Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Spectre of York's Hollow: Possible origins examined.

Victoria Park from the Royal Brisbane Hospital, c. 1936.
Every weekday, I travel down the Inner City Bypass along with thousands of other commuters...& as I do, on my way to & from work, I still can't help but shoot a glance at the railway shed at the halfway point between the Normanby Hotel & Royal Brisbane Hospital - just below that structure, an underpass still exists that played host to easily the most incredible ghost drama in Brisbane's history. In 2005, I documented the appearance & fallout of the Victoria Park Ghost as it occurred, in the Encyclopedia of Haunted Places.  For those of you who are Brisbane ghost fans, you are likely aware of the story...for our fans further afield, who may be unaware of the event, here's an abridged version as published:

"The episode began in November 1965, after a group of local children overheard rumours suggesting a ghost had been observed within a tunnel beneath the rail line bordering Victoria Park.  The following night, the intrepid ghost hunters crept down in the hope of spotting this spook.  One boy, lagging behind the rest of the group as they passed through the tunnel, experienced more than he could have imagined.  As he endeavoured to catch up to his friends, he was accosted by a misty green, armless, legless, headless apparition that seemed to materialise from the wall of the tunnel.  Seemingly "mesmerised" by the spectre, the boy was dragged by his friends to the nearby Royal Brisbane Hospital - his companions feared he had been possessed by the ghost.  The ensuing tale, as related by the children to hospital staff, made sensational newspaper headlines the next day and within a short time, thousands of local residents were lining both sides of the tunnel in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the ghost.  For the next week, the Victoria Park ghost became the major talking point of Brisbane, not to mention a fantastic opportunity for family outings."

In his book, Haunted Brisbane: Ghosts of the River City, which was launched at the same time in 2005, "Jack" Sim was kind enough to mention that, "Speculation as to the Thing's origin was rife.  Enginemen at the Roma-Street railyards claimed it was the ghost of a man who jumped off a pedestrian overpass into the path of a speeding steam train and was killed."  We known that the electrification of the railway line that runs alongside Victoria Park, now known as the "Exhibition Line," became operational on the 3rd of March 1982, so steam trains were indeed running in 1965 - however, I'm confused as to which pedestrian overpass Mr Sim refers to in his version of events, as no pedestrian overpasses existed on that line in the vicinity of the haunted tunnel at the time.  "Jack" also provides a single possibility for the ghost's origin, whereby, "The description of the apparition having limbs severed led reporters to hunt through old crime files looking for a gruesome death that matched.  They soon found one, Swedish seaman Karl Dinass who was suspected of having murdered a sixty-five year old widow named Kate Ryan at West End.  [O]n 29 November 1960 he threw himself under a train.  His horrible injuries matched the description of the ghost.  As it had appeared close to where Dinass was killed, it was speculated that if anybody's spirit was haunting the area it would be his."

It was true that comparisons were drawn between Dinass's suicide five years previously & the Victoria Park ghost, although Dinass's demise had taken place further along the railway line.  The brutal 1952 murder of vagrant Walter Hall, bashed to death and thrown into a small pond on the nearby Victoria Park Golf Course by fellow vagrant Lawrence Burnell, was also proffered...however, this death too had taken place some distance from the underpass where the 1965 ghost had been spotted.  In an attempt to explain the ghost in logical terms, an impressive photograph was published in the newspaper in the days proceeding the sighting, showing a vaporous mass rising from an open drain in the floor of the tunnel...supposedly the result of gases expelled from rotting vegetation caught below.  However, this too was dubious, as the photo was taken using a considerable long exposure setting in order to give the impression of a misty apparition.  All in all, suggesting the ghost originated from events that had transpired in the 12 years prior to the 1965 appearance, at locations removed from the haunted tunnel, is a little short-sighted.

We might well mention the case of Ann Smith - At 5:47pm, on the 2nd of June 1885, a steam train left Roma Street Station on its way north.  Passing through Normanby Station at 5:51pm, the train ran out onto the stretch of line that runs alongside Victoria Park at a speed of 25km per hour.  Within a minute, in the fading light of that winter day, Engine-Driver Edward McCaskie noticed a female figure laying on the tracks about 40 metres ahead of the train, below the current Brisbane Boys Grammar School.  He immediately reversed the engine, sounded the horn & prayed for the train to come to a stop...which, tragically, it did...12 metres too late.  Shocked that the woman had not moved a muscle, even though the horn had been sounding the entire time, both the driver & guard jumped from the train & ran back to the horrible scene.  George Holmes, the parkkeeper at Victoria Park, also ran towards the train.  Seeing what he thought was a parcel laying just behind the train, he snatched it up without thinking, only to realise that he had inadvertently picked up the woman's severed head.  He immediately ran back to the Normanby & raised the alarm with Constable Keane who in turn notified the Police.

The subsequent Inquest questioned a number of people about the incident - evidence provided by the driver that Ann had not flinched the entire time the train approached, or by the guard James Thompson that he did not witness any muscle twitching when the body was removed or a great deal of blood flowing from it, suggested that Ann may very well have been dead when she was struck by the train.  Dr Charles Ferdinand Marks (Member of the Legislative Council, & stepfather to renowned Brisbane architect Robin Dods), examined the body & found the "head and upper part of the face separated from the trunk and lower jaw."  He postulated that Ann had been killed as a result of being rolled against the sleepers by the cow-catcher fitted to the front of the engine...however, it was intimated that this was no more than an educated guess.  Ann's husband Charles, who had seen his wife earlier that day before boarding his ship to travel north,  also testified - he stated that Ann had been in good health, she had never had fits, & he had given her his months pay prior to boarding.  Had Ann been murdered & laid on the tracks to cover the crime?  We will never know.  Does her ghost haunt the Victoria Park tunnel 800 metres further down the line?  Possibly?

So, do we have any other contenders??   On the 2nd of January 1882, it was reported to Police that a 19 month old boy had died of injuries sustained in a tent in Victoria Park - the father, William Smith, had kicked at the mother during a fight on the 31st of December, & had inadvertently struck the child in the head...Smith was subsequently arrested & charged with manslaughter.  On the 29th of October 1888, four year old Thomas Childs, who entered the park with two other boys, attempted to jump a waterhole known as "The Bottle-hole"...he misjudged, fell in & drowned, his body finally being recovered by two students from the nearby Christian Brothers' School (Gregory Terrace).  On the 30th of January 1890, the body of the Railway Department's Chief Draughtsman Richard Roehricht was discovered by a young boy walking through the park...he had shot himself for unknown reasons.  On the 17th of March 1893, the body of Sydney newspaper representative George Wallace was discovered beneath a bush...he had shot himself some days beforehand.  On the 1st of June 1903, the body of Francis Ricou was discovered in Victoria Park...his autopsy discovered that he had dropped dead due to haemorrhage of the brain.  On the 15th of November 1916, sugar plantation worker John Nisbett entered the park drunk, after having lost his job due to a strike...he subsequently shot himself.  The list goes on...

The truth is...dozens of people have died under tragic circumstances in the vicinity of the Victoria Park tunnel.  If the tunnel is in fact haunted, attributing the haunting to a shortlist of one or two unfortunate souls is absolute folly...however given the large number of people who have perished in the grounds, under the most horrendous of circumstances over the past 160 years, I must say that I'm surprised more unexplained sightings haven't occurred...

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Unity, Imperial, Cecil, Jets - however you cut it, the place seems haunted...

The Hotel Cecil c. 1984 (Picture Ipswich, Ipswich City Council)
In researching material for last week's article on the supposed ghosts of the Rosewood Hotel, I came across information on another haunted Ipswich pub that, amazingly, existed independent of any reference to "Jack" Sim or Ghost Tours.  The article, published in the Queensland Times on the 14th of November 2009, gave insight into the resident ghost of the Ipswich Jets Club, located on the corner of Downs & Lowry Street in North Ipswich.  According to the piece, the ghost is known to the staff of the Club as "Harold," & it's believed the haunting harps back to an 1890's bar fight in which a patron lost his life.   The building seems to exhibit all the usual haunted traits - disembodied footsteps heard throughout the Club, doors heard slamming even though they're locked, other random phantom sounds...& a phantasm that only inhabits a corner office on the upper floor, spied huddling in the room's corner by but a few unlucky employees.  According to the article, those staff that have unwittingly stumbled across this crouching spirit now refuse to go anywhere near the room...& in fairness, can you really blame them??

The history of the site is quite varied & interesting, & as fans of the Haunts of Brisbane page on Facebook would know, has provided for some interesting conversation over the past week!  A very common misunderstanding about the site's origin continues to this day - specifically, that the building started it's life as the Imperial Hotel, built & opened in 1887, under the control of James Cooper.  In reality, the site pre-dates the commonly known history by 7 years...back to 1880 when the Unity Hotel was built & operated by William Frederick Larter, a carpenter & joiner who'd immigrated to Australia from London, arriving in Moreton Bay aboard the Conrad on the 26th of November 1855 with his young family.  In 1883, the license for the hotel changed hands to James Cooper, a shrewd businessman who by 1886 would become an Ipswich Alderman & eventual Mayor to the town in 1909.  However life as a publican proved tough for Cooper, & in 1886 at the Ipswich Licensing Meeting held at the Courthouse, when reviewing license renewals, he was taken to task on the state of his establishment. It was put to the Board that the Unity Hotel was old & dilapidated, & needed cleaning up...less than a year later, it had been, under the new name of the Imperial Hotel - renovated, refurbished & refurnished.

Published in The Brisbane Courier, page 5, on the 8th of April 1886.

The Hotel continued under the name of the Imperial until 1891, having passed out of, & back in to, James Cooper's hands.  In April of the same year, after public pressure was placed on the authorities regarding the excessive number of public houses in Ipswich in disregard of legislation, the license was stripped from the establishment, as were two other licenses at offending Hotels in the growing town.  3 months later, however, the National Workmen's Club applied for a club license on the premises - whilst concerns existed that the establishment would not be run according to regulations, the license was still approved...& hence, the Hotel continued to trade.  A further change in 1904 saw the venue renamed the Hotel Cecil, a trading name the building carried for almost 100 years before it was again renovated & transformed into the Ipswich Jets Club in 1998...& it appears that the site's ghost has been making himself known ever since!

So, what of this ghost??  Before I delved further into the history of the site & any potential identities for the Jets Club ghost, I chose to contact the establishment with one simple question to aid in the search - I was very curious to know whether the name "Harold" was a nickname created by staff at the Hotel, or whether someone at some stage had a rough idea of the person's/ghost's identity?  The venue was very kind & open in getting back to me, with the answer that "Harold" was a given nickname - the rumour persisted that "Harold" was the ghost of a Traveller who was killed in a pub brawl years & years ago.  Again, long-term staff told of lights turning back on late at night, chilling winds blowing through the building when doors & windows were shut & doors continually opening after being, again, something otherworldly is clearly persisting in this 130 year old establishment...but why, exactly?  Let's delve back through history, to see if we can locate an event that could possibly give rise to a haunting on the site...

After scouring the historic record, the occasional Court Hearing for assaults at the Hotel crop up, however no Criminal Hearings or Inquests can be located to indicate that any fatal fight occurred on the, we can pretty much scratch the "pub brawl" theory.  However, one interesting event & two accidental deaths can be attributed to the Hotel in the first 70 years of its life.  Our one interesting event involves on of the Hotel's publicans - Alexander Gilbert Burnett.  A native of Calstone Wellington, a small village in Wiltshire, England, Burnett emigrated to Australia & finally settled in Brisbane finding work as a Storeman.  In 1908, he accepted the license for the Crown Hotel at Rocklea, moving to Ipswich a few years later to take up the license of the then Hotel Cecil.  Unfortunately, it would be on Burnett's watch that both deaths would occur...a month apart & within Burnett's first year as licensee, but we'll examine both of those shortly.  Ultimately, Burnett held the license for the Hotel for four years, until ailing health cut his life short at the Oakdale Private Hospital in Ipswich on the 13th of December 1915.  Burnett's body was returned to the Hotel Cecil, where it lay in state until 3:45pm the next day when it was conveyed to the Ipswich General Cemetery.

Published in The Brisbane Courier, page 6, on the 14th of December 1915.

So what of the deaths at the Hotel?  Well, just after 9pm on the 22nd of July 1911, two friends named Edward McMahon & Jack McDonald finished their last drinks at the bar in order to make their way home.  Exiting through the door to the footpath, Edward stumbled awkwardly on the step, likely being intoxicated after his drinking session with McDonald, and lost his balance in the process.  In an instant, McMahon pitched & fell to the footpath, the back of his head striking heavily on the ground likely rendering the poor man unconscious.  Immediately, the Ambulance Brigade were called for, & McMahon was rushed to St. Mary's Private Hospital, an establishment run by Dr Flynn out of what is now the Carrington Guest House on Roderick Street near the top of town.  Unfortunately, McMahon's head injuries were too severe, & he passed away at the hospital shortly after.  Two weeks later, at the Inquest into McMahon's death, the evidence put forward would show the fatality was no more than a very unfortunate accident.

The death of McMahon would have come as quite a shock to the licensee William Burnett, as only a month earlier he'd had to deal with discovering the body of a man in the back yard of the hotel.  At about 6am in the morning on the 10th of June 1911, Burnett had ventured out into the yard & stumbled across the body laying on the ground.  The police were immediately called for, & on investigation they were able to positively identify the man as Hubert Lenehan, a 27 year old brass finisher who had worked at the nearby North Ipswich Railway Works.  It was found that on the day prior, Lenehan had complained of feeling unwell at work, but had soldiered through his shift before finishing up & heading into town with friends for a few drinks.  When the time came for the men to go their separate ways, Hubert's mates left him alone in the yard of the Hotel apparently happy & in good health...unfortunately, Hubert would never make it back to his home in Tivoli.  A subsequent autopsy would show that Hubert had succumbed to natural causes, a result of an enlargement of both the heart & liver.

So, whilst it's always folly to try & attribute a positive identity to a ghost, short of an apparition tapping you on the shoulder & introducing himself personally, we've uncovered 3 historic events that may possibly have generated the haunting of the building.  Could the ghost possibly be that of William Gilbert Burnett, one of the Hotel's licensees, still turning lights on & off and opening the doors as he once had in life??  Did the spirit of Edward McMahon return to the Hotel, the last place he'd been conscious & happy, prior to suffering severe head injuries & passing away at a Private Hospital across the Bremer River??  Or, as the only soul who actually perished on the site, has Hubert moved indoors from the back yard, now wandering the corridors of the building??  If the ghost of the Ipswich Jets Club is Hubert, then the staff of the Hotel weren't too far off when they nicknamed him "Harold!"

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Rosewood Hotel - a tale of 3 supposed ghosts & 1 massive bum steer...

The newly rebuilt Rosewood Hotel in 1916 (John Oxley Library)
Ipswich - the ever-growing city in which I grew up.  Owing its origin to no other than Captain Patrick Logan, who in 1826 located limestone deposits in the area that would become invaluable in the construction phase of the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement, Ipswich's European heritage is only one year younger than Brisbane's.  Adopting the name Limestone as a result, the area became a convict outpost for the Penal Settlement where Brisbane now stands, supplying valuable building materials via the Bremer & Brisbane River to its sibling settlement.  By 1840, enterprising pastoralists were beginning to settle the outlying Darling Downs area, even though it was strictly forbidden for free men to approach the outskirts of either current Ipswich or Brisbane, which were still designated as restricted penal settlements.   However, on the opening of Brisbane Town to free settlement, Limestone soon followed & opened its borders, being designated Ipswich after its namesake in Suffolk, England.

With an almost equal historic timeline to that of Brisbane, it's no wonder that Ipswich also has its fair share of ghost stories...after all, the history of both areas have been intertwined for the past 185 years.  Ipswich abounds with haunted sites, some far more well-known than others...however, through mass media attention & a much-hyped public "ghost hunt" a few years back, one site artificially stands out amongst the others - the Rosewood Hotel.

For a start, it's best that we examine how the Rosewood Hotel & its resident ghosts recently found themselves in the media spotlight, as the story provides important perspective before we delve deeper.  In 2004, the Rosewood Hotel was co-purchased by Ipswich Councillor David Pahlke - we know this fact, because it features in his bio alongside every Ipswich City Council - Division 10 newsletter published for his electorate on the internet [example].  According to his bio, he "has developed a passion for "Ghost" paranormal viewpoints" - what these paranormal viewpoints are, & how they better the lives for those in his constituency, is anyone's guess.  In the City West News, published on the 20th of October 2008, page 6, an article ran on the ghosts of Pahlke's Rosewood Hotel - in a final comment, the article detailed that, "historian and ghost tour operator Jack Sim has stayed in the hotel and confirms something happened while he was here.  He will even dedicate a chapter to the hotel incidents in his book Haunted Ipswich, which is due for release next year."  Thus, the media's attention was now drawn to the Rosewood Hotel...

Unfortunately, Haunted Ipswich: Ghosts of the Heritage City did not live up to its expected publication date in 2009 as per the article (very classily launched in May 2010, alongside the unveiling of a restored monument on a child's grave), however by mid-2009 plans for a public "ghost hunt" of the Rosewood Hotel were already well underway.  "Jack" Sim & his Brisbane-based Ghost Tours company, in league with an outfit calling themselves Queensland Paranormal Investigators, stirred the media pot to announce that the haunted mystery of the Rosewood Hotel would finally be unlocked - a "ghost hunt" was planned for the 27th of June, & 20 members of the public could book to attend for a $65 fee per head...first in, best dressed.  An article promoting the "ghost hunt" was run in the Queensland Times on the 2nd of June 2009, stating, "Customers are given the opportunity to use scientific methods such as EMF readings, or detecting disturbances in the electro magnetic field, and old fashioned methods like flour through to divining rods and spiritual boards."  Surely, this was sizing up to be a bang-up, serious investigation of the pub's ghostly history, right?

And with that, the "hunt" went ahead on the 27 of June.  On the 30th of June, the Ipswich News ran a follow-up piece, detailing what had been uncovered - "The investigators picked up quite a bit of activity. It was all a bit of fun, but I don’t think they left disappointed.  One of the things they picked up were words (through Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVP) on tape of an English lady talking. She was speaking phrases you wouldn’t use today.  A few psychics who visited said similar things which also seem to line up. They mentioned a pioneering lady in early costume who was a cook.  They also spoke of a man named Billy with red hair and a man named Rusty with red hair, who could be the same person."  So, we now had some hard evidence, backed by "evidence" collected by a few psychics...& all of this material seemed to strongly corroborate what was known about the haunted history of the Hotel...

So, what do we know about the ghosts of the Rosewood Hotel?  From details published in the above newspaper articles, the hotel allegedly houses three ghosts, the most famous of which has become known as the "water ghost." The trapped spirit is allegedly that of a man who accidentally started a fire in the hotel in 1914, which resulted in the destruction of the building.  It is said that the ghost's name is "Rusty," & that he was a red-headed Scotsman - he's gained the reputation as the "water ghost" because bedsheets, clothes etc in one of the Hotel's rooms are found to be damp for reasons unknown.  The second ghost is apparently that of a woman in period dress, who is seen standing at the top of the staircase on the second floor. The third ghost is allegedly that of a U.S. soldier who was shot dead by Military Police in the doorway of the hotel after venturing into town from the nearby Calvert Ordinance Depot during the Second World War.  Now, one very big factor to take into account with all of these hauntings, according to the articles, is that the details were uncovered by various psychics & clairvoyants - at no stage do any of the articles mention historic record being used to verify these claims.

So, without further ado, let's do just that!  What do we know about the history of Rosewood & potential incidents that could provide us with an origin for these ghosts?  We will start with one very important piece of information - according to the 1903 edition of the Australian Handbook, "It [Rosewood] has four hotels, the Rosewood, Commercial, and Royal on the northern or Scrub side of the railway, and the Rising Sun on the opposite side."  Both the Rosewood & Royal (George) Hotels are located on John Street, a mere 100 metres apart.

At 2:00am in the morning, on the 3rd of January 1914,  an orange glow was noticed by the town's Night Officer coming from the back of Fraser's Boot Shop - it was instantly apparent that a fire had started inside.  Within minutes, the alarm had been raised & town residents formed a bucket brigade to try & extinguish the rapidly spreading fire before it moved to surrounding buildings.  Without luck, the fire inevitably spread to Tomlin's Chemist & Fite's Fruit & Refreshments Shop, either side of Fraser's...before long, the eaves of the Rosewood Hotel next to Fite's were also well alight.  By 3:30am, the fire had finally been contained, but not without consequence - fortunately, not a soul had lost their lives, although 9 buildings lay in smouldering ruins, having all been burnt to the ground. complete contradiction to the advertised ghost story of the Rosewood Hotel, we now know that a fire was not accidentally lit at the hotel in 1914, but had originated from Fraser's Boot Shop 3 doors up from the establishment.  We also know that no lives were lost during the blaze that decimated a sizeable chunk of 1914 Rosewood's business district.  So, where did the notion of a man nicknamed "Rusty" (or something to that effect), who possibly accidentally lit a fire & maybe perhaps died in that fire, come from exactly??  The answer is quite simple...

At 3:00am on the 30th of October 1933, a fire was started in a boarder's room at the Royal Hotel (remember, the Royal Hotel is 100 metres up the road from the Rosewood Hotel).  The glare woke the licensee Mr. McCormack, who promptly rushed his children outside before running back into the Hotel to wake the boarders upstairs.  Fortunately, all were evacuated one - a miner from Westvale Collieries, nicknamed "Sandy" Easton, became confused in the smoke in an attempt to locate the fire escape, & ran into a bathroom instead.  With great effort, the licensee, his wife & another boarder managed to drag "Sandy" out through the bathroom window, however he had already suffered severe burns - raced to the Ipswich Hospital, poor "Sandy" succumbed to his injuries shortly after.  As a result of the fire, the Royal Hotel & two adjoining premises were destroyed.  Given the extent of "Sandy's" burns, it is even possible that the fire may had started in his room...we will never know.  What we do know, however, is the story of "Rusty" at the Rosewood Hotel & "Sandy" at the Royal Hotel down the road are remarkably similar...& we know which one is based on historic fact!

Published in The Courier Mail, page 11, on the 31st of October 1933. 

Next, we turn our attention to the female ghost in period dress seen on the second floor of the Rosewood Hotel.  Unfortunately, we're not left with much to work with here, so need to delve into the historic record to locate an event that could likely give rise to a haunting...again, the Rosewood Hotel comes up trumps, but surprisingly again the Royal Hotel shows up.  At 10:30 in the morning, on the 28th of May 1926, the young wife of the licensee Patrick Downey, Mary Francis, was standing in her bedroom on the second floor of the can only be supposed as to what occurred over the following seconds, however passers-by heard screams from the bedroom door that opened out onto the upper balcony & watched in horror as Mrs Downey ran into view, her clothes ablaze.  In her panic, she struck her head heavily on a post & toppled over the rail, falling into the street still on fire.  Her husband, who had been downstairs, ran out into the roadway & managed to extinguish her clothes, however she had already been horrifically burnt & succumbed to her injuries a few minutes later.  It was supposed that she had struck a match in the bedroom, that in turn had inadvertently ignited her clothing.

Very sadly, her husband who had been left with their infant son, chose to dispose of the license on the Royal Hotel a few weeks later to return to Brisbane at the start of June 1926...on the 18th of October, after having lost his wife & mother to his child not even 5 months previously, the 36 year old Patrick succumbed at the Brisbane General Hospital after ailing for a short period, leaving his young son an orphan.  If ever a tale of tragedy was to give rise to a haunting, this would most undoubtedly be it...unfortunately, it again happened in the wrong Hotel for our intrepid "ghost hunters."

As for the U.S. Serviceman who was apparently shot dead by Military Police in the doorway to the Rosewood Hotel, no records exist to support this claim...although we must also take into account that this ghostly information, like the rest, was offered up by an unnamed "psychic."  It was not unusual for the U.S. Forces in Australia during the Second World War to demand media silence on "unsavoury" events involving their soldiers - for anyone who is aware of the events that took place during the sensational Battle of Brisbane, virtually not a word was published about it in the Brisbane newspapers at the time on the request of the U.S. Military hierarchy - however, I am still highly sceptical if this event at the Rosewood Hotel ever took place, & would be more than happy to receive correspondence from anyone capable of confirming this ever occurred.

So, all in all, we're left with one Ipswich Councillor, one Brisbane ghost tour operator, & one "paranormal investigation" team with egg on their faces...not to mention the unknown number of "guests" who were fleeced out of $65 each for the privilege of "hunting" ghosts in the wrong Hotel.  If either "Jack" Sim or the so-called Queensland Paranormal Investigators had even remotely bothered to do their research, they would have known they were advertising a bogus "ghost hunt" at the Rosewood Hotel based on historic events conveniently borrowed from the Royal Hotel just up the road.  Ironically, the Queensland Paranormal Investigators were showcased on Channel 9's A Current Affair, six months later on the 14th of January 2010 - the segment encouraged Stephen Downes, a renowned Australian expert in marketing & corporate branding, to write a very colourful article on his blog, entitled, "Who ya gonna call?  Consumer Affairs, the ACCC and the ACMA!" - I couldn't urge you more to read this article, as it perfectly sums up what you've read in this article.  Ultimately, dodgy tour operators seeking fast bucks with less-than-reputable ghost "investigators" in tow, are the scourge of the paranormal field, & further aid in destroying any reputation legitimate researchers have.  And as a final word to Councillor Pahlke - I'm truly sorry, but if you were after a haunted pub in clearly bought the wrong one.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

"Petrie Mansions" - a "how to" for the avid Ghost Hunter...

 Petrie Terrace, ca. 1902 - the building at centre right is our target.
This week, after looking through the multitude of ghost-themed websites that now exist across Australia, I noticed that the vast majority sported long lists of "known" haunted sites throughout Brisbane...yet none provided even the slightest detail as to the history of the site, the supposed aspects of the haunting, or any indication of the resident ghost's origin.  Obviously, to the amateur "Ghost Hunter" or history buff, nothing is more frustrating - Why is the place regarded as haunted?  Has anything paranormal actually happened there?  What happened to give the impression that the ghost belongs to "that" specific person?  And most importantly, what is the history of the site, & do any historic aspects tie in to lend credence to the apparent haunting??? 

In this week's article, I hope to enlighten you all with a basic LOCAL HISTORY 101 lesson, through the examination of a known Brisbane haunting.

For the amateur parapsychologist or Brisbane resident who suspects their house may be haunted, hours of wading through the regular ghost sites may likely leave you asking, "but why??" - the vast majority of ghost groups & organisations in Australia seem to lack the basic ability to research their target sites prior to running off blindly in pursuit of ghosts (N.B. A very small few are exceptionally good in their research & investigative techniques, however) - it seems that most groups' investigations are based on a single newspaper clipping, a short TV segment, a rumour from a brother's friend's no way do these reflect extensive research.  This week, without utilising my personal history library or usual Court/Police/Coroner's/Land's Office files, I'll walk you through an examination of the above haunting using nothing more than an internet connection & a laptop - any of you at home with these two resources, & a little time & effort, can carry out basic historic research to narrow down the possibility of a haunting at your target site, just like we will in this article. first off, let's start with the known ghost story of Petrie Mansions in Brisbane - during the week, I sent a teaser out on our Facebook page in an attempt to discern who'd either heard of this haunting or was up to the challenge of locating information on it - Tylene, one of our fans, clearly won the challenge when she scoured the internet to locate what she could on the Petrie Mansions haunting, however a few of the details were missing - the whole story, as it is regularly told, goes thus: many years ago, a tragedy occurred at the site.  A young girl named Hannah had been riding her tricycle on the upper veranda, & being curious as she was, decided to get a better look at the happenings in the busy street below.  Pulling the tricycle over to the railing, Hannah stood up on the seat...before she could be stopped, the tricycle moved under her weight, tipping her off balance & toppling her over the railing to the landing some distance below...she died.  Many years later, part of the building was converted into a restaurant & function centre - it wasn't long before Hannah made her presence known.  Cutlery was frequently moved on set tables when the restaurant was shut, the security system was constantly tripped when the building was empty after hours, & a small silhouette was regularly seen moving behind frosted glass doors & curtains throughout the centre.

So, directly from the internet, what do we know about the building?  From the teaser link posted on the Haunts of Brisbane Facebook page this week, we know that, "The Petrie Estate land sale began in 1883 and the majority of the terraces along Petrie Terrace were completed just before the Undue Subdivision of Land Prevention Act 1885 came into full effect, this row was originally known as “Illawarra”."  From this, we know that the building was built in the mid-1880's, & was originally known as "Illawarra."  This piece of information should provide a good starting point...

We're going to heavily utilise the National Library of Australia's website for much of our research - primarily from the historic newspaper archive.  Knowing what we do about the supposed haunting, using the search string "fell" & "Petrie Terrace" & "died" from 1880 until 1954 across the The Brisbane Courier & The Courier Mail, over 700 articles are located - we will need to go through each of these to evaluate their content (time consuming I know, but 100% necessary).  In doing so, we find that no article exists regarding a young girl toppling over a balcony & dying, so our story of Hannah is looking very shaky...however what we do find is very interesting, & possibly gives us an idea of how the story of Hannah evolved.  On the 17th of December 1900, on page 4 of the The Brisbane Courier, we find an article concerning a fatal accident on Petrie Terrace.  According to the article, an infant boy, being nursed by his young sister on their balcony, accidentally toppled over the rail & fell to the stone landing below - after being rushed to the hospital, little could be done to save the boy & he subsequently passed away shortly after.  A week later on the 25th of December, on page 4 of The Brisbane Courier, we find details of the Magisterial Inquiry into the young boy's death.

From these two articles, we now know that the boy's name was Joseph Giffen Stewart & he died on the 16th of December 1900 - if we use this information in an historic records search on the Queensland Births, Deaths & Marriages website, we discover that Joseph's parents were Joseph Robert & Elizabeth Stewart.  We also discover in a BDM search that Joseph had an older brother, David Alexander (aged 8), & two older sisters, Ethel Elizabeth (aged 9) & Jannie Dixon (aged 6).  A little further digging in the newspaper archives also gives us Joseph's funeral notice, on the 17th of December on page 2 of The Brisbane Courier:

From this, we now know that little Joseph was buried at Toowong Cemetery on the 17th of December 1900, a detail we can confirm by running the details through the Brisbane City Council's Grave Location Search.  Of greatest importance are the address details given for the mother's residence, on Petrie Terrace near Musgrave Road.  As we know, Petrie Mansions is located very close to the corner of Petrie Terrace & Musgrave Road, just before the Normanby Five-ways...not only have we now located an actual historic event that closely matches the ghost story, but we've also confirmed that this event occurred in very close proximity to (or possibly at) Petrie Mansions.  So, what more can we glean about the family from the information we've already located?

In the article regarding the accident, it is noted that Joseph's father was in South Africa at the time of the incident.  This is very interesting from an historical perspective, as contingents from all Australian States were sent to South Africa to serve in the Boer War, between 1899 & 1902 - however, on checking the nominal rolls for the Boer War on the Australian War Memorial website, there is no indication that Joseph's father served during this conflict.  So, we return to the historic newspaper archive at the National Library of Australia to see what we can locate the father Joseph - keeping in mind that we also know from the funeral notice, that Joseph Snr was a Produce Merchant trading on Roma Street.   Another search provides two articles in The Brisbane Courier, on the 21st of August & 6th of September 1900, showing that only months prior to young Joseph's death, his father had been declared insolvent & creditors had been called in to liquidate his assets.  The articles also indicate that Joseph Snr is living at Enoggera at this stage.  Using that piece of information, an additional search uncovers that a Joseph Robert Stewart, living in Enoggera, had served as a Councillor in the Ithaca Shire Council throughout the 1890's - are our two Joseph Robert Stewart's the same person??  They may very well be...something we need to add to our notes, which can be validated during a trip to the State Library & State Archives in Brisbane for further research.

So...after carrying out some searches based solely on what is available on the internet, we've uncovered quite a bit of information that we can now utilise for higher-level research.  We've virtually dispelled the local folklore of Hannah, but have located a remarkably similar event in time that likely gave rise to the legend...we've positioned this event in time to a location that closely corresponds with the Petrie Mansions...we've uncovered some back-history about the family in general, brought into question the father's movements when he was apparently in South Africa, & have raised further questions as to why the mother was living on Petrie Terrace with the children, when the father seemed to be living in Enoggera a few months previously before going bankrupt.  All of these questions will find their respective answers at the State repositories on further research, but it's surprising how much we've already uncovered simply by sitting on the lounge at home with a laptop, right??

Knowing that, I cannot encourage amateur ghost hunters & curious ghost fans enough to constantly & consistently question, question, & question again...especially when it comes to Brisbane's ghostly history.  Throughout this article, I have given you a number of links to online databases & archives that will help you to critically evaluate ghost stories that you've heard, or research potential hauntings you're curious about in Brisbane - most of these stories are based on no more than hearsay & oral legend, but memories are not infallible, even a month after the event...always endeavour to locate & verify the truth from multiple documentary sources, & question once again!  There is absolutely no doubt that the Petrie Mansions has a resident ghost, however Hannah appears to be a myth & young Joseph at 20 months old seems too young to be at the core of the haunting - in a future article, we plan to get to the bottom of this one!