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n 1865-66, there were 100 or more hotels in and around
the Hokitika area to accommodate and supply the rush of
In later years, when the gold began to diminish, many of
them either closed down or frequently changed hands. By
about 1950, they had been whittled down to 22 within a 20-mile
radius of the town.
My grandmother, Matilda (affectionately known as Tilly) Sophia
Penrose was born on September 21, 1884, in Nelson Creek in the
Grey Valley. She was the 5th of nine children born to a Cornish-
born miner, William Rippin Penrose, and Surrey-born Matilda Ann
Kelly. Tilly married Dunedin-born Thomas Sherriff on May 16,
1906, in Nelson Creek and they had three daughters — Elizabeth,
Jessie and Phyllis.
Belle Vue Hotel
On December 16, 1915, the family moved from Ngahere to
Hokitika and on December 17, Thomas applied for a publican’s
licence to take over the Belle Vue Hotel from Ann Pritchard, who
was the widow of deceased Jeremiah Pritchard, the previous licensee.
This hotel was situated on the corner of Sale and Stafford streets,
diagonally opposite the now Stafford Street Four Square store.
The licence was granted to Thomas three days later, on December
After only one month of being the licensee, Thomas passed
away suddenly of acute peritonitis on January 19, 1916. Five days
later Matilda applied to the New Zealand Licensing Control
Commission to carry on with the licence in her name, which was
Due to circumstances beyond their control, on December 1, 1917,
the hotel caught fire and was burned to the ground, with all of the
family escaping the flames. The coronial inquiry verdict was arson,
but there was not enough evidence to say who started the fire. The
hotel was not rebuilt.
The family’s next move was to the Exchange Hotel, situated at
This was also the local Post Office. On April 15, 1918, Matilda
applied for a licence, which was granted on June 7, 1918. The hotel’s
previous licensee was Jeremiah Crowley, who had passed away in
the hotel on February 5, 1918, hence Matilda had to apply for the
licence to be transferred from Jeremiah Crowley ’s estate.
She ran the hotel on her own until December 31, 1919, when she
married Thomas’s younger brother, Edwin (better known as Ted)
Sherriff, and they had a son Thomas, named after Matilda’s first
husband and Edwin’s brother.
Edwin Sherriff applied for the licence to be transferred to his
name on January 16, 1920, and this was automatically granted.
They ran the hotel for the next six and three-quarter years when, on
November 5, 1926, the hotel caught fire and burned down, again
with all of the family escaping.
This hotel was not insured or rebuilt but on November 18, Edwin
requested permission to apply for a temporary licence in the Blue
Spur Hall, which was also granted on November 25.
In the interim, also on November 18, he had also applied to take
over the licence of the Three Mile Hotel, north of Hokitika. This
was granted on January 10, 1927.
The temporary licence at the Blue Spur Hall was transferred over
to William Samuel Stewart on January 5 and as the licence lapsed
on June 30, 1927, and no application for a licence renewal was made,
this spelt the end of the Exchange Hotel.
Three Mile Hotel
The Sherriffs took over the licence of the Three Mile Hotel from
William John Gutberlet and were the publicans for the next three
and a quarter years, until March 18, 1930, when the licence was
transferred to Walter Henry Newey.
The next liquor establishment move for the Sherriffs was to the
original Kokatahi Hotel. Edwin applied for the licence on July 14,
1930 and it was granted on September 10 that year.
The previous licensee was Thomas James Furlong — a temporary/
relieving licensee for Albert Edward Izzard, who was on a leave of
Three years and four months later, on November 19, 1932, the
hotel caught fire and was burned down. Edwin requested permission
Hotelkeeping was both a business and a lifestyle for many families on the West Coast
last centur y, often headed by strong, independent women. One such publican who
certainly made her mark on the Hokitika hotel scene was Tilly Sherriff. Between 1915
and 1959, she and her family either owned or leased five licensed premises in the area —
the Belle Vue, Empire, Three Mile, Blue Spur and Kokatahi. This is their story, as told by
Tilly’s granddaughter, ELIZABETH WHITESIDE, of Hokitika.
The hotel sherriffs
to carry on in temporary licensed premises on November 21, which
was granted on December 2. The whereabouts of those temporary
premises is unknown.
The new Kokatahi Hotel was built in the same place as the
original, by my uncle Jack MacFarlane. This hotel still stands today
in upper Kokatahi, with extensions and renovations having taken
place over the past 80-plus years.
The exact time taken for the new hotel to be built and open for
business is unknown, but it is assumed to be some time between
August 1933 and May 1934.
On May 18, 1937, Edwin applied for both the licence and the
ownership of the Hotel Empire in Revell Street. This was granted
on June 8. The new Kokatahi Hotel licence was transferred to James
Francis Foley and was granted on the same day.
The Hotel Empire’s previous licensee was Richard Francis Furness.
Edwin Sherriff applied for the name to be altered to ‘Sherriff ’s
Hotel Empire’. It was situated on the eastern side of Revell Street,
where the SPCA shop is now located.
On January 21, 1940, Edwin and Matilda took a leave of absence
for three weeks, leaving their daughter, Phyllis, to run the hotel.
On July 31, 1940, Edwin applied to both the Lands and Sur vey
Department to lease nine acres of land for six years, with the lease to
be renewed if need be, and the employment division of the Labour
Department to employ two local out-of-work men.
This land is where the storage garages, Bodyworx Fitness Centre,
On the Spot Store and the former Hokitika Motor Camp (now
owned by Westland Milk Products) are located.
For one month, from August 12, 1940 until September 7 he gave
the two unemployed men — Norman Dale and Eric (Lofty) Lakin
- work to clear three acres of gorse, blackberry, grub rushes and dig
Edwin acquired the land to run five or six cows for milking and
a few pigs, mainly for his own use to supplement the family, hotel
boarders and guests, with the milk surplus being supplied to the
local butter factory.
The pigs, once fattened up, were taken by a Ford truck to the
Kaniere Road piggery to be slaughtered.
The majority of the pork was then sold to the local butchers and
a good-sized portion sent back to the hotel, where customers could
also purchase it.
The Sherriffs were the licensees until May 26, 1948, when my
grandmother, who was now in her mid-60s, and Edwin transferred
the licence over to Denis Hardy Thomas. This was granted on July
Between that date and June 19, 1953, the Hotel Empire had three
licensees -Denis Hardy Thomas, Watson Alfred Weir Dingwall,
and George Joseph Agnew, after which the Licensing Control
Commission cancelled the licence altogether on June 30, 1954. The
now unlicensed hotel remained in Tilly Sherriff ’s ownership after its
closure and on May 7, 1959, the top storey caught fire.
Former Hokitika mayor Henry Pierson quoted in his book
The Crooked Mile: ‘Billy Aitken, a nondescript character, will be
remembered as the Empire’s roustabout-cum-non -paying boarder.
Billy was the building’s sole occupant on the night of the fire and
when the fire brigade burst through the front doors, Billy, still
wearing his army greatcoat, stumbled on to Revell Street. His first
words were, ‘Christ, wouldn’t you have thought they would ’ve let me
The bottom storey of the hotel was both smoke and water-
damaged and in bad disrepair. The Licensing Control Commission
had already decided to reduce the number of hotels in Hokitika
at the time, consequently the rest of the building was eventually
Between 1915 and 1959, Tilly Sherriff and her two husbands both
leased and owned five hotels in both the urban and rural districts in
and around Hokitika.
Hotel licences had to be renewed every year, applied for in May
and granted in June. Exceptions were made when a licensee moved
out of the premises to either another hotel or occupation, and
another moved in, consequently the date and month of the year
were changed, depending on when the changeover took place.
After both living and working in hotels for approximately 33 years
Tilly, Ted and their family resided at both 144 and 105 Fitzherbert
streets; both residences are now gone.
She lost her second husband, Ted, on April 14, 1952, aged 57 and
her youngest daughter Phyllis, on May 17, 1963, aged 53.
Although the running of the hotels took up the majority of her
time, Matilda was involved in local community affairs, such as the
Hokitika Revue Society, where she was president for a number of
years up until her death, and the Women’s Institute to name one or
Whitebaiting was also a passionate interest, with her own
registered stand below the old Hokitika River road and rail bridge.
She was also a staunch Anglican who attended church every Sunday
Another of Henry Pierson’s quotes from his book is ‘Mrs Sherriff,
better known as Tilly, was outwardly as hard as nails, but at heart,
she was a kind person who would always give a helping hand to any
unfortunate soul down on his luck’.
Even after retiring from a publican’s life, her home was open to
anyone and everyone, especially to those who needed a helping
hand. That is a very accurate description of the lady I called ‘Nana’.
Matilda (Tilly) Sherriff passed away on July 8, 1965, aged 80 and
is buried with her two husbands and her daughter, Phyllis, in the
A dilapidated Exchange Hotel, atBlue Spur. This pub burned down in 1926.
Empire Hotel, Revell Street, Hokitika, in the 1930s. It was destroyed by fire in 1959.
Tilly Sherriff on the veranda of the Three Mile Hotel, on the outskirts of Hokitika.
Jessie, Matilda and Elizabeth Sherriff outside the bar of the Empire Hotel.
A breath of fresh air blows through the Exchange Hotel at Blue Spur.
Belle Vue Hotel, Hokitika, before 1915. This hotel stood on the corner of Stafford and Sale streets. It burned to the
ground in 1917.
Sherriff family and local residents outside the original Kokatahi Hotel.
Sherriffs and friends outside the rebuilt Kokatahi Hotel. This hotel is still operating.
The original Kokatahi Hotel, before it was destroyed by fire in 1932.
Tilly Sherriff and her granddaughter Elizabeth Whiteside, about September 1962.
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