The Oram Brothers

As the five Oram brothers stepped off their ship (the ‘Glentanner’) at Lyttelton, they were the classic example of those chasing the New Zealand dream. It was Canterbury, 1857 and if you were willing to roll up your sleeves and do the hard yards, you could find success and fortune. The English born brothers wanted it all.

George Oram, the oldest, is the most known about brother. A butler by trade, he found work at the ‘British Hotel’ in Lyttelton. Later in 1862, he made the move over the Port Hills and was a steward at the Christchurch Club – an establishment that catered to visiting gentleman farmers and merchants. The original section of the Christchurch Club designed by Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort in the late 1850’s was the only part that survived the 22nd February 2010 earthquake!

After a falling out with two members of the Club, George decided to move on to hotel work. He took over the management of the ‘Carlton Hotel’ from its owner, Martin Cash in 1864. Just two years later, with interests still in the Carlton, George purchased the ‘Lyttelton Hotel’ on the corner of Oxford Terrace and Worchester Street. Leaving it in the care of a manager, the hotel was becoming infamous for its late night drinking and questionable consumers. In 1871, after amazedly recovering from bankruptcy, George finally took over completely after an incident where the manager beat up a drunken customer as he lay in one of the hotel beds. The manager excused his behavior by stating the customer has gotten rudely gotten drunk elsewhere before returning to the Lyttelton.
Determined to make the ‘Lyttelton Hotel’ into something special, it was revamped and renamed to the ‘Clarendon Hotel’. He succeeded, the establishment becoming one the finest hotels in Christchurch.

During this high time in George’s life, he was not only the face of the Clarendon, but was also holding interests in the Carlton and Market Hotels, the latter situated on the Victoria Square section of Colombo Street. He founded, chaired and directed the ‘Canterbury Brewing, Malting and Distilling Company’ but failed to become a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council.
Sadly, just two years after raising the Clarendon Hotel from its scandals, he retired from his interests due to bad health. But like all good men, he couldn’t sit still for long and purchased the ‘New Brighton Hotel’ in 1875. He loved New Brighton and is mostly remembered today for his promotion of the area. Some claim it was he that gave New Brighton its name and his land from the south of Seaview Road to Union Street was known fondly as Oramstown.

George was very popular and it was the manner of his death that highlighted his ability to keep up with hotel life, joining in for ‘a cold one’ with his regulars probably more than he should of. He died of cirrhosis of the liver at the young age of 50 in 1876. He was first to be buried in the family plot at Barbadoes Street Cemetery.

The next eldest was John William Oram. A bit like his brother, his memory lives now through the liquor licenses records of long ago. John first appears in Christchurch’s history as the owner of the ‘City Hotel’ in 1869, once situated at Bottleneck Junction – the intersection of Colombo and High Streets, the north side of the Triangle Centre.   John renamed the place to ‘J Oram’s Sheppard Hotel’ and outside the main door sat Christchurch’s first taxi stand.
In the 1930’s, the business that had returned to being the City Hotel moved on down Colombo Street and still sits on the corner of Colombo and Bath Streets as the ‘New City Hotel’, near Moorhouse Ave. And where the City Hotel once served was known before the 2011 earthquakes as the Triangle Buildings and was the home of KFC and other shops/offices. John died at the age of 54 in 1884.

Next was Matthew Henry Oram. There is not much on his personal life but again, he appears as a publican, purchasing the ‘Golden Fleece Hotel’ in 1870. Like brother John, who also co-owned the ‘Cold’n’Fleas’ as the establishment was also known as, Matthew proudly added the family name to the title, making it ‘Oram’s Golden Fleece Hotel’.
Tragically, he died three months before his son Matthew was born in 1885. Matthew junior went on to become a knighted New Zealand politician and lawyer. He was the 13th speaker of the House of Representatives and was a member of the New Zealand parliament. He died in 1969.

Charles Oram was next, born in1834 and died in 1900. In England, he was a boot-maker but like his brothers in Christchurch, he became a publican at the Pier Hotel in Kaiapoi.  Oram Place in Kaiapoi is named in his memory.

Hubert (sometimes spelt Hewbert) Oram was the youngest, being born in 1839. It is reported that he made a living mostly as an interior decorator.  But in the Auckland newspaper ‘The Herald’, it appears that he owned the ‘Oram Hotel’ in Dobson Street during the 1880’s. His death year is unknown.

*photo of the Carlton Hotel courtesy of the Canterbury Public Library – – File Reference CCL Photo CD 2, IMG0100
*photo of the City Hotel courtesy of the Canterbury Public Library – – File Reference CCL Photo CD 2, IMG0010
*photo of the Golden Fleece Hotel courtesy of the Canterbury Public Library – – File Reference CCL Photo CD 1, IMG0050
*photo of the Clarendon Hotel courtesy of the Auchland City Council- – ‘Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 35-R309’

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