Con-Trick and Assaults: ASN Hotel (1891–1984)

A pub stood on the south corner of Argyle and George Streets from 1839 to 1984. Originally known as the New York Hotel, the building was demolished and rebuilt as the ASN in 1891, with the grand structure that still stands today.

1891 - 1984

The New York Hotel had operated on the corner of George and Argyle Streets, opposite the Orient, since 1839. By 1891, the license had relocated to the south along George Street, and a new building with a new name replaced it. The new pub was known as the ASN, after the local shipping company the Australasian Steam Navigation Company which occupied monumental offices and warehouses still standing on the corner of George Street and Hickson Road.

In 1902, a pair of confident tricksters robbed licensee John O’Flaherty in an elaborate ploy. Two well-dressed men checked in separately. The next day one complained his room was too noisy because of passing trams, and asked to be moved – which meant he had to share with the other stranger,

Next night saw the two lodgers occupying the same apartment, and before long loud groans were heard in the direction of the room. The licensee sprang out of bed, and rushed into the room, only to find one of the occupants rolling about the bed apparently in fearful agony. 'He seems to be suffering from cramp,' suggested the other man. 'Brandy, brandy,' yelled the sufferer. Thinking the man was in pain, the licensee hurried to the bar and returned with some brandy. This the man drank, and speedily recovered. Then the landlord went back to his room, when he discovered that a bag containing £40 had been taken from underneath his pillow. He returned immediately to interview his visitors, but to his surprise they, like the money, were missing. Sergeant Carson and Constable Mackie have since made an arrest, and the men will probably be charged at the Water Police Court tomorrow. (Evening News, 25 Mar 1902)

John Gearin was subsequently arrested and charged but was released due to insufficient evidence. The second man was never found. Gearin, a clerk visiting Sydney from Brisbane, denied the charge saying he had never stayed at the ASN, and then attempted to sue O’Flaherty for £500 due to the loss of business and damage to reputation he had suffered as a result. The jury found in favour of O’Flaherty.

The next year, O’Flaherty sold the license to a solicitor, Harvey Taft who kept it until 1916. Harvey (1858–1926) was born in Sydney to an American father, Silas Taft (1825–65) and his Irish-born wife Winnifred McNamara (1829–1914). Through his father Harvey was cousin to William Howard Taft, President of the USA 1909–13. According to family tradition, the ASN Hotel also served as the American Consulate during Harvey’s tenure.

ASN Hotel, 1911
The Taft family standing outside the ASN Hotel around 1911. The former pub looks much the same today.

The Rocks was still considered a rough neighbourhood in 1904, when Harvey’s wife Jane was assaulted by a drunken sailor, whom she had refused to serve. He punched her in the face, knocking her down, and then tried to kick her as she lay on the floor. For this Edwin Bennet was tried and fined £3.

In 1907, another brawl at the ASN, so close to the wharves, hints at the strong feelings about unionism. A 60-year-old tailor, John Andrew Hanson, was having a drink, in the late afternoon, when two younger men came in and said to him ‘You are a pimp for the steamship-owners and stevedores’. They were Charles Johnson, 42, a coal-lumper, and Jack Mitchell, 25, a seaman. As Hanson was leaving the front door Johnson struck him in the mouth, and made signals to his companions, and Mitchell kicked him severely. Both these men quickly apprehended and taken to the nearby No. 4 Police Station and charged.

In court, Hanson claimed that ‘he gave no provocation, and was in no way associated with the coal-lumping business or the existing strike. He was a peaceful man and was too old to look for trouble’. (Evening News 25 May 1907, p8). Taft’s daughter Evelyn stated in court that neither of the accused were the men who had assaulted Hanson, and the case was eventually dismissed.

Share your story
Share your story

Do you have a story to tell? Did someone you know live in The Rocks? Or perhaps you have some interesting images or objects to share?

We welcome you to tell your story and add to the rich history of The Rocks. If you would like to take part, please send us your story.

Contact us