Middleton Beach, approximately 4km east of Albany CBD

DSC 7743Middleton is Albany’s most popular beach for walking, sunbathing, swimming and numerous other recreational beach and surf activities. It begins close to Ellen Cove, off Flinders Parade and stretches to Emu Point. It is named after Captain Middleton who was in charge of the ship which brought first Governor of WA James Stirling to the State in 1834.

During the early years of Albany's settlement, Middleton Beach provided a handy spot for ships to off-load supplies and animals, as many larger vessels could not navigate the entrance into Princess Royal Harbour. The beach is an excellent spot to view southern right and humpback whales during their annual migration to the Southern Ocean. Whales enter the bay to rest and can sometimes be seen as close as 20-30m from the shore or frolicking out in the deeper waters. Middleton Beach is also the name of the suburb which was gazetted in 1979. It features a caravan park, holiday units, bed and breakfasts, a cafe/deli, restaurant and a fish and chip shop all within walking distance of the beach.

A number of hotels - all named the Esplanade, have been built on the same site close to the beach since 1892. This first Esplanade burnt down in 1908 and reopened in 1911. This second hotel proved very popular, so a road (Marine Drive) was built to connect it with the town centre – before this, the only way to get there was by boat or bush track. This hotel was demolished and a larger one built in 1949, which in turn was pulled down in the 1970s. A fourth Esplanade was built and ended its days in 1990 when local businessman Paul Terry built a five star boutique, colonial style hotel with bar and restaurant.

Adjacent to the hotel was a building called the Extravaganza which housed a number of shops and Paul Terry’s vintage car collection, which included a Cadillac which once belonged to Marilyn Monroe. Unfortunately, Paul Terry died in a helicopter crash in 1993 and the collection and hotel were sold. In 2006 plans were made to demolish the Esplanade and surrounding buildings for a new modern apartment hotel. The Extravaganza building and adjoining units were demolished in early December while the existing hotel was pulled-down in early 2007. The site is empty to this day and remains a topic of contention.

The Coronial Inquiry into the fire which destroyed the original Esplanade Hotel was published in the Albany Advertiser on April 29, 1908.

The Fire at Middleton Beach - Destruction of the Esplanade Hotel

The inquiry concerning the fire which destroyed the Esplanade Hotel at Middleton Beach on the morning on April 3 was continued before the Coroner (the Hon. J. A.Wright, R.Mi) on Monday. Messrs. A. F. Cuddihy, W. Campbell and L. Cull comprised the jury.  Sergt. Leen conducted the inquiry for the police and Mr Dymes watched the proceedings on behalf of Mr. A. H. Vickers. Mr J. Horner was present as representative of the Manchester Insurance Company and Mr. Wm. Stephens as representative of the London and Lancaster Insurance Company.

Arthur Hedley Vickers, licensee of the Esplanade Hotel, deposed that the hotel building was burned down on the morning of Friday, April 3. Mr Quitman and witness slept on the premises the night before the fire. There was no other person in the house. Mrs Vickers had gone to Beverley the previous Saturday. It was her intention on leaving to stay awav about a month. After closing up time on April 2, another man named Langlands remained with Quitman and a witness in the kitchen till about 1.30. Langlands was a soldier at tho Forts. They sat yarning in the kitchen after supper.

It was about 9.30pm when they had supper. The kitchen was situated at the back of the house, on the north end. It was practically detached, being only joined on to the main building by a verandah. A fire was lit in the kitchen stove for supper. It was a cold night and the fire was kept going. There were no customers from 9.30pm till closing time. Witness had known Quitman a good few months. He came down to the hotel about five months before and had been staying there ever since. He was an agent for Molassine, a feed for horses. So far as witness knew Quitman represented the Molassine Company, in London.

He still followed the same trade and calling. Quitman had also been managing the hotel during the past few weeks. He never managed the hotel prior to the fire. When witness retired to rest on the morning of April 3 he was certain the fire in the kitchen was out. The three of them left the kitchen together - Quitman and witness occupied different bedrooms, about 60ft apart.

Mr Dymes, by permission, here put in a plan of the building.
Continuing, witness said it was about 5 o'clock in the morning when he discovered the fire. On discovering the fire he ran and called Quitman. The fire originated at the back, in the direction of the kitchen. He next rang up the telephone exchange and asked that the police and the Forts be informed. The fire progressed very rapidly. There was very little wind at the time. He could not say whether the building would have been destroyed had the outbreak been in front. Witness was in the habit of using kerosene on the premises. He had no reason to believe that the premises were wilfully set fire to and he had no idea how the fire originated.

Witness was on friendly terms with Langlands and had no reason to apprehend that he had anything to do with it. No one was about when he discovered the fire. The soldiers were the first to arrive. They ran down the hill by the back track. The police came afterwards. Witness noticed James Meyers after the place was burnt. The building was burned down in less than an hour. Witness saved a cabinet, trunks, some wine and a few odds and ends of furniture. The wine was stored in the tea rooms, where the bar now was. The value of the wine was about £5. It was still there. It would take a connoiseur to value the cabinet. The cabinet was insured for £22 10s. The company refused to give any more insurance on it, or it would have been insured for more.

The cabinet belonged to Mrs Vickers originally and was bought in Canton. It now belonged to witness. He could not say exactly what the cabinet cost, but he believed it was $1,000. He estimated its value at £140. He lost in the fire a vase valued at £25 and many other curios. He valued the property he lost altogether at £982 6s 7d. Witness kept his staff of servants until the Sunday before the fire. The house had accommodation for 60 visitors and six servants. Witness did not exactly refuse to take in visitors just prior to the fire, but he said if they came he would have to wire for his wife.

A gentleman and his wife did apply for accommodation, but under the circumstances they went away. Witness was not the owner of the property. He had purchased the hotel and was paying for it by instalments. He bought it from the executors of the estate of Mrs Patterson. That was at the beginning of April, 1907. The purchase price was £1,500, to be paid £250 down, £250 in two years and the balance extended over six years, at interest. The first £250 was paid.

Mr Dymes submitted that the facts being elicited had no bearing on the outbreak of the fire. Sergeant Leen said he had instructions to elicit all information possible. It was in the interests of the public and Mr Vickers himself that he should do so. Witness, continuing, said he purchased some stock from E. Reynolds, the late licensee, when he took over on April 5 last year, and paid £85 for that and a few odds and ends. The furniture went with the building for £1,500. He valued it at £400. Since he took over the house he had dealt exclusively with E. Barnett and Co. Most of the stock was stored in the cellar, behind the bar, but some was kept upstairs.

More stock was kept in the summer than in winter. The stock at the time of the fire was roughly valued at £124. The estimate was approximate. His value of the furniture was based on Mr John Moir's inventory of what the hotel contained when he took it over. Mrs Vickers only took personal luggage when she went away. Witness thought it comprised two trunks and a portmanteau. She had not assisted him in making out his statement of claim. Witness was licensee of the Duke of York Hotel at Boulder in 1904 for about six months. He then sold out and took the Grand Hotel at Boulder. He sold out there after nine months. In both transactions he did well. Going to Perth, he took the Cremorne Hotel. That was about two months after leaving Boulder.

He had the Cremorne about six months. Witness was in partnership with Leonard Davis, the latter running the theatre and witness the hotel. Witness made money in the hotel and Davis lost it in the theatre. The result was that they dissolved partnership and witness called a meeting of his creditors. The creditors accepted 9s in the £. One Coombes arranged it for him. Witness would be surprised to hear that the dividend was only 3s 4d in the £. He did not know whether a list of all he owned was handed to the creditors. His manager (Coombes) attended to that for him. Witness signed some document before a J.P. but he did not know what it was.

To Mr. Dymes: The cabinet and curios referred to belonged to Mrs.Vickers and she lent them to witness to raise money.Mr. Dymes objected to the method of the inquiry and protested against any attempt to blacken the character of his client. To Sergt. Leen: Witness admitted owing Mr Layton £302 for additions to the premises made in November last. Mr Layton had been pressing him for the money and had served a' writ. Mr Patterson had not directly or indirectly asked him for any money. Edward Barnett & Co. held a mortgage over the furniture for £500. Witness owed the brewery about £7.

To Mr. Dymes: Witness said that on the night of the fire he was sleeping in a bedroom next the parlour. At counsel's request he had prepared the plan of the building produced. On the morning of the fire he was awakened by the sound of something falling on the floor. The sound seemed to come from the dining-room. He got up to see what was the matter, arid when, he opened the dining-room door he found the ceiling fittings had' fallen in and the flames were in possession. Witness called Quitman, who was asleep. He next ran to the tele phone, and both then threw extinguishers at the fire. Finding it to be a hopeless case they tried to save all they could. They removed the cabinet from the parlour, which was at that time free of smoke.

The cabinet was the most valuable article in the house. The flames had cut off the water supply and nothing could be done to check the fire. It was customary for him to see all was safe from fire before going to bed. He would swear that he knew nothing of the cause of the fire, neither had he' contributed in any way to it. He was a loser by the fire and had had to obtain employment. If the mortgage was paid he would own the license and the land.

To Mr. Horner: Quitman paid nothing for board and lodging, and witness paid him no wages. Quitman did what he could in return for his board and lodging. Very little business had been done since the fire. Business had been fairly good since he took over from Reynolds. To say how much he had made a week would require careful consideration. Business was up and down. Witness owed Reynolds about £50 in (Connection with the ingoing. He called a meeting of his creditors in June, 1906, and handed over everything to them. His wife had property on which he had raised as much as £1.000 -witness at present owed £2,000, and he was insured for £2,100.
At this stage the Court adjourned for lunch.

On resuming, the R.M. said that after the most searching examination to which Mr Vickers had been submitted, in the course of which he had given the most satisfactory replies, the inquiry would be restricted to investigating the origin of the fire. Julius Quitman, representative of the Molassine Company,of London, corroborated in detail the evidence of the proviens witness as to what happened at the hotel the night before the fire. When Mr Vickers called him in the morning the back of the house was on fire. They ran for the fire extinguishers, but these when applied bad not effect on the flames.

Both of them then turned their attention to saving what furniture they could. There was very little breeze at the time. The fire burned very quickly. He had no idea how it originated. James Edward Meyers deposed that at 4 o'clock on the morning of April 3 he was at Oyster Harbor. He started with Mr Warner to drive towards Albany and about 20 minutes past 5 saw a lot of heavy smoke in the direction of Middleton Beach. The smoke seemed to increase. By the time he reached the park gates a lot of flamewas visible. The hotel was half demolished when he reached there.

The back portion went first. He knew nothing of the cause of the fire. Sergt. Leen announced that he had intended calling Messrs. S. Patterson and C. F. Layton as witnesses but as their evidence did not relate to the origin of the fire and the bench had restricted attention to that point he would close the case without calling them. Mr Dymes addressed the jury and asked them to ignore all evidence but that bearing on the fire itself. He thought the attempt made to reflect on his client was unwarranted.

Sergt. Leen said he quite admitted Mr Vickers had had an unpleasant time. It had not been his desire to reflect on Mr Vickers. His duty was to inquire into every aspect of the case. That was necessary in the public interest and he had not sought to make his duty objectionable. The R.M. said he thoroughly appreciated the Sergeant's position. The jury, after a brief retirement, returned a verdict to the effect that the Esplanade Hotel was destroyed by fire on the morning of April 3 and that there was no evidence to show how the fire had originated.

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