Workday Wednesday: Occidental Hotel lady publicans

Of all the interesting jobs our forebears may have taken, running a pub would surely be right up there in the interest stakes. There’s something quite romantic about walking down a street and spotting a glorious old pub, wondering what it was like back in the early days of the city, what tales there are to tell about the people who frequented the establishment, and wondering who actually ran the joint. No doubt, the romance would die a very rapid death if we were transported back in time, but it is fun to imagine.

The Occidental (aka the Ox) in Auckland’s Vulcan Lane is such a pub. It was built in 1870 by an American sailor, Edward Perkins. He was said to have married a Maori princess (although the marriage didn't survive) and every fourth of July, he would hoist the Stars and Stripes from the hotel and invite all Americans living in Auckland to dinner. In subsequent years the Ox boasted several female publicans, among them Nora Lynch (who ran the pub from 1912-1927) and Mary Frances Nation (1943-1951).

The Occidental Hotel in Vulcan Lane, Auckland
Sir George Grey Special  Collections, Auckland Libraries, 435-B5-157A 
Both women had managed pubs with their husbands, although Irish-born Nora came to the Occidental as a widow. Before that, she and her husband William had run the Clarendon on Wakefield Street, and after his death, Nora was granted a license to run the Ox. She died in 1927 on the premises; the Auckland Star of 14th October 1927  reported her death in an obituary and noted she was highly regarded by all who knew her.

Thames-born Mary Nation ran the Ox with her husband Alfred and after his death in 1942,  she took over. Mary herself had managed hotels before her marriage  - which may have been part of the attraction to Alfred. His obituary in the Auckland Star reported he came from a well known brewing family in Melbourne.
By the 1950s, Mary had had enough of pub life, and she retired to live in Mission Bay where she died in 1969.

The Ox, 1986
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1052-B10-35A
For more reading on women in the pub trade, "Wanted, a Beautiful Barmaid: Women behind the Bar in New Zealand, 1830-1976" by Susan Upton gives a comprehensive run down of this most interesting of professions and the stigma attached to working in the liquor trade – it was said, for example, a woman would never find a respectable husband if she’d worked in a bar. Indeed, as stated in the introduction, what began as a book about barmaids widened as the author discovered just how many women went from working as barmaids to actually running the pubs.

There are several borrowable copies in Auckland libraries.   


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