Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Tale of 4BC's Spectral Maintenance Man: a new "how to" for the avid ghost researcher...

The R. W. Thurlow & Co. building, 1901
(Taken from The Queenslander, 27th April 1901)

Welcome back to 2013's first (full) article from the Haunts of Brisbane!  Much has occurred since our last ghostly exposé - we all dodged a bullet as the Mayan Calendar allegedly ended (& restarted as predicted), Christmas & New Years came & went without incident, the unbelievable Boggo Road Gaol saga occurred (which we're still attempting to rectify), & yet another natural disaster has befallen us, courtesy of ex-Cyclone Oswald...needless to say, the past 8 weeks have been anything but restful!  As a result, our regular articles focusing on Brisbane's haunted history were put on the back-burner...until now!  So, strap yourself in, put your "ghost sleuth" caps on, & let's welcome in a new year of articles focusing on the darker side of Brisbane's history!

Over the past few months, I've received many emails from individuals, local history groups, & media outlets, all asking, "How do you manage to dig up all the information used in Haunts of Brisbane articles??"  In honesty, consolidating raw data (from multiple sources) into a seamless story that flows from Point A to Point B takes a lot of work...however, gathering the raw data from which the articles are written isn't difficult - we covered this process almost a year ago in an article entitled, "Petrie Mansions - a "how to" for the avid Ghost Hunter..."  Unfortunately, when it comes to the interwebs (& specific ghost/"historical" tours offered in Brisbane), it's very difficult to know whether you're actually being educated with historical fact...or being fleeced with bullsh*t specifically tailored to pilfer your hard-earned money. can you tell?!?

In anticipation, I've chosen a well-advertised, internet-based Brisbane ghost story, which apparently took place in the CBD - amongst a list of local ghost stories on the Brisbane History website, the story goes thus: "A few blocks away on the corner of Adelaide and Wharf streets stood the old Radio 4BC building.  It too has fallen under the demolisher's hammer.  Originally a pickle factory, the building had a staff tea room at the rear.  There was an opening in the tea room floor that had once housed a food lift.  In the time of the pickle factory a worker fell down the shaft while trying to fix the lift.  Years later 4BC night-time radio announcers swore that the room would suddenly turn icy cold and the sound of someone crying for help could be heard coming up the shaft." do we get to the bottom of this story, in an attempt to judge its validity??  If the building was demolished, as per the statement, are we unable to confirm the death??  Was the building actually utilised by 4BC, & was it originally a pickle factory? Did a basement exist beneath the building, necessitating a lift??  Did an employee actually die whilst repairing the lift during its life as a pickle factory?? is regularly the case in workplaces, was an urban legend formulated to scare the night-time radio announcers??  Let's break it down from the top, shall we?

What do we know about the history of 4BC??  According to Wikipedia's listing on 4BC,"4BC was one of the first radio stations in Brisbane.  It was established in 1930 by John Beals Chandler, an electrical appliance retailer and later Lord Mayor of Brisbane.  In March 1937 the station was sold for £50,000 to the Australian Broadcasting Company who took control in April [1937]."  From this, we know that searching prior to 1930 (when the station was founded) is where to from here??  Jumping across to the National Library of Australia's Trove Database, with the search string, "4bc building AND brisbane" - the following comes up at the top of the list, in The Courier Mail on 9th of December 1948: this where the 4BC studio ended up, on the corner of Queen & Wharf Streets??  Is our ghost story already faltering??  Alas, not - with patience, continuing to search through the results on the Trove Database, a further record pops up on in The Courier Mail on the 19th of November 1952: 1952, 4BC purchased Thurlow's building on the corner of Adelaide & Wharf Streets, for the sum of £30,000 - we've now confirmed our first component of the ghost story!  Furthermore, as residents of Brisbane, we know that Thurlow's building was demolished well over a decade ago to make way for a newer 12-storey building (plus basement) - the second detail of our ghost story confirmed!

What do we know about the history of Thurlow's building?  Was it actually a Pickle Factory, did it possess a basement below ground-level, did a lift exist, & did someone die within it??

Again, on searching the Trove Database with the search string, "thurlows building," an article from The Argus crops up from the 17th of September 1952, detailing the sale of Thurlow's Building on the corner of Adelaide & Wharf Streets, in Brisbane.  According to the advert, the building contained a basement, ground and three upper floors (so, a possibility of a lift?).  Most importantly, it also provides us with with details about the prior owner, Robert Woods Thurlow.  For the Brisbane history buffs, this name should ring a bell - Robert Woods Thurlow was a very prominent businessman & merchant in Brisbane (as well as a one-term Mayor of Brisbane in 1896), running R. W. Thurlow & Co., best known for their fine, imported foodstuffs & Crescent Vinegar.  These fine groceries were dispensed from the Company's custom-fitted warehouse & "department store" on the corner of Adelaide & Wharf Streets.   Further digging in the Trove Database turns up another article in The Brisbane Courier's edition of the 7th of February 1901, entitled, "Messrs. R. W. Thurlow and Co. - Opening of New Building" - this article details a party held to celebrate the opening of the Company's new premises. 

We now know that the building was opened in 1901, & was purchased for use by 4BC in 1952 - this narrows our search for the unfortunate accident down to a 51-year window.  Unfortunately, we've debunked the "pickle factory" component of the story...however, given that Crescent Vinegar (a well-loved brand at the time) was brewed on-site, it's no more than a minor oversight...

So...what about this lift & the fatal fall??

That's where our ghost story unfortunately comes to an abrupt halt.  Searching every which way possible, utilising every available search string, the Trove Database comes up trumps...nothing...nil - no record exists regarding the death of a lift repairman at the site...that being said though, multiple records exist of accidental deaths, suicides & murders within the buildings located on the three other corners of Adelaide & Wharf Streets.  At this stage, we can refer to one further article we discovered whilst doing our initial building search - a 3-page spread, complete with amazing pictures, published in The Queenslander on the 27th of April 1901, at the time the venue opened for business.  This fantastic article intricately details the design features of the building, including the lifts & their safety features...& this is where the story gets a little interesting!  According to the article:

"Near the base of this wall [back of building], on a level with cart and dray when "backed," are two lifts - each 8ft. by 8ft. 6in., capable of hoisting a three-ton load - the one passing up to each floor of the warehouse, the other to each floor of the factory. The work of the lift is controlled by means of electric bells, connected with each floor.  As a precautionary measure against accident where other than experienced workmen are employed in the locality of the lift, sliding gates of strong wire, 5ft. high, are placed at the lift apertures on each landing, and are only removable by the lift when flush with the floor, so that to enter the shaft when the lift is not in position necessitates a climb to surmount the gates referred to."

So, lifts definitely existed at the site - we know that for sure.  However, given the safety features installed to ensure people didn't fall down the lift shaft, it's somewhat unlikely that someone died by falling down the lift shaft...although, stranger things have happened!  Either way, without having been able to locate a record of an accident that matches our ghost story, we're unable to either absolutely confirm or deny the existence of a spectral maintenance man at the site...however, we have managed to confirm, & deny, the story's other details regarding the building itself.  This is usually the frustrating point when I shelve a story regarding Brisbane in the hope that one day I'll stumble across the missing clue whilst researching another article.

And...there you have it - another lesson in how to pull apart ghost stories & dig for details to get to the truth...the process isn't difficult, it's merely time consuming! the interests of adding one last little twist, we'll end with a snippet of information that may be coincidence...or may be more!

Cast your minds back to the initial article regarding the negotiated purchase of a building on the corner of Queen & Wharf Streets, for use by 4BC, in 1948 - Empire Chambers.  This building was used for many years as a conference, lecture & dance venue, by a number of different groups.  On the afternoon of the 11th of April 1924, Spring Hill resident Harold Duggleon was standing in the vicinity of the building's's unclear whether he was visiting the building for one of the many events that occurred there, or was working on the lift as a maintenance man.  Either way, Duggleon stuck his head into the liftwell (many were open to an extent back in those days) to look down the shaft...right as the ascending lift carriage arrived on the same floor!  Duggleon suffered a fractured skull & shattered nose as a result of the unanticipated impact, & was rushed to Brisbane General Hospital in a very serious condition.  Unfortunately, no further information is provided regarding Harold's recovery - is it possible that he passed away from his injuries whilst in hospital & ended up haunting the liftwell of Empire Chambers??  Could 4BC's 1948 link with the building have brought about the ghost story at their final premises in Thurlow's Building 4 years later??  We'll never know...but it's fun to speculate, right?


  1. Nice posting about Spectral Maintenance Man: a new "how to" for the avid ghost researcher.......

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  2. Great post. A very interesting read. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. This is my great grandfathers building. My great grandfather is Robert Woods Thurlow. Would love to find out more. Barbara Ann Burstall

  6. This is my great grandfathers building. My great grandfather is Robert Woods Thurlow. Would love to find out more. Barbara Ann Burstall