Between 1866 and 1899 the Patea and Wanganui hotel was a changing institution that dominated social, economic and political spheres. At its heart, the hotel was an arena for social debate and social interaction, usually among men. It has been contended that the hotel is a 'legal creation' in that laws ensured hotels provided certain services during specified hours, and punished any transgressors.
Conrad Saunders, Social Stigma: the Lower Grade Worker in Service Organisations, England: Gower Publishing Company Ltd., 1981, p.91. Defined as public houses, their legal definition barely changed over the period under review, but the services that a hotel offered were regularly amended to take account of social pressures. While this notion of the hotel as legal creation may have informed much of the political debate and regulatory framework of the late nineteenth century, the hotel was a symbol of freedom from hard work, family constraints, boredom, long hours of travel, the physical difficulties of frontier life and political and social elites pushing for moral and social change. The hotel was also the accepted place to drink, and where liquor debates occurred, they usually centred on the hotel. Historians suggest that these elements were common in hotels throughout colonial New Zealand, Australia and USA, with links back to sixteenth century England and to previous Roman times. The nineteenth century hotel was also a gentleman's club for the working class. There, men could relax in warmth and relative comfort to share stories and news in the company of friends and strangers. During the nineteenth century views of the hotel underwent several changes at the hands of politicians and social commentators. However, it continued to serve the same basic functions, as provider of accommodation, entertainment and environment for social and political interaction.