Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Guyra Ghost: Australia's very own poltergiest, & Brisbane's contribution to the legend...

 The focus house of the Guyra Ghost (Guyra Argus, 25th of January 2010)

Let's take a trip back 91 years...to a time much simpler & more innocent than ours, in the early months of 1921 - Edith Cowan was elected into the Western Australian Legislative Council to become Australia's first female Parliamentarian, Albert Einstein embarked on a U.S. lecture circuit to promote his new Theory of Relativity, a gunman killed New South Wales MP & Unionist Percy Brookfield during a bungled disarming on an Adelaide train platform, Australia's entire population equalled 5.44 million (a quarter of the current headcount)...& something truly & utterly bizarre began to manifest in a cottage in northern New South Wales...

To the quiet little township of Guyra, nestled halfway between Armidale & Glen Innes, the bizarre outbreak came as both a massive curiosity & fright.  On the 8th of April, the residence of William & Catherine Bowen, & their three young children, mysteriously came under attack from flying pebbles which seemed to materialise out of thin air.  The missiles began to rain down on the roof of the cottage & could be heard ricocheting off the outer walls of the building.  Curious neighbours began to approach the house & the local Constabulary were summoned in an attempt to flush out the phantom stone-thrower, however it was all for nought - the perpetrator & origin of the flying stones could not be discerned despite their best efforts.  Over the following three nights, the attacks increased until all the windows in the house had been smashed & the family had been driven almost to the point of distraction...& by the third night, further bizarre occurrences were beginning to manifest.  Sharp bangs began to emanate from the internal walls of the house, apparently shaking the cottage to its foundations...& by this stage, it was becoming apparent that the mysterious happenings seemed to be focused around the Bowen's 12 year old daughter Minnie...

On the 13th of April, Ben Davey from nearby Uralla was called in to investigate - pledging to solve the mystery by spiritualistic means, Davey set about his work.  Having heard that Catherine Bowen had recently lost a daughter born to a previous marriage, & convinced that the spirit of this child was likely responsible for the mysterious occurences, Davey asked young Minnie to reach out in an attempt to make contact with her departed step-sister.  Initially hesitant, Minnie eventually complied & apparently received an unheard message from the spirit world via clairaudience.  Asked by her mother Catherine to divulge the details secreted to her, Minnie did so in the living room in the presence of approximately 30 other curious police & neighbours - "Tell mother I'm quite happy and safe in heaven, and it is her prayers that got me here, and I'll look after her for the rest of my life."  According to the Sydney Morning Herald on the 15th of April 1921, "The mother and other members of the family were painfully affected by the strange communications of the girl.  Whatever may be thought of the latest development in the mystery the girl who has played such a prominent part in it from the beginning is certainly a worthy study for the psychologist or scientific investigator."  Needless to say, all involved hoped that the otherworldly message had indicated a cessation to the bizarre events of the previous week...unfortunately, they were to continue unabated...

On the 18th of April, alongside an additional police contingent despatched to Guyra, Harry Jay Moors arrived in the town.  H. J. Moors, a close friend of Robert Louis Stevenson & Arthur Conan Doyle, was a well-known Trader throughout the South Sea Islands...however he was also very well known for his interest in the supernatural.  After spending three days examining the house before returning to Sydney, Moors was absolutely convinced that a poltergeist was responsible for the manifestations in Guyra.  In an interview provided to the Sydney Morning Herald, published on the 22nd of April, it was stated that, "Mr Moors, in discussing the matter yesterday, said the people of Guyra resented very strongly some of the reports which had gone out from the township concerning the affair, because of their ceaseless vigils and very exhaustive efforts to get at the bottom of the disturbances.  Mr. Moors speaks from his own experience of these ceaseless efforts on the part of the people of the district, and the police and others, and says that any criticism levelled against them is quite unfair.  He had spoken to the girl, who had impressed him as being normal, although, according to one party, her mother had described her as being highly imaginative."  Moors made a parting promise to the local Police that he was more than happy to step in & bring the issue to a close, although would not do so until the Constabulary had exhausted all other avenues of investigation.

Having left Guyra on the morning of the 21st of April, no closer to a solution after having undertaken a comprehensive investigation, events that night would again spiral out of control.  Moors received a telegram in Sydney on the the 22nd of April, despatched by Alex Hay of Hall Bros. Ltd, in Guyra - "Nothing happened Wednesday night, but several loud knocks heard last night.  Writer was the only outsider present beyond the detectives and police and family.  All members household closely watched by detectives whilst knocking occurred; bright moonlight outside, where several police stationed at vantage points. No man seen near house, neither were supposed stones found near walls.  Detective made public statement that he was perfectly satisfied that no member of the family was responsible.  Mystery deepens.  Guyra public opinion now overwhelmingly favours your theory.  Do not be afraid to mention my name, also vindicate Guyra police & public - HAY."  Unfortunately, only a few days later under overwhelming police pressure, young Minnie confessed to playing a very minor part in the mysterious events, allegedly admitting that she had thrown three small stones on the roof on one occasion, & had rapped on the wall on two - she adamantly denied any knowledge concerning the vast bulk of the affair, however the police were content that the sorry ordeal had finally been laid to rest.

Seeking to protect their daughter, the Bowens sent Minnie to her Grandmother's residence in nearby Glen Innes.  Miraculously, life in Guyra returned to normal - no stones fell on the Bowen's cottage, no bangs occurred within their walls, the frightened neighbouring residents returned to their addresses & the three local Officers breathed a sigh of relief.  However...the Guyra poltergeist did not rest.  On the 9th of May, at the Minnie's Grandmother's residence in Church Street, the poltergeist struck again.  Shortly after dinner, stones were heard hitting the outside walls of the house - the neighbours, no doubt having heard about the border next door, ran out to investigate, & the local Constabulary were summoned.  Whilst a posse of police & neighbours circled the house, a stone smashed through one of the windows & became entangled in the inner curtain.  Even though Minnie had stayed inside the entire time, the Glen Innes Constable concluded that she had played a part in the window's destruction, leaving the scene to return to the Station.  However, the stone-throwing continued until midnight, intermingled with violent banging on the walls, even though Minnie was being carefully monitored inside - one neighbour, Mr Marsden, claimed, "The noises were like the sounds caused by an axe being struck heavily against the wall."  Other neighbours, on knowing the background of the story & hearing the banging, threatened to leave the district if the bizarre occurrences continued.

Cut to one month later in early August 1921 - after experiencing continued stone-throwing & wall-banging in the Church Street property of Minnie's Grandmother, the residents of Glen Innes had finally had enough...& so had Sergeant Ryan of the Glen Innes Police.  Minnie's carers were told in no uncertain terms that the girl would have to leave town...shortly after, Minnie was transferred back to Guyra.  Ironically, as fast as the phantom occurrences had begun four months earlier in Guyra, so did they decline once Minnie returned home - the stone attacks & wall thumps quickly dwindled until not a sign remained...the Guyra Ghost seemed to finally be at rest.

So...how did Brisbane play a part in the saga??

Well, in the later months of 1921, the "Guyra Ghost" made cameo appearances right up & down the eastern coast of Australia, striking numerous towns for a night or two...& Brisbane was no different.  In late October 1921, a similar occurrence began to unfold in Trafalgar Street, in the inner-suburb of Wooloongabba.  Stones began to rain down on a number of residences in close proximity, & it wasn't long before the Police were called in to investigate.  Four Police Officers were dedicated to the case, & walked the neighbourhood between 6pm & midnight each night in the hope of solving the case...even with the aid of local residents, by late November they were starting to question whether the Brisbane "poltergeist" would ever be stopped.  However, on the 25th of November the Police made their breakthrough - on their nightly patrol they happened upon Frederick Joseph Cook, a 22 year old grocer, in the process of hurling a stone towards a local house.  On hearing a window smash immediately after, the Police pounced on Cook, who denied any knowledge of the offence...only to confess his guilt shortly after being arrested.  Ironically, Cook had complained about the stone-throwing to Police weeks beforehand, & had been assisting them in their nightly vigils to catch the culprit.  It was put before the Court that Cook had obviously been infatuated with the Guyra Ghost saga some months beforehand - in his defence, Cook countered that he had been a guilty party for a few days, & had only continued the events of the previous 3 weeks...ultimately, he was fined £10 for two broken windows, & was released with a warning.


At the time, the Guyra Ghost made international headlines & became the talk of the global Spiritualist community - whilst many claim that the 1826 story of Fisher's Ghost is Australia's most famous haunting, the events that transpired at Guyra & Glen Innes in 1921 easily challenge the earlier story from Campbelltown.  Unfortunately, few know of this event in history...likely Australia's first, most heavily documented & most likely legitimate poltergeist case.  According to oral accounts, Minnie lived to an old age in Armidale, never making the headlines again for similar activity...although it is said she possessed impressive psychic faculties throughout her adult life.  How unfortunate it is that we reflect so little on this months-long event that not only affected the hearts, minds & actions of residents across Australia, but equally gained the attention of the public around the globe in England, Europe & the United States...

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