The Rob Roy Hotel on the corner of Brunswick and Gertrude Streets was designed by the architect Patrick Scanlan and built in 1859-1860. It was one of 14 hotels in Gertrude Street. By the 1950’s only six hotels remained and in 2022 only three continue to operate. (Richard Peterson, Fitzroy History Society Newsletter, August 2022).
Nicola Piccola describes the hotel in 1971 as “A pot pourri of mixed classical details over the main doorway and the pilasters are contrasted with a relatively plain wall surface on the upper floor facade” (Hotels in Fitzroy up to 1906, Nicola A Piccola, 1971).
In the large stabling yards surrounding the Hotel, several other buildings were built in the 1870s including 55-63 Brunswick Street and 75-83 Gertrude Street. You can see these to the left and right of the building in the above photo.
The Hotel was originally licenced in this location in 1857 by Henry McGregor and it then passes to F McGregor in 1864.
From 1865 to 1879 Walter Linson is the licensee and the rate books describe the hotel as a brick building with 11 rooms (1865) or 10 rooms and a bar (1871).
In 1879, it transfers to C T Browne and then a string of licensees in the 1880s, commencing with George H Crawford (1880), John M Lord (1881), James Agg (1883) and Mrs E Boulter (1889), by which stage it was now noted as having 15 rooms in the rate books.
In 1903 it transfers to Michael Fennessy.
Mary Ellen Mooney
The following is a summary by Michael Burleigh of his book A GIRL FROM KILKISHEN’, a copy of which the author donated to the Local History Collection in the Fitzroy Library:
“In 1923, Thomas and Mary Ellen Mooney, who had owned the hotel in Moyhu in north-east Victoria, moved to Melbourne following some difficulties with the local police. They spent some time looking around before they found the Rob Roy (now the Workers Club) on the corner of Brunswick and Gertrude Streets. Thomas believed that a good pub in a working class area was the best option. It was the custom then to first acquire the licence so as to obtain finance. He became the licensee. At this stage they had two children, and it wasn’t so long before another two came along.
Sadly, Thomas died suddenly on September 2, 1925, leaving Mary Ellen with the four children, the eldest being 5. Mary Ellen was left with few options and decided to carry on the business as she and Thomas had planned.
Now, Fitzroy was not the most salubrious of places in 1925. Mary Ellen had to deal with all types, but was very happy in the company of good working class people. She could not stop others such as those villains, the Monar twins, drinking in the hotel, but decided their money was good. In July 1926, Mary Ellen acquired the freehold of the Rob Roy. This was an accomplishment for a single mother at that time.
In 1928, she hired the noted architect Harry Johnson to prepare plans for a renovation which was completed the following year. This explains the 1929 date on the parapet.
Mary Ellen managed the hotel through the depression and on into the Second World War. In 1941, her eldest child, Jack, became the licensee, and was at that time the youngest licensee in Victoria, being only 21. In 1949, she bought the Sarah Sands Hotel in Brunswick and the following year she sold the Rob Roy. She had been there 26 years.
Footnote: Mary Ellen McNamara came to Australia in 1914, aged 23, with nothing but an Irish accent and a primary school education. When she died in 1963 she left the Sarah Sands Hotel, The Montague Hotel in South Melbourne and a number of other properties. She built an empire at a time when fate, circumstances and gender should have conspired to defeat her.” (Also contained in the Fitzroy History Society Newsletter, June 2019.