The newly rebuilt Rosewood Hotel in 1916 (John Oxley Library)Ipswich - the ever-growing city in which I grew up. Owing its origin to no other than Captain Patrick Logan, who in 1826 located limestone deposits in the area that would become invaluable in the construction phase of the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement, Ipswich's European heritage is only one year younger than Brisbane's. Adopting the name Limestone as a result, the area became a convict outpost for the Penal Settlement where Brisbane now stands, supplying valuable building materials via the Bremer & Brisbane River to its sibling settlement. By 1840, enterprising pastoralists were beginning to settle the outlying Darling Downs area, even though it was strictly forbidden for free men to approach the outskirts of either current Ipswich or Brisbane, which were still designated as restricted penal settlements. However, on the opening of Brisbane Town to free settlement, Limestone soon followed & opened its borders, being designated Ipswich after its namesake in Suffolk, England.
With an almost equal historic timeline to that of Brisbane, it's no wonder that Ipswich also has its fair share of ghost stories...after all, the history of both areas have been intertwined for the past 185 years. Ipswich abounds with haunted sites, some far more well-known than others...however, through mass media attention & a much-hyped public "ghost hunt" a few years back, one site artificially stands out amongst the others - the Rosewood Hotel.
For a start, it's best that we examine how the Rosewood Hotel & its resident ghosts recently found themselves in the media spotlight, as the story provides important perspective before we delve deeper. In 2004, the Rosewood Hotel was co-purchased by Ipswich Councillor David Pahlke - we know this fact, because it features in his bio alongside every Ipswich City Council - Division 10 newsletter published for his electorate on the internet [example]. According to his bio, he "has developed a passion for "Ghost" paranormal viewpoints" - what these paranormal viewpoints are, & how they better the lives for those in his constituency, is anyone's guess. In the City West News, published on the 20th of October 2008, page 6, an article ran on the ghosts of Pahlke's Rosewood Hotel - in a final comment, the article detailed that, "historian and ghost tour operator Jack Sim has stayed in the hotel and confirms something happened while he was here. He will even dedicate a chapter to the hotel incidents in his book Haunted Ipswich, which is due for release next year." Thus, the media's attention was now drawn to the Rosewood Hotel...
Unfortunately, Haunted Ipswich: Ghosts of the Heritage City did not live up to its expected publication date in 2009 as per the article (very classily launched in May 2010, alongside the unveiling of a restored monument on a child's grave), however by mid-2009 plans for a public "ghost hunt" of the Rosewood Hotel were already well underway. "Jack" Sim & his Brisbane-based Ghost Tours company, in league with an outfit calling themselves Queensland Paranormal Investigators, stirred the media pot to announce that the haunted mystery of the Rosewood Hotel would finally be unlocked - a "ghost hunt" was planned for the 27th of June, & 20 members of the public could book to attend for a $65 fee per head...first in, best dressed. An article promoting the "ghost hunt" was run in the Queensland Times on the 2nd of June 2009, stating, "Customers are given the opportunity to use scientific methods such as EMF readings, or detecting disturbances in the electro magnetic field, and old fashioned methods like flour through to divining rods and spiritual boards." Surely, this was sizing up to be a bang-up, serious investigation of the pub's ghostly history, right?
And with that, the "hunt" went ahead on the 27 of June. On the 30th of June, the Ipswich News ran a follow-up piece, detailing what had been uncovered - "The investigators picked up quite a bit of activity. It was all a bit of fun, but I don’t think they left disappointed. One of the things they picked up were words (through Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVP) on tape of an English lady talking. She was speaking phrases you wouldn’t use today. A few psychics who visited said similar things which also seem to line up. They mentioned a pioneering lady in early costume who was a cook. They also spoke of a man named Billy with red hair and a man named Rusty with red hair, who could be the same person." So, we now had some hard evidence, backed by "evidence" collected by a few psychics...& all of this material seemed to strongly corroborate what was known about the haunted history of the Hotel...
So, what do we know about the ghosts of the Rosewood Hotel? From details published in the above newspaper articles, the hotel allegedly houses three ghosts, the most famous of which has become known as the "water ghost." The trapped spirit is allegedly that of a man who accidentally started a fire in the hotel in 1914, which resulted in the destruction of the building. It is said that the ghost's name is "Rusty," & that he was a red-headed Scotsman - he's gained the reputation as the "water ghost" because bedsheets, clothes etc in one of the Hotel's rooms are found to be damp for reasons unknown. The second ghost is apparently that of a woman in period dress, who is seen standing at the top of the staircase on the second floor. The third ghost is allegedly that of a U.S. soldier who was shot dead by Military Police in the doorway of the hotel after venturing into town from the nearby Calvert Ordinance Depot during the Second World War. Now, one very big factor to take into account with all of these hauntings, according to the articles, is that the details were uncovered by various psychics & clairvoyants - at no stage do any of the articles mention historic record being used to verify these claims.
So, without further ado, let's do just that! What do we know about the history of Rosewood & potential incidents that could provide us with an origin for these ghosts? We will start with one very important piece of information - according to the 1903 edition of the Australian Handbook, "It [Rosewood] has four hotels, the Rosewood, Commercial, and Royal on the northern or Scrub side of the railway, and the Rising Sun on the opposite side." Both the Rosewood & Royal (George) Hotels are located on John Street, a mere 100 metres apart.
At 2:00am in the morning, on the 3rd of January 1914, an orange glow was noticed by the town's Night Officer coming from the back of Fraser's Boot Shop - it was instantly apparent that a fire had started inside. Within minutes, the alarm had been raised & town residents formed a bucket brigade to try & extinguish the rapidly spreading fire before it moved to surrounding buildings. Without luck, the fire inevitably spread to Tomlin's Chemist & Fite's Fruit & Refreshments Shop, either side of Fraser's...before long, the eaves of the Rosewood Hotel next to Fite's were also well alight. By 3:30am, the fire had finally been contained, but not without consequence - fortunately, not a soul had lost their lives, although 9 buildings lay in smouldering ruins, having all been burnt to the ground. So...in complete contradiction to the advertised ghost story of the Rosewood Hotel, we now know that a fire was not accidentally lit at the hotel in 1914, but had originated from Fraser's Boot Shop 3 doors up from the establishment. We also know that no lives were lost during the blaze that decimated a sizeable chunk of 1914 Rosewood's business district. So, where did the notion of a man nicknamed "Rusty" (or something to that effect), who possibly accidentally lit a fire & maybe perhaps died in that fire, come from exactly?? The answer is quite simple...
At 3:00am on the 30th of October 1933, a fire was started in a boarder's room at the Royal Hotel (remember, the Royal Hotel is 100 metres up the road from the Rosewood Hotel). The glare woke the licensee Mr. McCormack, who promptly rushed his children outside before running back into the Hotel to wake the boarders upstairs. Fortunately, all were evacuated safely...bar one - a miner from Westvale Collieries, nicknamed "Sandy" Easton, became confused in the smoke in an attempt to locate the fire escape, & ran into a bathroom instead. With great effort, the licensee, his wife & another boarder managed to drag "Sandy" out through the bathroom window, however he had already suffered severe burns - raced to the Ipswich Hospital, poor "Sandy" succumbed to his injuries shortly after. As a result of the fire, the Royal Hotel & two adjoining premises were destroyed. Given the extent of "Sandy's" burns, it is even possible that the fire may had started in his room...we will never know. What we do know, however, is the story of "Rusty" at the Rosewood Hotel & "Sandy" at the Royal Hotel down the road are remarkably similar...& we know which one is based on historic fact!
Published in The Courier Mail, page 11, on the 31st of October 1933.
Next, we turn our attention to the female ghost in period dress seen on the second floor of the Rosewood Hotel. Unfortunately, we're not left with much to work with here, so need to delve into the historic record to locate an event that could likely give rise to a haunting...again, the Rosewood Hotel comes up trumps, but surprisingly again the Royal Hotel shows up. At 10:30 in the morning, on the 28th of May 1926, the young wife of the licensee Patrick Downey, Mary Francis, was standing in her bedroom on the second floor of the Hotel...it can only be supposed as to what occurred over the following seconds, however passers-by heard screams from the bedroom door that opened out onto the upper balcony & watched in horror as Mrs Downey ran into view, her clothes ablaze. In her panic, she struck her head heavily on a post & toppled over the rail, falling into the street still on fire. Her husband, who had been downstairs, ran out into the roadway & managed to extinguish her clothes, however she had already been horrifically burnt & succumbed to her injuries a few minutes later. It was supposed that she had struck a match in the bedroom, that in turn had inadvertently ignited her clothing.
Very sadly, her husband who had been left with their infant son, chose to dispose of the license on the Royal Hotel a few weeks later to return to Brisbane at the start of June 1926...on the 18th of October, after having lost his wife & mother to his child not even 5 months previously, the 36 year old Patrick succumbed at the Brisbane General Hospital after ailing for a short period, leaving his young son an orphan. If ever a tale of tragedy was to give rise to a haunting, this would most undoubtedly be it...unfortunately, it again happened in the wrong Hotel for our intrepid "ghost hunters."
As for the U.S. Serviceman who was apparently shot dead by Military Police in the doorway to the Rosewood Hotel, no records exist to support this claim...although we must also take into account that this ghostly information, like the rest, was offered up by an unnamed "psychic." It was not unusual for the U.S. Forces in Australia during the Second World War to demand media silence on "unsavoury" events involving their soldiers - for anyone who is aware of the events that took place during the sensational Battle of Brisbane, virtually not a word was published about it in the Brisbane newspapers at the time on the request of the U.S. Military hierarchy - however, I am still highly sceptical if this event at the Rosewood Hotel ever took place, & would be more than happy to receive correspondence from anyone capable of confirming this ever occurred.
So, all in all, we're left with one Ipswich Councillor, one Brisbane ghost tour operator, & one "paranormal investigation" team with egg on their faces...not to mention the unknown number of "guests" who were fleeced out of $65 each for the privilege of "hunting" ghosts in the wrong Hotel. If either "Jack" Sim or the so-called Queensland Paranormal Investigators had even remotely bothered to do their research, they would have known they were advertising a bogus "ghost hunt" at the Rosewood Hotel based on historic events conveniently borrowed from the Royal Hotel just up the road. Ironically, the Queensland Paranormal Investigators were showcased on Channel 9's A Current Affair, six months later on the 14th of January 2010 - the segment encouraged Stephen Downes, a renowned Australian expert in marketing & corporate branding, to write a very colourful article on his blog, entitled, "Who ya gonna call? Consumer Affairs, the ACCC and the ACMA!" - I couldn't urge you more to read this article, as it perfectly sums up what you've read in this article. Ultimately, dodgy tour operators seeking fast bucks with less-than-reputable ghost "investigators" in tow, are the scourge of the paranormal field, & further aid in destroying any reputation legitimate researchers have. And as a final word to Councillor Pahlke - I'm truly sorry, but if you were after a haunted pub in Rosewood...you clearly bought the wrong one.