I will always be grateful to my ex-workmates of Bryco-ProPrint (now out of business) who introduced me to the old ‘Occi’ around 1999/2000. I was invited along to watch the All Blacks on the big screen and have a sampling of the backpacker’s famous roast dinner. I know I looked up at the façade as we walked in off Hereford Street and instantly I knew I had never seen a Christchurch building quite like it before. It looked like it had dropped right out of a western movie. By that time in its history, serving the city as a backpackers, it came across as a place not for the faint-hearted – a very interesting turn for a hotel that once boasted to be ‘…inferior to none in the Province…’.
First known as the Collins’ Hotel and Boarding House, it was the enterprising idea of the Canterbury Club’s Stewart James Collins and his housekeeping wife, Selena. The pair arrived in Lyttelton aboard the ‘Bangalore’ (the Canterbury Association’s 11th ship) on 31st August 1851. Already from a servitude background, they both got employment as servants for Henry Tancred, a well-known New Zealand politician. They then moved to the Canterbury Club and once the club decided on a Latimer Square property for the construction of a clubhouse (designed by Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort) Collins saw an opportunity to take a step ahead in his career by becoming a publican and hotel operator.
As the Canterbury Club was just for gentlemen only, their wives and children were forced to look elsewhere for accommodation – but what if this was supplied in nearby Hereford Street? This kind of venture could not fail – and it didn’t.
The land Collins wanted was owned by Samuel Bealey (Canterbury’s 3rd Superintendent) and once a deal was squared away, a two storey hotel was built and then opened in 1861. Over the next few years, the hotel’s name kept changing. First it was known as ‘Family Hotel and Boarding House’, and then ‘Collins Hotel and Boarding House’ but finally it was referred to as just ‘Collins’ Hotel’. In just 4 short years, the establishment was already proving to be too small. Samuel Charles Farr – architect (and the groom of Canterbury’s first European marriage), was hired to design the necessary extensions.
In 1868, Collins decided to sell the hotel but continued on as manager of the business’ stables. The new owners were Mr. and Mrs. Green. Charles Green had great hotel experience having previously worked at the Golden Fleece (nicknamed the “cold’n’fleas”), Lyttelton Hotel (the Clarendon) and the Shades Hotel (later remodeled into the Shades Arcade) on Cashel Street. The Greens, who were infamous for being hard to work with, only remained at the helm for 6 months, forcing Collins back behind the bar.
The Greens moved to Timaru and it would be 1874 before Collins made the decision to retire again. Even after he handed over the keys to Messer’s Bough and Wheeler, it wasn’t until the following year that Collins finally let go. He and Selena decided to try their hand at farming and moved to Chertsey.
After travelling through a few other hands, it wasn’t until the hotel was in the ownership of John G. Harris that the name of ‘Occidental’ came into play in 1889.
Many of us today (myself included) would know this pub as ‘Perry’s Occidental’ – beginning a family’s decades of association in 1906.
British born Ben Perry arrived in New Zealand in 1857 with his parents. He first got the taste for the pub life when his father taught him all about the brewing business. When gold was discovered in Otago, Perry was one of thousands who headed to the diggings and he did very well for himself. By 1870, he had opened his own hotel in Dunedin. He spent some time in Oamaru before moving up to Christchurch in 1905. The Perry’s worked hard at their new enterprise, bringing the ‘Occidental’ back into the fashionable market of somewhere to stay.
Ben Perry died on 9th March 1926 and his son, Ben Perry Jr., took over the business.
The high standard of service continued on to such a level, Ben Perry Jr.’s wife, Mai, was disliked by most of their staff. No plate of food was served without her seal of approval. Ben Perry Jr. died on 26th February 1956 in an upstairs bedroom and there were reports of him still being seen around the 2nd floor long after his death – unwilling to leave the hotel that had been there his whole life.
Another person said to haunt the 2nd floor was Jane Jollie – the wife of the Hon. Francis Jollie (big brother to Edward Jollie who surveyed the future Christchurch, Sumner and Lyttelton for the Canterbury Association) who secured his place in our history by driving the first hoof stock from Marlborough to Canterbury, the naming of Jollies Pass near Hanmer acknowledging this history. Jane died in the hotel on 20th December 1872, the cause of death not even making the papers.
Mai Perry followed her husband 22 years later (to the day), passing away in the same upstairs bedroom as he did. This ended the Perry family history to the place in 1978 and the struggle for the Occidental’s survival began.
The first brush with demolition came in 1979 when developers eyed the prime location where the old hotel sat. After all, the hotel was in the need of repairs. Mai Perry had closed off many of the rooms and they were left to rot. Battles continued until 1984 when it was decided that the hotel was to be saved as nothing else like it existed in the city.
Developers Peter Sullivan and Phillip Cooper restored the hotel to the place most of us remember, with such bar rooms as ‘Flappers’, ‘Perry’s Bar’, ‘The Bull Bar’, and of course, ‘The Occi’.
In 1995, the rooms were reopened and the place had overnight guests again.
But sadly by 2006, and in the ownership of City Foresight Ltd, the damp and smelly hotel was closed – for good. Considered by some as an eyesore, in 2009 it was up for demolition again. With even the owner stating, “You have to get emotions out of this, at the end of the day it’s money…just because the building looks pretty and is heritage listed, doesn’t mean it is viable”. It became pretty clear the old place had no chance at all and in 2010, despite great public outcry, the building was torn down.
*Image of Collins Hotel courtesy of Canterbury Heritage – http://canterburyheritage.blogspot.co.nz*
*Image of the Occidental Hotel in 2009 courtesy of Paul and Rebecca*
*Image of the door of the Occidental Hotel courtesy of Kete Christchurch – http://ketechristchurch.peoplesnetworknz.info/places_and_streets/images/show/2874-occidental-hotel-january-2010#.WNyI8YVOKM8 *