Monday, 30 April 2012

A tale of one Red Cow, an old Mauritian Sea Captain & an unlocateable rum distillery...

The Caledonian in its current form (from
The Caledonian Hotel on Bell Street in Ipswich - I'll admit that I've spent the odd afternoon in this establishment over a beer, wasting time while I waited alongside Ipswich Station for my I'm sure many others have done in decades past.  My reminiscences of the Caledonian only just pre-date the destructive fire that ripped through the building a decade ago, but little did I know that the establishment I was wasting time in also quietly protected a ghostly story of its own!

Earlier in the week, a close friend mentioned that she'd been told the story of the Caledonian Hotel's ghost recently, during a wider conversation about the ghosts of Ipswich - quite keen to know more, as I'd not heard of a ghost inhabiting this building, I eagerly asked for the details.  The manifestation of the haunting in itself is quite simple, however the suspected origin of the Hotel's ghost is more complex - patrons who frequented the establishment told of feeling a "presence" in the building, & of experiencing the distinct sensation of an invisible "person" brushing passed when no physical person was in the near vicinity.   Whilst it is likely a number of crazier theories as to the identity of the Caledonian spook exist, it seems that the most accepted belief surrounding the haunting is thus:  A patron at the Hotel was highly intoxicated one night & fell over as a result, striking his head in the fall...very unfortunately for the patron, his accident wasn't discovered until the next morning, by which time the poor chap had passed away due to blood loss.  Curious to get to the bottom of the haunting & discern whether any historic basis existed to validate the tale, I was more than a little amazed at what I uncovered - the history of the site is far more extensive than most Ipswich residents likely realise!

The story starts all the way back in the early 1840's, with a carpenter by the name of William Vowles.  Having arrived in Australia in April 1833, William spent a number of years in the Clarence & New England areas (current northern New South Wales), before taking advantage of news that the Moreton Bay region had finally been opened for free settlement in 1842.  Travelling north through Cunningham's Gap, he arrived in the frontier town of Limestone on the 5th of October 1842, & quickly put his carpentry skills to good use - William held the conspicuous honour of having constructed the first house in the soon to be named township of Ipswich, for a Mr Gossly, on a thoroughfare that had only just been gazetted by Henry Wade as Bell Street...& thus the history of our target site began.  By 1843, other settlers were moving into the area in the hope of trying their luck in the newly gazetted township - in February of that year, a name change was authorised by Governor George Gipps, & the township finally adopted its current name of Ipswich.  That year also, a new & unusual character blew into town - a Mauritian Sea Captain, nicknamed "Black Neale," who had chosen to give up his ship and settle on dry land.  Seeking a new profession in his new town, Neale travelled to Sydney where he applied for & was granted a publican's license...he then returned to Ipswich & began to seek out a suitable premises.

Details from the period are very scant, however we do know that Neale began to trade out of a wooden premises in Bell Street - the same address at which William Vowles had built Ipswich's first house the year beforehand.  We also know that the original house built by Vowles on the block remained, & was converted into a kitchen - some modern sources postulate that Neale moved another wooden dwelling to the site and attached the two, however Neale may also have simply built onto the already extant house.  Regardless, Neale named his new establishment the Red Cow, & it wasn't long before the venture was doing a roaring trade, becoming well known throughout the area for its rum. However, the Authorities' suspicions began to grow when the Red Cow's trade in rum seemed to far outweigh the duties being paid by the publican - whilst numerous raids were carried out in order to catch "Black Neale" out & expose his illegal distillery, the authorities failed to turn up a single piece of the apparatus.

In the years that followed, the Red Cow changed hands & names, becoming the Horse & Jockey, the Royal Oak, & eventually the Caledonian Hotel by which it goes today...the establishment saw its share of drama - surviving a neighbouring fire on the 22nd of August 1865 (as the Horse and Jockey), the Landlord John McGregor was stabbed in the chest by a man named Cuthbert in 1880, only to suddenly die two years later after eating bad mulberries, & multiple visits from the Constabulary for drunken falls, fights & faints.  However, the biggest shock came in 1896 when the original wooden building was finally demolished to make way for the current brick establishment.  As workers pulled the ailing Hotel apart, they exposed a treasure that many had sought yet none had ever had the fortune to find - expertly concealed in the kitchen fireplace, within Ipswich's first house - built by William Vowles & incorporated into the original Red Cow - the mythical rum distillery of "Black Neale" was finally exposed to the light of day!  Hence, one of the mysteries of the Red Cow, come Caledonian Hotel, was finally solved...but what about our ghost??

Well, looking back through the records, we know that a number of publicans suddenly died elsewhere, like John McGregor, who may have returned to their place of business...however, a number of other people died on the site, & within the current building, unexpectedly.  In May 1890, a Bowen man named Henry Miller passed away in the Ipswich Hospital - days beforehand, he had been pulled from his room in the Caledonian Hotel in the midst of an apoplectic fit.  Again, on the 10th of May 1905, in the current brick Caledonian Hotel, the Government Medical Officer Dr Von Lossberg (who had also played a major role in the Gatton Murders seven years previously), was called to the Caledonian.  He was ushered into the hotel & led to a lifeless body laying lengthways on the stairs...further pronouncing life extinct, the body was conveyed to the Ipswich Morgue where a post mortem was performed - the body was found to exhibit a single minor abrasion on the skin, with no broken neck, no external marks & no fractured skull...the subsequent Inquest found that the death of Patrick Shine occurred through apoplexy (stroke or cerebral haemorrhage) - still, we haven't found a death at the Caledonian that matches the oral legend of the resident ghost's origin...

Until we consider the Caledonian's previous guise as the Royal Oak.  We know that on the 13th of November 1860, an Inquest was held at the Royal Oak by Dr Henry Challinor - James Hunter, a recent performer of Ashton's Circus, had been staying at the Caledonian Hotel for over a month.  For some days, he had been grumbling about suffering from a "bowel complaint," & had been witnessed briskly walking between his lodgings & the outhouse behind the Hotel holding his belly - he had ridden on horseback to Woogaroo a few days prior, & blamed his stomach upset on his riding, as he was no longer in the habit of doing so.  The Landlord Adam Watson would testify that he had last seen Hunter laying in bed in a sad state - some hours later, Watson was called to the outhouse by William Penn, where they discovered Hunter, "laying dead on his face."  The Inquest into James Hunter's death would find that he suffered a convulsive seizure whilst on the toilet, brought about by natural causes as a result of "intemperate habits."  It was noted that whilst a working man, Hunter, "would get drunk as often as he could"...even though his drinking had been severely curbed in his unemployment whilst staying at the Caledonian Hotel, his previous habits finally took their toll & delivered him to his grave in the most unfortunate of locations...

So...does "Black Neale" haunt the hallways of the Caledonian Hotel in search of his hidden rum distillery??  Does John McMahon roam his pub where he survived the sting of a rogue's knife only to be stuck down shortly after by bad mulberries??  Does Patrick Shine haunt the stairwell in which he died from a stroke??  Or, similarly to the stories told by the regulars of the Caledonian Hotel, does the ghost of ex-Ashton Circus performer James Hunter - who died on the Royal Oak's dunny - still stumble through the establishment, brushing passed patrons on his way to the now spectral outhouse where the back yard used to be??

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Commissariat Store: Could it house Brisbane's oldest haunting??

The Commissariat Store around its 100th Birthday, ca. 1928 (State Library of Qld)
With the Queensland Heritage Festival now underway, a number of fantastic events have been planned by the National Trust of Queensland across Brisbane.  Today, the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, whose headquarters & museum are located within the Commissariat Store building opposite the Treasury Heritage Hotel, held an Open Day - the fantastic museum located inside boasts, amongst other irreplaceable relics of Brisbane's early history, the gallows beam salvaged from Boggo Road Gaol's now long demolished Number 1 Division, the maker's plate & ship's bell salvaged from the Lucinda (featured in last week's tragic article on the Pearl Disaster), & a bottle removed from St Helena Island Penal Establishment containing a convict's finger!  With so many gruesome artefacts housed within the one building, one has to wonder what other relics of Brisbane's past still call the building home...

For years, tales of ghosts within the Commissariat Store have persisted - those who have worked in the building over the years relate experiences of hearing strange noises when no other workers are about, of phantom footsteps in vacant sections of the building, unexplainable figures seen waving from windows after dark when the building is supposedly empty, of leaving objects in specific places only to find those items moved the next morning, and of invisible presences felt about the place by employees & visitors alike.  It's also a commonly held story that a side door accessed via a walkway from an adjoining park displays paranormal phenomena - it's said that if a visitor knocks on the door after closing time, footsteps can be heard approaching on the inside as though someone is coming to open the door, only to come to a dead stop immediately on the opposite side.  In an article published in The Courier Mail on the 9th of October 2009, the Royal Historical Society of Queensland's then recently retired President, Allan Bell, was pressed on whether he suspected the Commissariat Store was haunted - according to the article, "He [Allan] refuses to believe that the building housing the Society - the 1829 convict-built Commissariat Store, the second oldest building in Brisbane - is haunted, even though the ghost of a slain convict is said to roam outside. The story goes that two convicts were building something in the rear yard when a fight broke out.  One convict drove an axe into the head of the other.  Soldiers threw him in a wheelbarrow and charged up the road to the hospital, but he died."

This story of the murdered convict seems to crop up all over the internet when a search is conducted on ghosts/hauntings of the Commissariat Store, & no doubt the same story is bandied about on the fantastical commercial ghost tours conducted through Brisbane's CBD.   Whilst the basis of the story is sound, the bulk of the finer details are heavily, heavily flawed - I roughly documented this story in 2005, in the Australian Chapter of Jeff Belanger's Encyclopedia of Haunted PlacesFor the record, two convicts weren't building something in the rear yard of the Commissariat Store, one convict did not drive an axe into the head of the other, & the victim wasn't strictly wheelbarrowed up the road to the hospital where he died.  So...what do we know about this historic event, & how can it be fleshed out fully in order to provide clarity once & for all??

The sorry tale we're about the explore, focuses on the transportation, incarceration & eventual downfall of one John Brungar.   A native of Kent in England, Brungar was convicted at the Kent Assizes on the 2nd of August 1819, & was issued with a life sentence which would ensure his transportation to the colony of Australia.  On the 17th of September 1819, Brungar was loaded aboard the convict transport Prince Regent, amongst 159 other unfortunate souls, all bound for Australia - of the ship's complement of "passengers", 43 others had been convicted & sentenced to a life of servitude in Australia, with the other 116 on lesser sentences.  After 4 long months of transportation, the Prince Regent sailed into Sydney Cove on the 27th of January 1820, despatching her complement of 160 souls into the capable hands of the colony's convict authorities.  Unfortunately, the bulk of Australia's archived convict material was destroyed after the cessation of convict transportation, however enough still exists that we can trace John Brungar's movements after reaching our shores - for a start, we know that after spending over a year in the vicinity of Sydney, Brungar was brought up on charges at Parramatta on the 19th of March event which saw another two pointless years added to his previous life sentence.  Ten days later, Brungar was loaded onto the transport Elizabeth Henrietta, on the 29th of March 1821, for relocation to Newcastle.

 The Prince Regent, on which John Brungar was transported in 1819.

 In July 1821, four months after being relocated to Newcastle on the back of further sentencing in Parramatta, John Brungar's fortunes turned again - after being issued as a Convict Servant to a Master (generally a landowner of note), Brungar had chosen to abscond & took to the bush...a poorly concocted decision, as he was located soon after.  For his dissidence, he was sentenced to suffer 50 lashes - a physical punishment that would have tested the strongest of men.  The punishment seemed to slow John's self-destructive nature for a time, as his record remains clear for a few years.  On the 8th of May 1823, a letter was written by Lieutenant Close to the Colonial Secretary's Office, under which John Brungar, amongst others, would be given free pass for 14 days to transport 110 cattle, 2 horses & 360 sheep from Windsor through to Wallis's Plains.  Lieutenant Close was so sure of Brungar's loyalty, that he again sent a letter requesting his aid on the 16th of June 1823...only to sit idle as Brungar again absconded.  After being located again shortly after, Brungar was sentenced to a further 75 lashes for his indiscretions.  On the 14th of April 1824, Brungar had been moved to the employ of James McGillivray...employment that again lasted two months until Brungar was brought up on charges & sentenced to yet another seven pointless years - it was clear now that John was a perfect subject for transportation north, to the experimental Moreton Bay Penal Settlement.

Unfortunately, the first we hear of John Brungar at the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement comes on the 27th of September 1828.  In that month, the foundation trenchwork for the Commissariat Store was being carried out, by a gaol gang of which John Brungar was a part.  On the 27th, at 8am in the morning, Brungar approached another convict named William Perfoot - Brungar was aware that Perfoot possessed a lighter mattock, & had been manoeuvring unsuccessfully to sequester it for his own use.  When Perfoot again refused to hand his mattock over & a slight physical tussle began, the convict overseer demanded that Brungar move to the other side of the order he obeyed until midday, when his frustration took the better of him.  Turning to face Perfoot, who was stooping down at the time, Brungar ran across the pit with his mattock and struck his adversary in the head...the blade of the mattock penetrated Perfoot's skull to a depth of about two inches & felled him where his stood, apparently dead.  Brungar immediately dropped his mattock, picked up a shovel, & continued on as if nothing had happened...although his crime had been witnessed by everyone present.  Perfoot was loaded into a wheelbarrow & conveyed to the convict hospital, where he languised for 6 long days before passing away from his injuries.  Unfortunately for Perfoot, 10 months beforehand another convict had unsuccessfully attempted to kill him by striking his head with a was quite literally a case of second time (un)lucky...

As a result of the crime, Brungar was conveyed to Sydney, where he was tried for Perfoot's murder before the Supreme Court along with 3 other murderous convicts from Moreton Bay - the court cases for all would take a bizarre turn, however.  On being brought into the court, all four protested their innocence & swore that they had been denied the ability to call forth valuable witnesses from Moreton Bay.  The Court was adjourned until the following day to allow all to complete affidavits to the effect...however, when the Court resumed the next day, their statements were found to have no basis & the cases proceeded, to which all defendants protested repeatedly throughout.  Again, the Solicitor General allowed the cases to stand over to the next day, such that the defendants could amend their statements...a delay that still had no basis, as all went to trial the next day & were sentenced to execution for their crimes.  However, John Brungar's demise would see one further twist - on the morning of his execution on the 16th of April 1829, his procession to the gallows was was presumed that this respite was due to his Warrant of Execution having not arrived at the Prison on time.  However, Brungar was to walk the same path two days later on the 18th, alongside his fellow Moreton Bay murderers - all were put to death at the end of the hangman's rope, paying the ultimate price for their crimes.

In his book Haunted Brisbane: Ghosts of the River City, "Jack" Sim claims that a supposed ghost sighting of Patrick Logan (on the southern riverbank opposite Brisbane on the 18th of October 1830), is the oldest ghost story in Queensland & second oldest ghost story in Australia - an event that is documented nowhere & has no historic basis.  That said, what of the Commissariat Store Ghost??  If it's postulated that the ghost wandering the halls of the Commissariat Store is that of the murdered convict William Perfoot, an event that is actually documented in September 1828, in the very foundations of the building & clearly two years prior to Logan's murder, might this be Brisbane's oldest ghost story??  That choice I'll leave up to you, the reader, to discern...

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Pearl Disaster: Brisbane's forgotten shipping tragedy...

The Pearl at her mooring in February 1896 (State Library of Qld)
As you're likely aware, today, the 15th of April 2012, is the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic Disaster.  So far, The Courier Mail has run full colour lift-outs in their Saturday edition two weekends in a row, tonight both Channel Seven & SBS are screening Titanic documentaries, & on Wednesday night Channel Seven will screen another tele-drama based on the Titanic sinking - it's clear that Australians are still equally fascinated & appalled by the events that took place that fateful night a century ago.  However, very few residents of Brisbane are aware of an event that unfolded 116 years ago, right here in Brisbane, the anniversary of which has only just passed.  Whilst the scale of the disaster paled in comparison to that of the Titanic, the fall-out from the Brisbane tragedy sent reverberations around the world.

The sorry story began at 4am on Monday the 6th of February 1893.  After torrential rains had lashed the south east of Queensland, Brisbane was in the grip of a flood...however, where other floods had come & gone at this time of year, this particular flood was greater & more ferocious than any other Brisbane had experienced before - in time, history would record the event as the Great Flood of 1893, a natural disaster we still talk about in hushed tones to this day.  For days, the Brisbane River lay swollen through the heart of the city, spilling out into the lower-lying areas of the greater Brisbane region & flushing all manner of flotsam & jetsam into Moreton Bay.  However, on Sunday the 5th of February a major flood surge began to move down the winding river from its headwaters, destroying everything in its path.  The Indooroopilly Railway Bridge, which had barely survived the previous severe flood in 1890, was first to feel the tremendous power of the surge.  A fully-laden steam train was hurriedly parked on the bridge in a vain attempt to weigh the structure down & pin it to the riverbank, however the effort was for naught - at 5:45am, with a deafening crack & roar heard 1½ kilometres away, 25 metres of the bridge's 50 metre central span sheered away, plunging into the raging torrent below.   The surviving sections of the bridge held out valiantly against the continued onslaught until 1pm, when another deafening boom sounded & the remainder of the central span was torn free by the continually rising waters.

Further downstream, the Victoria Bridge linking North & South Brisbane was beginning to weather the same surge.  Residents of Brisbane lined both sides of the river & watched on in amazement as the waters rose to the level of the bridge deck, & debris smashed against the structure's side.  During the night, two large punts which had broken away from their moorings upstream, slammed into the superstructure & became jammed, adding to the steadily increasing volume of building materials & vegetation banked against the bridge.  Astonishingly, Victoria Bridge appeared to defy the flood's best destructive efforts throughout the night...until 4am the next morning, when the still-present crowd played witness to the sheer brute force of nature in stunned silence, as the bridge finally buckled under the weight of water & wreckage.  According to The Queenslander on the 11th of February 1893, "There was one loud crash, which shook the very earth, and made the surrounding buildings shake to their foundations; one convulsive heave, and the wrecked portion went down the river.  Soon other pieces followed it, until before half an hour had elapsed fully one-half of the bridge had disappeared."  The main lifeline between the two banks of the Brisbane River was now completely severed, sharing a similar fate with the only other Brisbane River crossing at Indooroopilly which had failed the day before - Brisbane had cruelly been plunged back into the dark ages of the City's early era, where water-craft were the only means of transportation between North & South.

Jump forward three years to 1896, & the three year anniversary of Victoria Bridge's destruction.  By this time, construction of the second permanent Victoria Bridge was well under way - proceeding the 1893 Bridge collapse, a temporary (& rickety) wooden bridge had been hastily constructed from the northern bank, adjoining the surviving southern section in the centre of the river.  However, given the time of the year, Brisbane was again due for a flood.  By Wednesday the 12th of February, the Brisbane River was swollen again & flowing heavily, & the piles in the piers of the temporary bridge section came under immediate treat from floating debris.  By 5:45am the next morning, over 2 acres of floating debris had backed up behind the bridge, & 5 piles shattered under the weight with an ear-piercing crack, damage that would see the temporary section sag nearly a metre.  All traffic across the bridge was immediately halted, throwing Brisbane's morning commute into chaos.  Immediately, local powers scrambled to press into service every suitable vessel they could find - on this day, ferries would again become the only link between the North & South.  Of the four vessels employed, one was the Pearl, a small steamship.

At 5pm in the afternoon, the Victoria Bridge still being closed, the working class of Brisbane made their way down to Queen's Wharf near the front of the now old Commissariat Stores...the Pearl lay alongside waiting for her fares.  To this day, the exact number of passengers who boarded the vessel that fateful afternoon is open to debate, however the agreeable complement sits between approximately 70-80.  At 5:05pm, the Pearl pulled away from the wharf, the Normanby & Government Steamer Lucinda being anchored in her path further out into the stream.  Throughout the day, the Pearl had passed between the two ships on a number of occasions in an attempt to placate passengers' concerns that the vessel was taking a longer route between the riverbanks...a travel path that had already seen the Pearl clip the stern of the Normanby on one occasion & ride over the anchor cable of the Lucinda on another.  On the 5pm run, the Pearl attempted again to run between the two vessels, however her earlier attempts & near misses served to seal her fate - on nearly clipping the stern of the Normanby again, the engines of the Pearl were called to a stop, at which time an eddy of flood water between the vessels shunted the Pearl backwards.  Before the engines could be started again to adequately get the Pearl underway, the surge slammed the vessel down on the anchor line of the Lucinda, effectively cleaving the vessel in two.


Men, women & children slid across the deck as the ship disappeared beneath the surging waters in less than 30 seconds.  Some luckily struck on the Lucinda's anchor chain and climbed upwards to safety...further passengers were able to grab lifelines immediately thrown by the crew of the Lucinda who were on watch...however, many who were on board the Pearl ended up in the swollen river & found themselves being flushed downstream at a rapid rate.  It was at this point that some of the most harrowing stories emerge...

James Wilson & his wife boarded the Pearl & were thrown into the water - James attempted to hold his wife above water while another lady clung to him, causing him to lose his grip & his wife was washed away to her death.  On being saved, he was transferred to a boarding house where he came in contact with the 4 young children of another woman who had perished in the disaster - he immediately consented to care for them, even in his grief & loss.  Three young brothers named O'Sullivan, aged 14, 11 & 9, were swept into the river - the 14 year old managed to snag & climb up the Lucinda's anchor chain, while his 11 year old brother hung on to a man's coat & was barely saved...however, the oldest brother watched from the Lucinda's stern as the youngest screamed "Mumma, Mumma," & disappeared beneath the water - his little, broken body was recovered near Breakfast Creek a week later.  Archibald McCorkingdale, past Councillor of Caboolture Shire, was washed into the river with a friend - on entering the water, he shouted, "Goodbye, I cannot swim.  Remember me to my wife," before slipping under the water...his body was never recovered.  21 year old Henry Archibald Jarman grabbed a lifebouy as he slipped off the deck into the water, but handed it to his Aunt, stating, "Here, you take this and save yourself, I'll be alright"...he was then washed away & drowned.  Of those who were lost, the saga continued...

In the days proceeding the wreck, search crews located clothing washed up on beaches at Sandgate, the entirety of which was sent back to Brisbane in the hope it may be identified.  Three days after the disaster, Mr Oxenham who was employed as the telegraph-master at Redcliffe, spied a body floating alongside the Redcliffe Jetty & immediately notified the Police.  The body was salvaged & taken to the Redcliffe Police Station, & in turn was transferred to North Pine & then on to Brisbane - on the post-mortem examination, the body was identified as that of a 29 year old woman who had been aboard the Pearl.  Ten days later, on the 26th of February, further word was received from Bribie Island where another body had been located on the shore - having been transferred to the local morgue, a broach was found on the body which in turn was identified by a friend at the Inquest...the woman, who possessed no other family in Brisbane aside from her sister, was also identified as one of the Pearl's passengers.  At a later stage again, an unidentifiable body was found on the shores of St Helena Island - it was postulated that this may have also been one of the missing souls from the Pearl sinking.

However, the greatest blow to Brisbane from the tragedy concerned the Morren family.  On the morning of the 13th of February, Hugh Morren & his eldest son & daughter were in mourning - their wife & mother had passed away the day before in the Brisbane General Hospital as a result of a protracted illness.  The father & children had made the journey to Brisbane from their home at Manly, where six younger children lay in waiting, to bury their loved one at Toowong Cemetery.  On the return from the funeral, all three boarded the fateful Pearl...five minutes later, their fortunes would again be parted.  The daughter was the first to be rescued from the river - thinking that both her father & brother had perished, she made her way to the Melbourne Street Railway Station to head back to her siblings, weeping heavily on the platform as she waited for the train amongst the other commuters.  Having boarded the train, she sat in stunned silence as her heart-broken brother boarded the carriage at the next station - at once, the two siblings consoled one another on the train ride home, however their father Hugh was not so luck...he perished amongst the others, on the day of his wife's funeral, & was buried alongside her four days later.  Ultimately, the Morren children were collected & sent to an orphanage at Sandgate, until Queen Victoria received word of the tragedy in England - not only did she send her condolences regarding the tragedy, but an immediate fund was set up in London to aid the Morren children, who in turn were transferred to England to be cared for.

The Pearl Disaster crippled the growing hub of Brisbane, & the story was passed amongst its residents for years...however, with no visible reminder of the tragedy, Brisbane has all but forgotten.  Whilst the Titanic drama plays out over the coming days, for those of you catching ferries across the river from Brisbane to Southbank after work, stop & think - 116 years ago, many souls walked the same path you have to the riverbank...however 29 of them never made it home...

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The McKenzie Case: A tragedy that rocked 1923 Brisbane.

View of the city from One Tree Hill (Mt Coot-tha) in 1925 (State Library of Qld)
In researching material for the weekly articles, I regularly come across all range of events in Brisbane's history - stories of tribulation, accounts of hardship, amazing developments & tales of tragedy...whilst the bulk of these stories lack any link to the supernatural, occasionally a tale leaps from the pages of history & begs to be told, if for no other reason than to remind us of how fickle life can be.  These events, as they unravelled, permanently affected the psyche of Brisbane's society - the following tale of woe is one of those occurrences...

On Saturday the 6th of October 1923, as the sun rose over Brisbane & lit the slopes of One Tree Hill overlooking the city, the broken body of a woman was discovered by Kangaroo Point resident Frank Beckey.  Returning from a stroll up the mountain, Frank had chosen a side track during his descent, & had inadvertently stumbled across the morbid sight.  The Police at Toowong were immediately called for, & Constable Richard Arnold from Taringa & fellow Officers from the area raced to the scene.  Frank led the Officers to the body - to the woman's right sat an automatic .22 calibre pistol, three rounds spent & four still viable...beside her left hand, the crumpled photo of a man stared stoically towards the sky.  A handbag was also visible alongside the body, containing a handkerchief, gloves, a silver pencil case & 2/9½ in coins.  It was evident that the woman had chosen to end her own life, gunshot wounds being visible over her heart & also to her right temple - three expended projectiles removed during the post-mortem examination would verify the fact.  The Coroner would conclude that death had occurred approximately 24 hours beforehand.  On closer examination of the body, seven visiting cards bearing the name "Mrs Donald McKenzie" were was now likely that the body was that of Miriam McKenzie, although her motive for suicide was unclear...if only just for a moment...

No sooner had the body been located & conveyed to the morgue for autopsy, than a letter was received at the Criminal Investigation Branch in Brisbane via the post.  Upon opening the envelope & revealing the letter contained inside, the Police stood in shock...Miriam McKenzie, who's body had been recovered only hours beforehand in bushland on One Tree Hill, had posted her suicide note to them directly: 

October 4, 1923.
To the Police,

I shall die by my own hand tomorrow morning.  I can be of no further assistance to my husband, and so feel I have nothing to live for.  I appeal to you and to those who are bringing charges against him to consider the succession of severe shocks to which his nerves had been subjected, and to remember that the man with 100 degrees of resisting power, who failed because he was assailed by 101 degrees of temptation, should not be condemned in the minds of the people who were infinitely weaker, but were never assailed by the one overwhelming degree of temptation.

Out in the sunshine, amongst the big, clean things of creation, I shall go contentedly and calmly; I love him and he loves me, and we understand each other.

If any doctor would be kind enough to do so, please allow him to sever my jugular vein.

Miriam McKenzie

8 a.m.,  October 5. - I am still of the same opinion.  M. McK. 

A simple postscript was written at the bottom of the page, but had been crossed out - "Please let Donald keep my message and photograph."  The suicide & above letter would have likely struck the Brisbane Police like a bolt from God...although, Miriam & her husband Donald were well known to them, due to a Court hearing that was in progress at the time...

A week earlier, on the 25th of September, Donald McKenzie had been arrested in Brisbane after having fled south with his wife Miriam, from Wowan just south-west of Rockhampton.  As Manager of the Wowan Cotton Ginnery, alongside his Clerk Alfred Hyde, Donald was accused of conspiring to steal £243 from the British Australian Cotton Growing Association.  Three days later on September the 28th, Donald finally obtained bail & was met by his wife Miriam outside the prison, who, against the charges being levelled at her husband, was convinced of his innocence.  However, upon his release Donald confessed to his partner that he was indeed guilty of the charge...a confession, whilst shocking, his wife was willing to forgive with the promise she would wait out any prison sentence he might be issued.  The following days, however, took their toll, as Miriam's faith began to falter... it had been put to her that Donald could likely be facing three to five years in prison for his crime.  Approaching her husband with an agonising concept, Miriam floated the idea that they should both commit suicide to escape the inevitable...a notion Donald quashed immediately...he would face the charges head-on.

Donald was due for his day in the Brisbane Police Court on Wednesday the 3rd of October, which he attended with his head held high.  After an initial hearing, his case was remanded for a week...unfortunately though, further bail was not granted & Donald was conveyed to the City Watch House.  Distraught over her husband's plight, Miriam followed her husband to the Watch House & spent time with would be the last time he would see her alive.  Still detained on Sunday the 7th of October, the news was broken to Donald that his wife had been found dead on the slopes of One Tree Hill, having committed suicide in an attempt to gain leniency in his case...four days later on the 11th of October, the Police Magistrate Hewan Archdall acknowledged the death of Miriam McKenzie in Donald's case, & under Section 656 of the Criminal Code (First Offenders Act), he was allowed to walk out of the Court with a six month suspended sentence.  However, Donald's suffering was yet to end, as the Inquest into his wife's death was due to begin...

On Wednesday the 17th of October, not even a full week after being released from the Watch House pending his own criminal case, Donald found himself back in the witness box at the Police Court.  In an attempt to explain his wife's suicide, Donald stated, "She was so much attached to me that I think she did it to endeavour to create sympathy for me when I was being tried, in order that I might be dealt with leniently."  Further evidence was given two days later on the 19th, during which Miriam's recent state of mind was called into question & her suicide letter was tendered as evidence. After a great deal of evidence was proffered, the Inquest was adjourned until Monday the 12th of November...a date that would see the entire sorry saga brought to a close.  At the same moment that Miriam's Inquest was being continued in the Police Court, local resident George Wells was walking through Toowong Cemetery & came upon a gruesome scene - a man sprawled across the new grave of Miriam McKenzie, just beyond the main gates of the cemetery.  George could see a revolver, a woman's picture & a leather attaché case lying alongside the body, & it was evident the man had been shot in the temple.  Much to George's shock, however, he discovered the man had miraculously survived the horrific head wound - ambulance bearers were called for immediately, however their efforts were for naught...the still unconscious victim, Donald McKenzie, passed away at the Brisbane General Hospital 4 hours later.

Donald's suicide shouldn't have come as a surprise to the authorities - in the days leading up to his death, he had written numerous letters to the Police & Prison Officials alluding to his plans.  The most poignant of these letters had been sent to Police Magistrate Hewan Archdall, who had presided over Donald's criminal hearing:

Some time during the next few days I will have stepped over into the great divide.  My wife, who was always the soul of honour, would not wish me to break my word to you, although she will be happy and contented to know that I am joining her to complete the wonderful companionship which has been ours for the past seven years.

I pass out because I cannot face the punishment which I have mentally inflicted upon me for the remainder of my existence, and because I have nothing to live for.  My wife was my one inspiration in all things.

Few men have had the experiences that have been mine.  As a soldier I have seen service in six campaigns in various parts of the world - in the South African Campaign, in Burma, the Andaman Isles, India, and during the late war in West Africa, East Africa, and Jubaland; and I have always earned a good reputation.  As a civilian I have accomplished much, and met with many reverses.

My wife knew my feelings when I was put into the cage - captivity to one who could find the greatest joy in existence, out of his wife's companionship, and before he knew her, in climbing the Himalayas, or walking across Central Africa, enjoying the open spaces of South Africa, chasing cattle in the back-blocks of West Australia, cutting timber in the South-west of West Australia, or in the mountains of Oregon...when the hardest work was never too hard.  Had my wife lived, any promise I made you would have been kept.

Reports of the sorry conclusion to the McKenzie case went national, running in every major newspaper across the country.  However, the case was about to unleash one last major twist, which in itself would shock Brisbane equally in comparison to what had already occurred.  On Friday the 11th of January 1924, the Inquest into the death of Donald McKenzie was heard - documents recovered from the leather attaché case found beside Donald in Toowong Cemetery featured predominantly in the Inquiry.  Further letters contained in the case, to the Police & Prison Officials, confirmed that his death was a suicide...however, one document would leave Police gob-smacked, especially after the recent embezzlement case.  It was discovered that Donald McKenzie wasn't really Donald McKenzie at all - he was, in fact, Otto Leopold Bergstrom!  Having been born near Birkenhead in England, Otto had seen military service with the Liverpool Regiment before finally arriving in Western Australia with his wife in 1911.

However, married life was cruel to Otto, who described his wife as "a fiend in human form" - on one occasion she had shot him in the arm...on another, she attempted to strike him in the head with an axe as he slept.  Having had enough, Otto deserted his wife in 1914 & fled to Johannesburg under the name of McDonald, with his sweetheart Miriam Greenwood in tow.  After further military service in Africa during WWI, Otto & Miriam finally returned to Australia in 1918 under the guise of a married couple...although it wasn't long before Otto's legitimate wife finally caught up with the pair.  She proceeded against him in Court for maintenance, to the tune of £345, & Otto & Miriam immediately fled under the aliases of Donald & Miriam McKenzie.  For the next few years, they lived for short stints in Sydney, Oregon in the United States, Araluen in southern New South Wales, Highgate Hill in Brisbane & finally Wowan, where Donald attempted to defraud the Wowan Ginnery of £243 - it's highly likely that the maintenance debt hanging over Donald's head finally drove him to the attempted embezzlement of the British Australian Cotton Growing Association...& the rest of the story, as you've read, became a tragic tale in the historic record of Brisbane.

Amongst the bundle of papers removed from Donald's attaché case immediately proceeding his death, Police discovered a letter addressed to funeral directors Messrs John Hislop & Sons - Donald had prepared a written request to be buried with "my dear wife, Miriam."  On Tuesday the 13th of November 1923, a day after he had ended his own life on the same spot, Donald was laid to rest with his sweetheart Miriam, at the foot of One Tree Hill where she'd taken her own life barely a month earlier...hence, thus ended the tale of Brisbane's real-life Romeo & Juliet...

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Public Estate Improvement Fund: Paddington Cemetery's Executioner...

The Paddington Cemetery grounds, cleared & fenced, published on
page 13 of The Brisbane Courier on the 27th of June, 1914.
In last week's article on the Paddington Poltergeist/Possum, we touched briefly on the destruction of the North Brisbane Burial Grounds at the hands of the Public Estate Improvement Fund.  Admittedly, by the time the Paddington Cemeteries Act was passed on the 30th of November 1911, the site was nothing more than a dilapidated atrocity perched on the doorstep of Brisbane's expanding CBD...the majestic South Brisbane Cemetery overlooking the banks of the then-pristine Brisbane River had been in operation for 41 years, with its sister Brisbane General Cemetery at Toowong, nestled at the base of One Tree Hill (Mt Coot-tha), having been in operation for 36.  Few residents cared for the pioneers interred at Paddington, who had paved the way for the expansion of Brisbane so many years beforehand.  Viable building land encroaching on the cemetery borders was being snatched up, & new landowners were desperate for usable recreation reserves & amenities in their neighbourhood...thus, it was decided that the neglected & mostly forgotten cemetery had to go.

As we touched on last week, the Paddington Cemeteries Act of 1911 allowed for the area's resumption for public use.  Brisbane residents were duly notified of the decision to resume the cemetery precinct by the Lands Department - relatives of those buried within the confines of the cemetery were given until the 1st of December 1912 to make application to have remains & monuments exhumed & re-interred elsewhere at the expense of Government. Almost instantly, encroaching residents who were previously in support of transforming the area, publicly voiced their concerns through letters to the newspapers, fearing exhumation of corpses laid to rest in the mid-1800's could unleash a new wave of since-eradicated diseases on the surrounding population.  However, by the end of 1912, only 100 applications for removal & re-interrment had been received by the Public Estate Improvement Fund.  Exhumation work began in the early months of 1913.  The vast bulk of graves earmarked for removal were destined for Toowong Cemetery, with The Brisbane Courier reporting that remains were being re-coffined & reverently re-buried at a rate of about 20 per was estimated that the entire process would take about 8 weeks to complete, at which time the remaining headstones & monuments could be removed to their designated area alongside Christ Church.

As we know from last week's article, 505 unclaimed headstones & memorials were removed & relocated as a part of this process, after which time all physical evidence that the area had once been a cemetery was stripped until only local memory remained...or so the Ithaca Shire Council & Lands Department hoped, in an effort to convince newcomers to Brisbane that their weekend picnics were being held on virgin turf rather than atop some pour soul's final resting place.  One councillor at the time went so far as to mention that the new recreation reserve would be ideal for lounging & reading...although the reading of works of fiction & ghost stories should be discouraged in case the subject content dredged up memories of the site's prior use.  Multiple newspaper articles following the site's clearance reported that "all remains" had been removed, however this spin-doctoring couldn't have been any further from the truth - from historic records we know that approximately 40-50 privately-funded exhumations occurred at Paddington cemetery, for removal to South Brisbane & Toowong, in the few years proceeding its closure in 1875...coupled with the 100 exhumations in 1913, the number of burials removed from the site totalled approximately 150.

The greatest surprise comes when the total number of exhumations is put into context - in the dying days of 1912 & opening of 1913, the Lands Department undertook a physical survey of the cemetery in order to discern the total number of graves present...their estimate closed at 4,643 burials.  More recently, Dr Rod Fisher of the University of Queensland's School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics, estimated the number at closer to 10,000.  Depending on which total you hold as true, at the time of Paddington Cemetery's erasure, an amazingly meagre total of 1.5% - 3% of the cemetery's interred souls had been re-interred elsewhere...leaving an unbelievable 97% - 98.5% of interred souls on site!  It was clear that both the Council & State Government hoped that not a single coffin left beneath the site would ever see the light of day after the site was converted to public land, an occurrence they managed to avoid for 14 years...however, come September of 1928, Paddington's dark secret was again dragged to the surface...

In mid-1928, the decision was made by Council to replace an open brick drainage channel known as the Milton Drain that ran along the southern extremity of the previous cemetery - the channel had been constructed in 1886 in order to help drain the lower area of the cemetery grounds which was renowned for its boggy nature.  The new drainage system would exist as an underground sewer pipeline, necessitating the excavation of a trench through the southern section of the now Lang Park Recreational Reserve...unfortunately, against the best efforts of Council & Government to obscure the origins of the land, the trench was to run through the southern section of the previous Church of England Cemetery portion.  In order to best understand the fall-out, an article on the 4th of September 1928 in The Brisbane Courier sums up the spectacle best -

"Workmen who have been making a sewer trench across Lang Park have been digging up coffins and skulls and human remains. In the early days of Brisbane Lang Park was a cemetery.  Yesterday afternoon, at the moment that a "Courier" reporter arrived on the scene, the skull of a woman was brought to the surface in a bucket from a depth of about 11 feet.   Human bones, crumpling with decay, and a skull which had been smashed by children, were in big tins alongside some of the shafts.  Groups of small boys stood at the top of the shafts watching the men at their gruesome work.  Pieces of old coffins were strewn around the shafts.  The stench was nauseating.  On Friday the workmen approached the foreman for 10/ an hour while working among the coffins. They complained that the coffins and the bones were falling on top of them, and that the vitiated air down below was almost unbearable."

The above exposé in The Brisbane Courier forced an immediate investigation by both the Council & Health Department - not surprisingly, both bodies played down the incident.  Mr R. A. Fraser, Chief Inspector for the Health Department, made a public statement in The Brisbane Courier 4 days later on the 8th of September, stating that he, "examined the relics to which newspaper reference has been made, & submitted whatever appeared to be of human origin to Mr Heber Longman, Curator of the Queensland Museum, who very courteously, at my request, identified the fragments as human, probably of European race...[T]he bone & other fragments brought to light are few in number, & are being held for re-interment on the completion of the drive during the next few days."  City Council followed suite, as reported in The Brisbane Courier on the 18th of September - "The few human relics that were found while a sewer was being constructed through one section of Lang Park (old Paddington Cemetery) were reverently reinterred at Toowong Cemetery on September 13, 1928, in the presence of an officer of the Water, Supply & Sewerage Department."  The initial independent report from The Brisbane Courier & subsequent statements by both Health Department & Council differed markedly...& all parties involved likely hoped the topic had finally been laid to rest...

The Paddington Cemetery "Trench"...published in The Worker on the 12th of September 1928.

Which it was, for a further 6 years.  In July 1934, Lang Park & it's underlying history again hit the media...on the 17th of July 1934, the now Courier Mail published an article regarding earthworks being carried out above the former cemetery.  According to the article, "Portions of human skeletons & the crumbling remains of coffins have been discovered by relief workers engaged in levelling a small rise alongside the Queensland Amateur Athletics Association's oval in Lang Park, Paddington.  Both bones and coffins fell to dust immediately they were disturbed, preventing their interment in another grave.  With the surrounding soil, they were merely removed to another portion of the park, and covered.  Dark patches in the yellow clay where the men are now working indicate where coffins have been.  The formation is quite clear, but scarcely more than perhaps a splinter or two of the woodwork remains.  A few days ago a portion of a shin bone was unearthed during blasting operations to remove the roots of a large tree, and even pick and shovel work on the face of the hillock barely 2ft below the surface has produced part of a skull and several small bones."

On publication of this news, memories of the prior Paddington Cemetery were pulled to the forefront of Brisbane's psyche, & one very poignant questions surfaced -  what had become of the 505 memorials & headstones that no longer stood beside Christ Church??  On the Brisbane City Council website, it's stated that, "The remaining memorials were removed in the 1930s when relief works were undertaken in Lang Park to improve the drainage and sporting facilities. Unfortunately the register was not updated to record the removal of these memorials and as a result, no trace remains of what happened to them." Similarly, "Jack" Sim had a ridiculous bash at guessing where the missing memorials ended up, in his 2011 edition of The Ghosts of Towwong Cemetery: Brisbane's Necropolis - "During the Great Depression hundred of gravestones were broken up and used as road base on Hale Street.  Motorists do not realise what is under their tyres.  For a mile from the river a foot thick band of this rubble remains under the asphalt."  Where the current Brisbane City Council & haunted historian "Jack" Sim failed in pinpointing the location of the missing monuments, the Haunts of Brisbane steps in yet again to set the record straight...

In the 17th of August 1934 Courier Mail article, the final paragraph stated, "[T]he area was frequented at night by undesirable persons, and was unsightly, and, finally, three or four years ago, the headstones were sent to Toowong Cemetery."  The very next day in the Courier Mail, on the 18th of August, a further article was published, stating, "It was learned from official sources yesterday that the gravestones which, about 23 years ago were removed from the old Paddington cemetery to the adjacent memorial reserve, and later transferred to Toowong, were used for filling up a gully in that cemetery.  Interest in the whereabouts of the monuments has been revived by the discovery recently of additional human remains by workmen levelling a portion of Lang Park, the site of the old cemetery.  [I]t was stated yesterday that these stones were in a badly dilapidated and broken up state when received at the cemetery, and that the inscriptions could not be deciphered."  Hence, the 505 monuments & headstones that remained after the 1913 cleansing of Paddington Cemetery, which had laid unclaimed, were finally transferred to Toowong Cemetery in approximately 1930 & broken up as landfill.

In 2001, as a part of the redevelopment of Lang Park (Suncorp Stadium), a further 397 burials were excavated from the site prior to the stadium's expansion - many of which were re-interred again at Toowong Cemetery.  In addition to the 150 prior 1913 exhumations, & taking into account the Lands Department & Rod Fisher's total interment estimates, between 4100 & 9450 souls still reside below the hallowed turf we celebrate every year as the NRL's State of Origin is played in Brisbane...& it is only a matter of time before one of Brisbane's pioneers surfaces during earthworks to remind us of the price we've paid for Brisbane's premier sporting ground...