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!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Denmark Hill's Gooloowan: a site from which Ipswich's prosperity grew, & the new State of Queensland became a better place.

Gooloowan, c.1888 (State Library of Qld)

Perched on the southern slopes of Denmark Hill in Ipswich, an imposing house known as Gooloowan stands...clocking in at 148 years old, one can only imagine what information would come to light if the walls of this old house could talk!  Welcome to the third instalment of our "Haunted Ipswich" series, focusing on some of the greater & lesser-known haunted sites around the inner-Ipswich area.  For this week's article we'll be focusing on Gooloowan, a site that holds an amazing place in both the evolution of the current city of Ipswich, as well as that of the State of Queensland.  However, in order to understand Gooloowan, we first have to understand the Cribb family...& for that, we have to travel all the way back to 1849 & the fledgling colony of Brisbane Town & Ipswich...

As any fan of Brisbane's history would know, a very important turning point in the small town's history occurred in 1849.  In the year prior, three vessels left England as part of John Dunmore Lang's assisted immigration scheme.   Initially intended to land at Port Phillip, where each immigrant was to be granted a parcel of land on which to turn a living, Lang's first vessel the Fortitude hit a major snag...on arrival in New South Wales, the Colonial authorities reneged on the land deal they'd arranged with Lang, & the Fortitude was turned away.  Lang's hopes being dashed, & with a vessel carrying 270 immigrants, the Fortitude pulled back out to sea & tracked north to a small town that had only been opened for free settlement seven years previously - Brisbane.  A couple of months later, Lang's second & third vessels the Chaseley & Lima followed suite, & both landed in Brisbane where their human cargo was offloaded to begin a new life in what was little more than a frontier town.  Aboard the Chaseley, 42 year old Benjamin Cribb & his first wife Elizabeth held high hopes of a new life, with their three children in tow, & both intended to make the most of their skills in a new country.

Through his twenties & thirties, Benjamin Cribb built a solid business selling household goods in London - an occupation that would determine his future prosperity in Australia.  On boarding the Chaseley in England, Cribb paid to export a quantity of commercial goods with him on the voyage...once the Cribb family arrived in Moreton Bay, Benjamin made the decision to move further inland to the still fledgling town of Ipswich to seek his fortune.  Utilising the goods he had brought all the way from England, Cribb sought out a suitable site on which to start up a Grocers' store, & was in business only months after arrival.  Locating his venture in Bell Street, Cribb named his enterprise the London Stores, & soon the business was booming as his name became well-known amongst the residents of Ipswich.  Benjamin's reputation continued to grow as his business flourished, however tragedy struck the Cribb household on the 4th of March 1852, with the death of his wife Elizabeth.  After mourning her loss, including a short sojourn to Brisbane, Benjamin remarried on the 30th of March 1853 - this second marriage to Clarissa Kendal Foote would change Benjamin's life in ways he could not possibly imagine, & would consolidate his place in the history of Ipswich & in the fast approaching State of Queensland.

London Stores, c.1850's (Ipswich Library & Information Service)

Benjamin's second marriage brought him directly into contact with John Clarke Foote, Clarissa's brother.  Having left Plymouth aboard the fated ship Emigrant for Australia, John quickly found himself trapped on a vessel rampant with Typhoid Fever.  Helping out where he could, having trained as a Chemist prior to his departure in England, John was able to not only aid those onboard, but also managed to escape the fatal end many other passengers suffered as a result of the disease mid-voyage.    After landing at Moreton Bay, John resided in Brisbane for a couple of years before being offered a managerial role at the London Stores by his new brother-in-law Benjamin Cribb.  Within a year, John & Benjamin signed a partnership together & formed Cribb & Foote Merchant Bankers in 1854.  From that moment forward, the partnership grew...earning a reputation for aiding farmers in the area with security-exempt loans, the firm of Cribb & Foote eventually moved into retail above & beyond Benjamin Cribb's original London Stores, & also branched into the cotton trade as well as other varied business interests.  In time, the Cribb & Foote business would become a household name in Ipswich, providing countless jobs for those who resided in the area.

By 1855, Benjamin Cribb was a founding member of the Moreton Bay Immigration and Land Company, which purchased large tracts of available wasteland which in turn were split into small farms & sold to suitable immigrants - the company hoped that by doing so, skilled workers from the British Isles would be encouraged to migrate to Moreton Bay & aid in the expansion of the region.  Entering the New South Wales Legislative Assembly at the beginning of 1858, & also becoming the Member for Stanley Boroughs (the Southeast Queensland region comprising four separate towns of North Brisbane (current CBD), South Brisbane, Kangaroo Point & Ipswich), Benjamin also fought staunchly for the separation of the northern colony - a battle, with the aid of a handful of other men, which was won on the 6th of June 1859 when Queen Victoria signed the Letter Patent declaring the colony of Queensland a separate entity from New South Wales.  Throughout this turbulent separation period, Benjamin Cribb also fought alongside his brother Robert, who was also a Member of the Legislative Assembly, for the cessation of convictism in Australia & forced labour which utilised Kanaka slaves...both Robert & Benjamin Cribb were true visionaries, aiding not only in the creation of Queensland as a State, but also setting in place the foundations of both Brisbane & Ipswich.

His position being transferred to the Legislative Assembly of Queensland, Benjamin continued on in both his business & political life, representing the West Moreton region from 1861 to 1867 - he became one of the founding members of Ipswich Grammar School which opened in 1863 as the first of its kind in Queensland, he was heavily involved in the Ipswich School of Arts, & all the while took a very keen interest in aiding the less fortunate in the growing Ipswich community.  In 1864, construction began on the new Cribb household that would become Gooloowan - a magnificent house on the slopes of Denmark Hill that still stands to this day.  A beautiful mansion surrounded by manicured gardens, Gooloowan became one of the social & political hubs in early Ipswich - visited by both ambassadors & community members alike.  Many of Queensland's early political decisions were formulated & conducted within Gooloowan's rooms, alongside the many important decisions & business meetings affecting the growing Cribb & Foote business - amazingly, Benjamin Cribb balanced both his political & business career carefully, & seemed to manage both with complete prowess.

So...having parked ourselves in the 1860's, it's probably time we touched on the ghost stories of Gooloowan, right??  Well...having grown up in Ipswich, I can admit that Gooloowan always appeared as an imposing site when I was young...a large mansion, recessed behind bushy gardens and a border fence...the kind of place that was strictly out of bounds...the kind of private place where stories exist.  In later years, in the late 1990's, I finally started asking questions around Ipswich about Gooloowan, & came up with a number of stories that roughly matched what I had been told as a child...people who have resided within Gooloowan, or those who have visited, have seen young women dressed in maid's outfits walking the halls & the grounds on many occasions.  Very distinct presences can be felt in certain rooms of the house, as though a previous owner is present & is not all too happy that a stranger is intruding in their domain.  And, aside all others, one major story exists about Gooloowan...although we'll touch on that shortly after we expose the first tragic event to occur at the premises...

Gooloowan in its early years (John Oxley Library)

On the 11th of March 1874, Benjamin Cribb's success in business & politics was abruptly cut short.  Having recently returned re-energised from a trip to Melbourne after a bout of ill health, Benjamin walked the couple of hundred metres from Gooloowan to the nearby Congregational Church to sit in on the Wednesday night service...a trip he had made countless times before.  Throughout the day, he'd overseen his business interests with vigour, & had been commended on his unusually fresh appearance.  However, during the second hymn of the service, Benjamin put down his hymn book & sat, appearing to be in some pain.  It was initially thought that he was suffering from indigestion, & his daughter handed him a smelling-bottle (a bottle filled with either smelling salts or perfume as a restorative), however Benjamin's head lolled back onto the pew & those surrounding him jumped up in panic.  He was immediately carried into the vestry of the Church, where Dr Rowlands attended to him...however, a fairly grim verdict was given, & the decision was made to transport Benjamin back to Gooloowan via stretcher.  On literally being passed through the doorway of Gooloowan, Benjamin Cribb drew his last breath, & he was pronounced dead within the house.  In one tragic instant, Benjamin's death became the first within the stately mansion he'd commissioned only twelve years beforehand, & also ushered in a new age regarding the Cribb & Foote business.

On Benjamin's death, his wife Clarissa took control of the family share in the Cribb & Foote business...a fairly ironic turn of events, as Clarissa now balanced the Cribb family fortune against the Foote family fortune held by her brother.  However, it was during this period of Gooloowan's history that its major ghost story originates.  For many decades, one paranormal story of Gooloowan has persisted above all others - it is said that at one stage, around the turn of the century, a maid killed her baby by throwing it down a well behind the mansion.  Supposedly, the maid in question had fallen pregnant to another worker at the house, & did what she felt was necessary to conceal her pregnancy.  Rumour had it that on quiet nights, a baby could be heard crying in the vicinity of the well, & anyone who crept into the grounds after dark could hear it for themselves.  Needless to say, I'm sure countless kids in Ipswich have stewed over this story when it's been relayed to them...& they've more than likely believed it, given that a multitude of stately houses around South-east Queensland hold similar legends about babies down wells.  However, whilst it's an easy undertaking to prove that other homes lack the slightest shred of evidence confirming deaths regarding their wells, or have no evidence of wells existing at all, Gooloowan's story stands out from the pack...because, believe it or not, the story's true...

On the 2nd of August 1889, a terrible event occurred at about 10am in the morning, James Dodds, who was employed as a groom & coachman at the house, approached the well located at the rear of the premises.  It had been noticed that the water in the well was slowly turning rancid, & James had been sent to investigate...lifting the cover from the well, James reeled back in shock at the sight of a little body floating below.  The Police were immediately sent for, & Senior Constable George Bain attended the well & removed the body.  A search of the staff rooms was immediately conducted, & within a short period of time a young maid by the name of Rose Dold was arrested & charged with wilful murder.  On being questioned, Rose admitted that the baby had actually been born on the 25th of July, a full week prior to the body being discovered in the well.  At the Police Court hearing on the 9th of August,  Dr Von Lossburg testified that, according to his examination of the body, the baby had been born alive.  However, P. A. O'Sullivan, who appeared in Rose's defence, argued that no clear evidence existed to definitively prove that the baby had been born this was the case, Rose could not be charged with wilful murder, & should therefore only face a far lesser charge of concealing the birth of a child - a contradiction in terms...

On the 25th of February, Rose was finally brought before the Ipswich Circuit Court on the charge of concealment of a birth - when asked how she wished to plead, Rose gave the answer of "guilty."  Much testimony was given throughout the trial, with all providing evidence stating that Rose was of excellent character.  She had been in the employ of the Cribbs for approximately five months, & throughout that time had been a conscientious worker.  Rose's defence requested that the provisions of the Offenders' Probation Act be applied to her case, which in essence requested a lesser sentence for offenders who could likely be reformed, however the Judge intimated that the limitations of the Act did not extend to a case such as this.  In sentencing, the Judge stated, "He felt it to be his duty - and it was a painful duty - to have to send her to gaol, but if any after application was made for her release he would not oppose it.  He would take into consideration the fact that she had a good character previously and had been five weeks in gaol [prior to the trial], and the sentence was that she should be imprisoned for nine months in Toowoomba Gaol with hard labour."   Thus ended one of the most tragic sagas in the life of Gooloowan, & the town of Ipswich in general.

Headline in The Brisbane Courier, on the 27th February 1890.

Over the following years, the ownership of Gooloowan changed hands a number of times as a result of a number of deaths, many of which occurred within the house.  On the 14th of December, Clarissa Cribb passed away at Gooloowan after having been house-bound for over a year due to her ailing health.  Having been a senior partner of Cribb & Foote since the death of her husband decades earlier, Clarissa Cribb was best known for her extensive charitable work throughout Ipswich, & her death was acutely felt throughout the town.  After her death, Gooloowan passed into the hands of her son, Thomas Bridson Cribb.  A Member of the Legislative Council just like his father Benjamin, Thomas was very well respected throughout Ipswich & Queensland.  In 1896, Thomas ran for the electorate of Ipswich in the State Government election, & due to his overwhelming popularity he gained the highest number of votes ever received by a candidate for Ipswich.  In later years, he would step into the role of Treasurer under Premier Robert Philp.  Unfortunately, after suffering from failing health in late 1913, Thomas & his wife Marian caught the train to their second house in Southport in the hope a few days rest would aid Thomas...a trip from which he would not return.  At 11pm on the 4th of September, Thomas sadly passed away, leaving his wife Marian to make the trip back to Ipswich & Gooloowan a widow.

Marian continued to hold ownership of Gooloowan for a further twenty years, unfortunately spending the majority of this time as an invalid.  On the 29th of December 1932, Marian passed away at the age of 78, within the walls of Gooloowan, after having lived her entire life in Ipswich.  On her death, ownership of Gooloowan was transferred to her daughter Vera & son-in-law James Ernest Walker.  The Managing Director of the Ipswich Woollen Company, James had originally studied law, however gave up his plans to become a barrister due to being hard of hearing. As a result, he spent much of his life working as a solicitor, spent some time as a Nationalist candidate in Ipswich, & focused all the while on the Ipswich Woollen Company.  On his death in 1939, ownership of  Gooloowan passed to his wife Vera, who continued to live at the premises with her spinster sister Estelle Cribb.  Estelle held the distinguished honour of being one of the first Queensland women to receive a University degree, graduating with a Masters of Arts in Sydney.  Returning to Ipswich, she took up a teaching position at Ipswich Girls Grammar School, where she worked the majority of her adult life.  On the 5th of November 1949, Estelle too would pass away within the walls of Gooloowan, leaving a lasting legacy through her many years spent educating many of Ipswich's young women.

In more recent years, Gooloowan has had a number of owners.  However, the bulk of the house's amazing history comes from its first 90 years up until the 1950's. Gooloowan really haunted, or do the stories of ghosts walking the halls & the grounds simply result from years of speculation by those who have passed its amazing fascade off Quarry Street?  Ultimately, that's for each of you to decide.  However, one very important fact cannot be denied - the economic & social prosperity of Ipswich, & in turn Queensland, was due largely in part to the amazing men & women who lived & died at Gooloowan.  Surely, the essence of the myriad dreams, aspirations & accomplishments of those who called Goloowan home, must still linger within the halls of this grand old mansion...&, if the time & conditions are right, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they replayed themselves from time to time...

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

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

Hotel Metropole c.1976 (State Library of Qld)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 3 September 2012

The day the Shamrock's luck ran out: an evolutionary tale of the Settler's Inn, & its supposed resident ghost.

The Settler's Inn, just prior to 2012 (courtesy of Computer World)

Welcome one & all to our first instalment of "Haunted Ipswich" - a five-part series over the month of September, focusing on a few more of the ghosts & haunted sites within my childhood home town.  For anyone who lives (or has ever lived) in Ipswich, you'll likely be aware of the city's history - an amazing region that dates back almost as far as Brisbane, with a heritage that is by no means any less important to the early evolution of Queensland.  Haunted sites in Ipswich date back virtually to the original settlement of Limestone (as Ipswich was called in its early years), & the subsequent ghost stories have been passed down through the generations to the current day.

One of these stories relates to the old Settler's Inn at the "top of town" on Brisbane Street.  Rumours persist of a mischievous spirit that would make its way around the pub during opening hours.  Whilst this spirit would never be seen, his exploits were definitely noticed by regulars & staff alike...objects being moved when no one was around, strange presences being felt in the bar when no one was in the vicinity, & doors inexplicably being opened & closed by unseen hands.  According to folk legend passed between locals at the Hotel, the spirit was said to originate from an earlier era of the site...popular belief had it that the ghost was that of a poor fellow who'd lost his life in a major fire at the Hotel many years previously.  So, what can we dig up about this unfortunate chap & the fire in which he perished so many years ago??

Shamrock Hotel Advert (The Moreton Bay Courier, 11th Oct 1851)

The existence of the Shamrock Hotel (or Inn) in Brisbane Street dates back to about 1850 - the earliest mention of the establishment is located in The Moreton Bay Courier on the 22nd of March 1851, at which time the proprietor Henry Savary placed an employment advert for "a first-rate cook."  According to the advert, in less than perfect English, "None need apply who does not perfectly understand his business."  By late 1851, Savary ran a number of adverts in The Moreton Bay Courier, thanking his patrons for their support & promising extensive improvements to the Shamrock undertaking it appears he completed over the next six months.  In the years leading up to his foray into the Publican's life, Henry Savary had earned a living in North Brisbane as a baker - a slightly unusual change of profession, although it seems to have been a very profitable one.  It's likely that Savary kept a hand in the baking profession to a lesser extent whilst trading at the Hotel, & saw it as a necessary adjunct to the sale of liquor - in March 1853, Alexander Noble took occupancy in part of the Shamrock Hotel, likely set up as a baker's shop, in order to produce "fancy bread & biscuits."  In the years that followed, the Hotel would change hands a number of times.  In April 1857, the Shamrock's license passed into the hands of Edmund Egglestone, by 1861 it had passed to Michael O'Malley, & by 1871 it had again been passed on to Alexander McLean.

For the first three decades of the Shamrock Hotel's life in Brisbane Street, trade appears to have been quite placid...either that, or any major indecent dealings were craftily hushed from the authorities.  However, on the 31st of January 1885, the Shamrock's peaceful existence was about to come to a calamitous end, the specific event from which the building's ghost is said to have arisen.  At 1am in the morning, the shrill din of a fire bell rang out along Brisbane Street, immediately raising nearby residents & traders from their slumber.  The initial fire took hold in an empty building recently leased by a Chinese shop-keeper, however before any of the nearby residents were able to act, the flames spread rapidly to the neighbouring building - the Shamrock Hotel.  Given the Shamrock was by that stage an aging wooden building, it immediately went up like a tinderbox...reports of the disaster stated that the fire took hold so quickly that occupants within the building barely managed to escape with more than a handful of clothing, which they'd scooped up on their way out of the building.  The fire would continue through two more buildings to the west of the Hotel, & the roof would collapse in a building two doors to the east.  All in all, four buildings along Brisbane Street would be completely lost, & one more would be so badly damaged it could no longer be utilised as a business place. 

By sheer virtue, a vacant allotment to the west of the blaze aided in breaking the spread of fire through further incredibly lucky break given that the main fire hose being used by the Fire Brigade burst early into the battle.  Fears were also held for buildings on the opposite side of Brisbane Street given the massive heat emanating from the blaze, however a public bucket brigade managed to cool the exposed timbers of the buildings at risk.  At the time the blaze took ahold of the Shamrock Hotel, a number of horses were stabled in the back yard of the premises...through very quick thinking, the stable doors were sprung as the Hotel erupted, & the horses ran clear of the blaze.  However...the same could not be said for two victims trapped within the Hotel as the fire took hold & raced through the corridors...two victims that would perish as a result of the flames. On the night of the fire, Dr Long was staying at the Hotel on an extended trip to Ipswich.  In the confusion that occurred at 1am in the morning through the Hotel's halls, not only was he unable to grab his surgical equipment, he was also unsuccessful in rounding up his two poodles which were travelling with him.  Both of the poor canines perished within the blaze, & were the only two living things that perished that night...not a single human soul was lost in the 1885 fire.

So what of our ghost story, I hear you ask - nobody died in the fire that destroyed the Shamrock Hotel??  Well...let's continue along the evolutionary path of the site...

After the destruction of the original Shamrock Hotel, a new establishment was slowly rebuilt on the same site under the new moniker of the Club Hotel.  Trade seems to have travelled well until 1892, when the license of the venue came up for renewal.  In July 1892, Mrs Nolan applied for the licence of the Club Hotel, an application that would be refused by the Police on the grounds that a married woman with husband could not hold a licence.  A Melbourne Supreme Court ruling was put forward in Mrs Nolan's defence, & the Licensing Board allowed the application to pass & receipted the necessary fee from the woman...however, the State Treasury refused to accept the money from the Licensing Board, & demanded the Police Commissioner close the establishment at once.  As such, the Club Hotel was closed indefinitely by the Police on the 4th of July, despite the Licensing Board's ruling.  Mrs Nolan was forced to contest the decision of the Treasury on the grounds of the Married Womens' Property Act, a new piece of legislation that would, in turn, allow her to hold a licence for the Club Hotel.  What seems a ridiculous & highly sexist notion now, was quite a bone of contention just over 100 years ago...

And thus, after having been reopened, the Club Hotel rolled on for almost 14 years without major incident or concern...until another disaster threatened its well-being.  In the Ipswich City Council's "Rubbidy-dubs to Pubs Then & Now" brochure, which can be downloaded from their website here, it's stated that the Club Hotel was, "also damaged by fire in 1916 but was repaired" - could this possibly be the fire that gave rise to the building's haunting??  Unfortunately, for both our ghost story & accurate history, this statement is not entirely correct...On the 4th of December 1915, at approximately 2am on a Saturday morning, a fire broke out in a row of buildings adjoining the Club Hotel.  The fire ripped through 3 shops containing a fruiterer, a bootmaker & some tea rooms - all three shops were grossly under-insured for such a disaster, & were completely enveloped.  However, before the fire could progress to the Club Hotel next door, the Fire Brigade managed to contain the blaze & the Hotel was spared by a hair's breadth.  Apart from a slight scorching & some minor water damage, the Club Hotel escaped unscathed...hence, in contradiction of common belief, the Hotel was not in essence damaged by fire & repaired, & nor did the event occur in 1916...furthermore, not a soul was lost in the blaze that claimed the adjoining three premises.

For the next 90 years, the Club Hotel plied its trade, watching patrons come & go without injury or death.  In the 1990's, the venue underwent a further name change for the third time in its life - it would become known as the Settler's Inn.  It would continue under this new name up until a couple of years ago, at which time the building was purchased by an investment conglomerate for redevelopment.  Finally, about two months ago, this beautiful old building at the "top of town" saw a gala reopening, as the Stumps Hotel & Tapas Tree Restaurant - a very ritzy establishment in comparison to the site's humble beginnings.  Does the Settler's Inn ghost still inhabit the building after the extensive renovations & reopening??  Only time will tell...however, what do we make of this ghost story & the apparent resident haunting of the building??  We know that no deaths occurred during the 1885 blaze & near-miss fire in incidents occurred in or around the Hotel with a direct link to the site that might give rise to a haunting...after having pulled the site's history apart, not a single death could be located...except one...

 Death Notice (The Moreton Bay Courier, 24th July 1852)

On the 5th of July 1852, after having fallen ill & suffering from deteriorating health over a three day period, the original proprietor of the Shamrock Hotel passed away within his original Hotel.  After having invested his heart & soul in the premises, only six months after undertaking extensive renovations, Henry Savary passed away at the age of 40.  Could the ghost of the Settler's Inn be the spirit of Henry returning from time to time to watch over the evolution of his pub?  It may just be a long-shot...but how wonderful a notion it is to imagine one of Ipswich's earliest residents might still be keeping an eye on the place!