Wednesday, 12 June 2013

THE DOUBLE EXECUTION - Ellen Thompson & John Harrison

**NOTE: The following is the exact transcript of an article published in The Brisbane Courier, page 3, from the 14th of June 1887 - I have taken the liberty of inserting related photographic material within the article body for effect.  Ellen Thompson's & John Harrison's presumed guilt or innocence aside, the following article (written by a member of the Press who was present at the execution) provides a very detailed & troubling insight into the act of execution in Queensland around the turn of the century.**

 The Gallows within Boggo Road Gaol's Number 1 Division,
in 1903 (State Library of Queensland).


Shortly after 8 o'clock yesterday morning the two prisoners, Ellen Thompson and John Harrison, who were convicted at the April Criminal Sittings of the Northern Circuit Court of the murder of William Thompson (husband of the female prisoner) near Port Douglas on the 22nd October last, and who were sentenced to death by His Honour Mr. Justice Cooper, suffered the extreme penalty of the law.  Some considerable time before the hour appointed for the execution, the gaol officials, and those whose various duties required their attendance to witness the fearful spectacle, began to arrive, but the attendance of those whose curiosity led them to make application for passes for admission was very small.  The rumours which had been current for some weeks previously respecting the almost unprecedented conduct of the female prisoner and her frequently expressed determination to resist all attempts to hang her had created a great deal of public excitement.  But, although the condemned woman all along placed entire confidence in the belief that the Governor of the colony would at the last moment grant her a reprieve, her demeanour, when it was at last made clear to her that all hope was past, was anything but uproarious or unwomanly.

Both she and Harrison rose at an early hour yesterday morning.  Shortly after daylight the prisoner Thompson was attended by two Sisters of Mercy, whose ministrations she appeared thankful to receive, and to whom she continuously repeated her protestations of innocence of the crime for which she was about to suffer the penalty.   While denouncing the Governor and the Executive for refusing to grant a commutation of her sentence, she admitted that from a legal point of view she might be guilty of the charge of murder, but urged that morally she was as innocent as an unborn babe.  Her version of the tragedy was briefly that her husband and Harrison had been quarrelling, when she, with the intention of making peace between them, in a jocular spirit remarked to Harrison that if he did not shut up, the old man, meaning Thompson, would shoot him.   Harrison immediately took up the revolver, saying, "Will he? Well, I will have first shot," at the same time firing.

Throughout the morning Mrs. Thompson conducted herself with the greatest respect towards the Sisters of Mercy, and also towards Father Fouhy, who visited her in the last half-hour of her life.  She bore up bravely to the last, and even when standing on the scaffold her fortitude was remarkable. Attended by Father Fouhy, she stepped on to the drop, and her voice was unshaken as she said, "Good-bye everybody; I forgive everybody from the bottom of my heart for anything they have wronged me in this world. I never shot my husband, and I am dying like an angel."  Only once, within a few seconds of the fatal moment, was there a perceptible quiver in the unhappy creature's voice, when with almost her dying breath she murmured, "Oh, my poor children; take care of my children will you, Father".  The next instant her body was swinging in mid air.

Harrison, is said to have been a soldier in the British army.   To Archdeacon Dawes, who was with him during his last hours, and with whose ministrations he appeared deeply impressed, he stated that both he and the woman were implicated in the death of Thompson, but that although he did fire the shots which killed him it was done in self-defence.  When standing on the scaffold he spoke not a word, and in the expression of his features could be traced not the slightest evidence of fear or nervous excitement.


The main gaol building is a gloomy place at the best of times with its lofty ceiling and its tiers of cells and the scanty light that steals in through the few long-barred windows and falls on iron-barred doors and iron-barred ratings, and on the cold stone floors and walls.  It is gloomy and depressing even when the sunshine streams in of a summer day, and when lightsome birds wing boldly in through the unglazed windows and perch twittering on the iron-barred doors, but it was gloomier still upon this cloudy blustering June morning when a little crowd gathered quietly on the ground floor and gazed silently at the ready scaffold on the tier above.  For a tragedy was to be enacted with this gloomy building for a theatre, and the ominous-looking scaffold which crossed from side to side for a stage; a tragedy in which two fellow-creatures would be the prime actors, and in which that mysterious thing which men call Law would move as Fate.  And one was to be a woman; a pitifully wicked woman.

She crossed the yard from the little hospital building so quietly that one could hardly imagine she was walking to her death with a companion woman, a female warder it appeared, by her side, and a guard, for form's sake, behind.   She walked with head bent a little and with hands clasped, in neat black garments, and with black bonnet thrust back a little from the drawn and haggard face, the face of a woman whose whole life has been passed in ceaseless toil.  She had been brutal and violent, giving free vent to the bitterness of a despairing heart, shocking all who heard her with her blasphemies, and deafening the ear of mercy with unseemly cries; it was thought that there would have been a struggle on the gallows.   But humanity prevailed at the last moment, and Ellen Thompson, murderess, died quietly and died "game".  Vile as the crime was, however necessary murder for murder may be, there is something that inspires esteem in the courage of the fellow-mortal who fears to die, who longs to live, and who yet, brought to bay, can stand unflinchingly on the edge of eternity.  "I'll soon be in a world where they won't tell lies about me," she observed, as she mounted the steps and disappeared up the inner stairway which leads to the condemned cell.  When she appeared again it was as an actor in an awful scene.

 Ellen Thompson (Queensland State Archives).

One heard the priest's voice raised in prayer as 8 o'clock drew near, the gloom seemed to deepen, and the wind seemed to moan passionately as it came in through the bars.  A sturdy warder, pale-faced, stepped on to the scaffold, there was a rustle, the prayer sounded louder, and in a moment the murderess stood on the trap, under the fatal rope.   She was white as marble, and her teeth set hard, but she never faltered, and she looked such a poor little woman as she stood there waiting to die.   Her hands were clasped still, and she held a little crucifix in the right one; she protested her innocence, she bade good-bye to her children, and then she prayed in Catholic fashion − not passionately, but as one who labours under a burning sense of wrong.  She never moved from where she stood, but she swayed as one fainting when the noose was drawn about her neck, her hand clasped convulsively over her crucifix, and it seemed as though her lips, under the death-cap, moved silently in prayer.  The strapping warder, who stood on the scaffold, held out his hands to steady her, but she braced up in a moment and did not fall.   The executioner shook the rope to clear it, he and the warder stepped to the side corridors.  At 8 precisely the bolt was drawn.   Her last thought was for her children.  Thud!  That was the only sound, for the wind had lulled, and nobody seemed to breathe.  Ellen Thompson fell straight as an arrow through the trap, her knees drew up spasmodically, and then Ellen Thompson's body dangled lifeless.  The rope had cut into the neck, severing the jugular vein, and in a moment a patch of red appeared on the white cap and a crimson stream poured over the black dress, falling in a pool on the stone floor.   It was pitiful before, but it was still more pitiful now, this execution.

The woman who had accompanied her across the yard washed the hands from the blood which stained them.  A coffin was placed on the blanketed earth which two prisoners had brought in and heaped over the crimson pool.  They lowered her tenderly, removed the rope from her neck, and the execution was over.  It had not taken fifteen minutes altogether.  The executioner is a tall, gray-bearded, gentlemanly-looking man, whom no one would take for the holder of such a vile action.  He is businesslike and he never shrank, as the warders did, from the touch of the dead woman. But he felt annoyed when in the interests of science the cap was removed for Professor Blumenthal to measure the head.

John Harrison (Queensland State Archives).

It was 8:20 when Ellen Thompson's plain coffin was carried away and when the trap was shut again, and when the rope lay ready for another victim.   The little crowd that the first execution had sickened waited quietly, and talked in subdued tones; but had it not been the duty of officials, doctors, and reporters to see it all over the crowd would have melted away.  They talked of ghastly things; the doctors of how the bleeding happened; the officials of whether or not Professor Blumenthal should have been permitted to measure; some of the woman's guilt, or some of her possible innocence.   And always everyone kept looking at the stage beyond, beneath which a mound of earth now rose like a grave, and in every man's mind was the conviction that whether the death penalty be right or not, hanging is a barberous and a brutal thing.  As 8:30 approached there was another rustle without, but through the doorway Harrison could be seen, treading the path which his paramour had trod half an hour before.  He passed to the stairway in a moment; surprisingly soon he reappeared as the woman had done and stood where she had stood when she last thought of her little ones.  He looked like a man as he stood on the trap without a tremour, without even a paling of the face or a twitching of the eyelids.  He looked tall, and straight, and sailor-like, in coloured shirt and moleskin trousers, and he looked straight in front, after casting his eyes about.  He had a peculiar face, with rather receding forehead, and with bushy eye-brows, which nearly met, and he had heavy sensual lips which looked rather out of place with his long face and with the sandy beard which grew thinly on the cheeks.  He never spoke a word that could be heard below, though he had shaken hands as he stepped on the scaffold with those who had to slay him.  There was the same formula of feet-tying and cap drawing and rope-setting; the official stood clear again, and even as Archdeacon Dawes prayed, the trap opened again, with a sharp click, and the rope fairly rang as the heavy weight of the condemned straightened it.  And again the same throat-cutting happened; though less profuse, the bleeding was enough to dye cap and clothes, and to drip sickeningly from the dangling feet to the ground.  We reporters came away, and left him hanging.

But beyond these unfortunate accidents the executions were perfect of the kind, killing instantaneously.   After the spasmodic drawing up of the knees neither of the executed moved a muscle, a most unusual thing.  Dr. Ellison states that the spine was dislocated between the first and second vertebrae, at which point the medulla oblongata, or presumed seat of life, is situated.  This was ruptured, and death must have been instantaneous.   The long drop, such as used by the present executioner, aims at dislocation at this spot, for if it happens lower down death results from asphyxiation, and the suffering of the condemned is needlessly increased beyond what it might have been had asphyxiation alone been attempted, which is the aim of the short drop.

Professor Blumenthal found that the respective measurements of Ellen Thompson's and Harrison's brains were: largest measurement, 22¾in. and 21½in., and from neck to root of nose 13in. and 13½in. A phrenological examination showed that in the woman combativeness and destructiveness were both large, the domestic affections were fairly full, the animal or selfish propensities were full, the moral propensities were small, and sexual love−amativeness, exceedingly large.  In Harrison combativeness was exceedingly large, destructiveness large, amativeness rather small but tending to sensuality, as shown by the noticeably heavy lips. His domestic affections were also small.   Judging from this it would seem that the woman was the moving spirit in the plot, and that her passion for Harrison inspired her.  She was active, cunning, and masterful, capable of doing kindly acts and of attachment to her children.  Harrison, on the contrary, cared for nothing but himself, and wanted old Thompson's money far more than he did old Thompson's wife.

Several theories are advanced as to the cause of the severance of the veins which occurred in both cases, the most plausible being one ascribing it to the thin skin of the executed persons, for the drop itself was the same as that used some weeks ago for Pickford, who, although much heavier than the woman Thompson, met with no such injury.  It should also be said that in spite of the disgust which the very idea of the bleeding naturally causes, there would seem to have been far less suffering than had the spine been dislocated elsewhere and the neck not been injured.


The woman Thompson addressed two letters to the Governor as follows:

"H.M. Gaol, Brisbane, 4th June, 1887.− On my knees I beg for mercy. Consider my character and the dreadful lies sworn against me.  When you were visiting Port Douglas I was one of the women who followed you on horseback.   I asked Sir Samuel Griffith for a schoolmaster, to bring my children up the right way, as my husband was so cranky.  I banished all the children so that they would not annoy the poor old man.   I swear by the cross I now hold in my hand that —'s evidence is a lie, and made up by himself. . . . . Do as you think proper with me, but have mercy on the unfortunate man who is innocent.  On my dying oath, my husband's door was shut when I looked up from my own house after I heard the shot and his moans.– ELLEN THOMPSON."

"H.M. Gaol, Brisbane, 8th June, 1887.– I have already made a pitiful appeal to you on behalf of the young man, John Harrison, whom I believe to be innocent.  It meant ruin and poverty for me to lose my husband, and I will never consider it a murder, when I am dying on the gallows; it will be the taking of my life that will be the murder.  Our lives, I know, were completely sworn away through false swearing.  I have three demands to make of the Government: Firstly, in the event of my innocence being proved, that each of my four children receive the sum of £500; secondly, that all my statements be returned to me, that I may destroy them; and thirdly, that Pope Cooper may
never be allowed to sentence another woman in Queensland without first hearing both sides of the story.  I want these requests to be granted in writing, and Mr. Knight and the Rev. D. Fouhy are to be trustees for my children.   If these demands are not granted I will stick out for my rights at the foot of the gallows; if they are I will walk on to the gallows like an angel.– ELLEN THOMPSON."

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Tale of 4BC's Spectral Maintenance Man: a new "how to" for the avid ghost researcher...

The R. W. Thurlow & Co. building, 1901
(Taken from The Queenslander, 27th April 1901)

Welcome back to 2013's first (full) article from the Haunts of Brisbane!  Much has occurred since our last ghostly exposé - we all dodged a bullet as the Mayan Calendar allegedly ended (& restarted as predicted), Christmas & New Years came & went without incident, the unbelievable Boggo Road Gaol saga occurred (which we're still attempting to rectify), & yet another natural disaster has befallen us, courtesy of ex-Cyclone Oswald...needless to say, the past 8 weeks have been anything but restful!  As a result, our regular articles focusing on Brisbane's haunted history were put on the back-burner...until now!  So, strap yourself in, put your "ghost sleuth" caps on, & let's welcome in a new year of articles focusing on the darker side of Brisbane's history!

Over the past few months, I've received many emails from individuals, local history groups, & media outlets, all asking, "How do you manage to dig up all the information used in Haunts of Brisbane articles??"  In honesty, consolidating raw data (from multiple sources) into a seamless story that flows from Point A to Point B takes a lot of work...however, gathering the raw data from which the articles are written isn't difficult - we covered this process almost a year ago in an article entitled, "Petrie Mansions - a "how to" for the avid Ghost Hunter..."  Unfortunately, when it comes to the interwebs (& specific ghost/"historical" tours offered in Brisbane), it's very difficult to know whether you're actually being educated with historical fact...or being fleeced with bullsh*t specifically tailored to pilfer your hard-earned money. can you tell?!?

In anticipation, I've chosen a well-advertised, internet-based Brisbane ghost story, which apparently took place in the CBD - amongst a list of local ghost stories on the Brisbane History website, the story goes thus: "A few blocks away on the corner of Adelaide and Wharf streets stood the old Radio 4BC building.  It too has fallen under the demolisher's hammer.  Originally a pickle factory, the building had a staff tea room at the rear.  There was an opening in the tea room floor that had once housed a food lift.  In the time of the pickle factory a worker fell down the shaft while trying to fix the lift.  Years later 4BC night-time radio announcers swore that the room would suddenly turn icy cold and the sound of someone crying for help could be heard coming up the shaft." do we get to the bottom of this story, in an attempt to judge its validity??  If the building was demolished, as per the statement, are we unable to confirm the death??  Was the building actually utilised by 4BC, & was it originally a pickle factory? Did a basement exist beneath the building, necessitating a lift??  Did an employee actually die whilst repairing the lift during its life as a pickle factory?? is regularly the case in workplaces, was an urban legend formulated to scare the night-time radio announcers??  Let's break it down from the top, shall we?

What do we know about the history of 4BC??  According to Wikipedia's listing on 4BC,"4BC was one of the first radio stations in Brisbane.  It was established in 1930 by John Beals Chandler, an electrical appliance retailer and later Lord Mayor of Brisbane.  In March 1937 the station was sold for £50,000 to the Australian Broadcasting Company who took control in April [1937]."  From this, we know that searching prior to 1930 (when the station was founded) is where to from here??  Jumping across to the National Library of Australia's Trove Database, with the search string, "4bc building AND brisbane" - the following comes up at the top of the list, in The Courier Mail on 9th of December 1948: this where the 4BC studio ended up, on the corner of Queen & Wharf Streets??  Is our ghost story already faltering??  Alas, not - with patience, continuing to search through the results on the Trove Database, a further record pops up on in The Courier Mail on the 19th of November 1952: 1952, 4BC purchased Thurlow's building on the corner of Adelaide & Wharf Streets, for the sum of £30,000 - we've now confirmed our first component of the ghost story!  Furthermore, as residents of Brisbane, we know that Thurlow's building was demolished well over a decade ago to make way for a newer 12-storey building (plus basement) - the second detail of our ghost story confirmed!

What do we know about the history of Thurlow's building?  Was it actually a Pickle Factory, did it possess a basement below ground-level, did a lift exist, & did someone die within it??

Again, on searching the Trove Database with the search string, "thurlows building," an article from The Argus crops up from the 17th of September 1952, detailing the sale of Thurlow's Building on the corner of Adelaide & Wharf Streets, in Brisbane.  According to the advert, the building contained a basement, ground and three upper floors (so, a possibility of a lift?).  Most importantly, it also provides us with with details about the prior owner, Robert Woods Thurlow.  For the Brisbane history buffs, this name should ring a bell - Robert Woods Thurlow was a very prominent businessman & merchant in Brisbane (as well as a one-term Mayor of Brisbane in 1896), running R. W. Thurlow & Co., best known for their fine, imported foodstuffs & Crescent Vinegar.  These fine groceries were dispensed from the Company's custom-fitted warehouse & "department store" on the corner of Adelaide & Wharf Streets.   Further digging in the Trove Database turns up another article in The Brisbane Courier's edition of the 7th of February 1901, entitled, "Messrs. R. W. Thurlow and Co. - Opening of New Building" - this article details a party held to celebrate the opening of the Company's new premises. 

We now know that the building was opened in 1901, & was purchased for use by 4BC in 1952 - this narrows our search for the unfortunate accident down to a 51-year window.  Unfortunately, we've debunked the "pickle factory" component of the story...however, given that Crescent Vinegar (a well-loved brand at the time) was brewed on-site, it's no more than a minor oversight...

So...what about this lift & the fatal fall??

That's where our ghost story unfortunately comes to an abrupt halt.  Searching every which way possible, utilising every available search string, the Trove Database comes up trumps...nothing...nil - no record exists regarding the death of a lift repairman at the site...that being said though, multiple records exist of accidental deaths, suicides & murders within the buildings located on the three other corners of Adelaide & Wharf Streets.  At this stage, we can refer to one further article we discovered whilst doing our initial building search - a 3-page spread, complete with amazing pictures, published in The Queenslander on the 27th of April 1901, at the time the venue opened for business.  This fantastic article intricately details the design features of the building, including the lifts & their safety features...& this is where the story gets a little interesting!  According to the article:

"Near the base of this wall [back of building], on a level with cart and dray when "backed," are two lifts - each 8ft. by 8ft. 6in., capable of hoisting a three-ton load - the one passing up to each floor of the warehouse, the other to each floor of the factory. The work of the lift is controlled by means of electric bells, connected with each floor.  As a precautionary measure against accident where other than experienced workmen are employed in the locality of the lift, sliding gates of strong wire, 5ft. high, are placed at the lift apertures on each landing, and are only removable by the lift when flush with the floor, so that to enter the shaft when the lift is not in position necessitates a climb to surmount the gates referred to."

So, lifts definitely existed at the site - we know that for sure.  However, given the safety features installed to ensure people didn't fall down the lift shaft, it's somewhat unlikely that someone died by falling down the lift shaft...although, stranger things have happened!  Either way, without having been able to locate a record of an accident that matches our ghost story, we're unable to either absolutely confirm or deny the existence of a spectral maintenance man at the site...however, we have managed to confirm, & deny, the story's other details regarding the building itself.  This is usually the frustrating point when I shelve a story regarding Brisbane in the hope that one day I'll stumble across the missing clue whilst researching another article.

And...there you have it - another lesson in how to pull apart ghost stories & dig for details to get to the truth...the process isn't difficult, it's merely time consuming! the interests of adding one last little twist, we'll end with a snippet of information that may be coincidence...or may be more!

Cast your minds back to the initial article regarding the negotiated purchase of a building on the corner of Queen & Wharf Streets, for use by 4BC, in 1948 - Empire Chambers.  This building was used for many years as a conference, lecture & dance venue, by a number of different groups.  On the afternoon of the 11th of April 1924, Spring Hill resident Harold Duggleon was standing in the vicinity of the building's's unclear whether he was visiting the building for one of the many events that occurred there, or was working on the lift as a maintenance man.  Either way, Duggleon stuck his head into the liftwell (many were open to an extent back in those days) to look down the shaft...right as the ascending lift carriage arrived on the same floor!  Duggleon suffered a fractured skull & shattered nose as a result of the unanticipated impact, & was rushed to Brisbane General Hospital in a very serious condition.  Unfortunately, no further information is provided regarding Harold's recovery - is it possible that he passed away from his injuries whilst in hospital & ended up haunting the liftwell of Empire Chambers??  Could 4BC's 1948 link with the building have brought about the ghost story at their final premises in Thurlow's Building 4 years later??  We'll never know...but it's fun to speculate, right?

Thursday, 17 January 2013

So...what constitutes "Heritage Work?" Cameron "Heritage Work" Sim knows...

Yep, that's me in the top right corner, painstakingly excavating the back yard of a Court House built with convict labour in 1829, & exposing the cobbled floor of a long-forgotten stables complex pending drainage works scheduled by the local Council.  That day, we openly invited & encouraged the local population to visit us to witness their heritage being unearthed, we recovered numerous & surprising artefacts for display in the local museum, we intricately mapped the entire site by hand down to the square millimetre for future reference, & we then retired back to our site foreman's house for well-earned beers knowing that we'd made a markable difference to the surrounding community.  The photo above was taken a few years back when I was working as an archaeological consultant in Tasmania (voluntarily on this occasion, as I've done regularly since), carrying out legitimate heritage works benefiting local communities - this project ran whilst I was completing my Masters Degree in Cultural Heritage Management on the back of a Degree in Anthropology & Archaeology, & I relished every second of it!

So...where are we going with this, I hear you ask??

Well...quite amazingly, in yet another ill-conceived effort to convince the residents of Brisbane that he actually cares about the heritage values of Boggo Road Gaol (rather than the dollars it can generate), Cameron "Heritage Work" Sim claimed yesterday that, "Our Tour Guides are passionate about the significance of Boggo Road in Queensland’s history – when not taking tours or re-enacting they have been hard at work removing non-original material deposited from years of abuse."  Apparently, Cameron "Heritage Work" Sim's staff have been painstakingly focusing their efforts, to such a large degree on "heritage work" within the gaol's walls, that an entire "blog" article needed to be written to document it on the Boggo Road Gaol Pty Ltd website, entitled "Heritage Work."

"Heritage Officer" Toby Martin
, engaging in crucial "Heritage Work."

So...what critical, ground-breaking "heritage work" is going on at Boggo Road Gaol at the moment, driven by Cameron Sim & the staff of Boggo Road Gaol Pty Ltd??  Have a number of priceless artefacts been recovered from beneath the gaol's foundations??  Has a missing collection of prison documents & photographs been located within the walls of the gatehouse??  Have the cellblocks been stabilsied, single-handedly by the Boggo Road Gaol Pty Ltd Staff, to ensure their survival in perpetuity??  Nope...nothing of that calibre has occurred within the gaol's walls...however...

Cameron "Heritage Work" Sim's staff have been craftily utilising their copious free time not running tours or re-enactments, scouring the gaol in the hunt for stray Blu-Tack™ & cello-tape!  That's right...your eyes deceive you not - the greatest threat to Boggo Road Gaol's future as a viable tourism venue, lies not in the Deed of License issued to a shonky commercial ghost tour operator, but in the alleged wads of Blu-Tack™ apparently plastered to the walls!

Ironically, very few spots of Blu-Tack™ & cello-tape exist around the gaol - from September 2011 until September 2012, the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society held monthly "Clean-up Days" within the gaol's walls, during which the grime within the gaol was pressure-blasted, hosed & swept out.   Of the few Blu-Tack™ marks that still exist on the walls of the gatehouse, many are attributable to warning signs posted by Department of Environment & Heritage staff through the 1990's when it was under State Government control, & the remainder are likely attributable to Ghost Tours Pty Ltd's operations & promotional posters posted between 1999 & the gaol's closure in 2005...more ironically, no mention is made in the above Boggo Road Gaol Pty Ltd "blog" to the contemporary graffiti easily identified on the cell walls of E-Wing, or candle-wax stains on the benches & floors, directly attributed to Ghost Tours Pty Ltd's "Haunted Sleepovers" during the same period.  Even more ironically again, Cameron "Heritage Work" Sim claims in his "blog" that, "New signage throughout the Gaol is being fixed in place with easily removable adhesive tape and will routinely be checked and replaced as it ages."

Having been university-trained in heritage management, site preservation & conservation technique, & having worked for a number of years as a heritage professional, I can vouch with 100% accuracy that no adhesive tape is "easily removable," & no similar product would ever be recommended for adhering any any any heritage-listed site.  That said, perhaps Cameron "Heritage Work" Sim could also examine the three laminated A4 signs he's adhered to the steel front gates of Boggo Road Gaol...with Blu-Tack™...advertising his tours:

Pray tell...what vandal Blu-Tacked those Boggo Road Gaol Pty Ltd signs
to the front gates of the gaol?!?

Ultimately, if Cameron "Heritage Work" Sim is keen on "removing non-original material deposited from years of abuse" at Boggo Road Gaol, I have a poignant word of advice to share with him as a qualified heritage professional - pack your bags & hit the road, as your statement above more than adequately describes your business's unpalatable presence at the gaol - non-original, & responsible for years of abuse.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Recipe for a "Disaster Cocktail":
1 rotten egg, liberal dash of Snake Oil, agitate thoroughly, serve in sugar-coated, rose-coloured glass...

Current-day "F Wing"...the only cell block accessible at the gaol.

"Silver and gold are not the only coin; virtue too passes current all over the world" - Euripides (c. 480 - 406 BC)

Welcome to a "special edition" article from the Haunts of Brisbane - the fact that you're now reading this confirms that the Mayan Gods postponed the impending apocalypse to allow access to this informative public brief...

As many of you are aware, the Haunts of Brisbane has been tirelessly fighting alongside the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society regarding the current commercial operating structure implemented at Boggo Road Gaol, & any future public access system the site may adopt.  The current Deed of License was issued despite numerous meetings with frequently-rotating Government Officials from the Department of Housing & Public Works, whilst Cameron "Jack" Sim & his posse of obscure "employees" sat in & stifled every attempt to engage in sensible & open negotiation - despite the unpalatable outcome, I'm proud to say that I was personally present at these meetings, helping to represent the position of the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society alongside current Historical Society Secretary Chris Dawson.  As such, & given certain events that have occurred over the past two weeks, I believe it's well within the public interest to address a number of unfounded accusations, insinuations & outright lies that have been perpetuated by Cameron "Jack" Sim in his attempts to justify the gaol's opening under his company's management...

For those who are aware that Boggo Road Gaol has re-opened under the commercial management of Cameron "Jack" Sim, you're likely asking yourself, "Why the hell did a Government Department give overriding management access, inside a publicly-owned historic site, to a small-time commercial ghost tour operator??"  Well...before you jump to the conclusion that Ghost Tours Pty Ltd were issued with a Deed of License to access the site (which you couldn't be criticised for thinking, given that Cameron "Jack" Sim hasn't even remotely attempted to clarify his business dealings), the Deed of License was issued to the independent company Boggo Road Gaol Pty Ltd - ironically also owned by Cameron "Jack" Sim, & staffed by the same motley crew as Ghost Tours Pty Ltd! order to address the current political situation at the gaol, let's focus on the happenings of Thursday the 20th of December (2 days ago) - on that day, 2 separate (yet connected) media events occurred, that went a long way in bringing this sorry state of affairs into the public sphere...

On Thursday night, Channel 7 News ran a story (above) entitled, "Fight over Boggo Road Gaol," in which Stephen Gage publicly aired the concerns of the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society regarding the non-transparent installation of a commercial entity within the site.  For the record, Steve Gage is a highly respected long-term ex-Officer of Boggo Road Gaol, authored one of only a few factual books regarding the working history of Boggo Road Gaol (Boggo Road Prison: Riots to Ruin), & is the current Vice-President of the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society...needless to say, he is a powerhouse of information regarding Boggo Road, & is very well placed within the Historical Society.  Steve eagerly attended the 7 News interview in front of the gaol on Thursday morning, & voiced some of the concerns that the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society have (as do many members of the public), regarding the 4 month interim commercial instalment at the gaol...& that's where things went downhill.  So...let's start with the 7 News article...

**Keep in mind that 7 News interviewed Cameron "Jack" Sim first, hence receiving their general information regarding the site directly from him**

We're informed straight away that Boggo Road Gaol "hasn't been open to the public in 8 years" - in actual fact, regardless of multiple public statements by Cameron "Jack" Sim in recent weeks, Boggo Road Gaol closed its doors in December 2005, 7 years almost to the day!

Next, we're told that Cameron "Jack" Sim started taking tours at the gaol almost 15 years ago - in actual fact, Cameron Owen Sim registered his new ghost tour business on the 5th of June 1998 (14 ½ years ago), started running basic walking tours through the CBD of Brisbane around August/September 1998, & finally gained access for tours at Boggo Road Gaol in early 1999 (just under 14 years ago) - amusingly, Mr Sim claims in the introduction to his book The Ghosts of Boggo Road Gaol: Ghosts & Gallows, "In January 1998 I tentatively walked up to the imposing gates of Number Two Division - the only section still standing of Boggo Road Gaol. I rapped on the gate, as visitors to this section of the prison had for over ninety years.  I was greeted by a man with a thick Yorkshire accent who introduced himself as the curator of the Boggo Road Gaol Museum.  [W]e sat down at a table and he asked me did I have my insurance as requested over the phone, 'Yes', I replied, 'would you like to see it?'. 'No', he said, 'we have a gentleman's agreement'. With that he handed me a large ring with a huge set of keys to the front gates of Boggo Road Gaol."  So...apparently, 6 months prior to Cameron Sim registering his new business (& organising his associated public liability insurance), he dropped by Boggo Road Gaol & secured a set of keys from the then proprietor Don Walters under false pretences/fraudulent business practice...or so he'd have us think!

Skipping Steve Gage's response to some of the major concerns regarding the commercial focus now placed on the gaol, we hit the first major issue of the article...whereby we're told by the reporter that "the decision to open the gaol under the private model, was made by then Public Works Minister Bruce Flegg" - after five weeks of fruitless meetings with Department of Housing & Public Works staff, a meeting was finally organised with the prior DHPW Minister, Dr. Bruce Flegg, at close of business on the 13th of November...during this meeting, Dr. Flegg made repeated mention of his enthusiasm for ongoing broad public access at Boggo Road Gaol.  Unfortunately, Dr. Flegg posted his resignation less than 24 hours later, during the day's Parliamentary sitting on the 14th of November...yet we're expected to believe that the outgoing Minister passed a decision to grant Cameron Sim a Deed of License over Boggo Road Gaol, in his final hours??  Sadly, in the three weeks proceeding Bruce Flegg's resignation, the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society made repeated enquiries, as did I, regarding the opening of Boggo Road Gaol, as we'd been told the Government planned to open the site on the 1st of December - when the 1st of December came & went, a further meeting was scheduled for the 5th of December to provide the BRGHS with "an update on how the plans for the gaol were progressing."  During that meeting, the shock announcement was made that a Deed of License had been issued to Sim, & the gaol would be opening in a couple of days...imagine our added surprise when we arrived home to discover on the Courier Mail website that the DHPW Minister, Tim Mander, had officially opened the site that morning - at the very same time our meeting had been taking place with DHPW Officials!

Ironically for Cameron "Jack" Sim, who wishes to claim that Boggo Road Gaol's been closed for 8 long years **FALSE**, that he ran tours at the site 15 years ago **FALSE**, & that Bruce Flegg issued a Deed of License for Boggo Road Gaol in the scant hours prior to his public resignation **FALSE**, there's far more to the story...stay tuned, as tomorrow night we'll expose further details about the current re-opening that will likely stand your hair on end, & help you all better understand why the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society felt they had no other option than to withdraw from the current commercial arrangements, & why the Haunts of Brisbane/Naked Zombie Radio/BRGHS Haunted Cellblock Tours are still pending...

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Booval Estate: When seemingy straightforward research turns into a major engagement

Booval House looking worse for wear c.1991
(Ipswich Library & Information Service)'s been a little while since out last article - five weeks to be exact! So, in the interest of wrapping up our our "Haunted Ipswich" series, I thought we'd do something a little different...because we can!  We're going to venture a little way from central Ipswich to Booval, in order to examine another of Ipswich's most important early homes - Booval House.   The reason for doing so is two-fold - firstly, Booval House is currently listed for event that has only presented itself a handful of times in the house's 154 -year history; secondly, whilst I've never heard of any ghost stories surrounding Booval House, I have fond memories of driving up Cothill Road as a kid in the late 1980's & wondering what stories existed within the walls of the ailing mansion.  The Booval House of today is very different to the one I remember as a child, having undergone massive renovations in the late 1990's - needless to say, the house continues to fascinate me for its ghost/haunting potential, so why not take the opportunity to examine it, right?  Little could I have known that in doing so,  I'd be led on another wild goose-chase similar in nature to that of our last article on Claremont...after going through the relevant material published by the Ipswich City Council & the house's Heritage Register listing lodged with the Department of Environment & Resource Management, I quickly realised that multiple errors, inconsistencies & omissions existed regarding Booval House in the official documentation.

So...let's get to it, & examine the corrected story of this amazing colonial mansion!

Advert for the new Bank of Australasia in Ipswich
(The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Sept 1853)

The exact birth date of Booval House, on Booval Estate as the property was originally known, is somewhat unclear.  However, we do know that the story begins all the way back 1853, with the arrival of George Faircloth in Ipswich.  Having lived for a number of years in Maitland in the Lower Hunter Valley of New South Wales, Faircloth had been employed as a Manager for the Bank of Australasia.  Wishing to expand their business, the Bank took up residence in Ipswich's Brisbane Street & transferred George, his pregnant wife Maria & 2 year old daughter Agnes north on appointment via the steamship City of Melbourne...the new premises would open on the 31st of October 1853.  It appears as though the family lived on the premises, a fairly common occurrence for Bank Managers many years ago, & they were soon blessed with the birth of their first son on the 8th of January 1854.  Tragically, their joy would be short-lived, with little George William Burdett Faircloth passing away at just 19 days of age on the 27th of January.  Life continued on for the Faircloths, with the birth of another son, Charles Henry Moreton Faircloth, on the 26th of July 1855 - at this stage, we know that the family were still living within the Bank on Brisbane Street.

Throughout 1856, George Faircloth focused on using his public standing to endorse a number of projects for the betterment of Ipswich - he played an integral part in lobbying for Ipswich's first hospital, he stood with a number of other influential Ipswich gentlemen for the establishment of an Immigration Depot in the town, he acted as Treasurer to the Ipswich Equitable Investment & Building Society...& all whilst Manager of the Bank of Australasia.  However, George also had one other venture under way, & it's this specific venture that provides us with the first solid clue to the birth of Booval House.  On the 28th of October 1856, an article ran in The North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser, stating, "We had an opportunity last week of inspecting a sample of wheat, the produce of Mr. Faircloth's farm, at Booval, in the neighbourhood of Ipswich.  It was grown from some Chilian seed-wheat, by way of experiment, Mr. Faircloth having learned from a gentleman well acquainted with the wheat districts of Chili, that the climate of Moreton Bay was very similar, and that the wheat would in all likelihood do well here.  The experiment has been eminently successful, and a splendid crop has been the result."  The 350 acre area known as Booval Estate had been broken up into 33 allotments & sold at auction on the 10th of January 1855, & it's highly possible that George Faircloth purchased his farm at this time...either way, the property came into Faircloth's possession sometime between 1855 & 1856.

Booval Estate Auction (The Moreton Bay Courier, 6th Jan 1855)

It's estimated in all official accounts regarding the site's genesis, that Booval House was constructed sometime between 1858 & 1859, intertwined with the birth of the Faircloth's second daughter Maria in January 1858 .  We can fairly safely assume that the house was habitable by October 1859, as an advert appears in The North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser on the 25th of October 15, seeking, "a COOK, either Male or Female; also, a LAUNDRESS, and a good NEEDLE-WOMAN.  Apply at the BANK OF AUSTRALASIA; or, to Mrs. FAIRCLOTH, Booval" - the Faircloths were clearly seeking suitable servant staff, & were already residing at Booval.  However, we definitely know the premises was occupied by December 1859, due to one very important event in our State's history.    On the 6th of June 1859, after a protracted period of lobbying, Her Majesty Queen Victoria signed the Letters Patent declaring Queensland's separation from the colony of New South Wales.  On the evening of the 9th of December, the Cordelia sailed into Moreton Bay carrying Queensland's first Governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen, & his wife Lady  Bowen.  After making Brisbane the next morning on the 10th, they were escorted, through the thronging crowd, to Adelaide House (a rented premises which was to act as an interim Governor's residence), where the official Proclamation declaring Queensland a separate Colony was read from the balcony to the residents of Brisbane amongst much fanfare.
Advertisement seeking Servants
(The North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser, 25th Oct 1859)

After touring around Brisbane for over a week, & settling into their new residence, the time came for The Governor & Lady Bowen to visit the outlying regions of their new State.  Departing Brisbane at 10am on the 20th of December, the couple & their entourage headed for the town of Ipswich, enjoying the green country views along the way.  However, & this is where the story gets interesting, the party intended on stopping just shy of Ipswich in order to provide Governor & Lady Bowen the opportunity to take in refreshments, & for George Furguson Bowen to change from his travelling attire into his uniform, before making their way into Ipswich proper...& the venue chosen, was George Faircloth's new mansion at Booval.  According to The Moreton Bay Courier on the 24th of December 1859, the scene outside Booval House was impressive - "[T]hose who had come thus far from Ipswich to escort him into town, assembled in the roadway.  Since leaving the old country, we never remember having seen so numerous a cavalcade of horsemen.  All Ipswich seem to have turned out a cheval, and there must have been at least 400 who thus came to do the honour to the first appearance of their first Governor amongst them."  Thus, our first definitive record of Booval House exists, playing host to Queensland's first Governor, ten days after Queensland was officially proclaimed a separate Colony.

Likely over the moon that their new house had played such an important role in the genesis of Queensland, George & Maria Faircloth were likely unaware that they were expecting another child at the time.  Nine months later, almost to the day on the 19th of September 1860, their third daughter Edith Elizabeth was born.  Life for the Faircloths was grand at the time - they'd comfortably consolidated their position in the upper echelon of Queensland Society, & George was a successful businessman having invested wisely.  However, their fortunes were about to be dashed once again shortly after...on the 25th of March 1861, at the tender age of six months, Edith passed away at Booval House, becoming the first unfortunate soul to perish within its walls.  On the back of such terrible tragedy, however, George's fortunes continued to shine in the same year.  With the advent of the American Civil War, & the need for cotton, George invested in the cotton industry & planted his property with cotton.  At the time, the Faircloth's land was surrounded by cotton crops being grown by the Ipswich Cotton Company, headed by John Panton (who was responsible for the construction of Claremont, detailed in our last article).  However, this venture would also falter by mid-1862, with many investors losing considerable of these investors was likely George Faircloth, as Booval House was listed for sale in September 1862, although we know that no sale was officiated.

For Sale Notice for Booval Estate.
(North Australian and Queensland General Advertiser, 20th Sept 1862)

The Faircloth's persevered at Booval House, & by late 1863 they were again expecting.  Amidst the turmoil of their losses a year earlier, through both the failure of their cotton plantation & loss of their second daughter, they were blessed with the birth of another son, Sidney Clarence Faircloth, on the 11th of June 1864.  As their newborn child settled into the pace of the household, the Faircloths must have breathed a sigh of relief...their finances may have been struggling, however their family was now stronger than ever...within three weeks, however, their hopes would be further shattered.  On the 8th of July, at just three weeks of age, their infant son Sidney passed away within the property...the third Faircloth child of six to perish under the age of six months.  Amidst their compounded grief, the Faircloths were soon granted a miracle - within 10 weeks of Sidney's passing, Maria Faircloth was expecting again - Seaton John Faircloth was born on the 12th of June 1865, & would be the youngest of the Faircloth's children to live within Booval House.   Continuing to struggle with their finances, the Bank of Queensland (initially the Bank of Australasia) eventually reclaimed the house from the Faircloths, listing it for sale by public auction on the 17th of August 1868.

Booval House auction advertisement
(The Brisbane Courier, 29th July 1868)

Now...this is where the history of Booval House gets seriously interesting.  According to the Department of Environment & Resource Management's Queensland Heritage Register listing, "Booval House was auctioned in August 1868 under instructions from the liquidators, the Bank of Australasia. The purchaser was John Ferrett, the former Trustee of Ipswich Cotton Co."  This is backed up by documents available through the Ipswich Library, in their "By the Bremer" blog - "In 1868 Booval House was purchased for approximately 500 pounds by Mr John Ferrett, who later became a member of the first Queensland Parliament." Sadly, even the Ipswich City Council's Heritage Study in 1991 skips almost a decade in the house's history between 1868 & 1876...transitioning from George Faircloth's ownership, immediately to that of John Ferrett's.  So, what do we know of the 1868 public auction of the site at the hands of the Bank of Queensland, the approximately £500 paid, & the purchaser at the time??

Well, from the above auction notice, we know that Booval House was placed on the market & sold at auction on the 17th of August 1868.  However, we also know from The Brisbane Courier on the 18th of August 1868, & The Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser on the 20th of August, that, "The well-known Booval estate, near Ipswich, on which some thousands of pounds have been expended, was sold in Brisbane on Monday for £560, terms equal to cash."  However, the purchaser of the property in 1868 was, in fact, William Welsby.  A migrant from Cornwall, England, William was an influential Ipswich business man, best known for his construction of Belmont on Burnett Street in 1865, & his son Thomas Welsby - a Queensland political hopeful in the late 1800's, & keen historian.  Thomas' reminiscences of his early life in Ipswich were published throughout March 1939 in The Courier Mail, including details of his childhood at Booval House.  Unfortunately, & likely a result of being 81 years of age, Tomas's article in The Brisbane Courier on the 11th of March 1939, states that, "In 1874, after my father's death, it [Booval House] was sold and passed into the hands of John Ferret [sic], a retired squatter."

Unfortunately, this same detail is listed on Thomas Welsby's Wikipedia entry, whereby, "Welsby aspired to study medicine at Sydney University however this became impossible following the death of his father [William] in 1874."  For the record, William Welsby passed away in 1876, whilst living on Leichhardt Street in Brisbane, & was buried at Toowong Cemetery on the 11th July 1876...his wife Hannah lies alongside, interred on the 28th of May 1891. So...where does John Ferrett enter into our story??  On the 10th of July 1875, Ferrett's name appears in The Queenslander - "We regret to hear that news has reached town to the effect that Mr. John Ferrett was thrown from his horse a few days ago on his station at Wallan [Central Queensland], and that the horse rolled on him, injuring him severely."  However, in June 1876, John Ferrett was challenging rates due on his property "in the eastern suburbs of Ipswich" (Booval) - just prior to William Welsby's death in Brisbane.  Ultimately, we can place John Ferrett at Booval House come early to mid 1876, on the back of William Welsby's ownership from 1868 - something DERM & Ipswich Library were clearly unable to do...

William Welsby's Funeral Notice
(The Brisbane Courier, 11th July 1876)

After managing Booval House for nearly a decade himself, John Ferrett was beginning to weary in years by the 1880's - on the 23rd of October 1884, he met with a serious accident - "He had just left his residence, and was driving in his buggy down a slight decline, close by, when the horse stumbled and fell, Mr. Ferrett being dragged right over the splashboard.  In the fall he received an injury to the back of his head, and was much shaken.  Mr. Ferrett, however, did not think it necessary at first to call in a doctor, but one was consulted next day, and he found the sufferer very ill indeed.  Very few friends have been permitted to see the injured gentleman since; but, on inquiry yesterday afternoon, we were pleased to learn that he was slightly better, though we fear that it will be some considerable time before he is quite right again."  By August 1887, John Ferrett was unable to attend a dinner in celebration of William Henry Groom's 25th Anniversary as the Speaker of the House of Assembly, on the grounds that he "was compelled to decline all invitations to go out after nightfall, as his increased feebleness prevented him from doing so."

After seeing out another nearly seven years, John Ferrett's ailing health finally got the better of him.  At 7:30am in the morning, on the 4th of June 1894, John Ferrett's housekeeper called on him in his room to raise him for breakfast. After confirming that he'd be dressed & up for his meal shortly, the maid heard a bizarre gurgling sound & rushed back into the room to find John dead in his bed.  A subsequent autopsy would show that John had passed away due to heart disease, an ailment that many of his close friends had feared for some years prior to his demise.  Having no children of his own, Booval House's future looked bleak...although a close nephew had been named in the Will - Harry Ferrett.  Harry continued the family name at Booval House until 1921, without incident, when Bishop Duhig purchased the property for £900 on behalf of the Catholic Church.  After sitting vacant for a further nine years, & then undergoing major renovations to suit the purpose, Booval House was reopened as St Gabriel's Convent for the Sisters of Mercy.  The site served its purpose as a convent school for the next fifty years, until it again fell into disrepair in the 1980's after lack of interest...after lying dormant again for a number of year, Booval House finally passed back into private hands in the late 1990's, & has been in private hands ever since after further renovations to restore its former glory.

So...does something linger within Booval House dating back to the days of the Faircloths??  Does John Ferrett still wander the halls looking for the breakfast he never received??  All in all, for anyone who ever passes by Booval House, & for those who walk though its halls with the intention of purchasing this stately old mansion, one can only wonder...with the history this premises holds, anything is possible!


A big thank you to one of our fans, Alice Black, for pointing out an inconsistency in our article - in the original draft, we noted that Governor & Lady Bowen, "were escorted, through the thronging crowd, to the newly built Government House, where the official Proclamation declaring Queensland a separate Colony was read from the balcony to the residents of Brisbane amongst much fanfare."  In actual fact, the original Government House, which was located in George Street, was not completed until 1862.  As a result, a house was hastily rented on Ann Street to act as an interim Governor's residence - it was from this house's balcony that the Proclamation declaring Queensland a separate colony was read by Sir George Ferguson Bowen.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Magnificent Claremont: home to a cotton pioneer, the "Father of Ipswich" & a short-term Premier of Queensland

Hunting party at Claremont, c.1890 (State Library of Qld)

Last article, we focused on the stately mansion of Gooloowan on the slopes of Denmark Hill, & the exploits of the Cribb family with their multitude of contributions to the now vibrant City of Ipswich & State of Queensland.   However, having now focused on three sites to the west of the CBD, it's time that we swung over to the east of Ipswich to examine a few more sites renowned for both their amazing histories & the ghosts who inhabit them.   For this week's story, we're going to venture back even further than we did with Gooloowan, to an era when Ipswich was known as Limestone Station & was nothing more than a convict outpost inland from the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement...

Our story begins with a young man named George Thorn in the mid 1820's.  Having grown up in a farming family, within the small town of Stockbridge in south-east England, George showed a propensity for astuteness & ambition from a young age.  Like many other young men at the time, George enlisted at the age of 19 in the hopes of bettering his lot in life, a manoeuvre that would see him placed with the 4th King's Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment...little could he have known the whirlwind of events that would take place over the next two decade of his life.  Having successfully carried out deployments in Portugal & the British Isles, George's biggest adventure would begin in 1831, when orders were received to chaperone Convict Transports to the fledgling colony of Australia half a world away.  On arrival in the colony, Thorn was pressed into service as an orderly for the newly-appointed Governor of New South Wales, Richard Bourke, a position that would allow him to witness a number of amazing events in the early history of Australia.  1837 became a major turning point in George Thorn's life, bringing about a twelve month period that would consolidate the rest of his days - early in the year, the 4th King's Own Regiment received orders to head to India.  Given the choice of either following his Regiment back overseas or buying his discharge from the military & remaining in Australia, George chose the latter.

Entering into service with the Commissary Department, George Thorn wasted no time in marrying & fathering the first of many children in Sydney, before heading north to the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement in the dying days of 1838.  Within a short period of time, given his prior military experience, George was offered the position of Superintendant of Stock (horses, cattle & sheep) at the distant convict outpost of Limestone Station.  The position would afford him a £60 per annum wage, as well as a thatched-roof residence coincidentally in the very near vicinity of the current-day Claremont.  On Ipswich's closure as a convict outpost not long after, George took full advantage of his situation - he was one of only a few free men in the area, with considerable money in comparison to others in the Moreton Bay region, in a newly opened town without business competition - his ambition shining through, George immediately began to purchase parcels of land, & established a business in the Queen's Arms Hotel.  By the late 1840's, George possessed considerable land holdings throughout the region, & sold his Hotel in order to move his business into the merchant market - a further manoeuvre that would increase his profits markedly over the coming decade.

By this time, the township of Ipswich was a rapidly expanding centre west of Brisbane Town, & entrepreneurs were moving into the area in search of business & fortune.  Enter John Panton - the son of the Post-Master General of New South Wales, John had earned a reputation in Sydney as a shrewd businessman & innovator, setting up a successful business partnership in Sydney, becoming an elected Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, & earning the enviable position of Magistrate.  However by the early 1850's, Panton began to look for new enterprises, a search which drew him north to the recently opened towns of Brisbane & Ipswich.  On making a number of trips to the region, John realised the potential of the area & moved north to take advantage of the situation.  With the support of Sydney-based company Messrs. Smith, Campbell & Co., John established the Ipswich company of Panton & Co. in 1851, trading from a store front in Brisbane Street...& business boomed. In the mid-1850's, as business expanded, Panton constructed a large warehouse on Limestone Hill, followed by a stately Georgian-style villa built of sandstone quarried at Woogaroo near current Wacol.  Panton would name his new residence Claremont, & it's this same premises that has endured 154 years of history through until the present day.

With the advent of the American Civil War in 1861, the market for cotton was at an all-time high - hoping to corner the market, Panton drew heavily on his assets & established a considerable cotton plantation at Woodend...however, his aspirations would lead to a temporary downfall.  In 1863, the financial institutions with which Panton had dealings called in their debts, & Panton was left with no other option but to sell off the majority of his assets, including Claremont.  Re-enter George Thorn - having been elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1860, on the back of Queensland's separation from New South Wales the prior year, George happily accepted his position of member for West Moreton.  In 1862, he had also become an Ipswich Alderman, & by 1863 he was very keen to move from his lodgings at the Palais Royal Hotel in Brisbane Street to somewhere more befitting his roles & growing family.  On Claremont being offered for sale in 1863, Thorn jumped at the opportunity & purchased the property - the stately villa would become the Thorn family home for over forty years.

At this point, it's best that we examine the ghost stories associated with Claremont before we proceed any further...& believe me, they're quite varied from one end of the spectrum to the other.  In more recent years, I've spoken to a number of people who volunteered at Claremont when it was still under the caretaker-ship of the National Trust of Queensland, & all had a number of stories to tell - old objects within the house left in one position would turn up inexplicably at the other end of the building, disembodied footsteps could be clearly heard within the house on numerous occasions when no one else was present, the cellar beneath the property always had a bizarre feeling about it & seemed to exude a coldness that defied explanation, & unexplained household sounds regularly emanated from rooms that were vacant.  As a result, those who volunteered their time at Claremont did their best to vacate the site as fast as they could upon closing time...all believed that the ghosts of Ipswich's past still dropped in from time to time.  However, whilst still a teenager in Ipswich in the mid 1990's, another well-known story used to persist about outlandish legend had it that the site was home to three ghosts whose mortal fates were intertwined...

The supposedly "true" story, as it was told to me on numerous occasions by friends also living around Ipswich, went like this - Early last century (1900's), an old man who lived at Claremont used to regularly taunt & beat a maid that worked at the property.  At some stage, the maid in question fell pregnant, & it was assumed that the child had been fathered by the old man...due to complications during the birth of the illegitimate child, it's said that both mother & baby died, & as a result the old man went insane in the ballroom of the house shortly after.  As a result of this tragic tale, it's said that all three (baby, maid & old man) still reside within the walls of Claremont & make their presences known from time to time.  Needless to say, I've never been able to locate a single piece of historical evidence that even remotely supports this story...furthermore, it rings similar to so many other stories spread about old houses throughout South-east Queensland without merit.  Needless to say, though, accounts of unexplained occurrences have endured at Claremont for many let's delve back into the history of the site to see if we can identify any other possible origins for the site's haunted atmosphere...

George Thorn's business endeavours continued to thrive, as did his political career over the next his free time, he undertook a number of civic duties around Ipswich & aided in the establishment of many of the town's facilities, such as the Anglican Church, the School of Arts, Ipswich Hospital, Ipswich Grammar School and the Queensland Pastoral and Agricultural Society, amongst others.  During this time, George's son (George Henry Thorn jnr.) was also making a name for himself in Queensland political circles - whilst also residing at Claremont, George jnr. was elected as the member for West Moreton in the Legislative Assembly just as his father had been only seven years earlier.  Representing West Moreton until 1874, George jnr.'s political career finally hit a high note in that same year, taking up the position of Postmaster-General under then Premier Arthur Macalister.  However, the joy of this achievement would be somewhat short lived, with the death of his father some months after on the 28th April 1875 - George Thorn snr., considered the "Father of Ipswich," passed away in his bed at Claremont at 5:30am in the morning, at the ripe age of 70.  Remaining on at Claremont with his mother Jane & younger siblings, George jnr. became the man of the house & continued his political aspirations.  In 1876, on the resignation of Premier Macalister, George jnr. was unexpectedly launched into the role of Premier of Queensland - a responsibility he held for nine months until he too tendered his resignation.  

Claremont Auction listing (The Brisbane Courier, 13th November 1877)

In the same year, Claremont was advertised for sale by public auction as a component of George Thorn snr.'s estate - George jnr. would purchase the property, continuing the Thorn's residency at the site. George jnr. would continue in politics off and on for the next 25 years, holding a variety of titles, including the enviable position of Commissioner to the 1878 Paris Exposition, where he held the responsibility of representing Queensland.  In between his exploits, however, George would also lose his mother within walls of Claremont.  On the 14th of April 1883, Jane Thorn passed away unexpectedly in the family home, much to the shock of the residents of Ipswich.  Similarly to her husband, Jane had done much to support the charitable foundations throughout Ipswich during her lifetime, & it was reported that her funeral cortege was one of the largest seen in Ipswich for many years as her remains were transported to Ipswich General Cemetery to be laid beside her late husband.  Fortunately, Jane's death would be the last at the site for many years, with the Thorn's residency continuing on for a further twenty years before the house was to finally change hands.

By 1902, there seems to be some small amount of confusion regarding the Thorn's residency of Claremont.  On the 18th of January 1902, The Brisbane Courier recorded details of a massive storm that had struck Ipswich four days previously.  In the article, it was noted that, "a number of galvanised sheets of roofing were carried from the residence of Mr. G. Thorn M.L.A., in Thorn-street" - this property was clearly Claremont.  However, by June 1902, adverts were being run in the newspapers listing Claremont as a rental property, "recently occupied by the Hon. George Thorn."  By late 1904, Claremont was advertised for sale by public auction, & the property was noted as being tenanted at the time by Mr McGill.  Around this time, George & Celia Thorn were listed as residing at Corona, a house located on Booval Station (the current suburb of Booval) which was owned by their prominent bacteriologist son St. George Thorn.  It was on this property, on the 13th of January 1905, that George Henry Thorn would pass away at the age of 66.  For some years he had been suffering from gout, which in the period leading up to his death had seriously impeded his ability to walk - it's highly likely that the move to his son's nearby Booval property from Claremont was due to his need for extended care.  However, Claremont appears to have remained in the Thorn family until mid-1906, when it was again listed for sale by public auction - between George's death in 1905 & this renewed effort to sell the property in 1906, it appears as though Celia Thorn was still using the residence on an infrequent basis for entertaining.

Claremont Auction Notice (The Brisbane Courier, 7th July 1906)

However, the property was successfully sold as a result of the 1906 public auction, & ownership of Claremont changed hands.  The purchaser was George Rennie Wilson, who in turn allowed his brother John Cecil Norman Wilson & his young family to take possession of the building. Both George & John were descended from another pioneering family of Ipswich, both being sons of George Harrison Wilson - in 1853, George Harrison Wilson established a wholesale & general merchant business by the name of G. H. Wilson & Co., in direct competition with Benjamin Cribb's London Stores.  Both sons dedicated their lives to the family business, with George Rennie taking control of the company on his father's death in 1899.  For John & his family, life proceeded quietly at Claremont without record of incident, until 1922 when a bizarre turn of circumstance saw ownership of the premises change hands yet again.  On the 12th of April 1922, John Cecil Norman Wilson passed away (possibly at Claremont).  Ironically, his brother George Rennie Wilson, who owned the premises, had passed away two weeks previously on the 25th of March 1922.  As such, at the time of John's death given his brother's prior demise, Claremont had already been locked up in George's estate.  As George's wife, daughter & one son had predeceased him, his estate including Claremont was left to his one surviving son, Ralph Somerset Wilson.

The Wilsons in front of Claremont, c.1912 (State Library of Qld)

According to the CHIMS Heritage Database listing for Claremont, maintained by the Department of Environment & Resource Management, the premises was utilised as a boarding house between 1924 & 1939.  However, we know a little more about this period in the site's history from external records.  From Electoral Roll records, we know that Harriet Louisa Wilson, John Cecil Norman Wilson's widow, remained at the site until at least 1925, before moving to Brisbane - it's unclear as to whether Claremont had been converted to a boarding house prior to this time.  We also know that Ralph Somerset Wilson & his wife Evelyn moved into Claremont from their previous residence at Booval in the later months of 1925, most likely at the same time of Harriet Wilson's departure.  From 1925 onwards, Ralph & Evelyn remained at Claremont, likely as part-time caretakers whilst Ralph was still employed elsewhere.  By 1939, Claremont was again put up for sale by Ralph Wilson, after which time both he & Evelyn moved to Brisbane...however, it's during the building's life as a boarding house that we come across a further event that may have given rise to one of the ghosts that are said to roam the premises.

In December 1932, in the lead-up to Christmas, Kate Chellew Barkell was staying in the boarding house that Claremont had become.  Her husband James was based in Ipswich, but was regularly away on business trips...Kate had spent countless years accompanying him on these journeys, but in her older age had begun to cut back on the regular travel.  Having spent a number of years as an assistant at the Ellenborough Street Methodist Church, the Assistant Master in English at the Ipswich Technical College, a member of the North Ipswich Methodist Choir & a member of the Women's Church Help Society, Kate had moved into semi-retirement but still helped out where she could in the community.  Unfortunately, on the 21st of December 1932, only four days before Christmas, she passed away in her bed within her room inside the Claremont Boarding House.  Her death was acutely felt across Ipswich, & Kate became the last recorded person to perish within the building prior to the 1950's.  In the early 1940's, Claremont was converted into flats, finally being sold to the Queensland Sub-Normal Childrens Welfare Association in 1964 for use as a school.  By 1975, the property had become run down & in need of repair, & was sold to the National Trust of Queensland who embarked on a major restoration program to return the house to its former glory.  In recent years, it's my understanding that the site has again been sold, & is now a private residence.

Clearly, it's impossible to know exactly who haunts Claremont, however with the incredibly vibrant history to which the house has played witness over the past 154 years, it's not hard to believe that at least a few spirits likely drop in from time to time.  That said, it's a nice thought to imagine that George & Jane Thorn, who both passed away inside the house in which they raised their family & took such a keen interest in Ipswich's development, still wander the halls of Claremont from time to time...&, if they still do, I'd love to know their impressions on current-day Ipswich in comparison to the outpost of Limestone Station they first laid eyes on all the way back in 1839!