The Peanut King at the Brass Monkey

Given enough monkeys one of the will produce a hotel

Given enough monkeys one of them will eventually produce the plans for a hotel along with the complete works of Shakespeare

The Great Western Hotel (now the Brass Monkey) was designed in 1896 by Michael Cavanagh, who had arrived in Perth from Adelaide only the year before. He is mostly famous for his numerous buildings constructed for the Catholic Church.

His work includes Mercedes Colleges, St. Brigid’s Convent and the Redemptorist Monastery. However, he doesn’t appear to have put a lot of work into the Great Western, simply recycling his plans for the Barrier Hotel in Port Pirie, SA, which he designed in 1892.

In November 1913, William Urquhart was enjoying a drink in the Great Western with a friend. It was Urquhart’s shout, so he pulled out a purse. As he did so, a number of coins fell to the floor.

But others had entered the bar: William Proleta, McGaskiell and William Williams, locally known as ‘The Peanut King’. As Urquhart picked up the cash, Proleta said “That’s my half-sovereign, mate.” Then he grabbed the purse and punched Urquhart in the face.

Urquhart fell, but recovered in a few seconds. Rising from the floor, he ran to summon the police. Strangely, Proleta kept calmly drinking in the bar.

When Constable Molloy accused Proleta of robbery, the young labourer replied, “I —– didn’t rob him; I don’t know him.” He was searched, but only small change was found in his pocket.

While being arrested, Proleta struggled and was thrown to the ground. His hat fell off, and a sovereign and two half-sovereigns tumbled out. The Peanut King also turned out to have unexplained cash on him.

As a strange footnote, in another court case featuring The Peanut King, he denied his wife was known as The Cocoanut Queen. Nicknames were certainly different in the 1910s.

The war over the memorial


As state war memorials go, WA’s is pitiful. The first meeting to kick off the project—in February 1924—was a sign it was always going to be a calamity.

The Premier, Sir James Mitchell, chaired a meeting of mayors and architects. The intention was to discuss a location for the Memorial.

Architect Michael Cavanagh proposed that the Government should subsidise any memorial, but Sir James sneered at the suggestion. It was for local government and the people to fund it, he said.

The Mayor of Subiaco, Roland Robinson, told a sad story of how the residents of Subiaco had failed to donate enough money to build their memorial, so the council had to subsidise it. He was very sceptical that anyone would give for a state monument.

Robert Bracks, Mayor of North Fremantle, agreed. No one would give to a Perth-based erection. In any case, King’s Park was an awful idea for a proposed location, since it was in danger of becoming nothing more than a “glorified cemetery.” Shouting broke out and the Premier had to repeatedly bang on the table to restore order.

The Mayor of Fremantle seconded his neighbour, and declared there could only be one realistic location for a state memorial: Monument Hill in (ahem) Fremantle. He was never going to put his money into the city of Perth. And would the Premier like to have a look at Freo’s plans for a memorial? The Premier did not care to do so.

William Berryman, a former Subiaco mayor, had no interest in monuments. We need hospitals he said, not pointless memorials. This made Michael Cavanagh cross, and he mocked the erection of “maternity hospitals” to commemorate the dead. A row then broke out between the architect and the Colonial Secretary, who apparently did like maternity hospitals.

South Perth’s William Reid also wanted to boycott a monument in Perth. Somewhat imaginatively he proposed a war museum, with an inner shrine containing the body of an unknown Australian soldier. Or perhaps the money could be used for a ‘Hall of Industry’, where the State’s products could be exhibited.

No one listened to the dissenting voices and it was decided that King’s Park would be the location, with no Government money made available.

The subsequent outcome was predictable from the start.

h/t Museum of Perth