21 July 2023

Henrietta Bush overcame tragedy to build an 'ornament' to Shellharbour

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Photo of a group of nurses at their graduation, including Henrietta Lewis.

Henrietta Lewis (standing at left) with nursing colleagues at her graduation in the late 1890s. Photos: Discover Shellharbour, Shellharbour City Council.

Henrietta Lewis graduated as a nurse and was working in Fiji as a nanny when she met and married English sailing ship captain Edward Puttnam.

Sadly, Edward died when their daughter, Alice, was three weeks old. Henrietta returned to Australia to continue nursing.

Henrietta later married Walter Bush, a shopkeeper and hotelier from Sydney, and they had a son named Harry. Walter and Henrietta owned hotels in Sydney, Inverell, and Kiama.

Tragedy struck once again and a short time after their marriage, Henrietta lost her second husband. After his death, she decided to build a hotel herself, in Shellharbour.

The Ocean Beach Hotel was built in 1929, at a cost of 8500 pounds.

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The site was purchased from Mr C. Bursill, who lived there in a house built by William Wilson. Wilson purchased the land from T. A. Reddall in 1871.

It was advertised as a new tourist hotel, “an ornament to Shellharbour and South Coast”.

According to the Kiama Independent in 1930: “Facing the drift way with one of the oldest titles in respect of a grant stands the beautiful new building that will certainly place Shellharbour on the map in a tourist sense and gain for it appreciation of one of the prettiest spots on the coast”.

A black and white photo of the Ocean Beach Hotel.

The Ocean Beach Hotel, built by Henrietta Bush in 1929.

The new hotel could accommodate 60 guests and was built to cater to the tourist trade. The rooms were described as both artistic and modern, while the tiled and marble bathrooms had hot and cold reticulated water with the latest in showers and fittings.

The stained-glass windows of the dining room opened to a tiled verandah complete with afternoon tea tables decorated in gold and black.

The Kiama Independent article was glowing in its praise of Ms Bush and the modern new hotel.

“The spirit department has its entrance from the opposite side of the building, and the spacious private and public bars are built over an old and wonderfully constructed cellar, that some 70 years back served the trading needs of the little harbour.

“Its capacious depth needed only shelving and paint to make it a very useful possession in the building. Through it, the refrigeration pipes run that keep drinks so required, icy cold. The fittings are very modern.

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“The staff quarters form a wing beyond the public bar and in lavatories and bathrooms, have a complete equipment of their own.

“The large entrance gates at the main street give a circular drive right round the building, and entering cars are not impeded by those leaving, or vice versa. Six lock-up garages have already been provided, with other accommodation in view.

“Mr and Mrs Clinton Cullen will assist Mrs Bush in the management of her new venture, and her endeavour to bring an added tourist attraction into the district, and in that endeavour she has spared neither thought, trouble or expense, which it is hoped, will be reimbursed in patronage worthy of it. Almost all the accommodation is already booked up for Xmas.”

The hotel was later managed by Henrietta’s son, Harry and his wife Hazel Bush. Henrietta’s daughter Alice, married Charles Clinton Cullen, a farmer from Rose Valley, in 1917. Charles was the mayor of Kiama in the 1920s.

The Ocean Beach Hotel still stands today, providing patrons with beautiful views over the little harbour at the Village.

For more Shellharbour history, visit Discover Shellharbour.

Do you have more information about Henrietta Bush or the Ocean Beach Hotel? Tell us about it at [email protected]

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