Saturday, 14 January 2012

In the bowels of the Bridge: a Brisbane haunting lost to progress...

Story Bridge plan in the Courier Mail, published on the 3rd May 1935, p.14.

Last week we visited Brisbane's iconic Story Bridge, inspired by an incredibly poor rendition of its history published in Haunted Brisbane: Ghosts of the River City.  In the article, we exposed numerous historic inaccuracies printed in the book, a fair critique given the self-professed "historian" status proclaimed by the author...however, we were very light on information about the ghostly heritage of the site overall.   During the week, we realised we had an opportunity to give a little factual supernatural heritage back to the residents of Brisbane, when Sean, a fan of the Haunts of Brisbane, commented on the article via our Facebook page.  Sean posed a very valid question regarding the early construction period of the Bridge - "Does anyone have any info on the houses that were moved to make way for the Story Bridge?  I live in one and it has alot of activity here."  Being aware of a known haunting in the vicinity, & with the Story Bridge's construction still in mind, I decided to dig a little deeper...

At the earliest point of European settlement, during Moreton Bay Penal Settlement's absolute infancy, the entire peninsula back past current Vulture Street was a mix of heavily forested highland surrounded by swampy lowland draining into the Brisbane River.  Suitable land was quickly cleared in the area on which the Story Bridge now rests for maize & wheat crops to feed the incarcerated souls & their overseers, increasing the yield of similar fields which sat across the river where QUT's Garden Point Campus now resides (hence the name Garden Point).  At the same time, the Kangaroo Point cliffs (which are also iconic in Brisbane) were quarried for stone, in order to build the fledgling colony.  Quickly after the Colony was opened for free settlement, huts sprang up around Kangaroo Point - the murder of cedar getter Robert Cox, which has taken on folkloric status in the history of Brisbane, occurred where the Story Bridge now resides in 1848 - a story which will play a cameo in next week's Haunts of Brisbane article.

By the 1880's, Kangaroo Point was littered with stately homes, the preceding 20 years having seen massive economic expansion in Brisbane due to the influx of immigrants from England & Sydney with money to burn - those of political power & social note took advantage of the land placed on offer, & constructed what literally would have been mansions to the many less fortunate residents across the river in the steadily growing city.  Gilbert Elliott, first Speaker of the Queensland Legislative Assembly, had owned a house here....in time, ownership of the property passed to Captain John Mackay, the explorer who discovered the area on which the city of Mackay now stands.  Next door stood the house of Robert Porter, Brisbane alderman & one-time Mayor,  responsible for the construction of the original Victoria Bridge sadly destroyed in the floods of 1893.  James Warner had also lived here, the colonial surveyor who mapped Brisbane & its surrounds - early in Brisbane's history, he had cleared a mountain on Brisbane's outskirts of all but one tree for a trigonometrical station...that mountain became known as One Tree Hill, & in turn Mt Coot-tha.  Nearby lived Thomas Lodge Murray-Prior (Member of the Upper House & Queensland Postmaster-General), William Thornton (Member of the Queensland Legislative Council & Collector of Customs), William Henry George Marshall (long-standing Brisbane Town Clerk)...the list goes on.

However, by the 1930's, many of these stately homes had already been demolished in the name of progress - those that still stood had been enveloped by cottages & boarding houses as the population of Brisbane expanded rapidly.   In the early stages of the Story Bridge's planning, it was apparent that property resumptions would be required along the Kangaroo Point peninsula - by May 1935, properties standing in the way of the bridge had been resumed, & all were placed under the control of the Bureau of Industry who held the responsibility of considering compensation claims.  In addition, the Bureau also held the task of auctioning the resumed properties for removal or demolition & salvage - these auctions took place in batches between the 8th & the 29th of June.  Most residences, given their nature of construction (stone, brick & concrete), were demolished on-site & salvaged for materials...however a few were removed for relocation.  On the 27th of June, a crowd gathered along Main Street to watch a large weatherboard house being towed up the street for relocation - the spectacle was reported in the Courier Mail the next morning, noting that many of the Chestnut & Bauhinia trees lining the road required considerable lopping in order to let the house pass.  This may well be Sean's current house, although without further in-depth research it is difficult to say.

However, another important event took place in Main Street the day before on the 26th of June -  the auction of the mansion Nunnington.  Built in the early 1850's by Frederick Orme Darvall, who went on to become the Registrar-General of the Supreme Court of Queensland, the residence was named after Nunnington Hall in his wife's home town of North Yorkshire in England.  In the late 1870's the mansion changed hands, bought by renowned pastoralist William Barker for his family...25 years later, the building would be sold again to Arthur John Carter, Member of the Queensland Legislative Council & Consular Agent to France & Norway - by the early 1930's, Arthur's son Major Hubert Reginald Carter, Boer War & Gallipoli veteran & also Consular Agent to France like his father, shared the property with his wife & family...& one other house guest that was a little less tangiable.  By the 1930's, three members of the family, including Major Carter, claimed to have witnessed an apparition they called the 'Grey Lady' within Nunnington.  Furthermore, the Carters also claimed to be in possession of a family photo taken on the front lawn, in which a spectral figure was plainly visible that had not been seen at the time the photo was taken...incredibly sadly, both mansion & photograph have since been lost to the progression of time, but we can still examine the likely origin of the Nunnington spectre.

In it's day, Nunnington was a social hub in Brisbane - it played host to parties frequented by Brisbane's elite, it played host to foreign dignitaries, it witnessed its fair share of births & especially marriages...however it also witnessed a number of deaths:  Ernest White on the 10th of December 1884, William Barker on the 22nd of December 1886, Arthur John Carter on the 4th of November 1917, & Lieutenant-Colonel Hubert Reginald Carter on the 14th of July 1934...however, only 1 woman is recorded as having passed away in the house.  On the 5th of July 1900, Elizabeth Barker & wife of Nunnington's second owner, passed away after a short malady surrounded by her sons in the same house her husband had breathed his last 14 years earlier.  Whilst it is always folly guessing at the true identity of a ghost, especially given the number of people both resident & visitor that crossed the threshold of Nunnington during its existence, Elizabeth is a candidate...unfortunately, we will never know.  However, one big question still remains, regardless of the ghost's identity...does the Nunnington spectre still inhabit the area below the Story Bridge where its residence once stood on Main Street, or did the apparition climb aboard one of the houses moving past on their way to greener pastures, in turn dodging the demolisher's hammer??

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