Sunday, 26 February 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. Brilliant Job. Very thorough detailed reporting on this well discussed ghost story going back many many years.

    I do suspect Ann Smith was unfortunate that she had been murdered and placed on the track prior to being run over.

    Possibly poisoned? In 1885 a forensic autopsy report was likely absent a conclusive thorough toxicological exam, if at all possible back then as any precise results then were likely not possible as compared with today. That could have concluded my thought that Ann's fate was prior to that steam train thundering over her.

    No doubt any of those unfortunate souls you have reported on could be still present today.

    It's always a pleasure to read honest reporting of facts over here-say, and you have presented this story with cold hard facts.

    Many will continue to sensationalize theories for their own financial benefit or attention. In this case, the buck stops here!!! Well done once again.

  2. Thank you for your on-going support, PARATEK - the history of this site & the number of deaths that took place within its borders is truly eye-opening!

    The case of Ann Smith was definitely a bizarre one - in initial reports of the accident, it was noted that Ann was "of intemperate habits, and "was a very hard drinker."" It was supposed that, "Mrs Smith was the worse for liquor, and on her way home took the short cut across to Kelvin Grove, when she stumbled on the line and as she lay across the rail fell asleep or was rendered insensible by her fall on the permanent way."

    Her husband, a watchman for the Australasian Steam Navigation Company, testified otherwise, stating "he never knew her to take more than a glass of ale now an then." Knowledge of basic chemistry & physiology also tells us that alcohol thins the blood, hence a highly intoxicated person dismembered by a train should bruise & bleed far more readily...which does not appear to have happened in Ann's case.

    All in all, the Magisterial Inquiry was closed as a case of misadventure, based on testimony provided by two Constables who had passed Ann 45 minutes prior to the incident...had she legitimately been drunk? Had she met a sinister end within the following 45 minutes? Unfortunately, given post-mortem techniques & technology in 1885 we can only postulate...