Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Empire Dive - Empire Hotel, High Street, Christchurch, 1901

The Empire Hotel, 212 High Street, opposite High & Cashel Street corner. The entrance to the Empire Dive bar can be seen on the left of the buidling.
Photo: Steffano Webb, circa 1910.

During the Victorian Age, it is perhaps of little surprise that British & colonial pride in the rapid expansion of the Empire resulted in just about every town of any note in New Zealand acquiring an Empire Hotel. Christchurch was no exception, having one not only in the central city but also one in the Port of Lyttelton, the latter continuing in business to the present day, see here. The High Street Empire Hotel is long gone.

The Empire in High Street and its enticingly entitled bar, "The Empire Dive" (Queen Victoria, one might wager would not have been amused), as might be expected, feature on a regular basis in the court reports of the local newspapers. Drunkeness, minor assaults, public disorderliness, violation of prohibitions on entry to the premises by convicted drunkards, petty theft, and licensing issues are the primary subjects of these reports.

One of the more serious incidents involved charges being brought against the publican-licensee and a barman for having permitted the drunkeness on his premises and of serving alcohol to an already intoxicated patron, one William Emerson who sustained head injuries from a falling down stairs in the Empire Dive on 17 August 1901 that subsequently contributed to his death a few days later.

While evidence was given by a Christchurch Hospital doctor that the deceased had been intoxicated upon admission to hospital shortly after being injured in the fall, other witness testimony that Emerson did not appear intoxicated upon entering the premises and only had one drink before sustaining his fall weighed heavier in the Magistrate's decision to dismiss the charges.

One wonders, if Dr McArthur, S.M., felt he was getting the full facts, however, given that Henry Emerson, Emerson's son, had stated at the prior inquest into the death that his father had previously been affected by heavy drinking. But Emerson fils would not repeat such a statement in the magistrate's court. Instead, he assigned his father's shakiness on the morning of the accident to the effects of a cold.

The Star, 13 September 1901, p. 3.

Photographs or sketches of such places as the Empire Dive are not ephemera that typically get produced or preserved for posterity, but one can hazard a guess at the salubrious conditions that prevail in such places. Memories of the Dungeon bar on Lambton Quay, Wellington from several decades ago, a favoured watering hole at the time for Treasury officials & other assorted public servants spring to mind.

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