The Settler's Inn, just prior to 2012 (courtesy of Computer World)
Welcome one & all to our first instalment of "Haunted Ipswich" - a five-part series over the month of September, focusing on a few more of the ghosts & haunted sites within my childhood home town. For anyone who lives (or has ever lived) in Ipswich, you'll likely be aware of the city's history - an amazing region that dates back almost as far as Brisbane, with a heritage that is by no means any less important to the early evolution of Queensland. Haunted sites in Ipswich date back virtually to the original settlement of Limestone (as Ipswich was called in its early years), & the subsequent ghost stories have been passed down through the generations to the current day.
One of these stories relates to the old Settler's Inn at the "top of town" on Brisbane Street. Rumours persist of a mischievous spirit that would make its way around the pub during opening hours. Whilst this spirit would never be seen, his exploits were definitely noticed by regulars & staff alike...objects being moved when no one was around, strange presences being felt in the bar when no one was in the vicinity, & doors inexplicably being opened & closed by unseen hands. According to folk legend passed between locals at the Hotel, the spirit was said to originate from an earlier era of the site...popular belief had it that the ghost was that of a poor fellow who'd lost his life in a major fire at the Hotel many years previously. So, what can we dig up about this unfortunate chap & the fire in which he perished so many years ago??
Shamrock Hotel Advert (The Moreton Bay Courier, 11th Oct 1851)
The existence of the Shamrock Hotel (or Inn) in Brisbane Street dates back to about 1850 - the earliest mention of the establishment is located in The Moreton Bay Courier on the 22nd of March 1851, at which time the proprietor Henry Savary placed an employment advert for "a first-rate cook." According to the advert, in less than perfect English, "None need apply who does not perfectly understand his business." By late 1851, Savary ran a number of adverts in The Moreton Bay Courier, thanking his patrons for their support & promising extensive improvements to the Shamrock Hotel...an undertaking it appears he completed over the next six months. In the years leading up to his foray into the Publican's life, Henry Savary had earned a living in North Brisbane as a baker - a slightly unusual change of profession, although it seems to have been a very profitable one. It's likely that Savary kept a hand in the baking profession to a lesser extent whilst trading at the Hotel, & saw it as a necessary adjunct to the sale of liquor - in March 1853, Alexander Noble took occupancy in part of the Shamrock Hotel, likely set up as a baker's shop, in order to produce "fancy bread & biscuits." In the years that followed, the Hotel would change hands a number of times. In April 1857, the Shamrock's license passed into the hands of Edmund Egglestone, by 1861 it had passed to Michael O'Malley, & by 1871 it had again been passed on to Alexander McLean.
For the first three decades of the Shamrock Hotel's life in Brisbane Street, trade appears to have been quite placid...either that, or any major indecent dealings were craftily hushed from the authorities. However, on the 31st of January 1885, the Shamrock's peaceful existence was about to come to a calamitous end, the specific event from which the building's ghost is said to have arisen. At 1am in the morning, the shrill din of a fire bell rang out along Brisbane Street, immediately raising nearby residents & traders from their slumber. The initial fire took hold in an empty building recently leased by a Chinese shop-keeper, however before any of the nearby residents were able to act, the flames spread rapidly to the neighbouring building - the Shamrock Hotel. Given the Shamrock was by that stage an aging wooden building, it immediately went up like a tinderbox...reports of the disaster stated that the fire took hold so quickly that occupants within the building barely managed to escape with more than a handful of clothing, which they'd scooped up on their way out of the building. The fire would continue through two more buildings to the west of the Hotel, & the roof would collapse in a building two doors to the east. All in all, four buildings along Brisbane Street would be completely lost, & one more would be so badly damaged it could no longer be utilised as a business place.
By sheer virtue, a vacant allotment to the west of the blaze aided in breaking the spread of fire through further buildings...an incredibly lucky break given that the main fire hose being used by the Fire Brigade burst early into the battle. Fears were also held for buildings on the opposite side of Brisbane Street given the massive heat emanating from the blaze, however a public bucket brigade managed to cool the exposed timbers of the buildings at risk. At the time the blaze took ahold of the Shamrock Hotel, a number of horses were stabled in the back yard of the premises...through very quick thinking, the stable doors were sprung as the Hotel erupted, & the horses ran clear of the blaze. However...the same could not be said for two victims trapped within the Hotel as the fire took hold & raced through the corridors...two victims that would perish as a result of the flames. On the night of the fire, Dr Long was staying at the Hotel on an extended trip to Ipswich. In the confusion that occurred at 1am in the morning through the Hotel's halls, not only was he unable to grab his surgical equipment, he was also unsuccessful in rounding up his two poodles which were travelling with him. Both of the poor canines perished within the blaze, & were the only two living things that perished that night...not a single human soul was lost in the 1885 fire.
So what of our ghost story, I hear you ask - nobody died in the fire that destroyed the Shamrock Hotel?? Well...let's continue along the evolutionary path of the site...
After the destruction of the original Shamrock Hotel, a new establishment was slowly rebuilt on the same site under the new moniker of the Club Hotel. Trade seems to have travelled well until 1892, when the license of the venue came up for renewal. In July 1892, Mrs Nolan applied for the licence of the Club Hotel, an application that would be refused by the Police on the grounds that a married woman with husband could not hold a licence. A Melbourne Supreme Court ruling was put forward in Mrs Nolan's defence, & the Licensing Board allowed the application to pass & receipted the necessary fee from the woman...however, the State Treasury refused to accept the money from the Licensing Board, & demanded the Police Commissioner close the establishment at once. As such, the Club Hotel was closed indefinitely by the Police on the 4th of July, despite the Licensing Board's ruling. Mrs Nolan was forced to contest the decision of the Treasury on the grounds of the Married Womens' Property Act, a new piece of legislation that would, in turn, allow her to hold a licence for the Club Hotel. What seems a ridiculous & highly sexist notion now, was quite a bone of contention just over 100 years ago...
And thus, after having been reopened, the Club Hotel rolled on for almost 14 years without major incident or concern...until another disaster threatened its well-being. In the Ipswich City Council's "Rubbidy-dubs to Pubs Then & Now" brochure, which can be downloaded from their website here, it's stated that the Club Hotel was, "also damaged by fire in 1916 but was repaired" - could this possibly be the fire that gave rise to the building's haunting?? Unfortunately, for both our ghost story & accurate history, this statement is not entirely correct...On the 4th of December 1915, at approximately 2am on a Saturday morning, a fire broke out in a row of buildings adjoining the Club Hotel. The fire ripped through 3 shops containing a fruiterer, a bootmaker & some tea rooms - all three shops were grossly under-insured for such a disaster, & were completely enveloped. However, before the fire could progress to the Club Hotel next door, the Fire Brigade managed to contain the blaze & the Hotel was spared by a hair's breadth. Apart from a slight scorching & some minor water damage, the Club Hotel escaped unscathed...hence, in contradiction of common belief, the Hotel was not in essence damaged by fire & repaired, & nor did the event occur in 1916...furthermore, not a soul was lost in the blaze that claimed the adjoining three premises.
For the next 90 years, the Club Hotel plied its trade, watching patrons come & go without injury or death. In the 1990's, the venue underwent a further name change for the third time in its life - it would become known as the Settler's Inn. It would continue under this new name up until a couple of years ago, at which time the building was purchased by an investment conglomerate for redevelopment. Finally, about two months ago, this beautiful old building at the "top of town" saw a gala reopening, as the Stumps Hotel & Tapas Tree Restaurant - a very ritzy establishment in comparison to the site's humble beginnings. Does the Settler's Inn ghost still inhabit the building after the extensive renovations & reopening?? Only time will tell...however, what do we make of this ghost story & the apparent resident haunting of the building?? We know that no deaths occurred during the 1885 blaze & near-miss fire in 1915...no incidents occurred in or around the Hotel with a direct link to the site that might give rise to a haunting...after having pulled the site's history apart, not a single death could be located...except one...
Death Notice (The Moreton Bay Courier, 24th July 1852)
On the 5th of July 1852, after having fallen ill & suffering from deteriorating health over a three day period, the original proprietor of the Shamrock Hotel passed away within his original Hotel. After having invested his heart & soul in the premises, only six months after undertaking extensive renovations, Henry Savary passed away at the age of 40. Could the ghost of the Settler's Inn be the spirit of Henry returning from time to time to watch over the evolution of his pub? It may just be a long-shot...but how wonderful a notion it is to imagine one of Ipswich's earliest residents might still be keeping an eye on the place!