Monday, 28 May 2012

The Tale of the Toowong Tiger: Brisbane's "Big Cat" Mystery!

 Looking over Toowong from Mt Coot-tha, c. 1932.  (John Oxley Library)
Up until this stage, the Haunts of Brisbane has focused on the haunted history of our city.  However, during the week we threw the Facebook-lines open in order to ask those of you, who follow us, what you'd like to read in our upcoming book.  One fan, Corey, came forward with a great idea: "I'd love to see more on 'the forgotten Brisbane'…by that I mean occurrences of hauntings and mysteries that date back to before the middle of last century."  If we step aside from our usual focus on ghosts, Brisbane also has a very vibrant history when it comes to the unexplained...only the other night, Lauren, another of our supporters & fellow published historians, raised the topic of Pallara's "Yowie" - having grown up in Ipswich, I've heard numerous stories relating to this creature...many as a result of regurgitated urban legend, & a few from first-hand experience.  That story, however, remains for another day...so what's this week's article about, I hear you ask in anticipation??

Our story focuses on the Brisbane suburb of Toowong in May 1949...quite amazingly, the first mention of our mystery comes from an article published in The Courier Mail on the 27th of May 1949 - yesterday's date!  Over the previous week, surrounding residents had been waking to find their hen-houses broken open & chooks killed - this wasn't a particularly unusual event in Brisbane at the time, & a fox or dog was suspected as the culprit.  Similarly, for the previous two months across the Brisbane River, over 30 chooks had been killed around the Dutton Park & Annerley area, including those of Cecil Souter, the South Brisbane Cemetery Caretaker.  Mr Souter, who had lost 15 hens in a  single night, took to setting rabbit traps around his yard & sleeping with a loaded rifle in anticipation of a return visit.  A large fox had been spotted in the area, & residents vowed to hunt down the bushy-tailed culprit - one night, taxi driver H. J. Bradshaw spotted the animal out in the open, & wildly chased it down Gladstone Road in a vain attempt to run it over with his taxi!  Needless to say, with the bushland of Mt Coot-tha nearby, a fox was also considered the most likely culprit in Toowong.

 Mr Souter in preparation of the fox's return (The Courier Mail, 23rd May 1949)

Within a few nights, the Toowong "marauder" turned its sights on the home of Robert McGregor-Lowndes, at 16 Eldridge Street.  Mr McGregor-Lowndes was a keen ornithologist, & kept a number of exotic birds including two South American Macaws, a South African Grey Parrot, a number of finches...& like many other residents of Brisbane at the time, some trusty chooks. On the first visit, the "marauder" took the life of Mr McGregor-Lowndes' rare South African Grey Parrot...the next night, the killer apparently paid another visit, 8 finches being found dead in their cages supposedly from shock.  Not being one to idly stand by whilst his precious birds were selectively executed, McGregor-Lowndes formulated a scheme to try & catch the beast, notifying the papers of his cunning plan.  Thus, on the 27th of May 1949, The Courier Mail ran its first article on the Toowong "marauder."  Entitled, "Pitchfork Vigil to find Fowl Killer," the article detailed McGregor-Lowndes' plan to use chooks as decoys in the hope of luring the predator within striking distance...at which time, McGregor-Lowndes intended on poking it with his pitchfork!  Heber Longman, a local naturalist, was also interviewed for the piece - in his opinion, the culprit was most likely a native tiger cat (spotted tiger quoll), a similar animal having been responsible for chook deaths in Toowong some years earlier.

The very next day, on the 28th of May, The Courier Mail ran a follow-up article, entitled, "Killer's' treble."  Unfortunately, Mr McGregor-Lowndes had hidden himself in wait for the beast from 1am until almost daybreak, when responsibilities required his departure from the address.  No sooner had he left, than the sneaky "marauder" slipped into his yard unhindered, and killed three of McGregor-Lowndes' chooks...the very three chooks that had been used as decoys!  Not one to be bettered by a pesky animal, McGregor-Lowndes concocted an even more elaborate scheme to capture the creature on the night of the 29th of May...the details of which found their way into The Courier Mail the next day on the 30th.  According to the article, "A big net was spread from the fowl house to the front gate, and was backed by pitchforks, a rifle, sticks and a light.  Plan of campaign was for Mr. Jack Sten, a friend, to pull the net, switch on the light, and then all hands would attack.  And if the "killer" missed the net, he might put a foot into one of the traps scattered round the yard."  How none of the intrepid hunters managed to inadvertently trigger the doomsday device in their excitement is anyone's guess, however they all survived the ordeal unscathed.  According to Mrs McGregor-Lowndes, the dogs of the neighbourhood howled for quite a while during the night...as they'd been doing since the "marauder" had come onto the scene nearly two weeks previously...unfortunately, on this night, the killer failed to pay a visit.

The night of the 30th of May seems to have passed without incident in Toowong...however, the most amazing twist in the story occurred the very next night.  On the 1st of June, Mr J. H. Taylor ventured out into the backyard of his Milton Road property to lock his chook-house door...it was 8pm at night, & he'd already lost 10 chooks to the "marauder" on a previous evening.  Located very close to the McGregor-Lowndes' residence in nearby Eldridge Street, Taylor was keen to retain what few birds he had left...training his torch light on the chook-house, he froze, completely terror-stricken, as the beam lit up a creature about to pounce on one of his roosters!  According to yet another article published in The Courier Mail on the 4th of June, who by now were following the story with great interest, "It was something like a giant cat.  It moved like lightening when I disturbed it and came straight towards me.  I was close to it when it veered away, and bounded across the fence into my neighbour's place.  It was definitely not a dog.  I got a terrible shock.  It looked like a huge cat, with a long trailing tail."  The article goes further to mention that the creature didn't merely run at Mr Taylor after he'd opened the chook-house door..."The killer bounded over a seven-foot poultry fence and came straight at him."  After the near-miss, Taylor fled back indoors, white-faced & shaking.  Not wanting to miss a kill, the giant cat returned again the next night - "Large padded tracks, with protruding claw marks, were deeply impressed in the soft soil."

Again, naturalist Heber Longman was called upon to give his verdict...again, he claimed it was likely a tiger quoll.  However, a major problem exists with this theory: the average male tiger quoll weighs in at about 3.5 kilograms, & measures about 75 centimetres from nose to tail-tip...larger animals have been spotted on occasion, although not a great deal larger.  Taking those details into account, a male tiger quoll is about the size of a domestic cat...even a large quoll would be no bigger than a large domestic cat.  Furthermore, quolls will become defensive if cornered, however purposefully charging at a human is completely unnatural for this animal, & the ability to bound over, let alone scramble up, a seven foot fence is very questionable.  If the testimony of Taylor is to be believed, the cat in question was of a proportion large enough to make him fear for his life, had no fear of charging a fully grown man, & was capable of clearing a seven foot fence "like lightening."  Also, how heavy would a beast need to be to leave deep, large padded tracks in the dirt??  In the interest of playing devil's advocate, let's throw out the crazy notion that the animal was a cougar - females of the species weigh in at an average of 42 kilograms, measure about 200 centimetres from nose to tail-tip on average, can jump over 5 metres vertically & will attack humans if provoked.

But how the hell could a cougar, or any other species of large cat, possibly be skulking around 1949 Toowong, I hear you ask??  Well...the possibility behind what seems to be an incredibly outlandish statement, isn't as far fetched as you might think.  On the 18th of June 1943, at the height of World War II, 28 Officers, 33 Chiefs & 1023 enlisted men arrived in Brisbane aboard the S.S. Young America - these men, from America, formed the U.S. 84th Naval Construction Battalion.  Nicknamed the Seabees, these men travelled to Australia via Camp Parks & Camp Rousseau in California...the State in the U.S. renowned for its Cougar population.  After taking control of Camp Seabee at Eagle Farm, a contingent of enlisted men were sent to the base of Mt Coot-tha for a monumental construction project - the establishment of a U.S. Naval Mines Depot in the vicinity of the current Slaughter's Falls park area.  This U.S. Naval detachment existed at the base of Mt Coot-tha until late 1945 & the cessation of hostilities on the Pacific...& one can only wonder what extra baggage the men brought with them!  U.S. military contingents were renowned for travelling with "mascots," as were their counterparts from Australia.  Whist Australian troops smuggled wallabies on their tours overseas, U.S. troops were known for smuggling animals like cougars...many of the "big cat" sightings in Australia's southern regions are attributed to escaped/unleashed U.S. mascots dating back to WWII days.

U.S. Naval Mine Depot off Sir Samuel Griffith Drive (Courtesy ozatwar.com)

So...did Mr Taylor spot an unusually large spotted tiger quoll in his chook-house that night, after which he massively overreacted & retreated scared...or did he indeed spot a giant cat that bounded a seven foot fence & charged him, after which he fled in terror??  Did a tiger quoll leave the large impressions in Mr Taylor's yard complete with deep claw marks...or did a much larger, weightier predator??  Truth be known...it's all just postulation...although, it makes for some very exciting postulation!  Ultimately, what are the chances an escaped "big cat" could survive on the slopes of Mt Coot-tha undetected??  The answer to that, again, is surprising...reports were made to Brisbane City Council nearly 10 years ago that a dingo pack had been harassing picnickers on Mt Coot-tha.  In the Courier Mail, the Council replied that no known dingoes existed in the area, & the reports were clearly mistaken.  A short time later, photos of the dingo pack were proffered & published in the same paper, proving dingoes were prevalent on the mountain...despite ongoing denials from the Council.  So...if a large family group of dingoes could thrive on the slopes of current-day Mt Coot-tha, undetected, is it really such a far stretch that a "big cat" could have roamed the same region unhindered for years after the U.S. extraction from the same area??

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Mrs Rixson's Demise: Did her ghost really attempt to set the record straight??

The township of Maryborough in 1874 (State Library of Qld)
History is full of tales regarding crimes that were solved due to the intervention of a ghost - both in the fictional & factual sphere. For those who have seen the 1990 movie Ghost, & those others who refuse to admit having seen it, we all watched on as the ghost of a murdered man attempted to reach out to the living world in the hope of identifying his killer & seeing justice done.  However, whilst such stories make for intriguing viewing on the big & small screen, similar events have occurred in the real world throughout history.  One such event, which unfolded in the United States, has endured the ravages of time to become one of the world's most unusual ghost stories...

In 1897, in the West Virginian town of Greenbrier, 23 year old Elva Zona Heaster Shue died under very strange circumstances.  Having been very recently married to a man of whom her mother strongly disapproved, Zona's lifeless body was discovered on the floor of her home by a young boy, sent to the address by her husband on an errand.  The alarm was immediately raised, & the local Doctor-come-Coroner was called for - an examination of the body would be required.  However, when the Coroner arrived on the scene, Zona's husband Edward had already returned home, & had inexplicably acted in a way that raised the suspicions of the Physician.  Edward had moved Zona's lifeless body to an upstairs bedroom, where he had redressed her in an elegant dress with a high neck & stiff collar.  Weeping bitterly & cradling his wife's head in his arms throughout the post-mortem examination, Edward protested when the Coroner attempted to examine slight marks on Zona's cheek & neck...so much so, the examination was terminated prematurely & cause of death was contributed to an "everlasting faint."  The next day, Edward festooned Zona's neck with a scarf he claimed was her favourite, & her friends & family attended her wake, all the while being shunned by Edward from approaching the coffin.  Zona was finally interred in the local cemetery, & many believed the saga had finally reached its tragic end...although it had not.

Just prior to Zona's final journey to the cemetery, her mother had removed a sheet from inside the coffin - offering the linen to Edward, he immediately turned down the gesture.  Puzzled at Edward's refusal of her offer, Zona's mother retained the sheet & took it home with her.  On arriving home & noticing the sheet had a pungent smell, Zona's mother undertook to washing the linen & was horrified at the result - the sheet & washing water turned red, & subsequent washes failed to remove the staining...Zona's mother was now certain that her daughter's death was not a result of natural causes, & the sheet incident hinted at something far more sinister.  Praying for weeks that her daughter would return in spirit to divulge the details of her death, Zona's mother finally succeeded in raising the ghost of her daughter...& the truth was finally revealed during a number of ghostly visitations - Edward had strangled Zona resulting in a broken neck.  Ultimately, Zona's mother contacted the local Prosecutor, who requested an exhumation & re-examination of Zona's body...the subsequent post-mortem revealed finger marks on the throat, a destroyed windpipe & broken neck.  The case was immediately reopened, & Edward was placed back on trial...which is where our story in this instance gets very interesting - Zona's mother testified against Edward on the basis of the information provided to her by the ghost of her daughter.  To this day, the case is the only of its kind in the legal history of the United States, where evidence provided by a ghost was successfully used in the sentencing of a murderer.

So...what does this case have to do with the haunted history of South-East Queensland, I hear you ask??  Well...whilst the above U.S. case in 1897 is still talked about to this day internationally, an almost identical case occurred in the township of Maryborough over a decade earlier in 1876...yet, I'd be very surprised if the story is even known these days amongst locals, let alone on the international stage...

On the 29th of September 1875, Alexander Rixon & Lydia Quipps arrived in Queensland aboard the Star Queen, having travelled from England in search of a better life.  Having lived together abroad for four months before their massive journey across the ocean, the two settled in Maryborough under the guise of a married couple, even though no official agreement bound them in matrimony.  Lydia had made the journey with a child to a previous relationship, & Alexander acted as a substitute father for the little one...for 6 months, all seemed to go well for the couple, however on the 3rd of March 1876 the relationship quickly fell off the rails.  After a fight, Alexander forced Lydia out of their house...Lydia, distraught, took up lodgings in a back room nearby at the Adamson's residence.  The very next day, in a show of defiance, Alexander spitefully married another local lady - Annie Bush.  However, immediately after the marriage, Alexander realised that his spiteful act had backfired...his knee-jerk choice in a wife had been a disaster.  The very next day, Alexander visited the lodgings of his recent ex-partner for a few hours...the day after he visited again until dark, confessing to his marriage & stating to Lydia that he wished he'd never left her.  Alexander again called in to Lydia on Tuesday & Wednesday for a time, then was absent until Sunday the 12th of March.  The next day, he returned again to the Adamson's, & declared he would not return to his marital home that night...he went to bed with Lydia & woke the next morning by her side.

On waking, he decided he would return to his marital house to fetch some sweet potatoes for Lydia at 6am...returning 2 hours later at 8am with the potatoes, he announced to Lydia, "I have been and done for my wife."  In a panic, Lydia challenged Alexander on the statement, to which Alexander clasped Lydia by the throat, digging his nails into her neck, stating, "I did it this way."  No sooner were the words out of his mouth, than Alexander denied his previous statements, & immediately left...however, a few hours after a little girl stopped by the Adamson's & broke the news that Annie Rixson (nee Bush) had been found dead.  Similarly to the case of Zona above, Alexander's reaction to the death of his new wife had been bizarre.  On the morning of her death, whilst Rixson had been at his house retrieving sweet potatoes, a fight was overheard by his neighbours...hours after at 10am, after having visited Lydia with the potatoes & then returning to his house, he went next door to the Kinna's residence & proclaimed that he thought his wife was dying - when Mrs Kinna followed Alexander back to his house, she found Annie lying lifeless on the bed with her bodice splayed open, & flies already milling on her face.  Another neighbour, Mrs Gibson, soon entered the house on hearing the news & begged Alexander to go for a doctor...he proclaimed he had rheumatism in his legs & could not walk, although left to seek a doctor after increasing pressure from both women.

An Inquest was held into Annie Rixson's death...horribly, the woman was cut from gullet to groin in the autopsy process, in what can only be described as sheer curiosity on behalf of the practitioners who carried out the post-mortem - her lungs, intestines & heart were removed for examination, & when those organs failed to discern her cause of death her skull was cut open & her brain was removed & dissected.  Strange marks on Annie's neck had already been pointed out, however these were put down to brooch scratches, & self-inflicted strangulation - the medical practitioners carrying out the autopsy came to the conclusion that Annie had died of apoplexy, & had clutched at her own throat during her dying minutes.  Comfortable that their gruesome job was done, the two medical practitioners released the body for burial to the local cemetery, & the townsfolk expected the saga was now at rest...which, like Zona's above, it definitely was not...the subsequent Inquest into Annie's death was held, & the Coroner's findings were upheld & the case closed, however Annie still had a hand to play...

The very next night after the Inquest, a man crossing the Maryborough Reserve happened upon a terrifying sight...according to the The Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser on the 19th of April 1876, "The night after the inquiry, a man named Adamson, going home across the reserve, saw a ghost.  If you consider this a laughing matter I assure you the man does not.  He becomes fightable if you but smile when he narrates his experience.  This is what he saw, or, if you like, fancies he saw: First, what appeared like a small heap of black earth.  As he approached, he saw it move, and concluded it was a large black dog.  But it still kept growing larger, and Adamson was certain it was a [censored].  Mustering all his courage, he walked toward the object.  As he drew near he was seized with a violent shaking, cold perspiration burst out all over his body, a bundle which he was carrying on his shoulder fell to the ground, and his hat rose from his head.  In the features of the apparition he recognised those of Mrs Rixson!  Then came a voice, "I am the murdered wife of Rixson!"  The apparition then placed one of its hands over its mouth, and the other on its throat, and - disappeared.  Adamson does not know how long he remained on the Reserve, or how he found his way home.  Next morning he took his wife's advice, and told his extraordinary experience to the police, and they, growing suspicious, arrested Rixson & Lydia Quipps.  The woman was no sooner in the police office than she made a statement, which she has since repeated in the Police Court."

As a result of the apparition being spotted by the man named Adamson (his relationship to the Adamson's with whom Lydia was boarding is unknown), & the subsequent information being handed to the Police, Annie's remains were exhumed for further investigation - even though Annie's body had already been butchered during the initial post-mortem, her throat was now cut open to examine the windpipe.  Whilst no suspicious discoveries were made regarding the airway, deep fingernail marks were clearly identified around the neck & the cause of death was amended from apoplexy to suffocation/strangulation.  Alexander Rixson was arrested on suspicion of murder, & was brought before the Maryborough Circuit Court to answer the charge.  Amazingly, in light of the evidence proffered against him, Alexander continued to profess his innocence at his arraignment, stating to the Magistrate, "I am innocent enough of that death, Sir; that is all I have to say."  Rixson was subsequently committed for trial in Brisbane, the hearing taking place on the 12th of April 1876...miraculously, amidst the evidence levelled against him, the Jury returned a unanimous verdict of "Not Guilty," & Alexander Rixson walked free.

So, had the ghost of Annie Rixson not appeared that fateful night on the Maryborough Reserve, her week-long husband Alexander Rixson would have escaped any risk of trial for the murder of his new wife...unfortunately, unlike Zona's case 11 years later in the United States, Queensland's legal fraternity were less accepting of "ghost testimony."  Whilst a murderer walked free in this instance, we can't discount the fact that the ghost of a murdered woman returned in the vain hope of aiding in the arrest of her killer...regardless of whether the effort was successful or not.  Given that the case of the Greenbrier Ghost is internationally known & discussed amongst the paranormal fraternity, due to the exhumation & subsequent court case it brought about, shouldn't the Maryborough case of Annie Rixson also rate an international mention??

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Guyra Ghost: Australia's very own poltergiest, & Brisbane's contribution to the legend...

 The focus house of the Guyra Ghost (Guyra Argus, 25th of January 2010)

Let's take a trip back 91 years...to a time much simpler & more innocent than ours, in the early months of 1921 - Edith Cowan was elected into the Western Australian Legislative Council to become Australia's first female Parliamentarian, Albert Einstein embarked on a U.S. lecture circuit to promote his new Theory of Relativity, a gunman killed New South Wales MP & Unionist Percy Brookfield during a bungled disarming on an Adelaide train platform, Australia's entire population equalled 5.44 million (a quarter of the current headcount)...& something truly & utterly bizarre began to manifest in a cottage in northern New South Wales...

To the quiet little township of Guyra, nestled halfway between Armidale & Glen Innes, the bizarre outbreak came as both a massive curiosity & fright.  On the 8th of April, the residence of William & Catherine Bowen, & their three young children, mysteriously came under attack from flying pebbles which seemed to materialise out of thin air.  The missiles began to rain down on the roof of the cottage & could be heard ricocheting off the outer walls of the building.  Curious neighbours began to approach the house & the local Constabulary were summoned in an attempt to flush out the phantom stone-thrower, however it was all for nought - the perpetrator & origin of the flying stones could not be discerned despite their best efforts.  Over the following three nights, the attacks increased until all the windows in the house had been smashed & the family had been driven almost to the point of distraction...& by the third night, further bizarre occurrences were beginning to manifest.  Sharp bangs began to emanate from the internal walls of the house, apparently shaking the cottage to its foundations...& by this stage, it was becoming apparent that the mysterious happenings seemed to be focused around the Bowen's 12 year old daughter Minnie...

On the 13th of April, Ben Davey from nearby Uralla was called in to investigate - pledging to solve the mystery by spiritualistic means, Davey set about his work.  Having heard that Catherine Bowen had recently lost a daughter born to a previous marriage, & convinced that the spirit of this child was likely responsible for the mysterious occurences, Davey asked young Minnie to reach out in an attempt to make contact with her departed step-sister.  Initially hesitant, Minnie eventually complied & apparently received an unheard message from the spirit world via clairaudience.  Asked by her mother Catherine to divulge the details secreted to her, Minnie did so in the living room in the presence of approximately 30 other curious police & neighbours - "Tell mother I'm quite happy and safe in heaven, and it is her prayers that got me here, and I'll look after her for the rest of my life."  According to the Sydney Morning Herald on the 15th of April 1921, "The mother and other members of the family were painfully affected by the strange communications of the girl.  Whatever may be thought of the latest development in the mystery the girl who has played such a prominent part in it from the beginning is certainly a worthy study for the psychologist or scientific investigator."  Needless to say, all involved hoped that the otherworldly message had indicated a cessation to the bizarre events of the previous week...unfortunately, they were to continue unabated...

On the 18th of April, alongside an additional police contingent despatched to Guyra, Harry Jay Moors arrived in the town.  H. J. Moors, a close friend of Robert Louis Stevenson & Arthur Conan Doyle, was a well-known Trader throughout the South Sea Islands...however he was also very well known for his interest in the supernatural.  After spending three days examining the house before returning to Sydney, Moors was absolutely convinced that a poltergeist was responsible for the manifestations in Guyra.  In an interview provided to the Sydney Morning Herald, published on the 22nd of April, it was stated that, "Mr Moors, in discussing the matter yesterday, said the people of Guyra resented very strongly some of the reports which had gone out from the township concerning the affair, because of their ceaseless vigils and very exhaustive efforts to get at the bottom of the disturbances.  Mr. Moors speaks from his own experience of these ceaseless efforts on the part of the people of the district, and the police and others, and says that any criticism levelled against them is quite unfair.  He had spoken to the girl, who had impressed him as being normal, although, according to one party, her mother had described her as being highly imaginative."  Moors made a parting promise to the local Police that he was more than happy to step in & bring the issue to a close, although would not do so until the Constabulary had exhausted all other avenues of investigation.

Having left Guyra on the morning of the 21st of April, no closer to a solution after having undertaken a comprehensive investigation, events that night would again spiral out of control.  Moors received a telegram in Sydney on the the 22nd of April, despatched by Alex Hay of Hall Bros. Ltd, in Guyra - "Nothing happened Wednesday night, but several loud knocks heard last night.  Writer was the only outsider present beyond the detectives and police and family.  All members household closely watched by detectives whilst knocking occurred; bright moonlight outside, where several police stationed at vantage points. No man seen near house, neither were supposed stones found near walls.  Detective made public statement that he was perfectly satisfied that no member of the family was responsible.  Mystery deepens.  Guyra public opinion now overwhelmingly favours your theory.  Do not be afraid to mention my name, also vindicate Guyra police & public - HAY."  Unfortunately, only a few days later under overwhelming police pressure, young Minnie confessed to playing a very minor part in the mysterious events, allegedly admitting that she had thrown three small stones on the roof on one occasion, & had rapped on the wall on two - she adamantly denied any knowledge concerning the vast bulk of the affair, however the police were content that the sorry ordeal had finally been laid to rest.

Seeking to protect their daughter, the Bowens sent Minnie to her Grandmother's residence in nearby Glen Innes.  Miraculously, life in Guyra returned to normal - no stones fell on the Bowen's cottage, no bangs occurred within their walls, the frightened neighbouring residents returned to their addresses & the three local Officers breathed a sigh of relief.  However...the Guyra poltergeist did not rest.  On the 9th of May, at the Minnie's Grandmother's residence in Church Street, the poltergeist struck again.  Shortly after dinner, stones were heard hitting the outside walls of the house - the neighbours, no doubt having heard about the border next door, ran out to investigate, & the local Constabulary were summoned.  Whilst a posse of police & neighbours circled the house, a stone smashed through one of the windows & became entangled in the inner curtain.  Even though Minnie had stayed inside the entire time, the Glen Innes Constable concluded that she had played a part in the window's destruction, leaving the scene to return to the Station.  However, the stone-throwing continued until midnight, intermingled with violent banging on the walls, even though Minnie was being carefully monitored inside - one neighbour, Mr Marsden, claimed, "The noises were like the sounds caused by an axe being struck heavily against the wall."  Other neighbours, on knowing the background of the story & hearing the banging, threatened to leave the district if the bizarre occurrences continued.

Cut to one month later in early August 1921 - after experiencing continued stone-throwing & wall-banging in the Church Street property of Minnie's Grandmother, the residents of Glen Innes had finally had enough...& so had Sergeant Ryan of the Glen Innes Police.  Minnie's carers were told in no uncertain terms that the girl would have to leave town...shortly after, Minnie was transferred back to Guyra.  Ironically, as fast as the phantom occurrences had begun four months earlier in Guyra, so did they decline once Minnie returned home - the stone attacks & wall thumps quickly dwindled until not a sign remained...the Guyra Ghost seemed to finally be at rest.

So...how did Brisbane play a part in the saga??

Well, in the later months of 1921, the "Guyra Ghost" made cameo appearances right up & down the eastern coast of Australia, striking numerous towns for a night or two...& Brisbane was no different.  In late October 1921, a similar occurrence began to unfold in Trafalgar Street, in the inner-suburb of Wooloongabba.  Stones began to rain down on a number of residences in close proximity, & it wasn't long before the Police were called in to investigate.  Four Police Officers were dedicated to the case, & walked the neighbourhood between 6pm & midnight each night in the hope of solving the case...even with the aid of local residents, by late November they were starting to question whether the Brisbane "poltergeist" would ever be stopped.  However, on the 25th of November the Police made their breakthrough - on their nightly patrol they happened upon Frederick Joseph Cook, a 22 year old grocer, in the process of hurling a stone towards a local house.  On hearing a window smash immediately after, the Police pounced on Cook, who denied any knowledge of the offence...only to confess his guilt shortly after being arrested.  Ironically, Cook had complained about the stone-throwing to Police weeks beforehand, & had been assisting them in their nightly vigils to catch the culprit.  It was put before the Court that Cook had obviously been infatuated with the Guyra Ghost saga some months beforehand - in his defence, Cook countered that he had been a guilty party for a few days, & had only continued the events of the previous 3 weeks...ultimately, he was fined £10 for two broken windows, & was released with a warning.


At the time, the Guyra Ghost made international headlines & became the talk of the global Spiritualist community - whilst many claim that the 1826 story of Fisher's Ghost is Australia's most famous haunting, the events that transpired at Guyra & Glen Innes in 1921 easily challenge the earlier story from Campbelltown.  Unfortunately, few know of this event in history...likely Australia's first, most heavily documented & most likely legitimate poltergeist case.  According to oral accounts, Minnie lived to an old age in Armidale, never making the headlines again for similar activity...although it is said she possessed impressive psychic faculties throughout her adult life.  How unfortunate it is that we reflect so little on this months-long event that not only affected the hearts, minds & actions of residents across Australia, but equally gained the attention of the public around the globe in England, Europe & the United States...

Sunday, 6 May 2012

How a Scottish Magistrate's premonition foretold an horrific tragedy half way around the world...

The destroyed Indooroopilly Railway Bridge, still in flood in 1893 (State Library of Qld)
In our article about the Pearl Disaster three weeks ago, we detailed the destruction of the Indooroopilly Railway Bridge in the opening paragraphs, resulting from the devastating 1893 floods that swept through Brisbane.  Whilst many unfortunate souls lost their lives due to the flood waters that year across Brisbane, two innocent & silent victims of the natural disaster deserve our recognition...
The First Edition of The Grand Magazine in February 1905.

Our story begins in England in February 1905, with the publication of the first edition of The Grand Magazine - renowned as the first British "Pulp" Magazine.  Published monthly, the periodical boasted a long list of amazing authors, including Agatha Christie (British Crime Writer), George Bernard Shaw (Irish Playwright), Edgar Wallace (British Crime Writer),  William Hope Hodgson (English Science Fiction/Horror Author), H. G. Wells (Science Fiction Writer) & Arthur Conan Doye (Crime Fiction Writer).  The magazine set out to publish a range of fiction & non-fiction articles, including ongoing features - one of which was entitled, "Real Experiences of the Supernatural."  In the infant stage of this magazine in 1905, one particular segment of this feature found its way into the pages of Australia's newspapers - recollecting a premonition experienced by a Magistrate living in country Scotland.  In order to best convey the story, it's best that we publish the segment in its entirety:

What explanation is to be given of the foregoing incident, or of that which follows, related by a well known Scotch county magistrate, who has filled several most important public positions in which a level head is an absolute necessity?

"The only preliminary observations I wish to make are these:- first, I have never been a believer in the supernatural; secondly, what I am going to say can be verified, so far as verification is possible in the circumstances, to the fullest extent. I could add incidents not less remarkable, but I confine myself to these two, because they were well known to my friends at the time. The first goes back to the night of February 9, or the morning of February 10, 1893. At that period I was living - where I am still - in a well-known town in the West of Scotland. I had then, as I have still, two brothers-in-law in Australia, the elder of the two being then a public official in Queensland. He was married, and the father of three little boys, aged seven and a half, five and a half, and three and a half respectively. There had been unprecedentedly high floods on the Brisbane River. The swollen torrent brought down with it enormous quantities of wreckage; among it a wooden house, that caught on one of the piers of the great Indooroopilly-bridge, against which vast piles of floating objects hurled themselves, until between the stranded shanty and the shore they made a bank strong enough to carry the weight of a person. My brother-in-law lived at Indooroopily, and the flood was a source of keen interest to his children.

During the night mentioned, I think towards the morning, I was lying, between the waking and the sleeping, in my bed. Suddenly I saw something happen; something go down suddenly, and one of my brothers-in-law go down along with it. Immediately afterwards there was a second fall of the same description, and with it my second brother-in-law went down. The catastrophe was as plain to me as if I had been standing looking at it. I at once awoke my wife, and said to her, 'Something serious has happened in Queensland.' She asked me what I meant, and I described to her exactly what I had seen, and added, 'I am afraid we shall have sad news shortly.' In the forenoon of the same day I mentioned the matter to my father, then the senior clergyman of the town, and was surprised to learn that my sister had, in a vision the same night, been closely accompanied on a walk to the churchyard by the elder of my two brothers-in-law, and by a ghostly female figure that she took to be his wife. We noted the date and waited. On the morning of March 21, my next-door neighbor, at that time home from Queensland on an extended visit called at the door and asked for me. 'Have you heard the news,' he asked. 'No,' I said. He put in my hand copies of the Brisbane Evening Observer of February 9 and the Brisbane Courier of February 10, and pointed to the heading in the former - 'A sad fatality. Death of two boys. Buried in the sand. An awful death.' The story, however, was more fully told in the Courier of the following day, and I subjoin an extract containing the sad details:-

'A most painful accident occurred yesterday, by which two fine lads, the sons of Mr. -, have lost their lives. It appears that some time yesterday morning three little sons of Mr. -, together with another young boy, left their houses to seek amusement. They all live at the Riverton Estate, opposite Indooroopilly, and they went to play at the point close the damaged Indooroopilly-bridge. During the morning some heavy showers came on, and the boys sought shelter beneath the bridge. Before long, however, the showers passed away, and they left their shelter. As they were playing near the edge of the river a portion of the drift sand, which had been washed against the bank during the flood, gave way. The two younger boys were buried beneath the slip, but the eldest fell into the river, and was rescued by a boat that was crossing the river at the time. Their young friend also managed to escape. The alarm was soon raised, but nothing could be done to rescue the little fellows, who were buried beneath many tons of sand and earth. The news of the disaster soon spread, and one of the first to hear of it was Mrs. -, who was quickly on the scene in a most distressed condition.'

What I saw in my vision corresponded exactly with what evidently occurred. I erred in thinking that the disaster had happened to my brothers-in-law instead of to the sons of the older of the two, but this no doubt, was due to the fact that my two unfortunate little nephews were personally entirely unknown to me."

So...what of this amazing premonition experienced half way around the world, & the validity of the event it foresaw here in Brisbane??

We know that early in the morning on the 5th of February 1893, the integrity of the Indooroopilly Bridge finally failed under the onslaught of water & debris flooding down the Brisbane River.  Residents on both sides of the bridge had watched on in silence on opposite banks throughout the preceding night, waiting for the inevitable...after the initial collapse of the Bridge's central section just before 6am the next morning, & further collapse that afternoon, further scores of people flocked to the river to stare on in shock at the destruction before them.  Many speculated as to the final resting place of the missing bridge sections - had they sunk to the riverbed directly below the Bridge in a crumpled mess, or would the wreckage be pushed downstream due to the tremendous flow to finally be located somewhere near Tennyson once the waters had subsided?  Regardless, one immediate & pressing concern ran through the minds of all local residents - with the destruction of the Indooroopilly Bridge (& subsequent destruction of the Victoria Bridge in Brisbane early the next morning), passage of goods, mail & people between the two major population centres of Ipswich & Brisbane had now been effectively severed.  As the next few days passed by, so did the onlookers, all pondering how their lives would be affected by the collapse.

Just as the adults of the surrounding districts were fascinated by the collapse of the Indooroopilly Bridge, so were their children.  On the 9th of February, only 4 days after the bridge had been torn in two, four boys from Corinda decided to visit the bridge site in order to survey the damage for themselves, likely after hearing about the destruction from their parents.  The Robertson brothers William (9), Lancelot (5) & Selby (3), in league with a mutual friend George Larard (9), made their way to Oxley Point where they encountered a heavy rain - the still remaining bridge buttress & partial deck presented itself as a perfect shelter, & the troop of four ran underneath in order to escape the downpour.  After waiting the shower out, the boys emerged onto a large sandbank that had built up under the bridge remains - nothing more than an embankment of sediment trapped against heavy debris that had been washed down the river & had become jammed between the bridge's pylons & the riverbank.  All of a sudden, the unthinkable happened...as the four young boys stood on the riverbank looking out over the swollen river, the earth beneath them gave way & the adventurous party were plunged into a combination of water, sediment & wreckage...

The Gods were looking over George Larard that day...in his fall, George miraculously managed to lunge out & grab solid ground, pulling himself clear of the quagmire back onto dry land as he watched the three Robertson brothers, his dear friends, disappear into the torrid maelstrom.  After what would have seemed like an eternity, William finally surfaced above the turbid waters of the Brisbane River fighting for breath & life - amazingly, he was washed into the path of a boat crossing the river at the time, crewed by Mr Cannan, Brown & Foxton, & Mrs Montefiore...the crew having spied the young boy seconds before the waters claimed him, managed to drag him aboard as he washed past their exact position in the river.  Unfortunately, little Lancelot (5) & Selby (3), were nowhere to be seen.  Over the days that followed, the Brisbane River downstream from the Indooroopilly Bridge was searched for any evidence of the two missing boys...with each passing day, no news came that their little bodies had been located.  William Robertson, their father, was an employee of the Civil Service Board - amidst the loss of his two sons, he was required to attend the site where his two little boys had vanished on the Corinda side of the Bridge in order to help distribute foodstuffs & mail to the Corinda residents, being sent across the river by boat...one can only imagine his heartache in doing so, hoping al the while that his sons would materialise out of the crowd....

On the 19th of February, however, further bad news was received - Captain Pennefather, of St Helena Island Penal Establishment, telegraphed the Commissioner of Police in Brisbane that a male child had been washed ashore on St Helena - early reports in the Brisbane Newspapers had placed the location of the body at Lytton, however the location was quickly corrected.  The body was badly decomposed, however the clothing in which the child was dressed was still intact.  It was clear to the Penal Establishment staff that the body required immediate interment given its condition, however the clothes were removed, washed & sent to Brisbane for identification.  The child was estimated at about 5 years old, specific details that would have immediately raised the attention of William Robertson - his two missing sons were aged 5 & 3.  William rushed to Brisbane where he was presented with the clothes...heartbreakingly identifying them as those of his youngest three year old son Selby.  Whilst other bodies were located & pulled from the Brisbane River over the proceeding weeks, his other son Lancelot was never located.

 Little Seby's recovery on St Helena Island, published in
The Brisbane Courier on the 20th of February 1893, p. 5. 

So, here we have an amazing, yet tragic, tale of Brisbane's history - a premonition in Scotland foretelling a tragedy in Indooroopilly, & natural disaster in Indooroopilly that severed ties between communities, an horrific & accidental loss of young lives as foretold by said premonition, & a link with one of Queensland's most important historic sites on St Helena Island.  To those of you who read this article, I only hope that you take two things away with you - every time you travel across the Albert Bridge between Chelmer & Indooroopilly via train, or visit St Helena Island, pay a thought for little 3 year old Selby - & his 5 year old brother Lancelot who was never found - both of these "lost" boys deserve our ongoing reverence & respect, in the hope they may find peace amongst the chaos that took their lives that rainy day nearly 120 years ago...