1839-1913 The famous Melbourne caterer Charles Doyl Straker

On three occasions from 1886 to 1888 the Ferguson & Urie stained glass company held a dinner for their employees at the Mechanics Institute at the North Melbourne Town hall.

At each of the dinners a reporter from the North Melbourne Advertiser was an invited guest and chronicled the events. Each one was published in the newspaper and represents a magnificent historic record of the occasions. From my perspective they certainly provided a lot of significant clues which have helped with further research about the company and its employees.

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At the first two dinners in 1886 and 1887, and possibly the third in 1888, the catering was conducted by a fellow referred to as “Mr. C. D. Straker”.

Investigation reveals that he was a well known Colonial Melbourne identity as a publican and caterer who provided the food and liquor in “his well known style” at many significant events all over Victoria for a period of over forty years.

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At the company dinner held at the Mechanics Institute, North Melbourne on the 9th April 1886 the reporter wrote:

“…The menu was of a most elaborate character, and included all the good things common to a well appointed table…”

“…Mr. Urie proposed the health of the caterer (Mr. C. D. Straker) in some very complimentary remarks, which were responded to by Mr. Straker, who stated his intention of shortly erecting a hall of his own where entertainments could be held, and where his patrons would not be tied to time as in other places…” [1]

On the 22nd of June 1887 the Ferguson & Urie stained glass company held the second company dinner at the North Melbourne Mechanics Institute and Straker was again the caterer.

“…On Wednesday  evening about 40 gentlemen sat down to a dinner given by the above firm to their employees. The table was laid out in Mr. Straker’s  well-known style. The Jubilee  time lent an additional éclat  to the proceedings which passed off capitally and the guests of Mr. Urie  heartily enjoyed the firm’s kindness and hospitality…”

On Thursday 15th March 1888 the last known Ferguson & Urie company dinner was again held. Although the previous two occasions had been catered for by Straker, there was no mention of the catering on this occasion and the reporter focussed his attention to the toasts and speeches given by various members and guests. But, it’s probably fair to assume that Straker was again at the helm of the catering for the occasion.

Charles Doyl Straker (c.1839 – 1913). [2]

Charles Doyl Straker was born in Barbados, West Indies, circa 1839 and was the son of Octavius Straker and Margaret Ann Harris. In 1910 it was reported that he had arrived in Victoria aboard the “Indian Queen” on the 1st January 1856 but there is no record of his name amongst the passenger lists so it could be that he was a member of the ships crew.  

He married Julia, nee Cribb, on the 1st March 1860 at the Congregational Church in Collins Street Melbourne and his first venture at being a publican was at the Parkside Hotel on Flemington Road between Harcourt and Blackwood Streets circa 1866-1871.

Other than his love of greyhound coursing events, the prized meetings for publicans and caterers around Melbourne were horse racing meetings. The right to operate publican’s booths and marquees at the races were often auctioned off to the highest bidder at these events and Straker was always there. In the lead up to the 1869 Melbourne Cup, Straker’s Parkside Hotel bid £42 for booth four on the flat at Flemington[3]. The horse “Warrior” was the victor of the Melbourne Cup that year and took home a £1260 winners purse and it’s a fair bet that Straker and his other publican peers made a decent profit on the day as well. His presence at racing events would grow more elaborate every year.

By circa 1871 Straker’s next venture would be the “Three Crowns” Hotel on the corner of King and Victoria Streets West Melbourne.[4] The old building still exists and operates under the same name but it is looking a little worse for wear, which is entirely understandable given that the building is now about a century and a half old.

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In 1873 “The Renown Charles Straker, of the Three Crowns Hotel” advertised his “STRAIGHT TIP” for the up-coming Flemington Melbourne Cup as his “Monster Marquee” which was touted as the major attraction at Flemington. His marquee was reported to be over 200ft in length with a bar that could supply one to ten thousand patrons simultaneously.[5] The real winner in that year was a horse named “Don Juan” but it would be safe to assume that Straker made a considerable fortune on the beverages that passed over that bar on the day!

Over the following years Straker’s name became well known throughout the colony as caterer and publican at all manner of sporting events and social occasions. He had a liking for the Hunt Club races and was well known amongst coursing circles and sponsored and catered for many of those events.

A little public jocularity was certainly a good advertisement for his business especially if it meant getting his name and that of his hotel into the newspapers. In July 1876 Straker and Thomas Arnott competed for a trophy in “Pedestrianism” in Royal Park. Despite Straker being the favourite, Arnott won the event.

“PEDESTRIANISM. A private pedestrian match came off on Monday last between a local celebrity and a gentleman of high renown in coursing circles, namely, Mr. Charles Straker, of the Three Crowns Hotel, West Melbourne, and Mr. Thomas Arnott, of 14 Errol-street, Hotham, for a trophy. The match came off in the Royal Park, the distance being 100 yards, the latter proving victorious, which was a great surprise to the backers of the former, as he was considered the favourite, even at starting. Time – 12 seconds.”[6]

In July 1880 Straker provided a monetary prize and a Silver tea service for the winner of an event that he was sponsoring, “The Three Crowns Stakes,” at the Kensington Park Rabbit Coursing[7] and in May of 1882 he provided a trophy to the value of £5-5s for one of the events held at the “The United Fire Brigades Demonstration” [8]. Probably his biggest coup for 1882 came a couple of months later where the National Agricultural Society of Victoria awarded him the sole right to cater for the Intercolonial Ploughing Match to be held at the Chirnside’s Werribee Park Estate on the 26th & 27th July 1882.[9] [10] The event was hampered by bad weather but was still attended by about 3,000 people. On the second day of the competition the grand luncheon which he provided was attended by many politicians and dignitaries including Governor of Victoria[11].

Like many other publicans who sought to stretch the law when it came to Sunday trading, Straker and four other publicans were fined 20s at the city court in March 1883 for their deliberate ignorance of the Sunday trading law. [12] It certainly didn’t affect his long standing reputation as the best caterer in the colony and he was rewarded yet again in July 1884 when the Victorian Racing Club at Flemington awarded various catering contracts for a period of three years. Straker’s Three Crowns Hotel tendered for and won the much sought after contract for the luncheon rooms and all the bars at Flemington, with the exception of the saddling paddock.  [13]

In late 1887 Straker became the proprietor of the Clement’s Hotel & Café in Swanston Street, Melbourne[14]. The building had been opened by the Mayor of Melbourne in 1874[15] and was in close proximity to the Prince of Wales Opera House (later the Tivoli Theatre) and it provided him a ready stream of patrons from high society[16]. He made considerable renovations throughout to align its appeal to the gentry, by fitting out two substantial rooms exclusively for the ladies and ice creams were served in the warmer months. The “sterner” sex, as they were referred to, were also well catered for by the addition of a new “Circular” bar with an adjoining smoking and lounge room and new lavatories were installed throughout. The former proprietor, T. Clements, also had considerable catering equipment on the premises and with that now combined with Straker’s substantial equipment, it was now valued at over £12,000 and gained him the notoriety of possessing;

“…the largest catering plant in the Southern Hemisphere…”

“A walk through the store rooms at the rear of the café, in company with Mr. Straker, is quite bewildering. On the shelves, ranged on my right, there are 20,000 plates, in endless variety of pattern, while on the left, tier upon tier of chinaware is stored, and it is difficult for the spectator to believe that he is not in a wholesale china hall…” 

“…It only remains to be added that Mr. Straker is now enabled to undertake any catering for balls, parties, banquets, racing, coursing, cricketing, football or acquatic [sic] meetings, and that he is prepared to hire out all requisites for catering.”[17]

When the Victorian railway opened from Melbourne to Kilmore in late 1888, Straker was there again to play his part in history by catering for the event which was held in the Odd Fellows Hall at Kilmore. On Monday the 1st of October 1888 a special train from Melbourne was dispatched to Kilmore to mark the event but, unfortunately it only embarrassed itself:-

“The train was timed to reach Kilmore at 1:18 p.m. but it was an hour late owing, we believe to one or two causes – want of good coal and an unsuitable or incapable engine…” [18]

In 1893 Straker dissolved his interests in the Clements Café in favour of joining his son Alfred at the Glenferrie Hotel at Hawthorn on the East side of Melbourne. The original owner of the Glenferrie, John Ormond, built the Hotel & Coffee Palace in 1888 on the site of the former home of literary legend Henry Handel Richardson. Ormond advertised the hotel for lease in January of 1893 and Straker’s son Alfred became lessee. After Alfred’s decision to move to Warragul in 1904, Charles took over the lease. Amazingly, just like his former Three Crowns Hotel in North Melbourne, this magnificent old building still exists and has recently been refurbished complete with period decorations and a magnificent four sided antique carved wooden bar replete with antique clock faces.

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The 1st of March 1910 marked a significant occasion in Hawthorn. Charles Doyl Straker and his wife Julia (nee Cribb) celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary at the Hawthorne Town Hall[19]. An estimated 350 guests attended which included many Councillors and Mayors of the surrounding municipalities as well as hundreds of other influential citizens, business associates and friends from all over Victoria and surrounding colonies. It was described as “…one of the most unique functions ever held there…”

straker-06This was certainly a grand affair and nothing of such a scale had been seen in Hawthorn for many years. A photographer from the studios of Talma & Co of Swanston Street Melbourne succeeded in performing the most difficult task of taking a “Flash” photograph of almost the entire assembly of guests. The photo was taken from the town hall stage looking down over the guests assembled on the hall floor below, with the Straker’s and their family in prominent positions at the front. The historic photograph was published on page 30 of the “Punch” tabloid on Thursday 17th March 1910. [20]

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In the absence of the Hon John Murray, then Premier of Victoria, George Swinburne M.L.A. delivered the speech to the Straker’s and the assembled guests:-

“To Mr. and Mrs. Charles Doyle Straker.- On completion of fifty years of your married life, your friends have arranged to present you with a memento as a token of their high respect and esteem. We most heartily congratulate you both on this occasion of the celebration of your gold wedding, and sincerely wish you many more years of conjugal happiness, and trust you may continue to take part in the social life of Hawthorn for many days to come. 1st March 1910.” Mr. Swinburne then presented Mrs. Straker with a purse weighted with gold, and Mr. Straker with a gold sovereign case, also filled with gold…”  [21]

On Saturday the 6th of December 1913, Charles Doyl Straker died at his home “Woonooke” at 152 Riversdale Road, Hawthorne. He was 74 years old and had been a colonist of 57 years [22]. His wife Julia died the following year on the 31st March 1914 [23].

Charles & Julia are buried in Melbourne General Cemetery with two of their infant children, Ada Louiza and Albert Henry, who both died on the same day, 26th October 1875.

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The Straker’s had four surviving sons, two of whom carried on in the catering business; another was a publican at South Melbourne. Alfred Herbert was lessee of the railway refreshments rooms at Warragul in Gippsland. There were also two surviving daughters and six grandchildren.

In October 1917, the Glenferrie Hotel in Hawthorn became the site of the largest ever catering plant auction in the Commonwealth of Australia. The entire catering equipment of the late Charles Doyl Straker, described thirty years earlier as being the largest in the southern hemisphere, was put up for auction. The enormous stock, consisting of marquees, thousands of pieces of chinaware, cutlery, napery, steam boilers, field kitchens, vans, harnesses and every other imaginable item that could be required for catering on a massive scale, would be dispersed across the colonies and his legendary status as the famous colonial caterer would be relegated to history. [24]

Footnotes:

[1] The North Melbourne Advertiser, Friday 16th April 1886, page 3.

[2] Although some tabloid reports and documents spell his middle name as “Doyle” with an “e”, his grave stone has it spelt “Doyl” as well as on their marriage certificate in 1860 and his last will and testament dated November 1913 deliberately has the “e” struck out.

[3] Weekly Times, Melbourne, Vic, Saturday 30th October 1869, page 4.

[4] Williamstown Chronicle, Vic, Saturday 1st April 1871, page 1.

[5] The Age, Melbourne, Vic, Friday 31st October 1873, page 8.

[6] North Melbourne Advertiser, Vic, Friday 21st July 1876, page 2.

[7] The Age, Melbourne, Vic, Saturday 31st July 1880, page 6.

[8] The Ballarat Star, Vic, Thursday 18th May 1882, page 4.

[9] Sportsman, Melbourne, Vic, Wednesday 19th July 1882, page 3

[10] The Bacchus Marsh Express, Vic, Saturday 15th  July 1882, page 3.

[11] George Augustus Constantine Phipps, 2nd Marquess of Normanby GCB GCMG   PC (1819–1890)

[12] The Age, Melbourne, Vic, Wednesday 14th March 1883, page 6.

[13] The Age, Melbourne, Vic, Saturday 5th July 1884, page 11.

[14] Table Talk, Melbourne, Vic, Friday 14th October 1887, page 12.

[15] Weekly Times, Melbourne, Vic, Saturday 1st August 1874, page 13.

[16] Before the renumbering of Melbourne’s Streets in the late 1880’s, Clements Hotel & Cafe was at 56-58 Swanston Street and after the renumbering addressed at 158-164.

[17] Table Talk, Melbourne, Vic, Friday 14th October 1887, page 12.

[18] Kilmore Free Press, Vic, Thursday 4th October 1888, page 4.

[19] Reporter, Box Hill, Vic, Friday 4th march 1910, page 7.

[20] Punch, Melbourne, Vic, Thursday 17th March 1910, page 30.

[21] Punch, Melbourne, Vic, Thursday 17th March 1910, page 31.

[22] The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Monday 8th December 1913, page 1.

[23] The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Saturday 4th April 1914, page 11.

[24] The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Saturday 13th October 1917, page 2.

 


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4 comments on “1839-1913 The famous Melbourne caterer Charles Doyl Straker

    • Thanks Liz,

      Been piecing that one together since January. Only regret is culling down all that research work down to a mere fraction of what was found. You have to be cruel to be kind as they say.

      Ray

  1. Hi Ray and thanks for this absorbing post. Maybe a menu of one of these lavish Ferguson & Urie dinners will pop up out of the blue!
    Kind regards
    Janice

    • Hi Janice,

      An original F&U dinner menu from one of those events would be a great find eh! I have looked at and done some research on the kind of things to be expected at a colonial dinner table in Melbourne and it’s too wide and varied to make comment on. Suffice to say that I was very surprised as generally my thoughts were the boring mutton and mashed spud stuff but they had a magnificent fare of every imaginable delicacy. In the late 1800’s they even had Oyster bars in Melbourne!

      Ray

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