Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Spooky Stories

The Phantom of Melbourne’s Princess Theatre.

Image courtesy Mat Connolley, Wikimedia Commons. No changes made.

In the early 1990s, I visited the Princess Theatre in Melbourne for a performance of Phantom of the Opera. It was a memorable evening, and the theatre itself is a magnificent building, but behind the glamour lies a different story. The theatre’s history has a tragic past, one that has its very own ‘phantom of the opera.’

Federici was the stage name of English baritone Frederick Baker, who enjoyed success in musicals such as The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. In June 1887, Federici arrived in Melbourne, with his wife and children, to give a series of performances.

In March 1888, the production of the opera, Faust, premiered at the Princess Theatre, where Federici was to play the role of Mephistopheles. During the final act, Mephistopheles wrapped Faust in his scarlet cloak, surrounded by smoke, dragging him into the fiery depths of hell. A trapdoor had been created on stage for the dramatic effect, but as the trap was reaching the cellar floor, Federici collapsed and died of a heart attack. Despite efforts from a doctor, and yes, even the use of galvanic batteries, he could not be revived.

Interior of the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, 1865. Samuel Calvert. Published in The Illustrated Melbourne Post. State Library of Victoria. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Shortly after he was buried, stories began to circulate of cold spots on and beneath the stage, and people being touched by invisible hands. Over the years, there had been numerous reported sightings of a man’s dark figure within the theatre, either on stage or seated in the dress circle.

One sighting was by a wardrobe mistress and a fireman who was patrolling the theatre in 1917. At 2.30am, they saw a man in evening dress sitting in the middle of the second row of the dress circle, staring at the stage. He sat motionless, his white shirt glowing. They watched him for some minutes before returning to work. About an hour later, the wardrobe mistress returned to the dress circle to find the man still sitting there.

Throughout the years, numerous staff and performers have had encounters, leaving some investigators to believe there may be more than one ghost.

In the early 1980s, The Princess Theatre closed and was eventually bought and restored to its former glory. Despite continued incidents, the owner is happy for Federici to stay, believing he’s a friendly ghost and is considered part of the family.

These days, for every opening night performance, a third-row seat of the dress circle is left empty for Federici, as a sign of respect.

Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Spooky Stories

The Legend of Fisher’s Ghost.

Image courtesy geralt on Pixabay.

There are reports throughout the world of ghosts haunting locations to avenge their deaths, or anxious that their remains be cared for. One report, set in Australia during the early 19th century, would go on to capture the public’s imagination.

Frederick Fisher came to Australia as a convict, but would eventually be released for good behaviour, earning what was known as a ‘ticket of leave.’ He acquired 30 acres (twelve hectares) of land in Campbelltown, about 56 km (34 miles) from Sydney.

He became good friends with neighbour, George Worrall, a fellow ‘ticket of leave’ man. At one point, Fisher got into a fight with another man and pulled a knife. The man was not badly hurt, but Fisher was arrested. Fearful his land would be seized; Fisher gave power of attorney of his property and possessions to Worrall. He served his sentence and was released six months later. Shortly after, Fisher disappeared.

George Worrall informed the locals that Fisher had decided to return to London, a story that was believed for a little while. Doubts began to surface when Worrall tried to sell one of Fisher’s horses, using a forged document as proof of purchase. The police became involved and issued an award for the discovery of Fisher’s body.

When questioned, Worrall changed his story, saying he witnessed Fisher’s murder, but was not involved in his death. He named the killers, and they were eventually released due to lack of evidence.

Artist’s impression.

One night, a short distance from Fisher’s home, a farmer by the name of John Farley, saw a figure sitting on the top rail of a fence. Drawing nearer, he discovered it was Frederick Fisher. He was pale, with a blood dripping down his face from a head wound. He let out a loud moan, raised his arm and pointed in the direction of a nearby creek.

Shortly after, a police search was conducted with the aid of an aboriginal tracker. A body was discovered in a shallow grave. It was a gruesome find, for the man’s head was battered and the back of the skull had been struck with a sharp object. The body was later identified as that of Frederick Fisher.

George Worrall was arrested and found guilty. Before his execution, he confessed to the murder, stating that he had acted alone.

There was no mention of the ghost in any documentation, but the story was quickly circulated and became folklore. Sceptics believed that John Farley invented the story as he knew the whereabouts of the body, but on his deathbed, he swore his story to be the truth.

Whether John Farley saw the ghost of Frederick Fisher or not, the incident has gone on to become Australia’s most celebrated ghost story.

Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Inspiration, Spooky Stories, The Curse of Marsden Hall, The Story Behind the Story

The Ghost of Ascot House.

Rumours of a ghost at Ascot House in Queensland, Australia, have been circulating as far back as the 1890s. It wasn’t until some one-hundred years later, that the ghost could finally be put to rest.

Ascot House was built for wealthy businessman and politician, Frederick Holberton, in 1876, and was originally named ‘Tor’. Situated in Newtown, a suburb of Toowoomba, it once stood on 13ha (32 acres) of land. It eventually changed hands, and the new owner renamed it Ascot House, and undertook numerous renovations. Ascot House contained a gothic tower, sweeping staircase and large high-ceilinged rooms.

Many years later, the house would fall into a state of disrepair. During the 1940s, flats had been added, which housed people looking for cheap accommodation. It was not until the 1980s that the house was sold to a successful renovator, who proceeded to bring the house back to its former glory.

Artist impression of Ascot House. Artist unknown.

No sooner had the new owner moved into Ascot House, that she would hear footsteps walking down the hallway at night but seeing no-one. Once, during the early hours of the morning she felt fingertips brush her shoulders. One warm evening, she leaned against a wall where the surface was icy cold. The cold patch lasted for months and defied explanation.

There have been numerous eye-witness accounts, including one man who saw the apparition of a young woman that looked as if her neck was broken. It had been rumoured that a young servant girl had hung herself within the house.

After many years of searching, the owner identified the young woman as Maggie Hume, who had worked at Ascot House as a housemaid under the employ of the original owner, Frederick Holberton. At 23 years of age, she committed suicide, not by hanging, but by taking strychnine. According to the police reports, it was believed she suicided after learning she was pregnant. At the inquest, a couple of male staff members confessed to having ‘connections’ with her.

As a single woman committing suicide, Maggie was buried in an unmarked grave. Now, a headstone has been placed at the site, giving her the sympathy she never received in life.

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Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Spooky Stories

The Ghost of The Blue Mountains.

Australia’s colonial history has a bloodied past, with some of these stories handed down into folklore. The story of a ghost at Mount Victoria Pass is no exception and had been popularised in Australian literature during the 1890s.

The ghost is believed to be that of a young woman by the name of Caroline Collits. She married her husband, William, in 1840. He came from a respectable family but was generally regarded as a person of ‘weak mind’ and a bit of a spendthrift.

Their marriage was not a happy one, and eventually, Caroline left him and moved in with her sister and brother-in-law, John Walsh. Caroline’s new housing arrangements caused rumours that she was having an affair with her brother-in-law and was regarded as a woman of ‘loose character.’

There was talk of a reconciliation with her husband, and together with her brother-in-law, met William in a local tavern. After leaving the tavern, John Walsh attacked William Collits. Caroline intervened, allowing her husband to escape and called after him to run for his life. This was the last time she was seen alive.

The ghost at Mount Victoria is Australia’s own ‘woman in black’.

Caroline’s battered body was found the following morning near the road on Victoria Pass. Her skull had been smashed in with a large stone, which had been found nearby, covered in her blood and hair. Despite his pleas of innocence, John Walsh was arrested for her murder. He was later convicted and hanged.

In the years that followed, rumours of ghostly encounters surfaced as travellers used the road on cold, windy nights. One such encounter involved a couple of young men whose horse became so spooked, it refused to go any further. As they moved closer to the bridge, the figure of a woman appeared, dressed in black. She did not move or utter a word. One of the young men described her eyes as if ‘there were sparks of fire in ‘em.’ She then went on to raise both her arms and open her mouth, making a noise which ‘sounded like no ‘uman or animal I ever ‘eard.’ The horse bolted, taking his male companions down the road with him.

This story would influence the poet, Henry Lawson, some years later when he came to live in nearby Mount Victoria. One of the verses described the incident as follows: –

Its look appeared to plead for aid
(As far as I could see),
Its hands were on the tailboard laid,
Its eyes were fixed on me.
The face, it cannot be denied
Was white, a dull dead white,
The great black eyes were opened wide
And glistened in the light.

‘The Ghost at the Second Bridge.’ Henry Lawson (1867-1922).

These days, the road is part of a busy highway, where the old bridges are barely visible. It would then come as no surprise that sighting of Caroline’s ghost in the area have not occurred for quite some time.

She may yet wander the road alone, her mournful cries unheard, but her story continues to live on.

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Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Inspiration, Spooky Stories, The Curse of Marsden Hall, The Story Behind the Story

The Ghosts of Bungarribee.

I love a good ghost story and I consume as many books on the subject as I can get my hands on. A couple of years ago, while perusing one of our local second-hand book shops, I found another book to add to my collection. It contained a few Australian ghost stories I had never heard of before. One of them, about a haunted house that was once located in Sydney’s western suburbs, would become the inspiration behind my novella The Curse of Marsden Hall.

In 1821, Major John Campbell arrived in Australia with his family, soon buying land around Eastern Creek. At the time, it was believed the site was where a battle between two warring Aboriginal tribes took place, some believing it was a sacred site. These have since been disproven and ‘Bungarribee’ means ‘creek with cockatoos’ or ‘creek with campsite’.

In 1822, the house was convict-built, with some convicts dying during the construction. It is believed that one was murdered there. As the house was nearing completion in 1826, John Campbell’s wife died. The last section of the house, a round drawing-room and tower, began the following year. It was during construction that John Campbell, himself, died less than twelve months later. After his death, the house would change hands many times. Rumours began to spread that the house was cursed, or even haunted; the first reference dating back to 1838.

Legend has it that the next death after the Campbell’s was that of an army officer. It is believed he lost a duel and shot himself in one of the tower rooms, his body in a pool of blood. Another army officer was later found at Bungarribee, his body discovered on the grounds. Apparently seeking refuge and escaping creditors, it is believed the words ‘died of hunger’, were written beside his body.

Bugarribee Homestead during better days.

A number of strange events seem to focus on the circular drawing room and its tower. In the room where the officer shot himself, bloodstains appeared on the floor. Despite the best efforts of housemaids, they would reappear the next day. Muffled sounds, scratching, and scraping would be heard in the tower, as well as the clanking of chains at night. While sleeping in one of the tower rooms, people would wake up feeling cold hands around their necks or be touched.

There have been reported sightings of a young woman, dressed in white, crying outside the circular drawing-room. Sometimes she would be seen clawing at the glass as if trying to gain entry into the room. There are also reported sightings of convict ghosts, lights in the tower rooms (when not occupied at the time), and animals, such as horses, refusing to go near the house.

By 1910, Bungarribee began to deteriorate with age and neglect, and the land was subdivided. By the early 1950s, despite some attempts at restoration, the house was a complete ruin. The Government bought what remained in 1956, and the house was demolished a year later.

Today, the site where the homestead once stood is a public reserve called Heritage Park. The ghost stories of Bungarribee continue to be handed down into folklore.

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