top of page

He built the first hotel on an iconic resort island

Robert Hayles Senior has been credited with the development of Magnetic Island, but he experienced many tribulations before he got to that point.

Robert came to Australia from England when he was only 18 years of age. He had been born in Pimlico, London in 1843. He landed in Brisbane and made his way to Ipswich where he had found a job on Bungewogorai Station, where he got plenty of experience working with sheep.

At one point, the owner of Bungewogorai took up Nive Downs on Upper Warrego, one of the most outlying stations in the state of the day, and Robert was sent there to look after one section called Rocky Waterholes. For a whole month he didn't see a single human and he was remembered as saying it was the loveliest month of his life.

One night at midnight, he heard his name called and it was the station manager's, Mr Cadman's voice, who told him to roll up his swag and go back with him, abandoning the sheep he was looking after. A shepherd between Robert and the main station had been killed by a local Indigenous mob. When they got back to the station, the same mob had them surrounded until native police were able to come.

Gold fever had spread and Robert was not immune, so he left station work and bought into a number of mines, with varying degrees of success. Along the way he bought and sold stores and hotels, including the O.K. which he moved from Rishton to Charters Towers at the corner of Townsville and Millchester roads. Beside the O.K. Robert also built the very first hand ball court in the north.

The Magnetic Hotel in 1906. Courtesy Citylibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

It was ill health that forced him to travel to the coast, and after visiting a friend at Picnic Bay, Magnetic Island his keen business mind saw the potential. In 1899, he bought four and a half acres in Picnic Bay and erected the first hotel, to draw in the tourists and holiday-makers. Sadly the hotel burnt down in 1915.

He applied to build a jetty in 1900, so the steamers he purchased to connect the island with Townsville, would have a safe place to land, His second hotel was built in 1910. Then in 1919 he took over the Arcadia guest house.

The burial site of Robert Hayles on Magnetic Island. Photo Samantha Elley

His sons continued on his work. It was in 1926 that Robert suffered a stroke and died and is buried on Magnetic Island in the little cemetery. He had been married twice and left behind 11 children.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page