Thursday, 20 September 2012

Denmark Hill's Gooloowan: a site from which Ipswich's prosperity grew, & the new State of Queensland became a better place.

Gooloowan, c.1888 (State Library of Qld)

Perched on the southern slopes of Denmark Hill in Ipswich, an imposing house known as Gooloowan stands...clocking in at 148 years old, one can only imagine what information would come to light if the walls of this old house could talk!  Welcome to the third instalment of our "Haunted Ipswich" series, focusing on some of the greater & lesser-known haunted sites around the inner-Ipswich area.  For this week's article we'll be focusing on Gooloowan, a site that holds an amazing place in both the evolution of the current city of Ipswich, as well as that of the State of Queensland.  However, in order to understand Gooloowan, we first have to understand the Cribb family...& for that, we have to travel all the way back to 1849 & the fledgling colony of Brisbane Town & Ipswich...

As any fan of Brisbane's history would know, a very important turning point in the small town's history occurred in 1849.  In the year prior, three vessels left England as part of John Dunmore Lang's assisted immigration scheme.   Initially intended to land at Port Phillip, where each immigrant was to be granted a parcel of land on which to turn a living, Lang's first vessel the Fortitude hit a major snag...on arrival in New South Wales, the Colonial authorities reneged on the land deal they'd arranged with Lang, & the Fortitude was turned away.  Lang's hopes being dashed, & with a vessel carrying 270 immigrants, the Fortitude pulled back out to sea & tracked north to a small town that had only been opened for free settlement seven years previously - Brisbane.  A couple of months later, Lang's second & third vessels the Chaseley & Lima followed suite, & both landed in Brisbane where their human cargo was offloaded to begin a new life in what was little more than a frontier town.  Aboard the Chaseley, 42 year old Benjamin Cribb & his first wife Elizabeth held high hopes of a new life, with their three children in tow, & both intended to make the most of their skills in a new country.

Through his twenties & thirties, Benjamin Cribb built a solid business selling household goods in London - an occupation that would determine his future prosperity in Australia.  On boarding the Chaseley in England, Cribb paid to export a quantity of commercial goods with him on the voyage...once the Cribb family arrived in Moreton Bay, Benjamin made the decision to move further inland to the still fledgling town of Ipswich to seek his fortune.  Utilising the goods he had brought all the way from England, Cribb sought out a suitable site on which to start up a Grocers' store, & was in business only months after arrival.  Locating his venture in Bell Street, Cribb named his enterprise the London Stores, & soon the business was booming as his name became well-known amongst the residents of Ipswich.  Benjamin's reputation continued to grow as his business flourished, however tragedy struck the Cribb household on the 4th of March 1852, with the death of his wife Elizabeth.  After mourning her loss, including a short sojourn to Brisbane, Benjamin remarried on the 30th of March 1853 - this second marriage to Clarissa Kendal Foote would change Benjamin's life in ways he could not possibly imagine, & would consolidate his place in the history of Ipswich & in the fast approaching State of Queensland.

London Stores, c.1850's (Ipswich Library & Information Service)

Benjamin's second marriage brought him directly into contact with John Clarke Foote, Clarissa's brother.  Having left Plymouth aboard the fated ship Emigrant for Australia, John quickly found himself trapped on a vessel rampant with Typhoid Fever.  Helping out where he could, having trained as a Chemist prior to his departure in England, John was able to not only aid those onboard, but also managed to escape the fatal end many other passengers suffered as a result of the disease mid-voyage.    After landing at Moreton Bay, John resided in Brisbane for a couple of years before being offered a managerial role at the London Stores by his new brother-in-law Benjamin Cribb.  Within a year, John & Benjamin signed a partnership together & formed Cribb & Foote Merchant Bankers in 1854.  From that moment forward, the partnership grew...earning a reputation for aiding farmers in the area with security-exempt loans, the firm of Cribb & Foote eventually moved into retail above & beyond Benjamin Cribb's original London Stores, & also branched into the cotton trade as well as other varied business interests.  In time, the Cribb & Foote business would become a household name in Ipswich, providing countless jobs for those who resided in the area.

By 1855, Benjamin Cribb was a founding member of the Moreton Bay Immigration and Land Company, which purchased large tracts of available wasteland which in turn were split into small farms & sold to suitable immigrants - the company hoped that by doing so, skilled workers from the British Isles would be encouraged to migrate to Moreton Bay & aid in the expansion of the region.  Entering the New South Wales Legislative Assembly at the beginning of 1858, & also becoming the Member for Stanley Boroughs (the Southeast Queensland region comprising four separate towns of North Brisbane (current CBD), South Brisbane, Kangaroo Point & Ipswich), Benjamin also fought staunchly for the separation of the northern colony - a battle, with the aid of a handful of other men, which was won on the 6th of June 1859 when Queen Victoria signed the Letter Patent declaring the colony of Queensland a separate entity from New South Wales.  Throughout this turbulent separation period, Benjamin Cribb also fought alongside his brother Robert, who was also a Member of the Legislative Assembly, for the cessation of convictism in Australia & forced labour which utilised Kanaka slaves...both Robert & Benjamin Cribb were true visionaries, aiding not only in the creation of Queensland as a State, but also setting in place the foundations of both Brisbane & Ipswich.

His position being transferred to the Legislative Assembly of Queensland, Benjamin continued on in both his business & political life, representing the West Moreton region from 1861 to 1867 - he became one of the founding members of Ipswich Grammar School which opened in 1863 as the first of its kind in Queensland, he was heavily involved in the Ipswich School of Arts, & all the while took a very keen interest in aiding the less fortunate in the growing Ipswich community.  In 1864, construction began on the new Cribb household that would become Gooloowan - a magnificent house on the slopes of Denmark Hill that still stands to this day.  A beautiful mansion surrounded by manicured gardens, Gooloowan became one of the social & political hubs in early Ipswich - visited by both ambassadors & community members alike.  Many of Queensland's early political decisions were formulated & conducted within Gooloowan's rooms, alongside the many important decisions & business meetings affecting the growing Cribb & Foote business - amazingly, Benjamin Cribb balanced both his political & business career carefully, & seemed to manage both with complete prowess.

So...having parked ourselves in the 1860's, it's probably time we touched on the ghost stories of Gooloowan, right??  Well...having grown up in Ipswich, I can admit that Gooloowan always appeared as an imposing site when I was young...a large mansion, recessed behind bushy gardens and a border fence...the kind of place that was strictly out of bounds...the kind of private place where stories exist.  In later years, in the late 1990's, I finally started asking questions around Ipswich about Gooloowan, & came up with a number of stories that roughly matched what I had been told as a child...people who have resided within Gooloowan, or those who have visited, have seen young women dressed in maid's outfits walking the halls & the grounds on many occasions.  Very distinct presences can be felt in certain rooms of the house, as though a previous owner is present & is not all too happy that a stranger is intruding in their domain.  And, aside all others, one major story exists about Gooloowan...although we'll touch on that shortly after we expose the first tragic event to occur at the premises...

Gooloowan in its early years (John Oxley Library)

On the 11th of March 1874, Benjamin Cribb's success in business & politics was abruptly cut short.  Having recently returned re-energised from a trip to Melbourne after a bout of ill health, Benjamin walked the couple of hundred metres from Gooloowan to the nearby Congregational Church to sit in on the Wednesday night service...a trip he had made countless times before.  Throughout the day, he'd overseen his business interests with vigour, & had been commended on his unusually fresh appearance.  However, during the second hymn of the service, Benjamin put down his hymn book & sat, appearing to be in some pain.  It was initially thought that he was suffering from indigestion, & his daughter handed him a smelling-bottle (a bottle filled with either smelling salts or perfume as a restorative), however Benjamin's head lolled back onto the pew & those surrounding him jumped up in panic.  He was immediately carried into the vestry of the Church, where Dr Rowlands attended to him...however, a fairly grim verdict was given, & the decision was made to transport Benjamin back to Gooloowan via stretcher.  On literally being passed through the doorway of Gooloowan, Benjamin Cribb drew his last breath, & he was pronounced dead within the house.  In one tragic instant, Benjamin's death became the first within the stately mansion he'd commissioned only twelve years beforehand, & also ushered in a new age regarding the Cribb & Foote business.

On Benjamin's death, his wife Clarissa took control of the family share in the Cribb & Foote business...a fairly ironic turn of events, as Clarissa now balanced the Cribb family fortune against the Foote family fortune held by her brother.  However, it was during this period of Gooloowan's history that its major ghost story originates.  For many decades, one paranormal story of Gooloowan has persisted above all others - it is said that at one stage, around the turn of the century, a maid killed her baby by throwing it down a well behind the mansion.  Supposedly, the maid in question had fallen pregnant to another worker at the house, & did what she felt was necessary to conceal her pregnancy.  Rumour had it that on quiet nights, a baby could be heard crying in the vicinity of the well, & anyone who crept into the grounds after dark could hear it for themselves.  Needless to say, I'm sure countless kids in Ipswich have stewed over this story when it's been relayed to them...& they've more than likely believed it, given that a multitude of stately houses around South-east Queensland hold similar legends about babies down wells.  However, whilst it's an easy undertaking to prove that other homes lack the slightest shred of evidence confirming deaths regarding their wells, or have no evidence of wells existing at all, Gooloowan's story stands out from the pack...because, believe it or not, the story's true...

On the 2nd of August 1889, a terrible event occurred at about 10am in the morning, James Dodds, who was employed as a groom & coachman at the house, approached the well located at the rear of the premises.  It had been noticed that the water in the well was slowly turning rancid, & James had been sent to investigate...lifting the cover from the well, James reeled back in shock at the sight of a little body floating below.  The Police were immediately sent for, & Senior Constable George Bain attended the well & removed the body.  A search of the staff rooms was immediately conducted, & within a short period of time a young maid by the name of Rose Dold was arrested & charged with wilful murder.  On being questioned, Rose admitted that the baby had actually been born on the 25th of July, a full week prior to the body being discovered in the well.  At the Police Court hearing on the 9th of August,  Dr Von Lossburg testified that, according to his examination of the body, the baby had been born alive.  However, P. A. O'Sullivan, who appeared in Rose's defence, argued that no clear evidence existed to definitively prove that the baby had been born this was the case, Rose could not be charged with wilful murder, & should therefore only face a far lesser charge of concealing the birth of a child - a contradiction in terms...

On the 25th of February, Rose was finally brought before the Ipswich Circuit Court on the charge of concealment of a birth - when asked how she wished to plead, Rose gave the answer of "guilty."  Much testimony was given throughout the trial, with all providing evidence stating that Rose was of excellent character.  She had been in the employ of the Cribbs for approximately five months, & throughout that time had been a conscientious worker.  Rose's defence requested that the provisions of the Offenders' Probation Act be applied to her case, which in essence requested a lesser sentence for offenders who could likely be reformed, however the Judge intimated that the limitations of the Act did not extend to a case such as this.  In sentencing, the Judge stated, "He felt it to be his duty - and it was a painful duty - to have to send her to gaol, but if any after application was made for her release he would not oppose it.  He would take into consideration the fact that she had a good character previously and had been five weeks in gaol [prior to the trial], and the sentence was that she should be imprisoned for nine months in Toowoomba Gaol with hard labour."   Thus ended one of the most tragic sagas in the life of Gooloowan, & the town of Ipswich in general.

Headline in The Brisbane Courier, on the 27th February 1890.

Over the following years, the ownership of Gooloowan changed hands a number of times as a result of a number of deaths, many of which occurred within the house.  On the 14th of December, Clarissa Cribb passed away at Gooloowan after having been house-bound for over a year due to her ailing health.  Having been a senior partner of Cribb & Foote since the death of her husband decades earlier, Clarissa Cribb was best known for her extensive charitable work throughout Ipswich, & her death was acutely felt throughout the town.  After her death, Gooloowan passed into the hands of her son, Thomas Bridson Cribb.  A Member of the Legislative Council just like his father Benjamin, Thomas was very well respected throughout Ipswich & Queensland.  In 1896, Thomas ran for the electorate of Ipswich in the State Government election, & due to his overwhelming popularity he gained the highest number of votes ever received by a candidate for Ipswich.  In later years, he would step into the role of Treasurer under Premier Robert Philp.  Unfortunately, after suffering from failing health in late 1913, Thomas & his wife Marian caught the train to their second house in Southport in the hope a few days rest would aid Thomas...a trip from which he would not return.  At 11pm on the 4th of September, Thomas sadly passed away, leaving his wife Marian to make the trip back to Ipswich & Gooloowan a widow.

Marian continued to hold ownership of Gooloowan for a further twenty years, unfortunately spending the majority of this time as an invalid.  On the 29th of December 1932, Marian passed away at the age of 78, within the walls of Gooloowan, after having lived her entire life in Ipswich.  On her death, ownership of Gooloowan was transferred to her daughter Vera & son-in-law James Ernest Walker.  The Managing Director of the Ipswich Woollen Company, James had originally studied law, however gave up his plans to become a barrister due to being hard of hearing. As a result, he spent much of his life working as a solicitor, spent some time as a Nationalist candidate in Ipswich, & focused all the while on the Ipswich Woollen Company.  On his death in 1939, ownership of  Gooloowan passed to his wife Vera, who continued to live at the premises with her spinster sister Estelle Cribb.  Estelle held the distinguished honour of being one of the first Queensland women to receive a University degree, graduating with a Masters of Arts in Sydney.  Returning to Ipswich, she took up a teaching position at Ipswich Girls Grammar School, where she worked the majority of her adult life.  On the 5th of November 1949, Estelle too would pass away within the walls of Gooloowan, leaving a lasting legacy through her many years spent educating many of Ipswich's young women.

In more recent years, Gooloowan has had a number of owners.  However, the bulk of the house's amazing history comes from its first 90 years up until the 1950's. Gooloowan really haunted, or do the stories of ghosts walking the halls & the grounds simply result from years of speculation by those who have passed its amazing fascade off Quarry Street?  Ultimately, that's for each of you to decide.  However, one very important fact cannot be denied - the economic & social prosperity of Ipswich, & in turn Queensland, was due largely in part to the amazing men & women who lived & died at Gooloowan.  Surely, the essence of the myriad dreams, aspirations & accomplishments of those who called Goloowan home, must still linger within the halls of this grand old mansion...&, if the time & conditions are right, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they replayed themselves from time to time...


  1. The Gooloowan is indeed exuding an aura of historical prestige but it's foreboding of something sinister.

  2. My Father's aunty 'Morv' lived there in the 1970's and was the last of the Cribb and Foote lineage to live at Gooloowan to my knowledge. I had the opportunity to stay in the house a couple of times as a child. No sleepless nights or ghost sightings to report. Michael Foote

  3. Was lucky enough to spend a weekend at Gooloowan when it was occupied by an aunt of a friend of mine from the Walker family. It was in the sixties and I can remember seeing the bells for the servants in the kitchen, the dumb waiter, the cavernous bathtub and the dining room with lovely high windows along one wall. And the separate billiard room. Gorgeous.

  4. A few friends and i have been going to the gooloowan house on a nightly basis and everytime the well is opened it is heard that a baby cries. Some locald say they have broken in though get followed as a grudge by the ghosts

  5. My Mother came from the Foote side and stayed there as a Child. I would love to visit the house if you can let me know when it is open to the Public please.

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