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History of The Continental
The Continental Hotel was built in 1875 by Ocean Amphitheatre Co Ltd of which George Coppin was the Managing Director. It is a significant building in the Sorrento landscape and to this day is the only four storey limestone structure in the Southern Hemisphere. It is also of historical importance because of its association with George Coppin whose endeavours were of major contribution to the formation of Sorrento as a major resort town.
The Hon. George Selth Coppin (1819-1906) an actor, entrepreneur and parliamentarian was responsible for much of the development of Sorrento as a tourist destination. He has been remembered as ‘The Father of Sorrento’ and ‘The Father of Australian Theatre’. It is he who in 1870 chartered a paddle steamer to bring a party of city businessmen to Sorrento to introduce them to the developmental prospect of the area. In the early days passengers were transported from the paddle steamers via row boat to shore and then boarded a horse cab. Eventually (approx 1890) a tramway was built from the pier to the back beach. The tram was pulled by horses in the morning and evening and during the peak day times by a steam locomotive. The horse drawn tram’s northern terminus was outside The Continental as there were only passengers beyond this terminus when the steamers arrived. Up to 20,000 passengers per season travelled on the tram and in 1890 there were 30 horse cabs operating in Sorrento. The tram ceased running in 1920. The road surface of Ocean Beach Road was constructed in 1929.
The hotel in its early days was also a ‘General Store’. It also featured other businesses including a hairdresser, pharmacy, Morleys Cash Grocer and a tobacconist. The original licence was granted on 4 September 1875 to Mr John Crawford in the Court of Petty Sessions.
In 1890 the hotel was bought by Mr Isaac Edward Bensilum for £6,000. The original cost of the hotel was £14,000. Late in 1890 a bridge was built across Constitution Hill Road. The bridge connected the main hotel building with ‘The Ballroom’ which was built across the road at 14 Constitution Hill Road in 1904. Bensilum ran the hotel jointly with his wife Nellie. He was also a key figure in the development of Sorrento and also built The Athenaeum in 1894. During the Bensilum period, The Continental Hotel was renowned as one of the best run seaside hotels in the Southern Hemisphere. He sold the hotel around 1913 to T E Hawkins. The bridge survived for another 55 years and was pulled down in 1968.
Owners and Licensees
1875 – 1890 - George Coppin – licensee John Crawford
1890 – 1913 – Isaac Edward Bensilum
1913 – 1921 – T E Hawkins
1921 – 1923 – L Fitzgerald
1923 – 1953 – L De Vine
1953 – 1960? – N & G Fernhead
1960 - 1990 - tbc
1996 - current - Di Pietro Family
We are always on the look out for old photographs of The Continental for our archives. In addition to this if you have any further information about The Continental's previous owners that you would like to share, we would love to add it to this web page. Please email The Continental at