Monday, 27 August 2012

The Downfall Creek Tragedy: a Brisbane murder lost to history

The Edinburgh Castle Hotel, c. 1929 (State Library of Qld)

Some time ago now, we promised that from time to time we'd focus on "Forgotten Brisbane" - stories about our city that have been lost to time.  Usually, during my travels through the historic record, I come across many stories that fit this category...however, on the back of last week's article about the Normanby Hotel, & the death of 26 year old omnibus driver George Pearson, a specific story immediately came to mind. Our story dates back to the very dying days of 1889, however if we're to get a better understanding of the story overall, we really need to travel back a few more years to the early months of 1885...& a little further again...

In April of 1885, 43 year old Michael Goodwin applied to the Licensing Board for a Publican's Licence which would allow him to sell "fermented and spirituous liquors."  Having immigrated to Australia at the age of nine from the port town of Foynes in the mid-west of Ireland, Michael's arrival in Australia had been rough - having boarded the Maria Soames at Gravesend in England on the 18th of February 1852, with his father, pregnant mother & nine siblings, Michael's life would change in ways he could never imagine.  After having been at sea for nearly 120 days, the Maria Soames anchored off Moreton Island...& Michael's mother Johanna went into labour.  Despite the best efforts of the ship's surgeon, both Johanna & her baby died onboard, a tragic but all to common occurrence in the early days of immigration to Australia.  Before the ship made port in Brisbane, Johanna & her infant child were laid to rest on the shores of St Helena Island - then nothing more than an island, pre-dating the St Helena Penal Settlement by fifteen years.  The sad event is documented in Henry Berkeley Jones' book, Adventures in Australia in 1852 and 1853 - "There we interred a poor emigrant and her infant child, who died just as she had completed her voyage, leaving her husband the guardian of ten surviving children - a heavy charge and drawback to this poor man, who was a peaceable, well-conducted Irishman."

After struggled through his formative years in between his siblings, Michael married Bridget Walsh, another Irish immigrant from Thomastown in south-east Ireland, at the age of 19 in 1861.  The couple would themselves have ten children, although life in those days was rarely 1863, they lost their first-born son William at 13 months old.  This tragedy would replay itself twice more over the following fifteen years, with their second daughter Elizabeth passing away in 1873 just ten days shy of her third birthday, & their second youngest John slipping away due to complications in 1878 less than a week after his birth.  Having soldiered through such terrible events, however, by 1885 Michael & Bridget had formulated a plan to ensure the continued well-being of their remaining seven children...& hence began their connection with the Edinburgh Castle Hotel.  The premises, located alongside the Brisbane to Gympie Road (now simply known as Gympie Road), had been built in 1865 by a man named William Orr.  However, the location of this establishment differed to the current site of the Hotel, having existed on the other side of the current Edinburgh Castle Road where the BP Service Station now exists.  At that stage in history, Kedron lay on the absolute outskirts of Brisbane, with the Hotel being almost the last bastion of civilisation for many miles north on the route to Gympie.

Michael's Publican's Licence Notice (The Brisbane Courier, 4th April 1885)

Within their first year at the Edinburgh Castle Hotel, life for Michael & Bridget was was solid, & they had expanded their holdings to include an omnibus service - an undertaking that would eclipse the revenue brought in from the Hotel.  Their expansion into public transport in 1886 would see the first horse-drawn buses brought to the area, plying their trade between the centre of Brisbane & the outlying areas around Kedron.  Robert Goodwin, Michael & Bridget's 22 year old son, would act as one of the business's head coach drivers...a position he would hold for over 6 years, amidst multiple summonses & fines for breaching the omnibus regulations as stipulated by the Council.  For the purpose of this week's article, Robert played a major role in the drama, however that story is soon to come.  Unfortunately, in 1893 Robert would become the victim of a tragic accident, falling from his horse whilst traversing floodwaters outside the Kedron Park Hotel...immediately after being dismounted, bystanders managed to cast a rope out to Robert, who clung on for dear life.  In a sad twist of fate, whilst being pulled in, the rope parted in the middle & Robert was sucked into Kedron Brook beneath the flood surge, his body finally being recovered downstream a few days later.

However, business at the Edinburgh Castle Hotel continued unabated until April 1888, when Michael's Publican's Licence came up for renewal.  At the meeting of the Licensing Board, his renewal was opposed on the grounds that, "the premises having become dilapidated, were no longer fit to be licensed.  After inspecting the plans of proposed improvements, the bench granted the application, subject to the completion of proper sanitary arrangements."  However, Michael had grander plans for his establishment, as advertisements appeared in The Brisbane Courier a few weeks later calling for tenders in the construction of the new Edinburgh Castle Hotel - a new Hotel would be erected to the design of architects John Hall & Sons, alongside the original establishment on the grounds of the current Edinburgh Castle Hotel (Edinburgh Castle Road didn't exist at the time).  According to Wikipedia, which always seems to be a highly dubious source at best, the new Edinburgh Castle Hotel was completed in 1892.  Unfortunately, a number of other sites on the internet blindly follow suite, however we know this simply was not the case...& we know purely for one reason, which is the basis for this week's article...but why??

Edinburgh Castle Tender (The Brisbane Courier, 27th April 1888)

On the 28th of December 1889, a woman by the name of Wells entered the Edinburgh Castle Hotel well under the influence of alcohol...she'd previously been drinking at the Kedron Park Hotel all afternoon with her husband (William) Henry Wells, who had punched her in the face on the grounds that she would not leave him alone.  Both were eventually evicted from the premises, & went their own ways...Mrs Wells had immediately travelled the two kilometres up the road to the Edinburgh Castle Hotel, arriving at around 5:30 in the afternoon.  On arriving at the Edinburgh Castle, Bridget Goodwin ordered the woman out, who subsequently fell asleep on the back step of the Hotel.  Her husband Henry, guessing the whereabouts of his wife, hailed down a spring-cart owned by Patrick Mackearn shortly after, & hitched a ride north to the Goodwin's establishment where he arrived at about 6:30pm.  On finding his slumbering wife there, the couple re-entered the bar & ordered more beers.  Half an hour later, however, Thomas & Margaret Ingram witnessed Henry strike his wife three more times in the Hotel's parlour, stating "If you don't go out, I'll knock your head off."  Thomas rose to his feet in defence of Mrs Wells, & Henry attacked him, the two men trading blows in the hallway of the Hotel.  After Henry had been knocked to the floor, Mr & Mrs Ingram left the Hotel, not wanting to play any further part in the affair.

Over the space of the night, however, a third party became involved - John Joseph O'Halloran.  Whilst the testimonies put forth in both the Magistrate's & Supreme Court are sketchy at best with regard to detail, the insinuation exists that whilst Mr & Mrs Wells were brawling within the Edinburgh Castle Hotel, John O'Halloran provided Mrs Wells with a sympathetic ear.  Of those who knew O'Halloran, he was a very peaceable, amicable young man, who even when drunk was highly tolerant & understanding.  The Hotel closed at 10:30pm that night, & John O'Halloran purchased two bottles of beer to take home with him.  On her final walk-around, Bridget found both Henry Wells & his wife standing outside & told them both to head home.  Michael & Bridget locked the doors, cleaned up as necessary, & readied themselves for bed about midnight...when all hell broke loose.  From the back of the hotel, loud cries of "police" & "murder" echoed, to which Michael immediately ran downstairs & out into the back yard - there he found John O'Halloran & Henry Wells with his wife.  On Michael's appearance on the scene, Henry immediately insisted that John O'Halloran had beaten him, & insisted on Michael examining his face.  Needless to say, Michael had likely dealt with similar behaviour before, & told the group to "clear off"...a sentiment that Bridget also broadcast at the top of her voice from the upper balcony of the Hotel!

Afterwards, all was quiet alongside the Brisbane to Gympie Road...for a few hours.  At about 2am in the morning, Robert Goodwin was roused from his sleep by a woman screaming, "Get off, you are hurting me; Oh! Harry."  Immediately afterwards, he heard repeated blows, coupled with a woman shouting, "Don't kill him Harry!"  This was coupled with a man shouting, "Yes, I will kill the bastard!"  Running to his parents' room, Robert woke his father Michael, & the pair moved into the yard of the Hotel to find the body of a man lying alongside their woodpile.  The man was bleeding profusely from the head, had a wooden paling lying across his chest & not a soul could be seen in the vicinity.  Robert immediately jumped on a horse & rode for Nundah, where he knew the Police were stationed, & Michael kept the crime scene clear for their arrival.  Ultimately, the body alongside the Edinburgh Castle Hotel was identified as John O'Halloran - his clothing was handed to the Government Analyst Robert Mar, & his body underwent a thorough post mortem examination.  The blood on the clothes, as best could be determined in 1890, was found to be mammalian, however the autopsy would be far more telling - Dr Tilston who performed the examination on the body found multiple contusions about the head & neck with blood exhuming from the right ear, nose & mouth.  Further bruising on the cheek, jaw & mouth suggested that the victim had been struck many times about the head by a blunt object...most likely the lump of wood that was found lying on his chest.

Henry Wells, having been arrested the next morning at Alexander Melrose's residence nearby, swore that he had acted in self defence - on being questioned about the murder, Wells stated, "I know all about it, Sergeant; I did it, but I did it in self-defence."  Harry would continue with this testimony throughout his extended trial.  According to Harry's testimony, O'Halloran had forced himself on Mrs Wells, & when he had interjected, John O'Halloran had attacked him - even though this testimony would fly in the face of the evidence, which would show that O'Halloran had suffered his wounds from the wooden weapon whilst lying down.  Ultimately, despite his best efforts to sway the Judge to believe he acted in self defence, & given the overwhelming testimony put forward by multiple witnesses regarding the Wells' activities that night, Henry Wells was found guilty of manslaughter...&however, this is where the case becomes somewhat bizarre...

Despite witnesses testifying that Henry had punched his wife at least twice whilst at the Kedron Park Hotel, & further witness testimony that Henry had punched his wife at least three times whilst at the Edinburgh Castle Hotel, all testimony was overlooked.  So was the evidence that declared that John O'Halloran had received the first blow from a lump of wood whilst lying down on the ground, clear indication that he posed no threat to Henry Wells before he struck the victim numerous times about the head & neck...despite Wells' feeble testimony that he had been acting in self defence.  At the end of the Supreme Court trial, & at the request of the Jury who recommended mercy be shown in sentencing, William Henry Wells was sentenced to three months for his crime.  This request for mercy on behalf of the defendant was based on the notion that he had been provoked whilst under the influence of liquor.  As a result, having already served three months in remand during the trial process, Henry Wells was released as a free man, after having assaulted his wife & murdered another man in cold blood.  Unfortunately for Michael Goodwin, the trial's conclusion coincided with Publican's Licence renewals...according to an article in The Brisbane Courier on the 3rd of April 1890, the head of the Licensing Board, Mr Pinnock, spoke merely from his own impressions whereby "in accepting the jury's rider, [he] considered at least that the jury must have sufficient grounds to justify them in arriving at that decision."  As a result of the trial & Henry Wells' virtual acquittal, Michael's license was almost cancelled...almost...

Their business having barely survived the murder that took place in the back yard of their Hotel, the Goodwins finally managed to continue on in both the liquor & public transportation trade.  Sadly, fifteen months later in 1891, Michael would pass away from Cirrhosis, as would his wife Bridget fifteen years later in 1906 - both husband & wife breathed their last breaths within the Hotel they'd toiled for so many years amidst triumph & tragedy.  The story of the Downfall Creek Murder, the Edinburgh Castle Hotel & the Goodwins holds a special place in my heart - Michael & Bridget Goodwin were my great great grandparents. Michael & Bridget Goodwin still visit the Hotel they built, & does John O'Halloran still linger around the BWS Drive-thru built on the land behind the Edinburgh Castle Hotel where he was brutally murdered so many years ago??  To be completely honest, I have no idea...that's a question for the current owners to answer...

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Sundays at the Normanby: Another beer, perhaps, or should we just move on to spirits?

Architectural sketch of the new Normanby Hotel, c1890.
(State Library of Qld)

For many who live in Brisbane, meeting friends for a lazy Sunday session at the Normanby Hotel is an absolute institution.  I've spent many Sunday afternoons sitting beneath the amazing Moreton Bay Fig in the beer garden, enjoying a beer whilst listening to a local band play below.  However, whilst the present Normanby Hotel is considered the "place to be" over the weekend, its current sharp & stylish internal appearance only dates back just over a decade ago - prior to the major renovations carried out around 1999-2000, the venue had a very different layout.   Throughout the later years of the 1990's, when I was first introduced to the Normanby, the main bar & rooms accessed off Musgrave Road were dark & heavily dated, & the area downstairs where the Bovine Restaurant now exists was nothing but a dingy, musty exposed-brick room, that conjured images in one's mind of being trapped inside the catacombs of Europe.

It was during this time, around 1997, that I was first introduced to the ghosts that allegedly call the Normanby Hotel home - over a decade before the advent of "Jack" Sim's now-defunct pub-crawl tours through the venue.  Stories were told of a male figure that inhabited a room just off to the side of the main bar on Musgrave Road, now a brightly lit arena complete with pool table & TV screens...accounts were passed back & forward between the Hotel's staff & the handful of regulars that frequented the quiet venue, sharing experiences of the time they'd spied the silhouette of a gent moving about the Hotel's main level.  However, according to Normanby folklore, the real paranormal activity took place downstairs, in the brick-lined catacombs beneath the building.  Multiple stories existed of people seeing bizarre balls of light weaving between the brick pillars throughout the room, of strange mists that would appear & disappear & of massive drops in temperature for no apparent reason.  So rampant were the rumours, that I participated in a documentary about the paranormal that was shot, in part, in the downstairs room at the Normanby Hotel in 1998 - needless to say, it was an interesting experience!  Unfortunately, however, the Hotel was closed shortly after due to safety concerns about its structural integrity - after part of the beer garden was resumed to widen Kelvin Grove Road, & the Hotel underwent a massive renovation project, it was reopened with the downstairs area transformed into a dining room which has now become Bovine Restaurant.

So...what do we know about the Normanby Hotel's history that could have possibly given rise to such an active ghostly environment??  Well...the Normanby has had a couple of guises dating all the way back to 1872, when the area on which it stands was nothing more than scrub overlooking the growing town of Brisbane.  Constructed by Matthew & Elizabeth (Sophia) Burton, on land they had owned since 1865, the original Normanby Hotel was nothing more than a two-storey, shingle-roofed wooden dwelling fronting Kelvin Grove Road.  In its early years, given its isolation from the main hub of Brisbane, the main customers were timber-carters...there is no doubt, however, that the Burtons hoped that Brisbane's expansion towards current-day Paddington would expand the Hotel's trade.  Unfortunately for the Burton's plans, however, fate intervened - on the 29th of August 1873, within the original Normanby Hotel, Matthew Burton passed away at the age of 46, leaving his wife to take care of the Hotel's affairs.  Elizabeth would do so on & off for a number of years, in between holding the licence for the venue.  Unfortunately, during this time, Elizabeth would lose another member of her family within the Hotel's confines - her sixteen year old daughter Sarah, on the 30th of January 1879. 

The first death at the Normanby Hotel was the owner, Matthew Burton.
(The Brisbane Courier, 2nd of September 1873)

Just over a year later, & shortly before the licence of the Hotel was transferred to Elizabeth's soon-to-be son-in-law William Valentine, a third soul would be lost within the Hotel - a 26 year old omnibus driver (the term "omnibus" was used for a horse-drawn carriage, which acted in similar fashion to a taxi or council bus in current-day Brisbane).  On the 24th of April 1880, George Pearson passed away unexpectedly in his room at the Normanby Hotel, due to consumption, with which he had been struggling for some time - at the time, the term "consumption" was used when a patient was suffering from tuberculosis, an infectious disease that attacks the lungs & in many cases causes death.  One can only imagine that during the night, given the advanced stage of George's disease, he coughed & coughed, bringing up wads of blood from his lungs, before finally succumbing to his horrific & likely horrifying way to spend your last minutes on the mortal coil.  Fortunately for the original Normanby Hotel, George's tragic death appears to be the last.  By 1889, the licensee William Valentine was working on a new plan, which would see the destruction of the wooden structure he'd inherited, & the construction of a masonry Hotel that would far exceed its predecessor in size & prestige.

In 1889, tenders were taken for the design & construction of the new Normanby Hotel...Architect John Nicholson was chosen to design the new building (as per the sketch at the top of our article), & the new Hotel was constructed throughout 1890.  According to The Brisbane Courier on the 2nd of December 1890, "The new Normanby Hotel, erected by Mr. Valentine, was formally opened last night.  In one of the large dining-rooms, some fifty gentlemen sat down to an excellent supper."  The opening of this new building was a sight to behold, inspiring every visitor that passed beneath its new Queen Anne styled facade at the end of Petrie Terrace...William Valentine, having instigated the reconstruction, would have been proud of his new'd think?  However, just over three months later, William Valentine transferred the licence of the new Hotel to his mother-in-law Elizabeth Burton, & the Burton's control of the site once again continued.  Two years later, virtually to the day on the 8th of April 1893, the Normanby Hotel would again play host to another death.

On that fateful night, a man named Patrick Foley approached an acquaintance by the name of Patrick Ryan, over a debt of 15 schillings.  On demanding the debt to be paid, Ryan called Foley a liar & denied any debt, & the fight was on - Foley punched Ryan in the face & dropped him to the floor, however Ryan was fast to his feet.  Grasping a tumbler from the bar, Ryan launched the glass at Foley in retaliation, an action that would see him punched to the floor again on the end of Foley's fist.  After being helped up by Elizabeth Burton's son William, Patrick Ryan was dragged to the door in an insensible state, bleeding from the head, nose & mouth.  After being escorted to his home nearby on Petrie Terrace, by the wife of his attacker, Ryan was put straight to bed under the supervision of his wife.  The next morning, however, Patrick seemed even worse for wear, & his wife gave him a snifter of brandy in the hope it would bring him failed to do the trick.  Languishing through a second night, Patrick died in his bed within view of the Normanby Hotel, where he'd been attacked only two nights beforehand - the cause of death was attributed to a fractured skull & blood clot on the brain.  As a result, Patrick Foley was brought before the Court & was charged with indictment for which he would serve prison time.

The new Normanby Hotel would stand for a further 8 years before it would claim its next soul - that of its matriarch.  On the 3rd of February 1901, Elizabeth Sophia Burton passed away, within the new Normanby Hotel on the same site where she had lost both her husband Matthew & teenage daughter Sarah.  After Elizabeth's death, the Hotel passed into the hands of her three sons, John, Francis & Richard Burton.  The trio would manage the hotel for a further five years without loss of life until the 23rd of December 1906.  On that morning, Francis (Frank) Burton approached Constable John Donohue on Musgrave Road near the Hotel at 5:30am, to report that a man was lying at the base of the steps in front the building.  As it would play out at the subsequent Inquest, it was discovered that John Hall, the hapless victim, had been drinking at the Hotel on the night of the 22nd of December, & had taken a nasty fall down the Hotel's back stairs whilst worse-the-wear for liquor.  Frank Burton found the hapless Hall, bathed his bleeding head & put him to bed in the Hotel to sleep off the alcohol in anticipation of the next morning, at which time he could be sent on his way.  Unfortunately, it seemed that John Hall had other plans, & had attempted to leave the Hotel via the front door a few hours later, tumbling down the steps out alongside Musgrave Road.  An ambulance was called for, strangely after the Police's attention had been raised to Hall's predicament (& not before), & John was transported to his house in Hale Street...another bizarre decision.  On being attended to by a doctor, Hall's condition was considered serious, & he was then transported to the General Hospital where he died soon after from fracture of the skull & cerebral haemorrhage.

The next death at the Hotel would come shortly after on the 25th of March 1909.  On that specific Thursday morning, an elderly man named Charles George Skinner, who lived in nearby Red Hill, was tending to his duties at the Hotel.  Whilst carrying out his daily tasks, Charles walked behind a horse in the Hotel's yard...only Charles knows exactly what happened next, however the historic record tells us that for reasons unknown the horse lashed out & kicked Charles to the ground with severe consequences.  The poor gent was immediately rushed to the General Hospital (now the Royal Brisbane Hospital) just down the road, where doctors attempted to treat his serious injuries...unfortunately for Charles, there was little that the Hospital staff could do & he slipped away at 4am the next morning.

Seven more years would pass until the 1st of April 1916 - April Fool's Day of all days.  On opening the Hotel for the day's trade early in the morning, an horrific discovery was made on the ground alongside the Hotel.  At some stage during the night, Alfred William Comyn, who had been staying at the Hotel whilst visiting his brother, fell through the window of his room & plummeted nearly ten metres to the ground below.  When he was discovered, poor Alfred had been dead for some hours, & it was reported that he had suffered horrendous injuries to his head & had badly fractured both legs - it was supposed that death would have come fairly swiftly, & the man in his seventies would not have suffered long.   Alfred's death is interesting from an historic viewpoint, with regard to the brother he was visiting - Dr George Comyn.  Dr Comyn was a highly regarded surgeon who had worked in a number of hospitals stretching as far west as the Darling Downs & as far north as Ravenswood.  He lived with his wife in a house at Red Hill, aptly named Woodstock after the town in County Galway in Ireland from which their father originally hailed.

Fortunately, three more decades would pass before the Hotel would again see another death within its walls.  At about midday on the 13th of February 1947, 55 year old Thomas Cranney was enjoying a drink at the Normanby.  Out of the blue, & to the complete shock of the Hotel staff, Thomas keeled over in the bar & collapsed to the floor.  The ambulance was called for immediately, & Thomas was taken from the building & loaded into the vehicle for transportation to the General Hospital just up the road...unfortunately, Thomas would not survive the short journey, passing away before the hospital was reached.  And thus, prior to our self-imposed cut-off of 1950, Thomas's death will be the last we'll examine in conjunction with the Normanby Hotel.  So...of the nine deaths we've located at the Normanby up until 1950, could any one, or a combination of many, have given rise to the unexplained phenomena that take place at the venue??  Interestingly, there's one more story...

Over the weekend, I was contacted by a fan of the Haunts of Brisbane, who wanted to share an experience she'd had at the Normanby Hotel a few years ago.  Whilst attending a birthday party at the Hotel, in the crowded beer garden at the back of the venue, she happened to look up towards the building itself & spied a lady dressed in 1800's-style attire peering out over the crowd...apparently, the mystery woman didn't appear too pleased, & our witness not only had the impression that maybe the woman's unimpressed countenance was due to the number of people milling about in the Hotel's lower area, but was also highly surprised to witness something of the sort whilst so many people were present.  With that said, could this possibly have been the Normanby's matriarch Elizabeth Sophia Burton, looking out over what her precious Hotel has become in modern days??  Obviously, we can only ever speculate...however, it's a pleasant thought, isn't it?

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Wellington Point's Whepstead House: Where the ghost stories are plentiful, & so are the inaccuracies...

Whepstead House, c. 1909 (John Oxley Library)

On Tuesday night this week, I posted a link on our Facebook page leading to an international website showcasing the alleged "Top 8 Scariest Houses on Earth."  When I stumbled across the link, I was shocked to find that Whepstead House (or "Whepstead Manor" as it's become recently known due to its days as a restaurant), an imposing villa at Wellington Point on Moreton Bay, had been listed in second place right behind the Amityville House in Long Island, New York...& was even more shocked to discover that the photo used for the spiel on Whepstead House was not Whepstead House at all - it was, in fact, a photo of one of the cell blocks within the still surviving Number 2 Division of Boggo Road Gaol!  Inspired by this highly embarrassing photo error, I announced on Tuesday night that we'd be examining Whepstead House as this week's feature site, including a critical analysis of the multiple ridiculous ghost stories that are consistently regurgitated about this venue.  Imagine my surprise when, the very next night, an outfit going by the name of Paranormal Paratek Queensland, published an article on a brand new blog site, entitled, "Whepstead Manor - The Ups and Downs of a Historic Haunted Home."

In what was clearly an underhanded attempt to earn some notoriety & beat the Haunts of Brisbane to the punch, this group stole our topic for the week & very hastily slapped together a competing article.  Even more disappointingly, they did so by simply "cutting-&-pasting" large chunks of information from two other websites, with a few minor tweaks to the wording - a very poor reflection on a group that outwardly claims to "extensively research" the history of sites they investigate.  The first ⅔ of their article is plagiarised virtually word for word from the Wellington Point history PDF, a 16 page history document that can be downloaded for free on the Redland City Council website.  The last ⅓ of their article focusing on the ghosts of Whepstead House is also plagiarised, virtually word for word, from the "Whepstead Manor" listing on The Paranormal Guide website.  In doing so, however, we actually owe Paranormal Paratek Queensland a huge debt of gratitude...just like the vast bulk of paranormal websites on the internet, they've once again blindly regurgitated the very ghost stories we were intending to set straight in our article this week!

And just for the record, we're certain that Paranormal Paratek Queensland blatantly stole the topic from us, & it was not a simple case of coincidence, due to one overarching & very glaring error in their article - they were quick enough to read my comment on our facebook page on Tuesday night stating we'd be tackling Whepstead House this week, & they were quick enough to click on the link for the "Top 8 Scariest Houses on Earth."  Unfortunately for their credibility, however, they weren't quick enough to read the rest of our post that night, clearly pointing out that the photo in the "Top 8" link was actually a picture of a Boggo Road Gaol cell block, & not Whepstead House...which they blindly proceeded to use in their article the next night as a photo of Whepstead House - very, very amateur stuff!

Paranormal Paratek Queensland's article about Whepstead, complete
with the incorrect photo of a Boggo Road Gaol cell block attached.

So, "amateur hour" aside, let's tackle Whepstead House head-on & get to the bottom of those rampant ghost stories!

Apart from a long list of alleged supernatural events (candles lit by unseen persons, appearing/disappearing stains on the carpet, objects being thrown across rooms, people having their hair pulled, cutlery being rearranged on tables etc), which can be found on any number of paranormal websites across the globe, let's focus purely on the supposed identities of the ghosts that apparently haunt Whepstead House.  Paranormal websites, including our recent acquaintances at Paranormal Paratek Queensland, claim that the site is home to four distinct spirits:
  1. The ghost of Gilbert Burnett's wife, Martha Ann Burnett - it's said that her passage through the building can be detected by the smell of lavender perfume, which she wore in life, & by brief glimpses of a face in the upstairs windows.
  2. The ghost of Gilbert Burnett's daughter, who vanished without a trace.  This story has specific variants where the daughter either disappeared on the mudflats during a walk, fell through an upper window to her death, or plummeted from the upper balcony with fatal consequences.
  3. The ghost of Gilbert Burnett's son, who was afflicted with a "wilted" leg - according to legend, the ghost of this young lad is regularly seen peering through the banisters on the central staircase.
  4. The ghost of an elderly man, who is alleged to be a servant, is seen randomly about the house dressed in a bowler hat & "butler's uniform."  Alternate versions have a apparition of a man appearing in the attic, or reflected in various mirrors throughout the house.
Before we go any further, we first need to take a few major factors into account.  Gilbert Burnett had two very distinct families - he fathered ten children to his first wife Martha, between 1870 & 1885.  After Martha's death in 1896, Gilbert remarried in 1903 to Ellen Thompson - as a result of this second marriage, he bore a further five children between 1905 & about 1918.  Of these two marriages & families, however, it was during Gilbert's first marriage with Martha that he lived at Whepstead House.  Furthermore, & most importantly, the Burnett family resided in Whepstead House for only two short years -  from its completion in 1889, until Gilbert Burnett was declared insolvent in 1891 & the family were forced to move.  Keeping these essential details in mind, let's now examine the four ghosts of Whepstead House!

The ghost of Martha Ann Burnett

It's said that Martha Ann Burnett's ghost haunts Whepstead House, however let's examine the facts: Martha gave birth to all ten of her children prior to moving into Whepstead House in 1889 (her youngest was four years old at the time); she spent two short years with her family at Whepstead before being evicted in 1891; her husband Gilbert constructed another house nearby (Fernbourne) in which she lived with her family for a further five years before her death in 1896; she passed away in her daughter's house at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane, "after a short & painless illness."  Having lived in a happy family home at Fernbourne for five years before passing away in her daughter's house at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane, can we really contribute the "hint of lavender" at Whepstead House to Martha's ghost??  Furthermore, given that Martha passed away in 1896 (116 years ago), who exactly remembers her wearing "lavender perfume" & has attributed the smell to Martha specifically in recent years?!?  Given that Whepstead House has acted as a restaurant-come-wedding reception venue for at least the last 15 years, is it beyond the realm of possibility that the smell of lavender might just come from scented candles or potpourri as a result??  At the risk of sounding overly sceptical, the likelihood of Martha Burnett haunting this site is highly dubious at best.

Martha's Death Notice, published in The Brisbane Courier
 on the 9th of October 1896.

The ghost of Gilbert Burnett's vanishing daughter

Of Gilbert & Martha's ten children that lived at Whepstead House between 1889-1891, three were daughters - at the time they moved into the house, Alice Maud Burnett was 11, Edith Helena Burnett was 14 & Matilda Martha Burnett was 17.  However, contrary to the legends, not a single one disappeared without a trace...nor did any fall from an upstairs window, or plummet from the upper balcony.  All three daughters left Whepstead House in 1891 with their parents, lived at their subsequent home Fernbourne for a number of years, & then moved out into the world to pursue their adult such, any insinuation that one of Gilbert Burnett's daughters vanished without a trace at Whepstead, & still haunts the property, is completely & utterly bogus.  For clarity's sake, the historic record provides the following information about Gilbert & Martha's daughters:
  • Matilda Martha Burnett, born on the 8th of October 1872, passed away at the age of 32 on the 8th of June 1905, at her sister's house in Manly (Queensland).
  • Edith Helena Burnett, born on the 18th of June 1875, passed away at the age of 33 on the 18th of December 1908, at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Brisbane.
  • Alice Maud Burnett, born on the 24th of November 1878, passed away at the age of 82 on the 19th of February 1961, within the borders of Brisbane.
As a very interesting aside, Edith Helena Burnett married Frederick Charles Barnes on the 26th of June 1895.  Upon her death on the 8th of June 1905, virtually 10 years to the day that she'd been married, her husband Frederick was left to care for their four children.  On the 19th of March 1910, almost five years later, Edith's youngest sister Alice married Frederick & became an Aunty-come-stepmother to Edith's children...the couple went on to parent a number of their own children, who essentially became cousins to their step-siblings.

The ghost of Gilbert Burnett's crippled son

Of Gilbert & Martha's ten children that lived at Whepstead House between 1889-1891, seven were sons - at the time they moved into the house, Herbert Dawson Burnett was 19, Percival Francis Burnett was 18, Walter Woodward Burnett was 16, Egerton Gilbert Burnett was 12, Albert Ernest Burnett was 8 & Norman Victor Burnett was 6.  However, contrary to the legends, not a single one of the Burnett's sons appears to have suffered from a "wilted" leg...six of the seven sons went on to own properties where they worked as either dairymen, stockmen or farmers, whilst the odd son out became a warehouseman & travelling salesman.  We know this due to the historic record, & any insinuation that one of Gilbert Burnett's sons haunts the building, who was afflicted with a "withered" leg, is nothing more than candy for the gullible.  For clarity's sake, the historic record provides the following information about Gilbert & Martha's sons:
  • Herbert Dawson Burnett, born on the 23rd of January 1870, passed away at the age of 85 on the 3rd of June 1954, at Colinton west of Kingaroy - throughout his life, he had managed Lahey Bros. Sawmill at Christmas Creek, had farmed near Beaudesert & managed his property at Colinton for a further 47 years.
  • Percival Francis Burnett, born on the 4th of September 1871, passed away at the age of 81 on the 20th of October 1951, at Camp Hill in Brisbane - during his life he been a dairy farmer at Christmas Creek for some years.
  • Walter Woodward Burnett, born on the 15th of November 1873, passed away at the age of 79 on the 13th of March 1953, at Rathdowney south of Beaudesert - throughout many of his years, he worked a farm in the area.
  • Egerton Gilbert Burnett, born on the 25th of February 1877, passed away at the age of 85 on the 8th of December 1961, at Rathdowney - during his life, he worked properties at both Collinsville south of Bowen, & also at Rathdowney.
  • Albert Ernest Burnett, born on the 9th of April 1881, passed away at the age of 67 on the 26th of January 1948, outside Clermont - throughout his life, he had worked properties in Cleveland, Beaudesert & Clermont.
  • Norman Victor Burnett, born on the 23rd of April 1883, passed away at the age of 79 on the 19th of March 1963, at Beaudesert - for his entire adult life, he had been a dairy farmer in the area.
  • Harold Edward Burnett, born on the 16th of April 1885, passed away at the age of 64 on the 24th of August 1948, at Wooloowin in Brisbane - he had lived most of his life in Brisbane as a Warehouseman & Travelling Salesman.
As a very interesting aside, Percival Burnett (Percy) was present on the Dunwich Jetty on Stradbroke Island, when a large shark was hauled ashore on the 5th of January 1906.  After walking from the jetty to the beach, where the three metre beast had been dragged up, he noticed that the belly of the shark was bulging.  Taking a knife & cutting the fish open, he was shocked to find "a human skull, with some brown hair attached to the crown; also the lower jaw, some teeth, a hand, and some bones."  Through a subsequent Magisterial Inquiry, Percy Burnett was called on to give evidence, as the remains were believed to be those of a boy named William Fielding, who had vanished from the Redland Bay area some days previously.

The ghost of the bowler-hatted butler

I must admit, knowing that two of the ghost stories about Whepstead House are completely & utterly bogus, & one is highly unlikely, this specific ghost story intrigues me for a number of reasons.  First & foremost, I'm intrigued by the concept of a servant/butler that wears a bowler hat in a house.  When I was a child, only 25 years ago, I was scolded if I wore a hat indoors - to do so was considered bad manners!  So...imagine the fall-out upon wearing a hat indoors 100 years ago as a guest??  I could only imagine, if you'd had the impertinence to do so, that you'd be cast outside in a heartbeat for contravening proper etiquette...but what if you were a servant/butler, who, of all people, was expected to uphold the highest levels of grace & etiquette at all times??  I can't imagine a servant/butler wearing a bowler hat either indoors or outdoors...but...what if the apparition seen within Whepstead House is nothing more than a smartly dressed man, in a suit & hat??  Could this one elderly gentleman in suit & hat harp from a different time in the site's history?  Walk this way...

"Bay View" Private Hospital

An advert for Bay View Hospital published in The Courier Mail
on the 9th of December 1939.

At some time in 1937, & the exact date is still unknown amongst historians,Whepstead House was converted into a private hospital.  Around that year Ethel Dolley, a nurse who had managed two other private hospitals around South-east Queensland (the Bungalow Private Hospital in Nambour & the Bayview Private Hospital in Cleveland), moved her operation into Whepstead House which from 1937 onwards became known as the Bay View Private Hospital...named after Ethel Dolley's previous hospital up the road in Cleveland.  Predominantly a hospital for the treatment of Neurasthenia, or "nervous exhaustion," this new Private Hospital also accommodated the convalescent, infirm, aged, sufferers of chronic illnesses, & expectant mothers - a number of local children were born within the the confines of Whepstead House.  However, whilst the house was a venue for the birth of many, it also possessed a sadder reputation - during the site's life as a Private Hospital, it was also the venue where many people spent their final minutes.  The following is a verified list of those unfortunates who passed away at Whepstead House come Bay View Private Hospital:

Elizabeth Murray (died 14th May 1838), Thomas Denham (died 16th June 1938), Edward Smallman (died 10th June 1940), Henry King (died 24th June 1941), Mary Lillias Deane (died 27th August 1941), Thirza Emma Redgewell (died 24th March 1942), Joshua Henry Petty (died 23rd September 1943), Jessie Harriet Maclean (died 27th October 1943), Rowena Harp Moller (died 23rd January 1946), Lilian Margaret Stephens (died 5th March 1946), Mary Rose Pennefather (died 28th July 1946), Alice Felicia Fitchew (died 12th October 1946), Frances Edith Bolton (died 16th February 1947), Geraldine Cecilia Anderton (died 9th March 1947), Peter Marks (died 6th July 1848), & Anne Marie Townsend Wren (died 22nd November 1953).

Keep in mind that this list is by no means comprehensive - the above sixteen deaths occurred within the confines of the house between 1937 & 1954 ("Bay View" Private Hospital ran for a further 19 years until about 1973 as a Convalescent Home), & was collated purely through Death Notices & Will Probate Notices within the local newspapers.  It is highly probable, if the records of "Bay View" could be accessed, that this number could possibly be doubled & sit in the vicinity of 40 deaths within the house between the years of 1937 & 1973.  So...knowing what we do, & choosing to accept eyewitness accounts of bizarre occurrences at Whepstead House, is it beyond the realm of possibility that the spirits of some of those who died within its walls still walk the halls through which they passed in their final days?? 

From an historic perspective, two of the names on this list immediately jump out, however.  Mary Lillias Deane, who passed away in 1941, was the widow of Henry Deane - a nationally renowned railway engineer who worked as engineer-in-chief on the Trans-Australian Railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta (amongst other major rail projects), was commissioned Colonel in the Engineer & Railway Staff Corps during WWI, & was a highly accomplished botanist  which he achieved in his spare time.  Some years after Henry's death in Malvern, Victoria, on the 12th of March 1924, Mary moved north via Hornsby in Sydney, before seeing out her final days at the "Bay View" Private Hospital.  The second name that springs from the list is Mary Rose Pennefather, the widow of Captain Charles Edward de Fonblaque Penneather - esteemed Naval Commander who explored the Gulf of Carpenteria & named the Pennefather River, Superintendent of the St Helena Island Penal Establishment through the late 1880's & early 1890's, & Comptroller General of Prisons in Queensland for a number of years...during his life, Captain Pennefather visited, & oversaw, many of the since closed penal institutions throughout Queensland that we now consider haunted locations, including Boggo Road Gaol.

So...there we have it!  Whepstead House is an amazing site with an incredibly vibrant history, having served multiple purposes over the years for the betterment of South-east Queensland.  However, the perpetuation of completely fictitious stories regarding ghostly identities at the site, in complete contradiction to the historic record, does nothing more than cheapen the amazing history to which this building lays claim.  Multiple paranormal sites across the internet continue to advertise this faux-history regarding the supposed ghosts of Gilbert & Martha Burnett's children, as we've most recently seen via Paranormal Paratek Queensland's attempt at a "factual" article four days ago, however I hope that we've now gone some way towards shedding light on these rumours - it still strikes me as odd that so many fictitious stories circulate about this house & the apparent identities of the ghosts that reside within...yet not one person has ever researched or mentioned the fact that well in excess of a dozen people passed away at the site whilst it was a private hospital.  So, next time someone raises the topic of Whepstead House in conversation, or you pass by the venue, be sure to speak up & set the record straight whilst sparing a thought for the sixteen (or many more) people who expelled their final breaths within Whepstead House's walls...& possibly still call the venue home!

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Royal (James): Harrisville's Haunted Hotel...but why?!?

The Royal (James) Hotel (Courtesy

Cast your minds back three weeks to our article on the Pomona Hotel, where I mentioned that I was bogged down in a swamp of hear-say & urban legend whilst attempting to get to the bottom of a tale regarding a haunted hotel?  Well...after a lot of detective work, I'm finally in a position to tackle this week's mystery site...although given the photo above, it's no longer a mystery for those of you who are avid "haunted location" fans!  Our focus this week is The Royal Hotel in Harrisville, just outside Ipswich - a marvellous old building located at the end of the Warrill View-Peak Crossing Road that runs through the centre of this vibrant country town.  Having grown up in Ipswich, I've travelled through this town many times, but little could I have known back then that the seemingly innocent fascade disguised a building renowned for its ghosts!

So...what do we know about the site ghost-wise?!?  According to the majority of Australian paranormal sites on the internet, the story of the Royal (James) Hotel at Harrisville goes roughly like this (an amalgamation of all published accounts): The hotel was built about burnt down in 1920 with the loss of 5-7 lives...figures are seen throughout the building, when no actual staff member is present...objects fall down when no one is in the vicinity...and, above all other claims, a woman in a black dress is regularly spotted in the back rooms, near the kitchen photo remains of the old hotel, with five people sitting outside in front of the establishment, & all witnesses' descriptions of the "lady in black" match perfectly with one of the ladies in the photo.  However, it's not just the paranormal websites that list off this information (or remarkably similar versions of it) - there are a number of other websites that follow suite.  Of note, The Scenic Rim Regional Council tourism website provides a write-up on the Royal Hotel, stating, "Harrisville's first Royal Hotel was built 134 years ago, but this original building burned down in the late 1800s. A local house was shipped in to replace it and was opened as a hotel. But half of that building later burned down and had to be rebuilt and still stands today...[T]he pub is home to seven ghosts, which legend has it were killed in one of the pub’s fires."

From an historic perspective, we know that the original hotel built on the site opened its doors in 1875 - the one fact the paranormal websites have correct - although, at the time, the establishment was known as the Harrisville Inn.  Local folklore has it that the establishment was renamed the Royal James Hotel three years later in 1878, under new license to Margaret Wholey.  However, here we find a glitch in the historic record at this point...when Margaret passed away in 1915, her obituary stated that her husband Denis had predeceased her, however during his lifetime, "they conducted the Royal James Hotel at Harrisville."  We know for a fact that Denis Wholey passed away on the 12th of March 1873, two years before the Harrisville Inn opened its such, he could not have aided his wife in this business endeavour, & it's likely that she was a strong & determined woman hell-bent on making her way in the world - a true entrepreneur.  Furthermore, we know that Margaret remarried on the 21st of February 1879, not long after she had apparently changed the name of the establishment to the Royal James Hotel.  After her marriage to Edward Dunn, the couple continued to manage the hotel for some years.

We also know that from its earliest days, the Royal James Hotel had the appearance of a house.  On the 11th of March 1881, the publican Robert Lyttle was brought before the Ipswich Police Court, after having sold two glasses of brandy to two plain-clothed employees of the United Licensed Victuallers Association without holding a license for "spirituous liquors."  During the trial, it was recorded that the United Licensed Victuallers Association employees travelled, "to a house occupied by the defendant [Robert Lyttle], having the appearance of a hotel; there was a sign along the end of the verandah, with the words "Royal James Hotel" painted on it."  The local Police Constable by the name of Gerarghty also gave evidence, stating that, "he knew a house at Harrisville by the name of the Royal James Hotel."  All in all, during the police raid on the premises, bottles of brandy, gin, schnapps, wine & stout were seized, along with a quarter-cask of rum - all liquor for which the house-come-hotel failed to hold a serving license.  As a result of the proceedings, Lyttle had his lesser liquor license revoked...a loss that required some fancy footwork over the following year to gain back.

Harrisville's main street in 1940, with the Royal Hotel visible centre background.
(National Archives of Australia)

However, let's get back to the haunted nature of the now Royal Hotel, via a story that raised the attention of the print media on the 4th of May 2007.  In a Queensland Times article entitled, "Pub Reno Makes Ghosts Happy", the then part owner & Publican Chris Kallis was interviewed regarding the ghosts that resided within the building he had purchased in late 2005.  Having spent a considerable sum on renovations during which 75 stumps were replaced, the main bar's floorboards were completely re-laid, interior walls were knocked out to open the venue, the front verandah was extended & the centre portico was rebuilt, it might be argued that the owners were hoping to drum up a little business through the article.  However, that aside, the article gives us a clear insight into the haunted nature of the hotel none-the-less - according to Chris Kallis, "At first I thought it was a load of garbage - I was a sceptic.  Nothing happened for about eight months. Then things started to move, shake, doors would open, footsteps up and down the hallway.  I would be lying in my bed and I would hear people playing pool."  Chris Kallis admitted that he had no idea as to the identity of the resident spirit(s)...however he was quite certain that something paranormal was occurring within his country hotel.  Unfortunately, due to illness, Harrisville's Royal Hotel was placed back on the market minus a liquor license at the end of 2010...& would languish as a vacant building until being saved by the Patricks & reopened in all of its glory in January 2012.

Since taking ownership of this amazing building, Monika & Steve Patrick have aided in breathing life back into the Royal Hotel, & have discovered a new-found comfort within its walls whilst opening its doors back to the surrounding community...however, what of the resident ghosts?  Under new management, on the back of the hotel lying vacant for nearly 2 years, have the resident spirits remained or have they parted ways?  Apparently, the ghosts still pay a visit...chairs appear to have moved in the dining room inexplicably & doors that have been shut & locked at night are found to be open & flapping the next day...however, an event took place about a month ago that shows beyond reason of doubt that the resident spirits of the Royal Hotel are still active.  A woman enjoying a meal at the Hotel looked up from her table to spy a male apparition looking back at her from a nearby doorway...the description she gave of the spectral man was quite specific, being quite short & dumpy with broad shoulders.  So sure was she that she'd witnessed something supernatural, that she returned to the Hotel again with other members of her order to show them where she'd seen a ghost!  When the owners discussed the matter with her further, & mentioned that those 'sensitive' to the paranormal likely see more than the average person, the woman in question stated categorically that she was an average person...she'd never experienced anything like this before!

So, again harping back to the historic record, do we find anything that provides credence to the Hotel's haunted nature?  What do we know of the 1920 fire in which seven people lost their lives, popularly perpetuated by a number of both Australian & international paranormal websites??  Well, I can confirm categorically that no fire occurred in 1920, & seven people did not lose their lives as a result.  From what we know, a fire did in fact take place at the Royal (James) Hotel, however this event took place on the 1st of June 1916.  According to The Brisbane Courier, "The Royal James Hotel, situated in the western end of the main street, tenanted by Mr S. H. Swan, formerly of Innisfail, and owned by Mr Sam J. Denman, of Mount Forbes, was, with its contents, completely destroyed by fire early this morning.  The origin of this fire is unknown.  It was the first hotel built in the town, and its destruction removes a well-known landmark of over forty years' standing.  This building and its contents, which included a new pianola, were both insured."  Fortunately for those at the time, although unfortunately for the plethora of paranormal websites that carry the tale of the Royal Hotel, not a single soul was lost in the fire of 1916...& with that said, the entire basis of the Hotel's haunted nature flies out of the window...

...or does it??

Given the sighting only a month ago, what can we make of the short, stocky male apparition spotted in the doorway near the dining area??  On this count, from the historic record, we can locate two men with viable ties to the Royal Hotel...either could be the short, stocky man with broad shoulders, & both died within two years of one another...

On the 24th of July 1932, George Albert Duncan Edwards passed away at the Ipswich General Hospital...he had been transferred to the hospital from Harrisville due to illness, leaving his wife Isabella in his stead to take care of the Royal James Hotel where he was employed as the Manager.  George had lived an interesting life...having lived in Childers in Queensland with his wife, where he was employed as an accountant, at some stage around 1914-1915 George relocated to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.  At the time, the track for the Trans-Australian Railway was being laid between Kalgoorlie & Port Augusta, & George was lucky enough to land himself a role as the Superintendent of Construction, also becoming a Justice of the Peace soon after.  However, by the mid 1920's George & his wife Isabella had moved back to Queensland, & had taken control of the Royal James Hotel...a venue they would manage for a few years before George passed away unexpectedly while still the Manager.  Given that George's wife Isabella was left to take care of his affairs at the hotel, could George have returned to aid in divvying up his worldly belongings??  Could it possibly be his spirit that haunts the Royal Hotel, in the hope of serving one last drink before closing time??

Or, could the male entity be that of Sydney John Neaves??  Having also led an interesting life, Sydney John Neaves had spent his life working in varied roles all over Queensland. We know that in 1913, Sydney was living at the Empire Hotel in Rockhampton, whilst employed as a labourer.  By 1919, he had relocated to Dalby outside Toowoomba, however was back in Rockhampton the next year, as he came before the Police Court there on a charge of being drunk in public.  By 1925, he had again relocated, to Bundaberg this time, followed by a move to Clermont around 1930 - whilst in Clermont, we know that Sydney was employed as a sanitary worker, & took his employer to Court for unpaid wages that same year.  However, by 1934, Sydney had again moved ending up in the Ipswich area.  Having been in ill-health for some time, Sydney was admitted to the Ipswich Hospital for treatment, & after being discharged he headed west to Harrisville in order to either seek work or continue with a previous engagement.  It is unknown whether Sydney was lodging at the Royal James Hotel or whether he had stopped in for a drink, however on the 30th of August 1934 Sydney's luck finally ran out...likely due to the poor health he'd been experiencing, Sydney's lifeless body was discovered laying on a bed in one of the Hotel's rooms, where he'd expired quietly & alone.  Could Sydney's spirit be the short, stocky man who still inhabits the Hotel, seeking company from the steady stream of visitors who frequent the place?

So...of the many possible spirits who haunt the Royal Hotel at Harrisville, where do we draw the line??  Is the "lady in black" Margaret Dunn overseeing her original pub?  Does George Edwards still frequent the Hotel in an attempt to manage the bar from beyond the grave?  Having drawn his last breath in one of the Hotel's rooms, does Sydney Neaves still frequent the establishment?  Or...could the spectral pool games & footsteps heard by the previous owner Chris Kallis result from long since passed pioneering residents of Harrisville, dropping by for one more beer?  We'll never truly know, however I'd like to think that it's the latter possibility...