brisbane ghost stories brisbane haunted house and cleveland ghost stories and haunted brisbane newstead house haunted wickham park brisbane wynnum courthouse haunted hotel
Brisbane's oldest ghost story (really two stories in one) concerns the most controversial figure in the city's early history, Captain Patrick Logan of His Majesty's 57th Regiment of Foot, Commandant of the Penal Settlement at Moreton Bay from 1825 to 1830.
Logan was a man of vision and an able administrator who converted the dismal outpost he commanded into a well-organised and efficient colony, but Logan is not remembered for his good deeds; only his bad. His cruel treatment of the convicts at Moreton Bay earned him the title the Fell Tyrant and made him the subject of one of Australia's best-known folk songs, ‘Moreton Bay’, which describes the horrific plight of convicts under his rule.
Misconduct earned them up to 300 lashes and many died, strapped to the flogging frame. Logan was feared and despised by the convicts, and the final verse of ‘Moreton Bay’ rejoices at his violent death.
The Captain was also a courageous explorer who made many journeys, sometimes alone into the interior, surveying and mapping the wild terrain. It was while returning from one of these excursions, riding alone along a bush track in what is now South Brisbane, that Logan met a ghost. The Captain spotted a man in convict uniform a few yards in front of him and, thinking it was an escapee from the settlement, hailed him and ordered him to stop.
Logan expected the figure to run but to his surprise it approached him, reached out a sinewy arm and grabbed one of his stirrups. Logan's horse took fright and reared. The Captain lashed out with his riding crop but the blow passed straight through the shadowy figure. He spurred his horse to a gallop but the ghost clung on, floating effortlessly beside the terrified horse and rider. It was not until they were nearing the south bank of the Brisbane River that the ghost suddenly let go and disappeared.
Logan's fear may seem out of character for a ruthless man with an inquiring mind, but something else had unsettled him: Captain Logan had recognised the ghost. It was a convict called Stimson who had absconded, been recaptured at the very spot where he appeared, and died while being flogged on the Captain's orders exactly one month before.
Logan met his own death while on another expedition. He set out with his batman and five trusted convicts on 9 November 1830 to map a creek west of the outpost at Limestone Hills (Ipswich). The party was stalked for most of its journey and attacked twice by hostile Aborigines but, despite this apparent danger, Logan went off on his own on 17 October, planning to rejoin the party at a prearranged rendezvous at dusk.
When he found he could not reach the spot before nightfall, Logan built a rough shelter and settled down for the night. In the early hours of the morning of the 18th he was attacked and killed by Aborigines- or, according to some historians- by convicts. Click here for further reference.
At noon that day a party of prisoners working on the river bank at the Moreton Bay settlement spotted Captain Logan, on horseback on the far side of the river, waving to them. None had any doubts about who it was. Two of them downed tools and hastily launched the punt that was used to ferry people across the river and rowed over to pick up their Commandant. When they arrived on the south bank (the spot where Stimson's ghost had disappeared and the Queensland Performing Arts Complex now stands) there was no sign of Logan. He and his horse had vanished into thin air.
At that time Captain Logan's battered body was growing cold in a shallow grave in the bush seventy kilometres inland.
Residents of Ipswich also lay claim to having seen Logan's ghost in more recent times at the spot where he met his death. There is a small reserve there now, 1.6 kilometres from the junction of Logan's Creek and the Brisbane River. A night or two spent there (if you can stand the mosquitoes) might reward you with a glimpse of the ghost of the Fell Tyrant.
Brisbane's oldest remaining building, the Tower Mill in Wickham Terrace, dates from Captain Logan's time. This graceful old sandstone tower has had a chequered career- flour mill, signal station, fire-watching tower and meteorological observatory.
Like most convict-era buildings there's also a dark side to its history. When the original sails on top of the tower failed, a treadmill was installed that was worked by chained convicts and, on 3 July 1841, the tower was used as a gallows to hang two Aborigines convicted of murder. Click here for further reference.
Since the middle of the last century stories have circulated about the tower being haunted. Residents of Wickham Terrace claimed that sometimes when they looked up at the small window facing the street they could see a faint glow and a figure inside the tower, swinging gently from side to side.
Today the Tower Mill stands in a small park, dwarfed by surrounding buildings. Perhaps if you sat across the tree-lined street around dusk and watched that window you might see something watching you.
Brisbane's Old Government House in the grounds of the Queensland University of Technology at Gardens Point is also reputedly haunted- by the ghost of the state's first governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen. This elegant old sandstone building dates from 1860 and served as a vice-regal residence until 1910, when it became the first University of Queensland. Today it houses the headquarters of the Queensland National Trust.
Irish-born Governor Bowen was appointed in 1859 when the colony separated from New South Wales. He was a typical colonial administrator: self-opinionated, long-winded, shrewd and dedicated to creating a state worthy of Queen and Empire.
He died in England in 1899 and from time to time thereafter occupants of Old Government House have claimed to have seen his ghost. The reports describe his unmistakable, powerful figure in full vice-regal regalia moving slowly and majestically up the stairs while his large head, framed in white hair and mutton-chop whiskers, nods thoughtfully.
Ghosts of bureaucrats are plentiful in Brisbane. A few hundred metres from Old Government House there are reputedly three more in Parliament House, a massive colonnaded building dating from 1868 which overlooks the Botanical Gardens.
The ghost of the first Sergeant-at-Arms of the Legislative Assembly, Captain Richard Coley, who died in office, is said to wander the building. Coley served the parliament from 1860 to 1864 when it met in the old Convict Barracks in Queen Street long before the present Parliament House was built, so why his spirit should have taken up residence in the new building is a mystery. Coley was a retired sea captain whose modest timber cottage was the oldest private residence in the inner city until it was demolished in 1887. Click here for further reference.
The Speaker's Room in Parliament House is said to be haunted by the ghost of The Honourable George Pollock, Labor member for the far western seat of Gregory and Speaker of the Parliament from 1932 to 1939. Pollock was an able parliamentarian and a respected Speaker who apparently suffered ill health during his last years in office. This is the official reason given for his shooting himself in the Speaker's Room on 24 March 1939.
After two private secretaries to the State Opposition Leader died in office between 1962 and 1964, the next was reported in the press as saying he and his assistant had heard ‘queer dragging noises’ coming from the ceiling of their office in Parliament House. He did not go so far as to suggest it was the ghost of one of his predecessors but, given the reputation of this building, many people jumped to that conclusion.
Brisbane’s majestic City Hall also has, or had, a ghost. From the 1950s onwards council workers heard strange footsteps and felt a sinister atmosphere in a series of small rooms known collectively as Room 302 on the third floor. The rooms were close to the spot where a caretaker is believed to have suicided in the 1940s.
For a time the area was used as a photographic darkroom, then abandoned when the ghostly activity reached its peak. In 1982 carpenters were sent in to demolish the interior walls and the area was added to the building's kindergarten centre. Fortunately for the young patrons of that centre the ghost has not been seen or heard since.
Like most old theatres, Brisbane's Her Majesty's Theatre (demolished amid great controversy in 1983) also had its ghosts and mysteries. The best known is a male ghost who used to appear from time to time at the back of the dress circle.
When Jesus Christ Superstar was playing in the theatre about twenty years ago, popular actor-singer Jon English (who played Judas so memorably) was reported as saying that one night he looked up from the stage and watched a transparent figure walk slowly from one side of the dress circle to the other. Others saw this strange apparition but no one was able to identify him.
Then there was the little room where costumes and props used to be stored that had once been a dressing room. A story goes that two rival actors fought in that room around 1900; one killed the other and hid his body in the ceiling. Years after the corpse had been removed the room would suddenly fill with the overpowering stench of putrefying flesh.
There was also a staircase near the canteen that was not on the building plans and which led nowhere, ending against a solid wall. Heavy footsteps were often heard mounting the stairs but no figure was ever seen.
Then there were the phantom pillars. When the interior of the theatre was remodeled in 1930s the upper circle (‘The Gods’) was removed and the dress circle extended. The columns that supported the upper circle were also taken out and yet, years later, patrons complained to the management after a performance that their view of the stage had been obstructed by those same columns.
Nearby Brisbane Arcade also, reputedly, has a persistent ghost. The old arcade is one of those elegant Victorian-era shopping complexes with an antiquated lift, flamboyant decoration and iron lace balustrades. There was once a successful millinery shop on the upper level run by a lady who is apparently reluctant to leave, though she has been dead for many years. It is said that her ghost is still sometimes seen, dressed in a once-fashionable Victorian gown and pacing the balcony at night.
Behind the Brisbane Arcade in Adelaide Street there was once a butcher's shop, facing the present King George Square. The shop was there at the turn of the century and for a good many years after, but it is gone today. It was L-shaped, the meat being prepared in one part and the customers served in the other.
Legend has it that a butcher and an apprentice got into an argument one day. A meat cleaver was thrown and the apprentice died. Subsequent owners of the shop and customers would occasionally hear the sound of men arguing and struggling, then terrible screams coming from the back of the shop.
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.
A few years ago a young Brisbane woman claimed that the ghost of a tall, young man with shoulder-length blond hair (a ‘surfie’ type, she called him) had appeared one night beside her bed- stark naked. Friends and neighbours told her it must have been a prowler, a burglar or wishful dreaming, but she was convinced she had been visited by a ghost.
Two other young women appeared on television shortly after to tell a similar story, of a blond-haired young man, completely naked, sitting in a tree outside their house in the leafy suburb of Bardon staring in through their window. Local opinion maintained that it was the ghost of a young man whose girlfriend had once lived in the house.
A television crew set up their cameras and waited in vain to catch the saucy spirit on film, but he was too shy to appear. A few days after they departed, however, passers-by reported catching fleeting glimpses of him back in his favourite spot among the foliage.
A much more sinister collection of spirits inhabit an old house in another suburb on the western side of Brisbane (the address is definitely not for publication). The house has a grim history. A tenant hanged himself there in the 1920s and a previous owner refused to let anyone dig in the yard, which led to all sorts of speculation about buried bodies. Everyone who has lived in the house seems to have been caught up in its evil atmosphere, their lives disrupted by domestic arguments, mystery and cruelty.
A whole team of ghostly figures appear suddenly and disappear moments later inside and outside the building. A medium called in in the 1970s told the newspapers she felt terrible anguish and pain in every room of the blighted old house.
The riverside suburb of Bulimba developed around a stately home called Bulimba House, built in 1849 by an English-born grazier, David McConnel. From 1935 until his death in 1963 it was the home of Arthur E. Moore, one-time premier of Queensland.
Neither the McConnels, the Moores or any other owners of Bulimba House have seen the ghost that reputedly haunts the old two-storey stone building, but all have heard it. At odd hours of the day and night a sharp knocking can be heard at the front door. Dogs bark and, in earlier times, servants scurried to answer the summons, but there is never anyone there.
Also south of the river in Martha Street, Camp Hill is another old house, leased at one time by the American Consul. For many years locals shunned the house, believing it haunted by the ghost of a man who shot himself in one of its rooms. The old house outlived its bad reputation, eventually becoming the home of a happy family who lived there for twenty years, undisturbed by ghost or rumour.
Cleveland, on the shores of Moreton Bay, almost became the capital the State of Queensland. Many people believed it a much better site for a state capital than the flood-prone and insect-infested former penal colony on the Brisbane River.
Among Cleveland's strongest supporters was the rich grazier Francis Bigge, who built a residence there in 1853. Later the house was leased by the State Government as a police residence and court house. It stands today under yet another guise as Ye Olde Courthouse Restaurant, complete with (it is proudly claimed) its own resident ghost. Click here for further reference.
Stories of the Old Cleveland Courthouse Ghost (a middle-aged woman in a white gown, her dark hair gathered in two tight buns over her ears) have circulated for generations. No one knows for sure who she is, but most people believe it is Francis Bigge's wife, Elizabeth.
The spectre is normally well behaved, content to amuse herself tapping staff and diners on the shoulder or blowing gently in their ears but she has been know to lose her temper on rare occasions, hurling items about the restaurant, switching lights on and off, fiddling with taps and causing valuable pictures to crash to the floor without, curiously, the glass in the frames ever breaking.
Until replaced by Boggo Road Jail in 1932, St Helena Island in Moreton Bay was Brisbane's main prison. At some time after its closure one of the cottages from the old penal settlement was relocated to Peel Island (another spot with a gruesome history, a one-time leper colony), and from there to Dunwich on North Stradbroke Island.
At Dunwich it was named Marie Rose Cottage and served as living quarters for ambulance officers seconded from the mainland. Its innocuous appearance, however, was deceiving; something evil out of the building’s past had traveled with it.
One ambulance officer still feels horror when he tells of his encounter with a demon-like creature in the bedroom of the cottage in 1988. The memory of the creature's face still haunts him: 'It had a deeply furrowed forehead, a sinister mouth with broken and filthy teeth and glowing, orange eyes.
From its mouth came a soft hissing sound and a putrid smell.' It took all the ambulance officer's strength, mental and physical, to escape its, powerful grip and the struggle left him badly bruised. The stench remained in the room for two days.
Too many others have had similar experiences in and around this innocent- looking building to dismiss their stories. Whatever the abomination is, it is not human and never was. Marie Rose Cottage was demolished a couple of years ago to make way for a new ambulance station and the demon has not been seen since, but perhaps it's too early to consign it to history just yet.
Brisbane's notorious Boggo Road Jail boasts the ghost of a young farm labourer named Ernest Austin, who was convicted of murder and executed on the jail gallows on 22 September 1922. From then until the jail was closed eighty years later, prisoners claimed to see Austin's ghost near a wall in A Wing, where the gallows used to stand.
Senior officers always denied the stories, but (according to the press) in 1970 a guard made a note in the official log that he had seen a formless white mass hovering above an exercise yard one night. The guard had no idea what it was he had observed but it defied physical explanation and frightened him badly. Given the grim history of this establishment it should not surprise anyone that strange and disturbing phenomena linger there.
A ghost in this inner city once commercial, once early colonial residential, area made the headlines in 1976 and again in 1984. A medium, called in to investigate in 1976, identified the ghost as Helen Brennan, a name that brought back memories for many people in ‘The Valley’.
Helen Brennan and Reuben Wallace ran a corner store at the intersection of James and Robertson streets during the 1940s. Helen was found, suffocated, in the flat above the shop on 15 October 1949. Wallace was accused of her murder but suffered a severe heart attack before his trial. The charge was reduced to manslaughter and when Wallace finally appeared he was acquitted.
Twenty-seven years later a young mother with two children rented the dwelling, but no sooner had she moved in than she began to hear strange sounds. ‘There's something very evil here,’ she told the press, ‘I can feel it.’ The medium arrived and claimed that he could see a woman lying on one of the beds in the flat. She was ill and kept asking for someone called Ruby or Reuben.
The young mother left and later tenants did not seem bothered by the ghost- not until 1986 when a bus driver, his wife and Tibby their cat moved in. The cat panicked whenever it was carried up the stairs, and its mistress claimed she saw a small, transparent, female figure wrapped in a light grey shroud standing on the stairs on two occasions.
Today the premises are occupied by Bellas Art Gallery. The proprietor has never seen the ghost but is quite happy to answer inquiries about the colourful history of his building.
Royal Brisbane Hospital, at Herston, is home to quite a number of spirits, according to legend and newspaper reports. One story relates to a theatre sister who was supposedly murdered many years ago and whose uniformed figure, complete with stiff, triangular veil, has often been seen through frosted glass windows.
A mischievous spirit resides in one ward which was once a prison ward, pushing buzzers in the middle of the night and luring nurses into darkened rooms.
Best known of the hospital's ghosts is a female figure dressed in white who keeps vigil beside patients' beds. Staff have often been asked by patients to thank the kind lady who sat with them during the night. Nurses, orderlies, kitchen staff and cleaners have seen her, but most are reluctant to talk about their experiences. No one knows who she is, or was in life, but clearly she brings comfort, not fear, to those who encounter her.
Some people also believed that the Adelaide Billings Ward at the adjacent Royal Children's Hospital was haunted by the nurse after whom it was named. Matron Billings was greatly loved in her lifetime and after her death the hospital authorities decided to honour her memory by naming the ward after her but, it seems, she was not content to be remembered in name only.
According to one story a male nurse found her busily filling a burette from a tap one night. He thought her face was vaguely familiar but did not recognise her at the time. The nurse thought no more about it until he glanced at a photo of Matron Billings hanging in the lobby, and the realisation that he had seen a ghost struck him.
On many other occasions she was observed touring the ward at night checking on her tiny patients, stroking foreheads, tucking in bedclothes and straightening pillows. A few years ago the Adelaide Billings Ward was demolished to make way for new buildings. Hopefully the tireless matron is now having a well-deserved rest.
An old Queensland-style home at Lutwyche is said to be the lair of an unfriendly ghost. A security guard reported that he went there one hot December night at around midnight. When he entered the empty house it was freezing cold. His teeth began to chatter with cold and fear.
An eerie female voice came out of the darkness, screaming at him: ‘Get out! Get out!’ Needless to say he wasted no time obeying and has sworn never to return. The exact location of the house is a carefully guarded secret, but nothing in its recorded past accounts for the presence of a ghost.
One of the television transmitting towers on Mount Coot-tha, just west of the city, is supposed to be haunted by the ghost of a workman who fell to his death when the tower was being built. He hasn’t been seen for many years, but Channel Seven news reader Nev Roberts is quoted as saying he could remember a technician coming into the studio in the late 1970s, white-faced and trembling, saying he had seen a ghostly figure dressed in overalls walking on the tower.
A ghost who has never been seen is reputed to haunt a house in Murarrie. It may be the spirit of a furniture removalist or a house-proud former owner of the property. Its favourite trick is to put heavy pieces of furniture back in their original positions every time the current owners rearrange them.
Brisbane’s oldest existing private residence, Newstead House, at Newstead is a gracious, low-set mansion commanding magnificent views of the Brisbane River. It was built in 1846 by Patrick Leslie, the first pastoralist on the Darling Downs, who sold it the following year to his brother-in-law, Captain John Wickham, RN, Police Magistrate of the Moreton Bay Settlement.
Until the erection of Old Government House, Newstead House was the hub of local society. The Wickhams entertained lavishly, with formal dinner parties and balls attended by foreign dignitaries, government officials from Sydney and officers of the army and navy.
Stories of ghosts at Newstead House are legion, ranging from simple phenomena like curtains billowing, strange noises, chess pieces moving and lights flickering to the appearance of spectral figures, the most famous of which is described as ‘a young woman wearing an old-fashioned gown in a diffuse shade of pink’. This ghost is held responsible for the strange things that are said to occur in one of the children’s bedrooms in the north-west wing of the house.
A pair of antique shoes placed parallel will be found next day with the toes pointing inwards, and a warming pan kept in the room, located beside the hearth in another room. Most people believe the Pink Lady is a kind and solicitous ghost, perhaps a mother or nanny once employed in the house. Newstead House stands today in all its preserved glory, the venue for concerts under the stars and open for public inspection.
When buildings in a large area of South Brisbane were demolished to make way for World Expo '88, a couple of old architectural gems were preserved and renovated. One was The Plough Inn, dating from the end of the nineteenth century. Patrons of the popular pub breathed sighs of relief; so, presumably, did the building’s resident ghost.
Legend has it that it is the ghost of a young girl strangled in the hotel in the 1920s when South Brisbane was still the haunt of sailors, prostitutes and spivs. No one has seen the ghost but many claim to have heard her.
She lives, staff have been quoted as saying, where Guest Room 7 used to be before the renovations, where the atmosphere is always cold and oppressive.
A strange phenomenon used to occur outside a dilapidated old house called ‘Mossdale’ in Wynnum Road, Tingalpa, belonging to Charles Costin, Clerk of the Legislative Council of the Queensland Parliament. Costin leased the house to a family named Ellis in 1907.
The mother, Connie Ellis, recorded in her memoirs that the family would often hear footsteps crunching up the gravel driveway and along the wooden verandah, then a locked bedroom door opening. In frustration they nailed the door closed one night but to no avail. The footsteps came again and in the morning the bedroom door was wide open, the nails protruding neatly from it.
Later the Ellises learned that a school teacher had been murdered in the house many years before and the locals believed the ghost was that of the hanged murderer, returning to wash bloodstains from his hands.
‘Whepstead’ at Wellington Point is an historic weatherboard mansion designed to catch cool breezes coming off Moreton Bay and set in expansive lawns and gardens. Today it is a fine restaurant and function centre.
‘Whepstead’ wins hands down in the haunted restaurant stakes with no less than four ghosts. One is believed to be Matilda Burnett, wife of the original owner, Gilbert Burnett. Her face has appeared at windows and her ghostly progress through the building can be followed by a trail of the strong lavender perfume she wore in life.
Two of the Burnett’s ten children are also reputed to haunt their former home: Edith Mary, who disappeared without trace aged seventeen in 1877, just a year after the family moved into ‘Whepstead’, and one of their sons, a sad little boy with a withered leg who has been seen peering through the banisters on the central staircase. The fourth ghost is an elderly man, apparently a servant, who appears in a butler’s uniform with a bowler hat.
All these apparitions have been seen by owners, staff and guests at ‘Whepstead’ in the past twenty years and strange but harmless things happen regularly in the old house: candles are lit by invisible hands, stains appear and disappear on a large carpet, cheques left lying about have been hidden in a book and on one occasion a heavy glass decanter stopper was thrown across a room.
Also at Wellington Point is ‘Fernbourne’, another house built by Gilbert Burnett. ‘Fernbourne’ also claims two ghosts, a man whom no one has identified and an old lady. The owner of ‘Fernbourne’ in the 1980s told a newspaper reporter that she believed the old lady was Matilda Burnett, apparently commuting between her two former homes.
A troubling spectacle used to appear on the Mount Gravatt-Capalaba Road, near the intersection of Broadwater Road at Wishart.
Drivers coming around a corner at dusk would see a motorcycle lying on its side, a woman lying on the road and a man kneeling over her. The sun would always glint off the man's helmet visor. Those who had not seen the tragic scene before would pull over to the side of the road and run back to help, but when they got there, there was no sign of man, woman or motorcycle.
For more than twenty years an elderly resident of Woodridge shared her home with the ghost of a little girl aged about twelve. The old ramshackle wooden house had originally stood in the inner suburb of Woolloongabba. When it was relocated to Woodridge the ghost of the little girl went with it. So, apparently, did the lingering strains of a violin and a piano playing classical music, a sound often heard inside the house when radio and the television were all switched off.
One night the ghost of the little girl appeared in her nightdress to another family member and told her that her name was Penelope Green. After a visit from a clergyman, who suggested Penelope should be on her way, the owner of the house believes the little spirit departed- and so did the music.
Another strange phenomenon of recent times was reported on a small farm also on the southern outskirts of Brisbane. The property once belonged to a motor mechanic who left rusty cars bodies lying about.
A young family moved to the farm in 1983 and built a chicken run near the wreck of an a Black and White cab. All seemed peaceful until they began to hear a gruff voice coming from the empty taxi: ‘Are you the fare?’ the voice asks- just that one sentence over and over again.
‘It’s not a frightening voice but it sure gives you a fright,’ the mother of the family told a newspaper reporter in 1990.
If you had walked down Gilchrist Avenue in the Brisbane suburb of Herston any night during a hot week in November 1965 you might have thought you had stumbled upon a political revolution or pagan religious ceremony. The street would have been jammed with cars, including a dozen police vehicles.
Victoria Park on the southern side of the street, the adjacent playing fields and the golf course opposite would have been filled with up to 5000 people milling about. You would have seen the whole spectacle lit by thousands of torches, car headlights, television lights and the hell-fire glow of burning oil, spread over the small ornamental lake in the park. This was not, however, a revolution or a religious rite- it was Brisbane's reaction to a reported sighting of the Ghost of Victoria Park.
On the previous Saturday evening two school boys walking through the pedestrian underpass beneath the railway lines that run through the park claimed that a ghost had come out of the stone wall of the underpass and chased them. They described it as ‘a misty, bluish-white thing’ that looked like a human torso with no head, no arms and no legs below the knee.
One of the boys had to be treated for shock at nearby Royal Brisbane Hospital. All this was reported in the next morning’s newspaper and Brisbane was instantly plunged into the grip of ghost mania.
Every night thereafter for more than a week, huge crowds gathered in the park and surrounding area in the hope of catching a glimpse of, the ghost. There were families with babies and wide-eyed children in pyjamas; men dressed in singlets, shorts and thongs; men in dinner jackets; women in toweling mu-mus and women in fashionable cocktail dresses. There were young girls in short shorts and youths with long hair and leather jackets. Picnic hampers, thermos flasks and bottled beer were brought along. Meat pie and ice-cream vendors did a roaring trade.
And how did they all behave? Well, the majority treated the whole thing as a family outing and, apart from wandering too close to the railway tracks, behaved themselves tolerably well. But at around ten each night when the families had gone home (disappointed at not having seen the ghost), the gangs of youths took over. Drunken brawls were nightly events. Police cars were stoned.
Trains were belted with rocks, smashing carriage windows and showering terrified passengers with glass. Trees and fences were destroyed. Fires were lit wherever fuel could be uprooted or torn down. One maniac brought a flame thrower (‘to roast the ghost’, he said) and others threw crackers and let off marine flares. Until motor oil was poured over it and set alight the lake was used as a dunking pond. Police reinforcements were brought in and many of the thrill seekers woke up next morning in jail.
Grandparents tut-tutted but admitted the scenes were reminiscent of 1903 when the ghost appeared the first time. Parents did the same but added that the behaviour had not been nearly so bad in 1922 and 1932 when they turned out for the ghost’s second and third appearances.
‘This ghost does seem to bring out the worst in people,’ a City Council spokesman said. ‘Thank goodness it doesn’t turn on a really terrifying show and panic the crowds. People would die in the rush to escape.’ As it was, dozens suffered minor injuries, treated at a field station by St John’s Ambulance volunteers.
And what of the ghost? Was there one? Is there one? Well, observers in 1903 described it as looking like a three-metre tall nun in a grey habit. In 1922 and 1932 it was described simply as ‘a shimmering grey form’. If we accept the school boys’ description in 1965 and assume it is the same spectre, then it seems she, he or it has lost some bits between 1903 and 1965.
Two theories were put forward in 1965 to identify the spectre. One was that it was the ghost of a vagrant named Walter Hall who had been beaten to death with a bottle and his body dumped in the lake in 1952. The other suggested it was a Swede, Karl David Dinass, who was a suspect in a brutal murder case in 1960 and who committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train near the underpass. Neither theory takes into account the earlier sightings of the ghost.
All has been quiet in Victoria Park for the past thirty-plus years.
Perhaps major renovations to the underpass in 1984, or the more recent Motorway Bypass, have scared the ghost away or maybe it’s just biding its time and getting ready to make another appearance.