Sunday, 12 August 2012

Wellington Point's Whepstead House: Where the ghost stories are plentiful, & so are the inaccuracies...

Whepstead House, c. 1909 (John Oxley Library)

On Tuesday night this week, I posted a link on our Facebook page leading to an international website showcasing the alleged "Top 8 Scariest Houses on Earth."  When I stumbled across the link, I was shocked to find that Whepstead House (or "Whepstead Manor" as it's become recently known due to its days as a restaurant), an imposing villa at Wellington Point on Moreton Bay, had been listed in second place right behind the Amityville House in Long Island, New York...& was even more shocked to discover that the photo used for the spiel on Whepstead House was not Whepstead House at all - it was, in fact, a photo of one of the cell blocks within the still surviving Number 2 Division of Boggo Road Gaol!  Inspired by this highly embarrassing photo error, I announced on Tuesday night that we'd be examining Whepstead House as this week's feature site, including a critical analysis of the multiple ridiculous ghost stories that are consistently regurgitated about this venue.  Imagine my surprise when, the very next night, an outfit going by the name of Paranormal Paratek Queensland, published an article on a brand new blog site, entitled, "Whepstead Manor - The Ups and Downs of a Historic Haunted Home."

In what was clearly an underhanded attempt to earn some notoriety & beat the Haunts of Brisbane to the punch, this group stole our topic for the week & very hastily slapped together a competing article.  Even more disappointingly, they did so by simply "cutting-&-pasting" large chunks of information from two other websites, with a few minor tweaks to the wording - a very poor reflection on a group that outwardly claims to "extensively research" the history of sites they investigate.  The first ⅔ of their article is plagiarised virtually word for word from the Wellington Point history PDF, a 16 page history document that can be downloaded for free on the Redland City Council website.  The last ⅓ of their article focusing on the ghosts of Whepstead House is also plagiarised, virtually word for word, from the "Whepstead Manor" listing on The Paranormal Guide website.  In doing so, however, we actually owe Paranormal Paratek Queensland a huge debt of gratitude...just like the vast bulk of paranormal websites on the internet, they've once again blindly regurgitated the very ghost stories we were intending to set straight in our article this week!

And just for the record, we're certain that Paranormal Paratek Queensland blatantly stole the topic from us, & it was not a simple case of coincidence, due to one overarching & very glaring error in their article - they were quick enough to read my comment on our facebook page on Tuesday night stating we'd be tackling Whepstead House this week, & they were quick enough to click on the link for the "Top 8 Scariest Houses on Earth."  Unfortunately for their credibility, however, they weren't quick enough to read the rest of our post that night, clearly pointing out that the photo in the "Top 8" link was actually a picture of a Boggo Road Gaol cell block, & not Whepstead House...which they blindly proceeded to use in their article the next night as a photo of Whepstead House - very, very amateur stuff!


Paranormal Paratek Queensland's article about Whepstead, complete
with the incorrect photo of a Boggo Road Gaol cell block attached.

So, "amateur hour" aside, let's tackle Whepstead House head-on & get to the bottom of those rampant ghost stories!

Apart from a long list of alleged supernatural events (candles lit by unseen persons, appearing/disappearing stains on the carpet, objects being thrown across rooms, people having their hair pulled, cutlery being rearranged on tables etc), which can be found on any number of paranormal websites across the globe, let's focus purely on the supposed identities of the ghosts that apparently haunt Whepstead House.  Paranormal websites, including our recent acquaintances at Paranormal Paratek Queensland, claim that the site is home to four distinct spirits:
  1. The ghost of Gilbert Burnett's wife, Martha Ann Burnett - it's said that her passage through the building can be detected by the smell of lavender perfume, which she wore in life, & by brief glimpses of a face in the upstairs windows.
  2. The ghost of Gilbert Burnett's daughter, who vanished without a trace.  This story has specific variants where the daughter either disappeared on the mudflats during a walk, fell through an upper window to her death, or plummeted from the upper balcony with fatal consequences.
  3. The ghost of Gilbert Burnett's son, who was afflicted with a "wilted" leg - according to legend, the ghost of this young lad is regularly seen peering through the banisters on the central staircase.
  4. The ghost of an elderly man, who is alleged to be a servant, is seen randomly about the house dressed in a bowler hat & "butler's uniform."  Alternate versions have a apparition of a man appearing in the attic, or reflected in various mirrors throughout the house.
Before we go any further, we first need to take a few major factors into account.  Gilbert Burnett had two very distinct families - he fathered ten children to his first wife Martha, between 1870 & 1885.  After Martha's death in 1896, Gilbert remarried in 1903 to Ellen Thompson - as a result of this second marriage, he bore a further five children between 1905 & about 1918.  Of these two marriages & families, however, it was during Gilbert's first marriage with Martha that he lived at Whepstead House.  Furthermore, & most importantly, the Burnett family resided in Whepstead House for only two short years -  from its completion in 1889, until Gilbert Burnett was declared insolvent in 1891 & the family were forced to move.  Keeping these essential details in mind, let's now examine the four ghosts of Whepstead House!

The ghost of Martha Ann Burnett

It's said that Martha Ann Burnett's ghost haunts Whepstead House, however let's examine the facts: Martha gave birth to all ten of her children prior to moving into Whepstead House in 1889 (her youngest was four years old at the time); she spent two short years with her family at Whepstead before being evicted in 1891; her husband Gilbert constructed another house nearby (Fernbourne) in which she lived with her family for a further five years before her death in 1896; she passed away in her daughter's house at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane, "after a short & painless illness."  Having lived in a happy family home at Fernbourne for five years before passing away in her daughter's house at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane, can we really contribute the "hint of lavender" at Whepstead House to Martha's ghost??  Furthermore, given that Martha passed away in 1896 (116 years ago), who exactly remembers her wearing "lavender perfume" & has attributed the smell to Martha specifically in recent years?!?  Given that Whepstead House has acted as a restaurant-come-wedding reception venue for at least the last 15 years, is it beyond the realm of possibility that the smell of lavender might just come from scented candles or potpourri as a result??  At the risk of sounding overly sceptical, the likelihood of Martha Burnett haunting this site is highly dubious at best.

Martha's Death Notice, published in The Brisbane Courier
 on the 9th of October 1896.

The ghost of Gilbert Burnett's vanishing daughter

Of Gilbert & Martha's ten children that lived at Whepstead House between 1889-1891, three were daughters - at the time they moved into the house, Alice Maud Burnett was 11, Edith Helena Burnett was 14 & Matilda Martha Burnett was 17.  However, contrary to the legends, not a single one disappeared without a trace...nor did any fall from an upstairs window, or plummet from the upper balcony.  All three daughters left Whepstead House in 1891 with their parents, lived at their subsequent home Fernbourne for a number of years, & then moved out into the world to pursue their adult lives...as such, any insinuation that one of Gilbert Burnett's daughters vanished without a trace at Whepstead, & still haunts the property, is completely & utterly bogus.  For clarity's sake, the historic record provides the following information about Gilbert & Martha's daughters:
  • Matilda Martha Burnett, born on the 8th of October 1872, passed away at the age of 32 on the 8th of June 1905, at her sister's house in Manly (Queensland).
  • Edith Helena Burnett, born on the 18th of June 1875, passed away at the age of 33 on the 18th of December 1908, at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Brisbane.
  • Alice Maud Burnett, born on the 24th of November 1878, passed away at the age of 82 on the 19th of February 1961, within the borders of Brisbane.
As a very interesting aside, Edith Helena Burnett married Frederick Charles Barnes on the 26th of June 1895.  Upon her death on the 8th of June 1905, virtually 10 years to the day that she'd been married, her husband Frederick was left to care for their four children.  On the 19th of March 1910, almost five years later, Edith's youngest sister Alice married Frederick & became an Aunty-come-stepmother to Edith's children...the couple went on to parent a number of their own children, who essentially became cousins to their step-siblings.

The ghost of Gilbert Burnett's crippled son

Of Gilbert & Martha's ten children that lived at Whepstead House between 1889-1891, seven were sons - at the time they moved into the house, Herbert Dawson Burnett was 19, Percival Francis Burnett was 18, Walter Woodward Burnett was 16, Egerton Gilbert Burnett was 12, Albert Ernest Burnett was 8 & Norman Victor Burnett was 6.  However, contrary to the legends, not a single one of the Burnett's sons appears to have suffered from a "wilted" leg...six of the seven sons went on to own properties where they worked as either dairymen, stockmen or farmers, whilst the odd son out became a warehouseman & travelling salesman.  We know this due to the historic record, & any insinuation that one of Gilbert Burnett's sons haunts the building, who was afflicted with a "withered" leg, is nothing more than candy for the gullible.  For clarity's sake, the historic record provides the following information about Gilbert & Martha's sons:
  • Herbert Dawson Burnett, born on the 23rd of January 1870, passed away at the age of 85 on the 3rd of June 1954, at Colinton west of Kingaroy - throughout his life, he had managed Lahey Bros. Sawmill at Christmas Creek, had farmed near Beaudesert & managed his property at Colinton for a further 47 years.
  • Percival Francis Burnett, born on the 4th of September 1871, passed away at the age of 81 on the 20th of October 1951, at Camp Hill in Brisbane - during his life he been a dairy farmer at Christmas Creek for some years.
  • Walter Woodward Burnett, born on the 15th of November 1873, passed away at the age of 79 on the 13th of March 1953, at Rathdowney south of Beaudesert - throughout many of his years, he worked a farm in the area.
  • Egerton Gilbert Burnett, born on the 25th of February 1877, passed away at the age of 85 on the 8th of December 1961, at Rathdowney - during his life, he worked properties at both Collinsville south of Bowen, & also at Rathdowney.
  • Albert Ernest Burnett, born on the 9th of April 1881, passed away at the age of 67 on the 26th of January 1948, outside Clermont - throughout his life, he had worked properties in Cleveland, Beaudesert & Clermont.
  • Norman Victor Burnett, born on the 23rd of April 1883, passed away at the age of 79 on the 19th of March 1963, at Beaudesert - for his entire adult life, he had been a dairy farmer in the area.
  • Harold Edward Burnett, born on the 16th of April 1885, passed away at the age of 64 on the 24th of August 1948, at Wooloowin in Brisbane - he had lived most of his life in Brisbane as a Warehouseman & Travelling Salesman.
As a very interesting aside, Percival Burnett (Percy) was present on the Dunwich Jetty on Stradbroke Island, when a large shark was hauled ashore on the 5th of January 1906.  After walking from the jetty to the beach, where the three metre beast had been dragged up, he noticed that the belly of the shark was bulging.  Taking a knife & cutting the fish open, he was shocked to find "a human skull, with some brown hair attached to the crown; also the lower jaw, some teeth, a hand, and some bones."  Through a subsequent Magisterial Inquiry, Percy Burnett was called on to give evidence, as the remains were believed to be those of a boy named William Fielding, who had vanished from the Redland Bay area some days previously.

The ghost of the bowler-hatted butler

I must admit, knowing that two of the ghost stories about Whepstead House are completely & utterly bogus, & one is highly unlikely, this specific ghost story intrigues me for a number of reasons.  First & foremost, I'm intrigued by the concept of a servant/butler that wears a bowler hat in a house.  When I was a child, only 25 years ago, I was scolded if I wore a hat indoors - to do so was considered bad manners!  So...imagine the fall-out upon wearing a hat indoors 100 years ago as a guest??  I could only imagine, if you'd had the impertinence to do so, that you'd be cast outside in a heartbeat for contravening proper etiquette...but what if you were a servant/butler, who, of all people, was expected to uphold the highest levels of grace & etiquette at all times??  I can't imagine a servant/butler wearing a bowler hat either indoors or outdoors...but...what if the apparition seen within Whepstead House is nothing more than a smartly dressed man, in a suit & hat??  Could this one elderly gentleman in suit & hat harp from a different time in the site's history?  Walk this way...

"Bay View" Private Hospital

An advert for Bay View Hospital published in The Courier Mail
on the 9th of December 1939.

At some time in 1937, & the exact date is still unknown amongst historians,Whepstead House was converted into a private hospital.  Around that year Ethel Dolley, a nurse who had managed two other private hospitals around South-east Queensland (the Bungalow Private Hospital in Nambour & the Bayview Private Hospital in Cleveland), moved her operation into Whepstead House which from 1937 onwards became known as the Bay View Private Hospital...named after Ethel Dolley's previous hospital up the road in Cleveland.  Predominantly a hospital for the treatment of Neurasthenia, or "nervous exhaustion," this new Private Hospital also accommodated the convalescent, infirm, aged, sufferers of chronic illnesses, & expectant mothers - a number of local children were born within the the confines of Whepstead House.  However, whilst the house was a venue for the birth of many, it also possessed a sadder reputation - during the site's life as a Private Hospital, it was also the venue where many people spent their final minutes.  The following is a verified list of those unfortunates who passed away at Whepstead House come Bay View Private Hospital:

Elizabeth Murray (died 14th May 1838), Thomas Denham (died 16th June 1938), Edward Smallman (died 10th June 1940), Henry King (died 24th June 1941), Mary Lillias Deane (died 27th August 1941), Thirza Emma Redgewell (died 24th March 1942), Joshua Henry Petty (died 23rd September 1943), Jessie Harriet Maclean (died 27th October 1943), Rowena Harp Moller (died 23rd January 1946), Lilian Margaret Stephens (died 5th March 1946), Mary Rose Pennefather (died 28th July 1946), Alice Felicia Fitchew (died 12th October 1946), Frances Edith Bolton (died 16th February 1947), Geraldine Cecilia Anderton (died 9th March 1947), Peter Marks (died 6th July 1848), & Anne Marie Townsend Wren (died 22nd November 1953).

Keep in mind that this list is by no means comprehensive - the above sixteen deaths occurred within the confines of the house between 1937 & 1954 ("Bay View" Private Hospital ran for a further 19 years until about 1973 as a Convalescent Home), & was collated purely through Death Notices & Will Probate Notices within the local newspapers.  It is highly probable, if the records of "Bay View" could be accessed, that this number could possibly be doubled & sit in the vicinity of 40 deaths within the house between the years of 1937 & 1973.  So...knowing what we do, & choosing to accept eyewitness accounts of bizarre occurrences at Whepstead House, is it beyond the realm of possibility that the spirits of some of those who died within its walls still walk the halls through which they passed in their final days?? 

From an historic perspective, two of the names on this list immediately jump out, however.  Mary Lillias Deane, who passed away in 1941, was the widow of Henry Deane - a nationally renowned railway engineer who worked as engineer-in-chief on the Trans-Australian Railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta (amongst other major rail projects), was commissioned Colonel in the Engineer & Railway Staff Corps during WWI, & was a highly accomplished botanist  which he achieved in his spare time.  Some years after Henry's death in Malvern, Victoria, on the 12th of March 1924, Mary moved north via Hornsby in Sydney, before seeing out her final days at the "Bay View" Private Hospital.  The second name that springs from the list is Mary Rose Pennefather, the widow of Captain Charles Edward de Fonblaque Penneather - esteemed Naval Commander who explored the Gulf of Carpenteria & named the Pennefather River, Superintendent of the St Helena Island Penal Establishment through the late 1880's & early 1890's, & Comptroller General of Prisons in Queensland for a number of years...during his life, Captain Pennefather visited, & oversaw, many of the since closed penal institutions throughout Queensland that we now consider haunted locations, including Boggo Road Gaol.

So...there we have it!  Whepstead House is an amazing site with an incredibly vibrant history, having served multiple purposes over the years for the betterment of South-east Queensland.  However, the perpetuation of completely fictitious stories regarding ghostly identities at the site, in complete contradiction to the historic record, does nothing more than cheapen the amazing history to which this building lays claim.  Multiple paranormal sites across the internet continue to advertise this faux-history regarding the supposed ghosts of Gilbert & Martha Burnett's children, as we've most recently seen via Paranormal Paratek Queensland's attempt at a "factual" article four days ago, however I hope that we've now gone some way towards shedding light on these rumours - it still strikes me as odd that so many fictitious stories circulate about this house & the apparent identities of the ghosts that reside within...yet not one person has ever researched or mentioned the fact that well in excess of a dozen people passed away at the site whilst it was a private hospital.  So, next time someone raises the topic of Whepstead House in conversation, or you pass by the venue, be sure to speak up & set the record straight whilst sparing a thought for the sixteen (or many more) people who expelled their final breaths within Whepstead House's walls...& possibly still call the venue home!

5 comments:

  1. Very thorough, thank you. I grew up just down the road at Alex Hills and love driving past and imagining era's gone by.. And the grandness Whepstead represents. I never believed the hype with ghost stories but it adds to the mystery of the "manor" although to me
    It will always be a plantation manse' lol
    I was sad to hear about Fernbourne House burning down today. How grand the Fernbourne's liked their houses :) thanks for a great blog!

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  2. I must admit, I was fascinated by this house as a child, my mother operated tours in the area and would often drive past Whepstead and tell the usual stories (all of the ones listed above), and having a very vivid imagination, I was drawn in by the story of the daughter who disappeared without a trace. Kind of feel like a bit of my child hood was just shattered, lol. Oh well, I am glad someone was able to research the real history of the Gilbert family enough to set the record straight!

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  3. i grew up just a few streets away from whepstead, although then it was bay view nursing home and my mother worked as a nurse's aid there for many years.. I did spend the night there on a couple of occasions as a child with my mother and although I never witnessed any ghostly sightings, I was very spooked by the atmosphere of the house...

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  4. I grew up in the Redlands and have been to Whepstead many times. The first time I went was for my mothers birthday and I have to say that I was a little freaked out by the place. I was only about 7 years old at the time and didn't realise what I was feeling nor did I know about any ghost stories, but years later I went back for another 'do' and the feeling of dread an oppression was so intense. I found out from my mother that I had a relative pass away in the manor when it was a hospital. I asked if we could have a small tour of the rooms on the second floor, to see where my relative lived their last days. I can't say that the place is haunted, but certainly morbid and oppresive... It would not surprise me if there are the odd manifestation..

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  5. what are your problems i lived down the road at Trafalgar vale avenue and my mother worked there when it was a wedding venue she was the bar maid. she has so many stories one is she was rushing to get ready for a wedding and because they worked there they new of all the hauntings so my mum every morning would say hello and goodbye to Mary (edith was known as mary)and her and her colleagues forgot to say hello one of the workers put the cutlery out on the table walked out walked back in and the cutlery was all switched around. so she switched them back and got all of the chairs ready for people to sit at ribbon and all walked out my mum walked in and there were chairs everywhere pushing everywhere and the cover on the fire place zoomed across the room, they heard footsteps up the stair way loud stomping and slamming of doors giggles and screams. they wondered what was wrong and my mum realized it was that they hadn't said hello they all said hello and sorry and explained why, the footsteps came down the stairs all the doors opened and the chairs started slowly going back to normal and the fire place cover was placed gently in front of the fire. another is that my mum was working upstairs at the bar and cleaning up after a different wedding and she heard noises in the bathroom loud yells and smashes and mens voices coming from the girls bathroom she walked in to see what was happening and there was nothing. so yer i believe in ghosts i believe in my mum i believe in the stories she has told me !!!!

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