Friday, 9 November 2012

The Booval Estate: When seemingy straightforward research turns into a major engagement

Booval House looking worse for wear c.1991
(Ipswich Library & Information Service)'s been a little while since out last article - five weeks to be exact! So, in the interest of wrapping up our our "Haunted Ipswich" series, I thought we'd do something a little different...because we can!  We're going to venture a little way from central Ipswich to Booval, in order to examine another of Ipswich's most important early homes - Booval House.   The reason for doing so is two-fold - firstly, Booval House is currently listed for event that has only presented itself a handful of times in the house's 154 -year history; secondly, whilst I've never heard of any ghost stories surrounding Booval House, I have fond memories of driving up Cothill Road as a kid in the late 1980's & wondering what stories existed within the walls of the ailing mansion.  The Booval House of today is very different to the one I remember as a child, having undergone massive renovations in the late 1990's - needless to say, the house continues to fascinate me for its ghost/haunting potential, so why not take the opportunity to examine it, right?  Little could I have known that in doing so,  I'd be led on another wild goose-chase similar in nature to that of our last article on Claremont...after going through the relevant material published by the Ipswich City Council & the house's Heritage Register listing lodged with the Department of Environment & Resource Management, I quickly realised that multiple errors, inconsistencies & omissions existed regarding Booval House in the official documentation.

So...let's get to it, & examine the corrected story of this amazing colonial mansion!

Advert for the new Bank of Australasia in Ipswich
(The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Sept 1853)

The exact birth date of Booval House, on Booval Estate as the property was originally known, is somewhat unclear.  However, we do know that the story begins all the way back 1853, with the arrival of George Faircloth in Ipswich.  Having lived for a number of years in Maitland in the Lower Hunter Valley of New South Wales, Faircloth had been employed as a Manager for the Bank of Australasia.  Wishing to expand their business, the Bank took up residence in Ipswich's Brisbane Street & transferred George, his pregnant wife Maria & 2 year old daughter Agnes north on appointment via the steamship City of Melbourne...the new premises would open on the 31st of October 1853.  It appears as though the family lived on the premises, a fairly common occurrence for Bank Managers many years ago, & they were soon blessed with the birth of their first son on the 8th of January 1854.  Tragically, their joy would be short-lived, with little George William Burdett Faircloth passing away at just 19 days of age on the 27th of January.  Life continued on for the Faircloths, with the birth of another son, Charles Henry Moreton Faircloth, on the 26th of July 1855 - at this stage, we know that the family were still living within the Bank on Brisbane Street.

Throughout 1856, George Faircloth focused on using his public standing to endorse a number of projects for the betterment of Ipswich - he played an integral part in lobbying for Ipswich's first hospital, he stood with a number of other influential Ipswich gentlemen for the establishment of an Immigration Depot in the town, he acted as Treasurer to the Ipswich Equitable Investment & Building Society...& all whilst Manager of the Bank of Australasia.  However, George also had one other venture under way, & it's this specific venture that provides us with the first solid clue to the birth of Booval House.  On the 28th of October 1856, an article ran in The North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser, stating, "We had an opportunity last week of inspecting a sample of wheat, the produce of Mr. Faircloth's farm, at Booval, in the neighbourhood of Ipswich.  It was grown from some Chilian seed-wheat, by way of experiment, Mr. Faircloth having learned from a gentleman well acquainted with the wheat districts of Chili, that the climate of Moreton Bay was very similar, and that the wheat would in all likelihood do well here.  The experiment has been eminently successful, and a splendid crop has been the result."  The 350 acre area known as Booval Estate had been broken up into 33 allotments & sold at auction on the 10th of January 1855, & it's highly possible that George Faircloth purchased his farm at this time...either way, the property came into Faircloth's possession sometime between 1855 & 1856.

Booval Estate Auction (The Moreton Bay Courier, 6th Jan 1855)

It's estimated in all official accounts regarding the site's genesis, that Booval House was constructed sometime between 1858 & 1859, intertwined with the birth of the Faircloth's second daughter Maria in January 1858 .  We can fairly safely assume that the house was habitable by October 1859, as an advert appears in The North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser on the 25th of October 15, seeking, "a COOK, either Male or Female; also, a LAUNDRESS, and a good NEEDLE-WOMAN.  Apply at the BANK OF AUSTRALASIA; or, to Mrs. FAIRCLOTH, Booval" - the Faircloths were clearly seeking suitable servant staff, & were already residing at Booval.  However, we definitely know the premises was occupied by December 1859, due to one very important event in our State's history.    On the 6th of June 1859, after a protracted period of lobbying, Her Majesty Queen Victoria signed the Letters Patent declaring Queensland's separation from the colony of New South Wales.  On the evening of the 9th of December, the Cordelia sailed into Moreton Bay carrying Queensland's first Governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen, & his wife Lady  Bowen.  After making Brisbane the next morning on the 10th, they were escorted, through the thronging crowd, to Adelaide House (a rented premises which was to act as an interim Governor's residence), where the official Proclamation declaring Queensland a separate Colony was read from the balcony to the residents of Brisbane amongst much fanfare.
Advertisement seeking Servants
(The North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser, 25th Oct 1859)

After touring around Brisbane for over a week, & settling into their new residence, the time came for The Governor & Lady Bowen to visit the outlying regions of their new State.  Departing Brisbane at 10am on the 20th of December, the couple & their entourage headed for the town of Ipswich, enjoying the green country views along the way.  However, & this is where the story gets interesting, the party intended on stopping just shy of Ipswich in order to provide Governor & Lady Bowen the opportunity to take in refreshments, & for George Furguson Bowen to change from his travelling attire into his uniform, before making their way into Ipswich proper...& the venue chosen, was George Faircloth's new mansion at Booval.  According to The Moreton Bay Courier on the 24th of December 1859, the scene outside Booval House was impressive - "[T]hose who had come thus far from Ipswich to escort him into town, assembled in the roadway.  Since leaving the old country, we never remember having seen so numerous a cavalcade of horsemen.  All Ipswich seem to have turned out a cheval, and there must have been at least 400 who thus came to do the honour to the first appearance of their first Governor amongst them."  Thus, our first definitive record of Booval House exists, playing host to Queensland's first Governor, ten days after Queensland was officially proclaimed a separate Colony.

Likely over the moon that their new house had played such an important role in the genesis of Queensland, George & Maria Faircloth were likely unaware that they were expecting another child at the time.  Nine months later, almost to the day on the 19th of September 1860, their third daughter Edith Elizabeth was born.  Life for the Faircloths was grand at the time - they'd comfortably consolidated their position in the upper echelon of Queensland Society, & George was a successful businessman having invested wisely.  However, their fortunes were about to be dashed once again shortly after...on the 25th of March 1861, at the tender age of six months, Edith passed away at Booval House, becoming the first unfortunate soul to perish within its walls.  On the back of such terrible tragedy, however, George's fortunes continued to shine in the same year.  With the advent of the American Civil War, & the need for cotton, George invested in the cotton industry & planted his property with cotton.  At the time, the Faircloth's land was surrounded by cotton crops being grown by the Ipswich Cotton Company, headed by John Panton (who was responsible for the construction of Claremont, detailed in our last article).  However, this venture would also falter by mid-1862, with many investors losing considerable of these investors was likely George Faircloth, as Booval House was listed for sale in September 1862, although we know that no sale was officiated.

For Sale Notice for Booval Estate.
(North Australian and Queensland General Advertiser, 20th Sept 1862)

The Faircloth's persevered at Booval House, & by late 1863 they were again expecting.  Amidst the turmoil of their losses a year earlier, through both the failure of their cotton plantation & loss of their second daughter, they were blessed with the birth of another son, Sidney Clarence Faircloth, on the 11th of June 1864.  As their newborn child settled into the pace of the household, the Faircloths must have breathed a sigh of relief...their finances may have been struggling, however their family was now stronger than ever...within three weeks, however, their hopes would be further shattered.  On the 8th of July, at just three weeks of age, their infant son Sidney passed away within the property...the third Faircloth child of six to perish under the age of six months.  Amidst their compounded grief, the Faircloths were soon granted a miracle - within 10 weeks of Sidney's passing, Maria Faircloth was expecting again - Seaton John Faircloth was born on the 12th of June 1865, & would be the youngest of the Faircloth's children to live within Booval House.   Continuing to struggle with their finances, the Bank of Queensland (initially the Bank of Australasia) eventually reclaimed the house from the Faircloths, listing it for sale by public auction on the 17th of August 1868.

Booval House auction advertisement
(The Brisbane Courier, 29th July 1868)

Now...this is where the history of Booval House gets seriously interesting.  According to the Department of Environment & Resource Management's Queensland Heritage Register listing, "Booval House was auctioned in August 1868 under instructions from the liquidators, the Bank of Australasia. The purchaser was John Ferrett, the former Trustee of Ipswich Cotton Co."  This is backed up by documents available through the Ipswich Library, in their "By the Bremer" blog - "In 1868 Booval House was purchased for approximately 500 pounds by Mr John Ferrett, who later became a member of the first Queensland Parliament." Sadly, even the Ipswich City Council's Heritage Study in 1991 skips almost a decade in the house's history between 1868 & 1876...transitioning from George Faircloth's ownership, immediately to that of John Ferrett's.  So, what do we know of the 1868 public auction of the site at the hands of the Bank of Queensland, the approximately £500 paid, & the purchaser at the time??

Well, from the above auction notice, we know that Booval House was placed on the market & sold at auction on the 17th of August 1868.  However, we also know from The Brisbane Courier on the 18th of August 1868, & The Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser on the 20th of August, that, "The well-known Booval estate, near Ipswich, on which some thousands of pounds have been expended, was sold in Brisbane on Monday for £560, terms equal to cash."  However, the purchaser of the property in 1868 was, in fact, William Welsby.  A migrant from Cornwall, England, William was an influential Ipswich business man, best known for his construction of Belmont on Burnett Street in 1865, & his son Thomas Welsby - a Queensland political hopeful in the late 1800's, & keen historian.  Thomas' reminiscences of his early life in Ipswich were published throughout March 1939 in The Courier Mail, including details of his childhood at Booval House.  Unfortunately, & likely a result of being 81 years of age, Tomas's article in The Brisbane Courier on the 11th of March 1939, states that, "In 1874, after my father's death, it [Booval House] was sold and passed into the hands of John Ferret [sic], a retired squatter."

Unfortunately, this same detail is listed on Thomas Welsby's Wikipedia entry, whereby, "Welsby aspired to study medicine at Sydney University however this became impossible following the death of his father [William] in 1874."  For the record, William Welsby passed away in 1876, whilst living on Leichhardt Street in Brisbane, & was buried at Toowong Cemetery on the 11th July 1876...his wife Hannah lies alongside, interred on the 28th of May 1891. So...where does John Ferrett enter into our story??  On the 10th of July 1875, Ferrett's name appears in The Queenslander - "We regret to hear that news has reached town to the effect that Mr. John Ferrett was thrown from his horse a few days ago on his station at Wallan [Central Queensland], and that the horse rolled on him, injuring him severely."  However, in June 1876, John Ferrett was challenging rates due on his property "in the eastern suburbs of Ipswich" (Booval) - just prior to William Welsby's death in Brisbane.  Ultimately, we can place John Ferrett at Booval House come early to mid 1876, on the back of William Welsby's ownership from 1868 - something DERM & Ipswich Library were clearly unable to do...

William Welsby's Funeral Notice
(The Brisbane Courier, 11th July 1876)

After managing Booval House for nearly a decade himself, John Ferrett was beginning to weary in years by the 1880's - on the 23rd of October 1884, he met with a serious accident - "He had just left his residence, and was driving in his buggy down a slight decline, close by, when the horse stumbled and fell, Mr. Ferrett being dragged right over the splashboard.  In the fall he received an injury to the back of his head, and was much shaken.  Mr. Ferrett, however, did not think it necessary at first to call in a doctor, but one was consulted next day, and he found the sufferer very ill indeed.  Very few friends have been permitted to see the injured gentleman since; but, on inquiry yesterday afternoon, we were pleased to learn that he was slightly better, though we fear that it will be some considerable time before he is quite right again."  By August 1887, John Ferrett was unable to attend a dinner in celebration of William Henry Groom's 25th Anniversary as the Speaker of the House of Assembly, on the grounds that he "was compelled to decline all invitations to go out after nightfall, as his increased feebleness prevented him from doing so."

After seeing out another nearly seven years, John Ferrett's ailing health finally got the better of him.  At 7:30am in the morning, on the 4th of June 1894, John Ferrett's housekeeper called on him in his room to raise him for breakfast. After confirming that he'd be dressed & up for his meal shortly, the maid heard a bizarre gurgling sound & rushed back into the room to find John dead in his bed.  A subsequent autopsy would show that John had passed away due to heart disease, an ailment that many of his close friends had feared for some years prior to his demise.  Having no children of his own, Booval House's future looked bleak...although a close nephew had been named in the Will - Harry Ferrett.  Harry continued the family name at Booval House until 1921, without incident, when Bishop Duhig purchased the property for £900 on behalf of the Catholic Church.  After sitting vacant for a further nine years, & then undergoing major renovations to suit the purpose, Booval House was reopened as St Gabriel's Convent for the Sisters of Mercy.  The site served its purpose as a convent school for the next fifty years, until it again fell into disrepair in the 1980's after lack of interest...after lying dormant again for a number of year, Booval House finally passed back into private hands in the late 1990's, & has been in private hands ever since after further renovations to restore its former glory.

So...does something linger within Booval House dating back to the days of the Faircloths??  Does John Ferrett still wander the halls looking for the breakfast he never received??  All in all, for anyone who ever passes by Booval House, & for those who walk though its halls with the intention of purchasing this stately old mansion, one can only wonder...with the history this premises holds, anything is possible!


A big thank you to one of our fans, Alice Black, for pointing out an inconsistency in our article - in the original draft, we noted that Governor & Lady Bowen, "were escorted, through the thronging crowd, to the newly built Government House, where the official Proclamation declaring Queensland a separate Colony was read from the balcony to the residents of Brisbane amongst much fanfare."  In actual fact, the original Government House, which was located in George Street, was not completed until 1862.  As a result, a house was hastily rented on Ann Street to act as an interim Governor's residence - it was from this house's balcony that the Proclamation declaring Queensland a separate colony was read by Sir George Ferguson Bowen.


  1. A great article! A very interesting read.

  2. Thank you for sharing this powerful article, your explanation is clear and very easy to understand. Please kindly visit our site to get more information about Home Doctor.Home Doctor Hervey Bay