently he added bullock waggons, which he drove to Taupo for about 6 years, before purchasing Robertson and Gallagher's plant running between Tauranga and Paeroa. He then took over a hotel at Rotorua and continued to run the mail coaches to Tauranga.
In 1889 George Crosby married Catherine Dawber who had come over from Australia to visit her Aunt in Paeroa. The Mahoneys were among Paeroa's earliest business people, John Mahoney being the original Baker who established his bake-house in Hughenden Street where Bill Green now has his fish shop. Among the last to use the ovens before they were demolished was A.J. Parkes and McDonnell.
An interesting story is told about the advent of the ovens. A dinghy loaded to the gunwales with fire-bricks was being rowed up the Waihou from Thames when a storm broke out at nightfall and the Mahoneys were intercepted by a band of fierce looking Maoris and made to run ashore near Komata. They were escorted to the Pa of Chief Tukukino who ordered a large fire to be lit. The pakeha couple feared the worst when ordered to disrobe. But they were not destined for the pot.
The Chief had observed their plight as they struggled up the river and knowing the boat was in danger of foundering had sent his men to the rescue. The fire was to dry their sodden clothing and after a comfortable night at the pa they completed their voyage. The Tukukinos, the Mahoneys (and the Crosbys) became firm friends. John Mahoney died in 1885 (aged 57 years) but his wife, known affectionately by everyone as "Aunty Mahoney", lived another 40 years - until 1926 when she was in her 96th year.
Having sold his former business George Crosby settled at Paeroa in 1894 built the Royal Mail Hotel and purchased Bradley & Co.'s line and other lines of coaches, becoming managing director of the Ohinemuri Coaching Coy. which was incorporated in 1899, other members of the firm being G. Johnstone, W. Hunter, and Short & Coy. About 120 horses, 10 coaches and 28 hands were employed, and regular services were maintained between Paeroa and Karangahake - (6 coaches each way per day) Waihi (3 coaches) while between Waihi and Tauranga a coach ran one way each alternate day. There was a special service between Paeroa and Karangahake on Sundays. In addition the Company maintained a large plant of buggies and other vehicles for hire. It had two stables in Paeroa - one of 40 and another of 50 stalls, as well as one at Karangahake, two at Waihi, one at KatiKati, and one at Tauranga.
George assisted most of his brothers to this country to escape from the effects of the famine in Ireland (from Carrickmacross near Killmacken) John, Michael, Peter and Tom all arrived in Paeroa under George's sponsorship. Michael was employed by him as a driver on his coach runs for many years.
Unfailingly good-natured, "By Golley now!" was his favourite exclamation as he rubbed his hands together. Often he would slow down his coach to allow School Children to hitch a ride on the back and would always plead ignorance when reproached about it or if his attention was drawn to the "stow-aways". Then he would go through the motions of lashing out with his whip, muttering "Cholly beggars" but would make sure that the lash came nowhere near them.
Meanwhile George acquired a considerable amount of property around Paeroa besides a farm in Mill Road and another at Turners Hill, but he and his wife continued to be the very popular host and hostess at the Royal Mail Hotel. They had three sons,- John, Bill and Matt and four daughters - May (Sister M. Camillus), Rita (Sr. M. de Chantal), Kitty (Mrs. L. Haigh-Smith) and Isla (Mrs. W. Connolly).
In 1908 the Ohinemuri electorate voted in favour of Prohibition, a fact which proved a great blow to Hotel keepers who then had to rely on commercial travellers and other transients for their livelihood. Several suffered further loss through fire and Mr. George Crosby was one of these. A report in the "Gazette" of Monday 12th February 1912 states :-
"Themost terrible fire that has occurred in Paeroa took place shortly after 1 o'clock this morning when Mr. Crosby's private boarding house, formerly the Royal Mail Hotel was completely destroyed. Mr. George Preston was burned to death the fire starting in his room. Medhurst's stables adjacent caught fire but the contents were saved. The sample rooms at the back of Wharf Street were badly scorched. A constant stream of water was poured on to Spry's shop opposite in Belmont Road, on to Mr. H. Moore's two-storied building" (- on site of present B.N.Z.)
Late in 1912 the family moved to Devonport but George rented from Campbell Erinfried the Paeroa Hotel which was run as a Boarding House under a licence in his name. After his death in 1914 the "Paeroa" was in the capable hands of his wife and her sister Mary Jane Dawber (Aunt Mary) while Auntie Mahoney was still an important member of the household.
Meanwhile the valuable section on which the "Royal Mail" had stood, remained vacant apart from hoardings advertising the programmes current at the Picture Theatre in Wharf Street. However when the Liquor Licence was restored in 1935 Paeroa put on a new face, buildings were repaired and repainted and the street surface improved. It was at this time that Mrs. C.V. Crosby, backed by the Brewers, decided to rebuild the "Royal Mail" which she took over with the assistance of her family. The business continued in this way for many years but ultimately the family disposed of their shares to the Brewery which sold out to the Paeroa Returned Services Association on 11th June 1973.
The R.S.A. Club was opened by the N.Z. President, Sir Hamilton Mitchell a short time later and has been functioning with some success, so much so that a substantial addition is being added to the rear of the premises. The well known old "Royal Mail Sign" no longer adorns the front of the building and Rita and Kitty, the two surviving members of the original Crosby family live in Auckland.