The Caledonian in its current form (from Gdaypubs.com.au)The Caledonian Hotel on Bell Street in Ipswich - I'll admit that I've spent the odd afternoon in this establishment over a beer, wasting time while I waited alongside Ipswich Station for my train...as I'm sure many others have done in decades past. My reminiscences of the Caledonian only just pre-date the destructive fire that ripped through the building a decade ago, but little did I know that the establishment I was wasting time in also quietly protected a ghostly story of its own!
Earlier in the week, a close friend mentioned that she'd been told the story of the Caledonian Hotel's ghost recently, during a wider conversation about the ghosts of Ipswich - quite keen to know more, as I'd not heard of a ghost inhabiting this building, I eagerly asked for the details. The manifestation of the haunting in itself is quite simple, however the suspected origin of the Hotel's ghost is more complex - patrons who frequented the establishment told of feeling a "presence" in the building, & of experiencing the distinct sensation of an invisible "person" brushing passed when no physical person was in the near vicinity. Whilst it is likely a number of crazier theories as to the identity of the Caledonian spook exist, it seems that the most accepted belief surrounding the haunting is thus: A patron at the Hotel was highly intoxicated one night & fell over as a result, striking his head in the fall...very unfortunately for the patron, his accident wasn't discovered until the next morning, by which time the poor chap had passed away due to blood loss. Curious to get to the bottom of the haunting & discern whether any historic basis existed to validate the tale, I was more than a little amazed at what I uncovered - the history of the site is far more extensive than most Ipswich residents likely realise!
The story starts all the way back in the early 1840's, with a carpenter by the name of William Vowles. Having arrived in Australia in April 1833, William spent a number of years in the Clarence & New England areas (current northern New South Wales), before taking advantage of news that the Moreton Bay region had finally been opened for free settlement in 1842. Travelling north through Cunningham's Gap, he arrived in the frontier town of Limestone on the 5th of October 1842, & quickly put his carpentry skills to good use - William held the conspicuous honour of having constructed the first house in the soon to be named township of Ipswich, for a Mr Gossly, on a thoroughfare that had only just been gazetted by Henry Wade as Bell Street...& thus the history of our target site began. By 1843, other settlers were moving into the area in the hope of trying their luck in the newly gazetted township - in February of that year, a name change was authorised by Governor George Gipps, & the township finally adopted its current name of Ipswich. That year also, a new & unusual character blew into town - a Mauritian Sea Captain, nicknamed "Black Neale," who had chosen to give up his ship and settle on dry land. Seeking a new profession in his new town, Neale travelled to Sydney where he applied for & was granted a publican's license...he then returned to Ipswich & began to seek out a suitable premises.
Details from the period are very scant, however we do know that Neale began to trade out of a wooden premises in Bell Street - the same address at which William Vowles had built Ipswich's first house the year beforehand. We also know that the original house built by Vowles on the block remained, & was converted into a kitchen - some modern sources postulate that Neale moved another wooden dwelling to the site and attached the two, however Neale may also have simply built onto the already extant house. Regardless, Neale named his new establishment the Red Cow, & it wasn't long before the venture was doing a roaring trade, becoming well known throughout the area for its rum. However, the Authorities' suspicions began to grow when the Red Cow's trade in rum seemed to far outweigh the duties being paid by the publican - whilst numerous raids were carried out in order to catch "Black Neale" out & expose his illegal distillery, the authorities failed to turn up a single piece of the apparatus.
In the years that followed, the Red Cow changed hands & names, becoming the Horse & Jockey, the Royal Oak, & eventually the Caledonian Hotel by which it goes today...the establishment saw its share of drama - surviving a neighbouring fire on the 22nd of August 1865 (as the Horse and Jockey), the Landlord John McGregor was stabbed in the chest by a man named Cuthbert in 1880, only to suddenly die two years later after eating bad mulberries, & multiple visits from the Constabulary for drunken falls, fights & faints. However, the biggest shock came in 1896 when the original wooden building was finally demolished to make way for the current brick establishment. As workers pulled the ailing Hotel apart, they exposed a treasure that many had sought yet none had ever had the fortune to find - expertly concealed in the kitchen fireplace, within Ipswich's first house - built by William Vowles & incorporated into the original Red Cow - the mythical rum distillery of "Black Neale" was finally exposed to the light of day! Hence, one of the mysteries of the Red Cow, come Caledonian Hotel, was finally solved...but what about our ghost??
Well, looking back through the records, we know that a number of publicans suddenly died elsewhere, like John McGregor, who may have returned to their place of business...however, a number of other people died on the site, & within the current building, unexpectedly. In May 1890, a Bowen man named Henry Miller passed away in the Ipswich Hospital - days beforehand, he had been pulled from his room in the Caledonian Hotel in the midst of an apoplectic fit. Again, on the 10th of May 1905, in the current brick Caledonian Hotel, the Government Medical Officer Dr Von Lossberg (who had also played a major role in the Gatton Murders seven years previously), was called to the Caledonian. He was ushered into the hotel & led to a lifeless body laying lengthways on the stairs...further pronouncing life extinct, the body was conveyed to the Ipswich Morgue where a post mortem was performed - the body was found to exhibit a single minor abrasion on the skin, with no broken neck, no external marks & no fractured skull...the subsequent Inquest found that the death of Patrick Shine occurred through apoplexy (stroke or cerebral haemorrhage) - still, we haven't found a death at the Caledonian that matches the oral legend of the resident ghost's origin...
Until we consider the Caledonian's previous guise as the Royal Oak. We know that on the 13th of November 1860, an Inquest was held at the Royal Oak by Dr Henry Challinor - James Hunter, a recent performer of Ashton's Circus, had been staying at the Caledonian Hotel for over a month. For some days, he had been grumbling about suffering from a "bowel complaint," & had been witnessed briskly walking between his lodgings & the outhouse behind the Hotel holding his belly - he had ridden on horseback to Woogaroo a few days prior, & blamed his stomach upset on his riding, as he was no longer in the habit of doing so. The Landlord Adam Watson would testify that he had last seen Hunter laying in bed in a sad state - some hours later, Watson was called to the outhouse by William Penn, where they discovered Hunter, "laying dead on his face." The Inquest into James Hunter's death would find that he suffered a convulsive seizure whilst on the toilet, brought about by natural causes as a result of "intemperate habits." It was noted that whilst a working man, Hunter, "would get drunk as often as he could"...even though his drinking had been severely curbed in his unemployment whilst staying at the Caledonian Hotel, his previous habits finally took their toll & delivered him to his grave in the most unfortunate of locations...
So...does "Black Neale" haunt the hallways of the Caledonian Hotel in search of his hidden rum distillery?? Does John McMahon roam his pub where he survived the sting of a rogue's knife only to be stuck down shortly after by bad mulberries?? Does Patrick Shine haunt the stairwell in which he died from a stroke?? Or, similarly to the stories told by the regulars of the Caledonian Hotel, does the ghost of ex-Ashton Circus performer James Hunter - who died on the Royal Oak's dunny - still stumble through the establishment, brushing passed patrons on his way to the now spectral outhouse where the back yard used to be??