Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A Publican's tale of two ghostly girls & a spectral pup: a day in the life of the Hotel Metropole

Hotel Metropole c.1976 (State Library of Qld)

All the way back in 1999, I was given an opportunity to interview the Publican of the Hotel Metropole in regard to the ghosts that were said to wander the building.  Whilst the facade of the Hotel may seem misleading, clearly displaying the year of 1906 in which the current building was constructed, the history of the venue dates back far, far earlier towards the establishment of Ipswich itself.  Located on the corner of Brisbane & Waghorn Street, the newly refurbished Hotel Metropole features "a modern bistro, outdoor cafe and beer garden, a lounge bar, and nightclub."  However, the early years of the Hotel, under the name of the Harp of Erin, is somewhat confusing.

Harp of Erin advert (published in The Moreton Bay Courier on the 26th June 1847)

On the 26th of June 1847, Martin Byrne ran an advert in The Moreton Bay Courier stating that he would soon open a new establishment in Ipswich, under the sign of the Harp of Erin, on the 1st of July - he'd been granted a new license to do so at the annual Licensing Board meeting on the 20th of April 1847.  At this stage, the address given for the venue was Nichols Street...however, an application for a Publican's License was granted to John Perry for the Harp of Erin, at the Licensing Board meeting on the 15th of April 1851, finally giving the address as Brisbane Street.  As a very interesting aside, eight months later on the 3rd of January 1852, Martin Byrne ran another advert in The Moreton Bay Courier under the banner of the Harp of Erin...in the advert, it stated that he'd recently returned from the Turon, which gives a very important insight into the history of Australia at the time.

 Martin Byrne's trip (published in The Moreton Bay Courier, 3rd Jan 1852)

In mid-1851, gold was discovered on the Turon River outside Ballarat on the central plains of New South Wales - through the later months of 1851, men flocked to the area in the hopes of making their fortunes...many went in pursuit of gold, however a few shrewd entrepreneurs realised that an exploding population of miners with gold burning holes in their pockets would mean for ready pickings.  Makeshift Hotels & General Stores, most being no more than tents, sprung up all over the goldfields & very quickly turned massive profits...it's highly likely that Martin Byrne had tapped into this ready market.  Within two months of his return, Martin Byrne's health began to fail & he put the Harp of Erin up for lease...a move that would see a number of Licensees & owners over the coming years.  The life of the original Harp of Erin was coming to a close by 1890, however, when the Licensing Board met to renew licenses on the 3rd of April 1890.  When the Hotel's license came up for renewal, Sub-Inspector Graham suggested that in his opinion, the license should not be renewed as the Harp of Erin was no longer fit for business.

According to his testimony, he "found the hotel building in a dilapidated condition, and, in his opinion, it was no longer fit to be licensed.  The boarding on the veranda had, to some extent given way, some of the bedrooms were not ceiled, and, as far as he could judge, the roof was not in a very safe condition.  Most of the bedrooms were very small, and were not of the standard required by the 25th section of the Licensing Act of 1885.  Witness brought the matter under the notice of the licensee, especially the small room behind the bar, in which room one could almost touch the roof with one's hand, and it was not ceiled.  The licensee said he knew the hotel was in a very bad state, but that he could not help it."  After much argument between the Licensing Board, the Publican Robert McGrory & the owner Alexander Andrews, the Hotel was given a reprieve on the grounds that improvements be made immediately.  This charade continued for over a decade, with the Licensing Board putting the Hotel on notice & threatening to revoke the license, & the owner & publican promising to make immediate improvements that were never to come.  By 1906, the game was finally up...the old wooden hulk affectionately known as the Harp of Erin Hotel was torn down, & a new brick establishment under the sign of the Hotel Metropole was built in its place - the very same establishment that exists to this day.

So...after taking a slight detour down memory lane, what do we know about the ghosts of the Hotel??  Well...harping back to 1999 & my discussion with the then Publican, we know a little about the supernatural goings-on at the venue.  It seems that prior to the Hotel's most recent renovations in 2004, the site suffered from a number of paranormal events, so much so that the Publican & his wife began to double guess themselves regarding events within the building.  On numerous occasions, televisions within locked & vacant rooms would turn themselves on at full volume for no apparent reason, at ungodly hours late at night & in the early morning.  Similarly, beds in locked rooms would be made up by housekeeping only to be found in a shambles a day or two later, when it was certain that no one had entered the specific lodgings.  The Publican even took the time to point out a specific floorboard on the top level of the Hotel that let out a very noticeable creak when weight was placed on it...at various times throughout the night, when the Publican & his wife were alone in the Hotel, the floorboard would let out a tell-tale creak, signalling a footstep they knew couldn't have resulted from a flesh-&-blood patron.

With so many unusual events at the Hotel during the time said Publican was in control of the venue, I couldn't help but ask the million dollar question - "Why do you think your Hotel is haunted?"  Without a second's thought, I was given an answer regarding the supposed ghosts who walked the halls of the Hotel!  According to the Publican, based on information that he'd received, the unusual occurrences within the building were due to the ghosts of two young girls.  "Extensive research" had unearthed information that a fire had torn through the venue many years beforehand, & as a result of the fire two young girls had been trapped in a front room on the top floor of the Hotel.  In a vain yet futile attempt to escape the flames, they had huddled beneath a bed in the room in question...unfortunately, their attempt at survival was for naught.  When the fire damaged sections of the Hotel were eventually accessed, it was confirmed that the girls had perished as a result, & it was supposed that their spirits continued to walk the current establishment creating mischief where they could.  As an extra aside, the Publican added an extra aspect to the story...on multiple occasions when his 3 year old grandaughter visited the Hotel, she'd consistently mention seeing a spectral black dog running about the premises, supposedly linked to the two ghost girls.

With this information in mind, let's get to the bottom of the Hotel's history...what can we find that lends credence to the Publican's stories & the two girls that died in a hotel fire??  Looking at deaths at the Hotel, we'll jump back & forward from the aspect of "not due to fire" to "due to fire"...bear with us...

The first & last early death that occurred at the Hotel not due to fire was that of Alexander Fairley, on the 5th of June 1894.  Having immigrated to Australian in 1852, Alexander also tried his hand on the goldfields of Victoria, similarly to the Harp of Erin's original owner Martin Byrne...having likely earned a small payout in gold, Fairley moved north to Queensland in 1864 where he worked a number of properties before settling at Ipswich.  He took control of the Ulster Hotel with his wife for a couple of years before moving on to the Harp of Erin during its declining days in the early 1890's...ultimately, in 1894, Alexander Fairley would drop dead in his new Hotel from apoplexy, an early term that indicated a cardiovascular incident or likely stroke.

Our second death involves the most destructive fire at the Hotel Metropole, although not in the way that you'd likely think.  On the 17th of September 1940 at 2am, Hotel boarder George May ran out into the hallway screaming "fire!"  Within seconds, eight other boarders & the Publican's family were grasping for their valuables & heading for the exits...however, two borders by the name of Mr & Mrs Nightingale failed to run from their rooms, as their usual route was blocked by the flames.  Taking stock of their situation, the elderly couple ran out onto a balcony & managed to skirt around the flames & escape down the main stairs to the street...just before the roof collapsed in on the top floor where they'd all been sleeping.  All in all, the damage bill was estimated at £2000, which came as a crushing blow to the licensee Orlando Andresen.  Six months later, Orlando would be found dead by his wife, after having shot himself in the head at their residence in Kangaroo Point.  A veteran of WWI, having fought on the Western Front, Andresen had shouldered the brunt of the damages inflicted on the Hotel Metropole, a repair bill he was likely unable to cover.  Fortunately, the only destructive fire to rip through the Hotel site during its long life failed to claim a single soul directly...although its aftermath claimed the soul of the Hotel's owner, who was likely unable to live with the loss.

However, the site saw one other fire during its lifespan, all the way back in 1885 when it was still known as the Harp of Erin.  On the 24th of September 1885, in the middle of the night, a fire took hold in Webb's old cordial factory on Brisbane Street.  Before long, the fire spread to the stables behind Saunders' Grocers Store, which were full of hay...& then leapt the remaining gap to the back of the Harp of Erin where more hay in the stables provided a happy breeding ground for the ensuing sparks.  The Fire Department were soon on the scene & laid their hoses out as best they could.  Saunders' stables were soon cut away from the back of the Grocer's Store & extinguished, however the stable behind the Harp of Erin posed a more dangerous threat.  Fortunately, the backyard blaze was extinguished before it reached the skirting of the Hotel itself...everyone involved breathed a sigh of relief when it was confirmed that all lives at the Hotel had been spared...although this soon proved to be incorrect.  Margaret Bourke, the 70 year old mother of the Publican's wife Maria McGrory, resided in the rooms above the Hotel...on hearing the shouts & cries around her in the middle of the night, the excitement was clearly too much for her aging heart.  By the time the flames had subsided & the threat to the Hotel had been abated, Margaret was found dead in her bed, & her death was attributed to the shock she had endured as a result of the fire.

So...records of little girls & a dog we have not - if I were able to go back in time & ask the Publican which "historian" he'd received his information from I would!  However, whilst we're able to discount the tale of the two young girls who died beneath a bed in a tragic fire, we've managed to uncover a number of deaths at the Hotel & linked with the Hotel.  Does Margaret Bourke still wander the building in a panic that a long since extinguished fire might engulf the building?  Does Alexander Fairley still preside over the Hotel that he ran for a number of years after dropping dead from a stroke within its walls?  Has Orlando Andresen returned to the Metropole after losing his life savings as a result of the 1940 fire & subsequently taking his life?  Or...has Martin Byrne returned to his original 1840's Hotel site, with a pocket full of gold dust & a gleam in his eye??  Either way, whoever you deem the ghosts to be at the Hotel Metropole, the Hotel & its predecessors deserve respect in the early evolution of the now expanding city we know as Ipswich.

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