Most residents of Mortlake-Cabarita and Breakfast Point know the Palace Hotel in Tennyson Road. Opened in 1926, the Palace has been synonymous with the changing character and fortunes of the district. Some residents might also be aware of an earlier Palace Hotel – the only reminder of which is Palace Lane, a pedestrian thoroughfare between Tennyson Road and Hilly Street.
The original Palace was a grand three-storey late Victorian structure, complete with central tower and enveloped by sweeping verandas where one might expect ladies in crinolines and gentlemen with top hats to promenade.
The building was completed in 1886, the same year as the gasworks opened. It was not, however, intended for gas workers, but rather for the huge crowds that attended rowing regattas or picnicked in the local pleasure gardens. So popular were these regattas that a branch line on the Enfield to Mortlake tramway was constructed to transport the tens of thousands of spectators on race day. Regular steam ferries from the city carried thousands more people to picnic grounds at the Palace Hotel and Cabarita Park.
Many businesses and sporting organisations held their annual picnics at the amusement grounds in front of the original Palace Hotel and at Correy’s Pleasure Gardens in Cabarita.
Often the licensee of the Palace Hotel would arrange activities for day trippers including tennis, swimming, boating and musical recitals by a brass band. Visitors might also seek refreshment in the hotel or enjoy a pleasant walk in the hotel gardens. A generous purse was offered by the publican to encourage further interest in the sculling challenge from competitors.
A high point of the sculling competition was an international challenge from the local rower, William Beach and the Canadian Ned Hanlan, the world champion. The Canadian lodged at the Palace Hotel, where he set up a training camp prior to the race. Beach chose to train on the opposite side of the river. On the day of the final race the spectators lined every vantage point, including the verandas of the Palace Hotel. Beach, a smaller man, was slower at the start. Part way through the race, Hanlan began to tire and Beach began to reduce the margin between them. Rounding Green Point, a tremendous cheer went up as Beach caught and then drew ahead of his rival. Beach won the series of four races and retired as undefeated champion of the world. An obelisk at Cabarita Park now commemorates Beach’s victory. (Andrew West)