A German hotelier in the wrong place at the right time

A German hotelier in the wrong place at the right time
The Queen's Hotel, Queenstown, Ireland by Walter Richards at Woodward's online auction.

WE’VE all become unhappily accustomed to restrictions on our movement. One lot at Woodward’s first-ever online-only auction in Cork next Saturday demonstrates that lockdown comes in many forms, and that there is nothing new about it. 

People can be confined to their own property, then forced to flee in most dramatic circumstances, as happened long ago in Cobh.

Lot 285 at Woodward’s is a detailed painting of the Queen’s Hotel, Queenstown, Ireland (now the Commodore Hotel, Cobh) by Walter Richards. It dates to the first decade of the last century. Around that time the hotel, which first opened in 1854, was taken over by Otto Humbert, a naturalised British subject of German birth. The noted hotelier had electricity and phones installed and an American-style bar on the ground floor.

Fast-forward to May 1915. Survivors of the Lusitania were brought ashore at Cobh. Some were billeted in the Queen’s Hotel. Feelings about the killing of 1,200 civilians aboard a passenger liner torpedoed by a German U-boat ran very high.

Survivors were horrified to discover the proprietor of the hotel was German. The fact that he was blameless, that nothing against him was known, counted for nothing. A mob surrounded the hotel demanding it be burned to the ground.

Otto Humbert and his family were forced to hide in the wine cellar for three days until the rioters dispersed. By then he had prudently decided to leave. He fled from his own hotel and made it to Liverpool. There he boarded a ship bound for New York, a fact reported by The New York Times on May 30, 1915. Many of those who died on the Lusitania are buried at Old Church cemetery in Cobh, just five minutes from the hotel.

The sinking propelled America into the First World War and Queenstown into global war headlines. The painting depicts a much more tranquil, Edwardian-style, harbour-front hotel with attractive red and white awnings. It is estimated at just €400-€500.

A few years earlier, in 1912, some of those who set off on the Titanic spent their last night ashore at this historic hotel with its long history of servicing the liner trade.

Woodward’s will offer 338 lots of antique furniture, fine art, silver and collectibles in an online auction which has already aroused much interest. Auctioneer Tom Woodward reports that he has already received a deluge of inquiries about particular lots.

Recycled and beautifully restored antiques are the ultimate green object which combine years of use with a low carbon footprint. The estates of Fr Michael Lomasney of Castlelyons, Co Cork, and Mrs June Buckley of Shanakiel, Cork, are included and, because it is all online, viewing is whenever it suits you.

More on this topic

Bids arriving from across the globeBids arriving from across the globe

Welcome to the virtual viewing room Welcome to the virtual viewing room

Kurt Cobain's MTV Unplugged guitar expected to fetch $1mKurt Cobain's MTV Unplugged guitar expected to fetch $1m

Antiques: New production line of fakes highlighted at British musueumAntiques: New production line of fakes highlighted at British musueum


More in this Section

Mark Lanegan: Drugs, Liam Gallagher and meMark Lanegan: Drugs, Liam Gallagher and me

Donal Dineen: Pushing the buttons on a new podcastDonal Dineen: Pushing the buttons on a new podcast

Appliance of Science: If a cow sits down does that mean it will rain?Appliance of Science: If a cow sits down does that mean it will rain?

Islands of Ireland: Whiddy in the same boatIslands of Ireland: Whiddy in the same boat


Latest Showbiz

The cast was due to return to filming this summer.Nicola Coughlan reveals how coronavirus has affected third series of Derry Girls

More From The Irish Examiner