George Auburn was born in Stotfold, Bedfordshire, England, the son of bricklayer George and Alice nee Knotts. In 1886 George (18) arrived in Fremantle aboard the Helena Mena. In 1894 he married Shropshire lass Ellen Owen, who came to WA via Sydney in 1882. In time, they had three surviving sons and a daughter.
George was an impressive entrepreneur with a wide range of enterprises. He began offering a taxi service in 1893; a return trip from Fremantle to Claremont at the time costing two shillings. The next year, he took over the successful Livery and Bait Stable beside the Federal Hotel in Fremantle, from where cabs and buggies could be hired and feed bought for horses.
Before motor vehicles were even in WA, Auburn liked to drive fast, receiving his first of many documented fines for speeding in 1895. He was a keen player in the new ‘sport’ of motor car driving, and joined the Automobile Club of Western Australia in its first few years.
On 23 June 1905 George and Alice, along with another couple, were driving back to Fremantle when their car struck a piece of metal on the road. It had fallen from a dray (a cart without sides), which was a regular occurence and proving to be an increasing problem to motorists. The car overturned and all occupants were flung to the ground, fortunately without serious injury.
The Club (later Tower) Hotel, designed by J J Talbot Hobbs and built for John Chipper in 1898, showing elevations from Duke and Charles Streets, Perth. Courtesy City of Vincent Local History Collection, image PH03277.
In 1899 he had begun investing in hotels, firstly in the Cosmopolitan in Aberdeen Street, Perth. In 1901 he took over the Victoria Hotel on the corner of Melbourne Road (now Milligan Street) and James Street. In 1902 he returned to his Fremantle roots and took over the Cleopatra Hotel and, by 1905, in partnership, he had added Oddfellows Hotel in Fremantle and the Bedford Hotel in Murray Street, Perth, to his holdings.
In July 1906 Auburn took over the magnificent Club Hotel. Designed by J J Talbot Hobbs for John Chipper and completed in 1898, it sprawled majestically over three levels on the corner of Charles and Duke (the narrower continuation of Aberdeen) Streets, West Perth. It had 40 rooms for guests, around ten for the licensee, and eight bathrooms.
In early 1913 Auburn changed the name to the Tower Hotel and, later that year, sold it and moved into the Bedford Hotel on Murray Street.
On his death in April 1925, George still owned the Bedford, but now also owned and lived in the Osborne Park Hotel. Ellen maintained ownership of the latter until her death in 1946.
When, Where and What
George Auburn is pictured here in a 1904 Oldsmobile, outside his Club Hotel on the corner of Duke and Charles Streets in 1907, soon after he took over as licensee. This magnificent hotel was demolished in the early 1970s for the construction of the Mitchell Freeway and the site is now under a tangle of concrete, asphalt and on-ramps.
Pictured with him is Hubert (10) who, as an adult, was a taxi driver for Black & Silver cabs, and the secretary of the Golden West Cat Fanciers’ Association. Beside George is his younger son, also George (4), who spent 20 years in prison for the possibly erroneous conviction of the murder of taxi driver Jack O'Neil, whose body was found on the shore of Crawley Bay in 1924. His conviction was greatly distressing for his father and, it’s thought, may have had an impact on his demise not long after.
As for George Junior, he was an exemplary prisoner. He worked as the cinema projectionist and prison librarian while learning all about mechanics and adamantly protesting his innocence. On his release he married and went into a mobile hairdressing business with his wife.