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Couple came to take the reigns

In the second of an occasional series, GARETH WINTER traces the history of Masterton’s original hotel, from construction in the 1870s to its demise in the 1950s.

John Edward Thompson took over John Tuck’s Family Hotel in 1873, following the licensing magistrate’s refusal to renew Tuck’s license. Thompson was already well-known as a publican in Wellington, having arrived in New Zealand in 1865 with his wife Agnes Dellwood.

There is some confusion about the exact state of the marriage, as no record of it has been found, and some of Agnes’s children used Dellwood as a surname. What is known is that Thompson was a negro seaman, who had lived in various Australian colonies. Agnes was Scottish-born and settled in Australia in 1842. She had three children who survived until adulthood, known as both Thompson and Dellwood.

According to her obituary, she and John Thompson ran hotels in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide. He was certainly charged with being involved in a burglary in Adelaide in 1854, although the charge was later dropped.

When they came to Wellington, they took over the license of the Freemason’s Hotel, then moved to the Prince of Wales in Grey Street. They came to Masterton in 1873, bringing the royal name with them to John Tuck’s Family Hotel.

John Thompson was a popular custodian of the hotel, involved in the local fire brigade and a prominent member of the local Masonic Lodge. The hotel was well-conducted and there were no issues when it came to his license renewal. A correspondent of the Wairarapa Daily thought so highly of Thompson that he suggested that many electors would be glad if Thompson would agree to stand for council as he was “in every way fitted to fill the position.”

The only hint of controversy during his tenure was the dispute he had with the lessees of the stables attached to the hotel – Neill and Crockery. In the end, it took a court case to solve the issue, as the stables had been let to William Hastwell. The result was that Thompson took the stables over on his own account.

The unmistakable profile of John Edward Thompson.

In 1881 he retired from the business and erected a new house at Kuripuni. The license for the Prince of Wales was passed to Thomas Wagg. Thompson’s retirement was to be short – he died the following year. His obituary stressed that he was a “capable and excellent landlord”, and mentioned his membership of the Thistle Lodge.

The family connection to the hospitality industry continued through his son Thomas Dellwood Thompson, who was running the Tauweru Hotel at the time of his father’s death. The following year he took up the lease on the ‘Empire Hotel’ in Masterton where he stayed until 1896.

His mother Agnes, who had been assisting him in the Empire, returned to the Prince of Wales in March of 1891, remaining as the hostess until early 1894, when John Tucker [whose name oddly echoed the original proprietor John Tuck] took over.

Agnes Thompson underwent an operation to remove a large tumour days after handing over the hotel. She recovered and retired to her son Thomas’s farm at Opaki, but the following year suffered a stroke and died. The Wairarapa Daily said she “was held in great esteem and respect for her straightforward, plain-dealing, yet withal kindly ways” and the Evening Post said; “Her death is very much regretted, as she was a good woman.”

Her son Thomas leased out the Empire in 1896, but by 1898 was back in the hospitality game, operating the Tīnui Hotel, staying there until 1900, when he came back to Masterton and opened a dining room.

He was then struck with a string of tragedies. His son Robert Dellwood Thompson died in October 1905, just 35, and then his daughter Isabella [Dolly] Mandel died the following year, aged 36. Two years later, in 1908, his wife died from consumption, and then the following year he died. The Daily said, “a kindlier man could not have been found. Everybody liked him.”

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