Looking towards Mt Warning Hotel, Uki around the late 1970s.
Looking towards Mt Warning Hotel, Uki around the late 1970s. Contributed

Historian finds gutted Uki pub had long history of "curses"

NEWS of the destruction of Uki's Mt Warning Hotel, which burst into flames on Saturday night, February 23, and again two nights later in the early hours of Monday morning, February 25, has saddened many people on the Tweed who remember with fondness good times spent in the old country pub.

It was also around this time 81 years ago that the first owner of the Mt Warning Hotel died in tragic circumstances shortly after one of his routine visits to the Tweed and an inspection of this establishment.

In January 1914, Mr John Fowler Fitzhenry, a farmer at Doon Doon Creek, applied for a conditional licence for hotel premises to be situated at Uki.

This application was opposed by Senior Sergeant Kane, of Murwillumbah, because the proposed hotel site fronted the deviation road that was to be built through Uki and close to where a new bridge was to be constructed across Rowland's Creek.

Fortunately for Mr Fitzhenry, the members of Murwillumbah's licensing bench found there were reasonable requirements for a hotel in the neighbourhood of Uki, but they adjourned the application for a month to allow the proposed road to go through. The conditional licence was granted to Mr Fitzhenry on February 25, 1914.

The construction of Mt Warning Hotel was nearing completion at the end of December 1914 and its owner was eagerly preparing to take up occupancy and commence service to the public.

On Friday, January 1, 1915, John Fowler Fitzhenry advertised his Mt Warning Hotel as stocking the best wines, spirits and beer, supplying excellent accommodation for hotel guests and good stabling for their horses. His aunt, Mrs Ellen Marion Askew, of Uki, was in charge of providing "first-class cuisine" at the hotel.

In 1916 the young hotelier was married on the Tweed to Miss Letitia Elizabeth Laycock. Although he retained ownership of his hotel, by August 1919 Mr Vincent S  Dowling was the licensee and by June 1922 it was the turn of Mr A G Chapman to serve Uki and the surrounding district's thirsty public.

On December 3, 1924, John Fowler Fitzhenry applied in Murwillumbah for a publican's licence for a hotel he intended building at Tyalgum. The application was granted and the proposed establishment, known as New State Hotel, became Mr Fitzhenry's second locally owned enterprise. In July 1925 the Fitzhenry family was still living at Uki but by early 1926 the family had moved to Tyalgum.

In 1928 Mr Percy Percival became licensee of the New State Hotel. Mr Fitzhenry moved with his wife and children to Mallanganee, where he took over the operation of the Mallanganee Hotel. He still retained his hotel interests on the Tweed, where he returned from time to time to deal with licensing matters and check with the licensees in charge of his establishments.

On February 22, 1932, John Fowler Fitzhenry, accompanied by 39-year-old Mallanganee auctioneer Mr Leslie Winchcombe Gregory, attended the Murwillumbah Licensing Court before travelling to Uki to inspect his hotel. Mr Fitzhenry also went over the inventory of the hotel furniture with licensee Mr Reginald Alfred Walsh and after checking that everything was in order, he and his travelling companion left to return home. The two men were killed later that Monday night when the car being driven by Mr Gregory left the Blue Knob Rd near Kunghur. The car was rounding a bend when it toppled onto its side and crashed into a large tree stump, fatally crushing the men.

Mr Roy Gresinger, of Byangum, was returning home from Nimbin that night and his attention was drawn to the site of the accident as the headlights of the car were still on. A short time later Messrs Baxter and Jarrett, who had been attending a meeting at Kunghur, arrived on the scene and, together with a number of local residents, tried unsuccessfully to get the car back on its wheels while waiting for police and ambulance to arrive.

John Fitzhenry, who was born near Grafton in 1887, was only 45 at the time of his death and he left behind his wife Letitia and five children. The well-known hotel keeper was buried in the Roman Catholic portion of Casino Cemetery on February 24, 1932.

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