William Conn

In the late 19th century, William Conn was the owner of one of the finest commercial establishments in Lambton. Conn was born in Durham (UK) in 1841 and emigrated to Australia with his parents in 1864, initially working at a mine in Hamilton before opening a store in Lambton.

This month’s photo by Ralph Snowball shows William standing by the front door of his large grocery and produce store on the north west corner of Elder and Morehead streets. At his side is one of his daughters, while upstairs on the balcony is his wife Sophia with their four other children.

While the ground floor was devoted to commerce, upstairs was the family residence and a large room capable of seating 200 people. This “Temperance Hall” was used in the campaign against the social ills of alcohol. Many other community gatherings, political meetings, church anniversary teas and public lectures were held in the hall.

The grand appearance of this building with its veranda’s and colonnades was no accident, for it was designed in 1885 by a young up and coming architect Frederick B Menkens, who would go on to design some of the city’s iconic buildings such as the Mechanics Institute in Hamilton and the Earp, Gillam & Co Bond Store in Newcastle East.

Unfortunately, the prosperity of William Conn captured in Snowball’s photo evaporated in the late 1890s with a series of bad financial investments. “In one undertaking, which was regarded as safe as a bank he lost upwards of £300.” In 1900 he was forced to sell off his business and depart the district. He had been an enduring contributor to civic life, serving 7 years as an alderman on Lambton Council, including two years as Mayor.

The hall William built continued to be used for many decades, and was variously known as Bell’s Hall, Empire Hall, and Tiplady’s Hall. After residing in Wallsend for about 20 years, William Conn died on 2 June 1921 and was buried in Sandgate cemetery.

William Conn’s store, residence, and hall, circa 1888. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle. Cultural Collections.
The same location in 2020.

The article above was first published in the May 2020 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

The date of Snowball’s Photo

Ralph Snowball’s photos of Conn’s store in the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections (photo 1, photo 2) are undated. However an approximate date can be gleaned from the following information.

  • Conn’s “Temperance Hall” is mentioned in Trove in a very defined and narrow window of 1886 to 1892.
  • The start date of 1886 is consistent with the call for tenders for alterations and additions to the building in October 1885 and Conn asking Council for permission to store building materials on the footpath in Elder St in March 1886.
  • The signs on the front of the store do not look brand new – there is a bit of weathering, so I’d suggest that the photo is a few years after 1886.
  • Elder St originally had quite a deep stormwater gutter running along the north kerb of the street. This can clearly be seen in the photo’s of Conn’s store.

    Elder St gutter before 1888.


    In January 1888 Lambton Council called for tenders for an underground culvert in Elder St, that was “to be constructed under the present gutter on the north side of the street“. This work was in progress by April 1888. After the underground culvert was constructed, aboveground the street had an ordinary sized gutter as seen in this 1901 photo. (Note that the 1890 date in the caption of this photo on the UoN site is incorrect – the correct date is 16 Nov 1901. This date is corroborated by searches in Trove that show references to “Bell’s Hall” in Lambton only from 1900, the year that Conn sold his premises and departed Lambton.)

    Elder St gutter in 1901.

The evidence of the gutter and culvert construction indicate that the photos of Conn’s store must be before April 1888. Combined with the evidence of the weathering of the signs, I think the most likely date for the photo is either 1887 or early 1888.

We know that Conn’s eldest child Ella was born in 1876, and his youngest child Cyril was born in 1883. If the photo was taken in 1888, Ella would have been about 12 years, and Cyril about 5 years of age, and this is consistent with the children we see in the photo.

Later history of the site

By August 1900 the site was owned by E Bell and Snowball photographed the building on 16 November 1901.

E. Bell Shoe and Boot Depot, 16 November 1901. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

The following year “Bell’s Hall” was the venue for a banquet to celebrate the return of Albert Henry McEwan from the Boer War.

14 April 1902 – A decorated Elder St in readiness for the torchlight parade and banquet in Bell’s Hall to honour Lieutenant McEwan later that evening. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

By 1905, the site hosted E D’Este Boots and Shoes, and Snowball photographed the building on 8 September 1905.

D’Este Boots and Shoes. Newcastle Library, Hunter Photobank.

Note that the hall upstairs has now been name the “Empire Hall”.

By December 1909 the assembly room was known as “Mr. Tiplady’s hall”, and references to Tiplady’s Hall continue in Trove up until November 1937.

Additional Biographical Details

On 3 November 1894, the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate published and article “Our Civic Fathers. The Mayor of Lambton” in which they profiled Alderman William Conn.

Alderman William Conn, the present Mayor of the municipality of Lambton, is a native of the County of Durham, in England. He is now 53 years of age, and came to the colony with his parents in 1864. Shortly after his arrival he settled in this district, and has resided here ever since. In 1873 Alderman Conn was married, and he now has a family of five children.

(Note that the article is in error in stating that he was first elected to Hamilton Council – it was Lambton Council he was elected to in 1878.)

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
22 Jul 1871First mention in Trove of William Conn in Lambton.
29 Aug 1871William Conn unsuccessfully applies for position of Town Clerk in the first Lambton Municpal Council.
6 Feb 1878
5 Feb 1878
"Mr William Conn, storekeeper, Elder-street, " nominates for election as alderman in Lambton Council.
12 Feb 1878
9 Feb 1878
William Conn first elected to Lambton Council.
16 Aug 1880"I notice that our enterprising townsman Mr. W. Conn has been making considerable additions to his business premises in Elder-street. The front of the shop has been altered and made more attraction. A new wing has been added fronting Morehead-street, and also a spacious colonnade and balcony over the footpath in this street. The store has been greatly enlarged by these improvements, and Mr. Conn's customers have now the advantage of being able to enter the promises from either of the abovenamed streets."
17 Oct 1885"TENDERS are hereby invited for the erection and completion of ALTERATIONS AND ADDITIONS (Shopfronts, Colonades, etc.) to business premises for William Conn, Esq., Lambton.
FREDK. B. MENKENS, Architect."
10 Jul 1886First mention of "Conn's Hall".
23 Jul 1890The valuation of William Conn's allotment 849 on the Commonage is appealed. (Lot 849 is 22A Morehead St.)
6 May 1892Last mention of "Conn's Temperance Hall".
19 Jul 1892Willima Conn nominated as a candidate for a director of the Burwood Coal Company.
23 Nov 1892William Conn's auctioneers' license renewed.
6 Jan 1893William Conn elected chairman of the Lambton Business Men's Association. One of the activities of the association was to maintain a list of customers who were racking up too much credit amongst the retailers, and thus only accept cash transactions from them.
16 Dec 1893William Conn announces that he will contest the seat of Waratah at the upcoming state election.
24 Jul 1894
22 Jul 1894
Death of Michael Conn, father of Alderman William Conn.
3 Nov 1894Biographical profile of Alderman William Conn - "Our Civic Fathers. The Mayor of Lambton."
21 May 1896
19 May 1896
William Conn resigns as an alderman from Lambton Council. There is a bit of acriminony in the council meeting when Alderman Burg and Middlemas opposed a vote of thanks to Alderman Conn, with Burg stating that "the arrears had accumulated so much during Alderman Conn's terms as Mayor he thought it would have been better for the municipality if Alderman Conn had never entered the council."
30 Jan 1900
29 Jan 1900
Committee formed to organise a send-off for William Conn.
30 Jan 1900Advertisement for sale "In the Assigned Estate of W. Conn, Lambton. Freehold Property, Lambton, And Small Stock of Groceries, &c., Spring Van, Horse, Harness, and Sulky, 2 Sets of Avery Scales, Counter Scales, and Sundries. Those centrally situated Business Premises, situate on the corner of Elder and Morehead streets, comprising Four Shops on the ground floor, large Public Hall and Commodious Residence on the first floor, the whole being surrounded by an imposing Colonnade 12ft wide."
3 Feb 1900Advertisement for sale of Conn's properties near Warath railway station. "IN THE ESTATE OF W. CONN. By Order of the Trustees. WARATAH. 2 allotments fronting Hanbury and York streets, containing 40 perches."
17 Mar 1900Farewell presentation to William Conn. "… although now under a gloom caused by losses, he was not yet despondent … There had been a time during his residence at Lambton when he could say he had full and plenty; it was not so now, unfortunately."
24 Mar 1900
4 Apr 1900
Advertisement: "Mortgagees' Sale. On Wednesday, April 4th. FREEHOLDS, LAMBTON.
ELDER & MOREHEAD ST., known as Conn's Property, comprising Four Shops on the ground floor, Public Hall and Residence on the first floor, together with outbuildings."
13 Aug 1900First mention of Bell's Hall in Trove: "In future the [Rosebud] lodge will hold its meetings in Mr. Bell's Hall."
23 Jun 1905Last mention of "Bell's Hall" in Trove.
10 Dec 1909First mention in Trove of "Mr. Tiplady's hall".
1 Jun 1914Last mention of Empire Hall in Trove" "A banquet was held later in the Empire Hall ..."
27 Aug 1920
25 Aug 1920
"On the occasion of his leaving Wallsend to take up residence in Sydney, Mr. William Conn was entertained by the parishioners of St. Luke's Church of England at a valedictory social gathering in the parish hall on Wednesday evening."
3 Jun 1921
2 Jun 1921
"The death occurred yesterday of Mr. William Conn. Deceased, who was eighty years of age, had been resident of the Lambton and Wallsend districts for many years, and had been a prominent lay member of the Newcastle Anglican Synod, where he regularly took a firm stand regarding the liquor question."
4 Jun 1921
2 Jun 1921
"Mr. William Conn, who died on Thursday, lived in Lambton for many years prior to removing to Wallsend. He conducted a business in Elder-street, and also a produce store near the railway station, Waratah. He took an active part in all public matters, and was for a number of years an alderman of the council, in which he filled the Mayoral chair for the years 1894, and 1895. He was also a devoted member of the Lambton Church of England, and was the representative at the Synod on many occasions."
6 Jun 1921"The late Mr. William Conn was a highly-esteemed resident of Wallsend for about 20 years. Deceased was a zealous member of Saint Luke's Church... He first served as a lay representative to synod when living in Lambton... and as such had completed 30 years' office. He was prominent in many deliberations at synod, and fearlessly gave expression to his convictions... He had also performed splendid service as a lay reader, and was a strong advocate of the temperance cause."
10 Nov 1937Last mention in Trove of "Tiplady's Hall".

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