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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Olde Haunted Oz: Convict Ghosts and Ghouls Galore

By John Wyatt - Australia is a big country with a small population but it nevertheless claims many very old ghost legends.

The following are golden oldies from each of the six State capital cities.

Sydney, New South Wales—-the harbour city was founded on January 26, 1788, (Australia Day) when the First Fleet arrived; more than 1,000 convicts and 200 guards and officials disembarked to begin European settlement in the new land.

The first crops failed however, and starvation stalked the town, and on March 27, 1789, six Royal Marines were hanged from a tree, possibly in Market St, for stealing food from the Government Stores. The prisoners were James Askew, James Baker, James Browne, Richard Dukes, Luke Haines and Thomas Jones, and they may not have rested easy. A visitor during the early 1810s later wrote

“The house in which we were at first domiciliated was one of the best in Sydney, having been built for - and, I believe occupied by - Governor Hunter [1795-1800]; its situation, too, was one of the finest in town; but—it was haunted!

“Near the spot on which it stood, the first executions had taken place, and tradition said, that some marines, who had been half hanged for robbing the stores, were buried, half-alive, just where the house was afterwards built... I have heard them often, but never saw them—though I am sure our big house-dog did; for, as soon as ever the home was shut up at night, he would take his station by the cellar-door, and howl so frightfully... I cannot think of it, even now, without quaking.” (The Australian 31 October, 1827, p3,4, reprinted from the London Magazine.)

Whether he heard ghosts or rats it is almost certainly the oldest haunted-house story in Australia.

Melbourne, Victoria—-this bustling city was founded by free settlers in 1835 and an old part of town may still be haunted by five 1840s gallows ghosts.

In 1842 the first prisoners were hanged on a gallows erected in Franklin St (near the City Baths). The first to go were Aborigines Bob and Jack - real names Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner – on January 20, and they were followed by bushrangers Charles Ellis, Daniel Jepps and Martin Fogarty, on June 28. All were buried in unmarked graves by the Old Melbourne Cemetery.

In 1867 the cemetery was closed and about 1,000 graves were relocated and 9,000 were left there. The site with 1000s of graves still under the grounds is today occupied by the Queen Victoria Market and an open-air carpark—and it's allegedly haunted. A market visitors' board in Peel St advises “The ghosts of five angry criminals, the first to be executed in the colony and subsequently buried in the old cemetery, are said to haunt the market.”

A Melbourne ghost hunter Drew Sinton who conducts ghost tours of the market precinct concurs, “One night, a security guard spotted three people on the grounds. As he drew near, they vanished! Many believe they're the ghosts of the three bushrangers."

"Two Tasmanian Aborigines, Bob and Jack, were buried at the site last century after their execution for the murder of a whaler at Port Fairy. Traditionally, Aborigines are buried where they were born. That's why the souls of Bob and Jack remain restless - their bones rest a long way from their home." (

Hobart, Tasmania—-this fine city was founded in 1804 as a British penal colony, and old ghost legends abound there.

The convict-built Richmond Bridge 25 kms N of Hobart was opened in 1825 (it is the oldest bridge still in use in Australia). During its construction a “flagellator” an ex-convict called George Grover was particularly cruel to his gang and in 1832 he mysteriously fell off the bridge and died from his injures by the Coal River.

The authorities arrested a suspect but due to doubts over Grover's sobriety there was no conviction. The Hobart press reported “At the trial of James Colman, under suspicion of having assisted Drover [sic] over the parrapet of Richmond Bridge, there were no fewer than 40 witnesses on the part of the prosecution. The Jury returned... finding the prisoner not guilty” (Hobart Colonial Times 19 June 1832, p3).

Witnesses over the years claim to have seen Grover's apparition and other paranormal phenomena on this bridge; and in 2012 Team Paranormal Australia investigators filmed orbs, and captured an EVP male scream - was it Grover? (To see the report visit )

Adelaide, South Australia—the 'city of churches' was founded by free settlers in 1835.

On May 2, 1838, the first prisoner was hanged in this city from the North Adelaide hanging tree. Michael Magee, 24, stood on the condemned cart and bravely addressed the 500 spectators, admitting his guilt to the attempted murder of the Sheriff. The signal was given and the cart pulled away but to the horror of all, Magee freed his hands, grabbed the rope and screamed in terror.

The hangman who was hooded or masked - and may have been a friend of Magee's and forced to carry out the gruesome task - fled the horror, but as he was the only person who could legally complete the execution the authorities forced him back to complete the execution, by leaping onto Magee.

Aussie ghost hunter Gordon Marshall relates this sighting of hanging-tree ghost, “One evening in the late 1940s a young tutor at St Mark’s College, the Reverend John Gent was returning from North Adelaide... and took a shortcut through the grassy triangle between Strangways Tce and Ward St, opposite Calvary Hospital.

“Cutting through some bushes he suddenly saw a tall, hooded figure who stepped out of the shrubs and whom he described as ‘incredibly sinister’. He fled and arrived at the High Table at nearby St Mark’s out of breath and somewhat jittery.

“On telling of his encounter, the Master, Sir Archibald Grenfell Price roared with laughter and told him he had seen ‘The Hangman’.

“In this case the Hangman’s extreme nervousness and probable guilt may have caused him or some projection of him to remain about the site more than a hundred years after the execution.”
( )

Perth, Western Australia—-this city was founded in 1829 as the capital of the Swan River Colony and it was a British convict dumping ground for many years.

John Gaven,15, the first European legally hanged in WA was a transportee from Parkhurst prison for young offenders. After arriving in Fremantle he was apprenticed to the Pollards, a pioneer family at South Dundalup, S of Perth. He seemed to fit in nicely until February 21, 1844, when a son George Pollard, 17, was found murdered in his bed--struck several times to the head with an adze (a wood-carving axe).

John Gaven was charged with the murder and based largely on the mother's evidence a jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to death.

On April 6, 1844, John Gaven was taken from the Round House Prison, Fremantle, and executed on nearby gallows in front of a small crowd. His body was buried in an unmarked grave in nearby sand dunes without much ceremony. His ghost allegedly haunts the former prison, perhaps because he was innocent; researchers believe the mother may have, perhaps unwittingly, killed her son while suffering severe depression.
( For more see )

Brisbane, Queensland—this city of sun and surf was founded as a grim penal settlement for re-offenders in 1824.

Life in the Morton Bay settlement was hard for prisoners but it became almost unendurable when Capt Patrick Logan , 35, 57th Regiment, arrived in 1825. The new camp commandant dished out lashes for often trivial offences and an abiding enmity grew among the inmates. The Tyrant left two famous ghost legends.

The story goes, Capt Logan was riding a horse in what is today South Brisbane when he spotted a prisoner by the road. Logan ordered the man to walk ahead, back to the settlement - where 150-300 lashes awaited - but the fellow grabbed a stirrup and stared with hatred at Logan. Logan hit him with his riding whip, but the crop passed through struck the horse, which bolted down the road with the spectre holding to the stirrup.

Capt Logan later told colleagues the spectral face resembled the prisoner Stimson. Stimson had dared to escape three times and had died on the whipping post, after being recaptured on the same stretch of road.

Capt Logan is remembered as an explorer - geographical features in the Brisbane area carry his name - and in early October 1830 he led a survey expedition to explore the head of the Brisbane River. He took one freed man and perhaps unwiesly some convicts with him. On October 17 the party encountered restless natives and Logan ordered his men to stay put while he rode ahead, and he never returned. The party found his body the following day, apparently murdered by Aborigines with nulla nullas. His horse also lay nearby.

Meanwhile, in Brisbane 70 kms away, at noon on October 18, and before the news reached town, a gang of convicts toiling by the Brisbane River claimed they saw Logan on the opposite bank. He was on horseback and imperiously signalling for the ferry. When convict rowers reached there he had vanished.

Brisbanites claim Logan's spectre still appears from time to time and one website says “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 Bris¬bane 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.” ( )

There old Aussie legends were, of course, chips from a large stone.


1. Haunted Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne—photo Jon Wyatt

2. QVM 'Graves and Ghouls' public notice—photo Jon Wyatt

3. Richmond Bridge, Tasmania—photo Jon Wyatt

4. Former Roundhouse Prison, Fremantle

5. Portrait of Capt Logan

Copyright Jon Wyatt 2015 - Wordcount 1693

Jon Wyatt is a freelance writer in Melbourne, Australia -

The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding

The HAUNTS of ADELAIDE: History, Mystery and the Paranormal

Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia

A Commonwealth of Thieves: The Improbable Birth of Australia

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