In this series, I take a look at some historical accounts of ghostly encounters published in newspapers. In this edition, we read the words of a 'victimised tenant' published in 1888 about his experiences in a Haunted House in Melbourne Australia.
The following article was published in the Argus Newspaper on Saturday October 20th 1888
A Haunted House In Melbourne : By the Victimised Tenant
At the time of the despatch of Australian troops to the Soudan, it was proudly de-clared by the colonial press that Australia had come of age. But no country can be properly considered to have reached maturity until it has attained the dignity of having haunted houses. If taking part in the wars of nations is to be considered the coming of age, the possession of haunted houses is certainly to be regarded as cutting the wisdom teeth. I consider myself, therefore, in one respect peculiarly fortunate in being able to announce that Australia has now at-tained to this dignity. Melbourne po-sesses a veritable haunted house. I say that I am in one respect peculiarly fortunate, but I am at the same time specially unfor-tunate in being the harassed tenant of that house. My house is haunted. Do not smile, reader, in that sceptical manner, but listen to what I have to say. I assure you that my family are frightened out of their wits. My wife, who declares she never knew what fear was, and who has often displayed more than feminine courage in the various countries we have travelled in, is now quite timid and un-nerved. Our servants refuse to sleep without a light in their room, and as to myself, though no one can lightly call me a coward, and though I am never afraid of encountering a foe that I can see or understand, yet I am not ashamed to say that the sense of being sur-rounded by mysterious and unseen agencies is anything but pleasant. Hear my story and judge for yourself.
I arrived in Victoria from England in a certain April, having brought my wife and family with me as far as Adelaide, where they remained behind to stay with some friends until I made arrangements for housing them in Melbourne, our future home. Arrived in Melbourne, I called upon an old schoolfellow with whom I was intimate in the old country a quarter of a century ago, and who since we last saw each other has grown into an Austra-lian Croesus, while I sharing the usual fate of the rolling stone, have gathered no moss. He welcomed me with colonial heartiness, and then explained that he and his family were about to take a trip to England, and he offered me the use of his magnificent suburban house while he was away, modestly detracting from the generosity of the offer by saying that the advantage of my accepting it would be mutual. Such an offer of course could not be refused, and accord-ingly, in due course I took possession, sus-pecting nothing. The house is one of those towered mansions which are characteristic of the Melbourne suburbs ; it is surrounded by several acres of paddock and garden land in a quiet unfrequented neighbourhood, and the only noises which disturb the serenity of its sheltered seclusion are the sounds of occasional traffic on the neighbouring main road and the puffing of the hourly trains to Melbourne. The air blowing up from the bay is fresh and balmy, and altogether the spot is a most desirable one for a man just escaped from the perpetual hum of busy life.
For ten days after taking possession of the house I lived there alone, waiting for my family to join me. During that time there was absolutely no one else on the premises except the gardener, who lived in an out-house sufficiently far from the main building to be out of calling distance. And often during those cool autumn evenings I wan-dered up and down the garden, thinking of the rural delights which awaited me if I suc-ceeded in making a fortune in this " Land of the Golden Fleece." and little suspecting that I was walking about in the playground of the supernatural. No such ideas ever entered my head, and if they had they would have re-ceived no attention whatever, for since nur-sery days I have always regarded such things as utterly absurd and beneath the consider-ation of sensible men. And besides there was nothing about the place to suggest such ideas. There were no ivy-clad passages or recesses, no ruined battlements, no moulder-ing crypt or dungeon, no darkened and deserted rooms. The house, computed even according to colonial history, could not be considered an old one ; it was built only in 1870. There had not been even a death in the house ; there was no domestic tragedy connected with it ; no murder, no foul deeds of ancient date ; no fair damsel had lingered there in pining broken-heartedness over faithless love. Indeed, there was nothing which the most superstitious mind could suppose would lead to the uneasy wandering of disembodied spirits.
After having been there a week, however, as I was walking about one bright moonlight even-ing, in a somewhat melancholy mood, think-ing of the various vexed problems of life, and listening to the sad soughing of the breeze in the pine trees, I was startled by hearing foot-steps behind me. I turned to look, thinking it might be the gardener coming from the house, but there was absolutely no one to be seen. I had been warned that housebreakers were not unknown in the neighbourhood, and that it was necessary to see that all the doors were kept locked during the night. But this was too early for housebreakers, it being only half-past 7 in the evening, and, besides, the footsteps were evidently caused by some one with heeled boots. I called out " Who's there?'' There was no answer I concluded it must be nothing, and would have taken no further notice of the matter, but on turning to walk towards the house I heard the footsteps most plainly on the asphalt in front of me. There was no mistaking the matter this time, they were distinct rapid footsteps, approaching nearer and nearer, until when they seemed close up to me they died away. This was decidedly strange. I went to call the gardener, but found that he was out and his room was locked up. If you think of my lonely posi-tion you will not blame me for feeling not altogether easy. Still I did not regard the matter seriously ; and, after going into the house to light my pipe, continued my stroll, not returning, however, to that particular part of the grounds. That night I slept soundly enough and was not disturbed by housebreakers, or by anything else beyond the noise of the rats under the basement. The noise of the rats, I should say, was sometimes very troublesome, being so loud as to wake one out of a sound sleep. It is astonishing what an effect the harsh rasping of a rat, or even the gentle gnawing of a little mouse, may have upon a disturbed brain. There are some people who have never experienced this effect—people, for instance, who boast that they do not know what fear is, and who are proud of their courage. I may say, in parenthesis, that I do not believe in the courage of such people. They are not courageous, but simply insensible.
A man who does not know from personal experience what fear is does not know either what courage is, for courage is not the absence of fear but the quality which enables a man to overcome fear. It is the man of sensitive temperament, whose quick perception and lively imagina-tion lead him at once to picture all the evils of a confronting danger, and who, in spite of a natural shrinking from those evils, goes up to encounter the object of danger, and deals with it according to the dictates of judgment, who displays real courage. Let a man of nervous temperament be placed in a big house all alone, in a quiet, secluded locality, and let him retire for the night into a large darkened room, and if, when he has put out the gas, and he is just dozing off to sleep with confused thoughts in his brain of mysterious footsteps, such as I had heard that evening, a little mouse begins to gnaw at the wainscot close to the head of his bed, we need not say that he will be absolutely afraid, but he will wish that little mouse had chosen some other time and place for its midnight operations. And so, though I slept soundly enough that night, yet I could very well have dispensed with the noise of the rats. The next day I said nothing to the gardener about the footsteps, but mentioned to him that the rats were very troublesome, and that I should like him to see that the cats were all in the house the next night. He looked at me with his quaint grim old face, and said, with a peculiar smile to which I gave no significance at the time—" Yes, the rats is very noisy in this house sometimes."
Four days afterward i my wife and little ones arrived by the P. and O. steamer, and I had forgotten all about the mysterious footsteps. As my wife had brought with her a nursemaid, and a servant had been engaged to be in readiness on her arrival, the house had now a comfortable inhabited appearance. We were busy the next day or two in unpacking and getting things straight, and so had no time to look about the place together. But three days after, the greater part of our household duties having been completed, we took the oppor-tunity of a clear evening to go out and enjoy the fragrance of the garden walks. We were strolling together along a footpath running parallel to the house about 50ft. away, and on the side opposite to the one where I had heard the strange footsteps. The matter of those footsteps had completely disappeared from my mind, and we were thinking of very different things, when my wife said to me all suddenly, "Archy, what is that?" "What is what, Rosy?" I replied. " I am sure I heard someone walk-ing on the verandah," she said. "Nonsense, dear," I replied, "You can see the whole length of the verandah ; there is no one there." Nevertheless I immediately remem-bered the mysterious invisible pedestrian of the week before. "I am sure I heard foot-steps," she replied, as we continued our walk. "Hark, there they are again ; don't you hear them?" I did hear them plainly enough, but professed not to do, and said that she was fatigued and overwrought with her recent travels and unpacking. The foot-steps this time appeared mixed and halting, as if there were two persons walking in an undecided manner ; but they were very dis-tinct, more so than those I had previously heard. We discontinued our walk, and went in, determined to think no more of the matter. The next day when in town I casually mentioned this matter to a friend. "Yes," he said, "those footsteps have been heard before, and in one case a lady visitor at that house was so frightened by them that she became nervously affected, and refused to stay there any longer."
During the following six days nothing more occurred to disturb our peace, except the nightly tumult of the rats, which in itself was sufficient to alarm a timid person. On the seventh day, however—a Thursday, as marked down in my diary—about 10 o'clock at night, as my wife was going upstairs to a portion of the house we had not yet visited, she had almost reached the upper landing when she was suddenly startled by the faling of a thick, heavy, black stick, ap-parently from the ceiling. She uttered an exclamation of alarm, and on my immediately running to see what was the matter I found her standing trembling with a shattered lamp in her hand. The stick was lying where it fell ; but though I had the place most care-fully searched there was no sign of anyone having been there recently except ourselves ; all the doors and windows were properly fastened ; nor could we gain any clue as to where the stick had come from. The mystery of the house was beginning to grow, and we could no longer shake from our minds the feeling that there was something uncanny about the place.
A few days after this mysterious event we were sitting quietly one evening in the break-fast-room when the house began to shake over our heads, the glasses rattled in the chiffonier, and we felt our seats tremble under us. This was evidently an earthquake, as we surmised at once ; and as was proved by the reports in the newspapers next morn-ing. But happening, as it did, in the midst of a series of less easily explainable occur-rences, it helped not a little to make us feel the insecurity of our new abode.
However, matters went on quietly enough for the next week or more, and we began to think that we had, perhaps, given too much play to our imaginations. But on the 4th of June, a Thursday—mark the coincidence of the day—we were awakened in the middle of the night by the most frightful noises it is possible to imagine. I had just got to sleep after several vain endeavours, for the children had been very fretful that evening (we could not tell why ; perhaps children are more impressionable by supernatural agencies than are grown up people and I had scarcely got beyond the stage of preliminary dozing, when the room be-came filled with a most unearthly commo-tion, and I felt myself bathed, as it were, in an undefinable pandemonium of sound.
"Good gracious!" I exclaimed, painfully opening my eyes, "Whatever is to do?" My poor wife said nothing, but jumped out of bed, looking as pale as a ghost, turned up the gas, and prepared for whatever might happen. It was impossible to make out what the noise was, or decide from whence it came. At one time it seemed to be in our own room, filling it entirely ; at another it seemed to be rolling about along the roof outside ; now it was apparently oozing up through the flour ; and now it seemed to be coming from the nursery, which was next to our room. It was a strange hollow quasi-thundering sound—now like a dozen cannon balls dancing on a hollow floor ; now Iike muffled drumsticks beating on resounding walls ; now a confused banging and shaking as if a score of demons had been let loose from an infernal bedlam. It is no exaggeration to say that the noise and tumult was simply indescrib-able ; its nature can only be suggested by these comparisons. Presently the bewilder-ing uproar seemed to have broken loose, and to be rolling and leaping along the corridor ; and then there was a wild piercing shriek, and a violent rattling at our door handle. For my own part I was at first completely dazed, and I must confess unnerved. Had there been a robber in the room, or had someone presented a loaded pistol at me, I should have known what I had to deal with and acted accordingly.
But in the present case it was impossible to make out what was wrong ; the foe, if foe it were, was unseen ; the noise was without location, undefined, mysterious, and incom-prehensible.
On only one other occasion in my life have I been similarly circumstanced. On that occasion I was walking through a mountain jungle in the south of India. The jungle was known to be infested with bears, cheetas, and wild elephants, notably by a wandering "rogue" elephant which had killed one man and attacked six others. It was also reported that bison and tigers were not unknown there. I had fre-quently to traverse on foot and alone a path which penetrated seven miles into that jungle, and it was my custom to carry a carbine as a means of defence in case I should come across anything more dangerous than a sambar or a monkey. (The carbine, of course, would have been no protection against the elephant ; I took care to avoid his fresh tracks.) On this occasion, for some reason or other, I had left the carbine be-hind, and carried nothing more formidable than a stout rattan. I had got about three and a half miles from my mountain shanty, and was just at the bottom of a little valley where the jungle was very close and thick, completely obscuring the sky, though not so tall as on the mountain sides, when I heard in the near neighbourhood a low slow rhythmic whooping sound. What this sound was I could not for the life of me imagine. The hoarse snarl of a bear, the growl of a cheeta, and the trumpeting of an elephant, I had heard and could recognise, as also the hoo-hooing of the big black monkey. The natives there believe in all kinds of sylvan devils, and this might have been caused by one for anything I could say to the contrary, for it was a weird sound I had never heard before, nor could it be ascribed to any known animal. It was approach-ing, however, coming rapidly nearer and nearer—w—w—whoo, w—w—whoo, w—w—WHOO, W—W—WHOO—in a loud overwhelming crescendo, until it seemed close upon me, filling the whole jungle with deafening vibrations, which made me glance about in perfect bewilderment. It was im-possible to tell from which direction it came ; there was no sound of crushing branches, no heavy tread. It was at this moment, when the sound seemed close upon me, and I was utterly at a loss to know what was the danger and how to cope with it, that I ex-perienced a feeling precisely similar to that which was caused by the pandemonium up-roar of my haunted house. I did not tremble nor sink to the ground in helpless fright, but walked along automatically, vaguely im-agining what might happen next. The cres-cendo, having reached its height, was succeeded by a corresponding diminuendo, and the danger, whatever it might have been, disappeared. I afterwards remembered that there had been some great yellow-beaked hornbills about the jungle the last few days, large toucan-like birds, whose outstretched wings must have measured 7ft. across, and whose flight could be heard when they were 1,000ft. above one's head. It was no doubt one of these, which had been perched on a neighbouring tree top, but quite impercep-tible owing to the dense jungle, and which, having been warned off by the sound of ap-proaching footsteps, had flown immediately over my head not more than 30ft. above me, that had been the cause of my consternation.
But to return to the haunted house. At the sound of the wild shriek and the violent rattling at the door-handle (which gave the tumult some definite location, and so to speak furnished a handle by which to lay hold of the matter), I collected my thoughts, slipped on a dressing gown, and hastened to see what was the matter, thinking that the nursemaid, who slept in the next room, had gone violently mad. On the door being opened she was found standing there shiver-ing in the cold, her hair all dishevelled, and crying hysterically. She blurted out that there was a man in her room, she was sure ; that he had rattled a stick on the floor five times, and made it move towards her ; whereupon she had jumped up, rushed out of the room, locked the door, and come to us for protection. It seemed very improbable that there was a man in her room, but it was well to be prepared for the worst ; so I got the rifle and some cartridges, went out and called up the gardener, and made ready to enter the room. The situation as we stood there waiting to go in, had it not been seriously annoying, would have been highly amusing. There was myself in thin night apparel, shivering with cold, my hand on the door key ready to turn it and rush upon the intruding occupant whoever he might be ; my wife, as white as a sheet, with compressed lips, was handing me the poker ; the old gardener with his grim face was standing behind, fingering the rifle ; and there was a chorus of the hysterical nursemaid and the crying children. " Now, are you ready?" I said and turned the key ; all eyes were intent, all hearts were palpi-tating, and in we rushed, finding, of course, no one. We searched under the bed, looked in the wardrobe in the recesses, in the drawers even. There was absolutely nothing. But the maid persisted, and persists to this day, in saying that the stick in question was not where she placed it before going to bed. and as it was undoubtedly proved that we had none of us touched it, it must have been moved by someone or something unknown. We retired again for the night, feeling nothing the better for the disturbance. My wife declares that she has never got over the fright of that evening ; and indeed the demoniacal uproar so loudly heard in our room was enough to shake the stoutest heart. There remain to be explained two things—the tumultuous noise in the one room, and the mysterious moving of the stick in the other.
Sufficient has been said already to show that we are justified in regarding the house as haunted. Mysterious footsteps, dropping and moving of sticks and unearthly noises, not to speak of rustling sounds in the chim-neys, and plaintive moanings which we have heard from time to time, are surely enough to stamp any place as being the abode of the supernatural. But there is one more occurrence which has yet to be related, and which is the strangest of all. It is an incident without parallel in the traditions of ghost lore. Aus-tralia is a new country, with new institutions, and one should not, therefore, be surprised to find that Australian ghosts have struck out on new lines. But one need not, there-fore, be prepared to excuse them for open ill doing. ln the old country ghosts preserve at least some respectability of character ; they confine their operations to noises and appari-tions ; they may rattle chains through the house, or present themselves with pale faces and transparent bodies ; but they never go beyond such immaterial manifestations. They never do palpable damage to property, damage that can be estimated in pounds, shillings, and pence, but the disembodied spirit which haunts my house must be a larrikin amongst ghosts, for anything more inanely mis-chievous than the event I have now to record it is impossible to conceive. It was on a Thursday night, a fortnight after the last related incident, that this event took place. We had all retired for the night, and were sound asleep, when we were awoke by a hurried knocking at our door. On opening it we found the nursemaid standing there, who said, with an alarmed face, that she and her fellow-servant had been awakened in the middle of the night by the heavy touch of something cold and clammy. Horrified beyond measure, as one can well imagine, they sprang out of bed. The room was faintly illuminated by the midnight moon, but there was nothing to be seen. They found, however, that their bed clothes were saturated with some cold liquid, and the floor of their room was flooded. On striking a light, they saw a stream of water running down through the ceiling. Well, there was nothing par-ticularly strange about this. There was a large rain water tank on the roof of the house, and it seemed likely that this tank had burst. I run upstairs (we slept on the ground floor) to see what was the matter, and was followed by the whole of the awakened household. The water was running all down the stairs into the hall below, flooding every-thing, and doing no small amount of damage.
To our great astonishment, when we arrived at the upper landing, we found a water tap there turned full on. Who could have turned it on? This tap was never used, as we did not inhabit the upper part of the house. It seemed very unlikely that the maid servants would have done such a foolish and mischievous act ; still of course suspicion fell upon them. I imme-diately turned off the tap, and began to ques-tion them about it, when what was our utter consternation at seeing the tap actually and deliberately turn on of itself before our very eyes. This was too much. The house really must be haunted. Even the society for Psychical Research would have found a difficulty in accounting for such a pheno-menon. The nursemaid declared she could see a shadowy hand turning it on. I may not be believed in what I say, but this turning on of the tap before our own eyes without any visible agency is an undeniable fact, and I can bring forward incontestable evidence to prove it. We turned off the tap a second time and then removed the key. And after this was done, the tap was not turned on again. Evidently, whatever agency was concerned in the matter, it could not act without the aid of the key. It took us some time to dry up the flood of water. We had to light fires, and to employ all the towels and cloths we could lay hands upon. The ceiling in some places will, of course, have to be re-plastered.
And here I think must end the record of mysterious events which have occurred at our haunted house. And, reader, let me as-sure you that it is in the main a true record ; the events related are facts, not fiction. They are no pure inventions of my labouring brain. Had I been set to work to invent a story of a haunted house, I should have written something very different. You will admit that there is a matter-of-fact appearance about the record which could scarcely have been given to it had it not been based on fact. Imagination has had very little play in the production of it. The mysterious foot-steps have been heard, and have caused serious alarm. The stick did fall from the landing ceiling, though it happened before we came into the house. The tumultuous uproar in our room and the moving and rap-ping of the stick on the floor in the next room did occur. And the turning on of the tap of itself twice, once before our own eyes, and the consequent flooding of a portion of the house, was an actual fact. And it is out of such facts as these—facts often not nearly so mysterious or appalling—that the fertile brains of fiction writers have in times past invented their stories of haunted houses. But notwithstanding all that has occurred, I do not believe in haunted houses, nor in ghosts, nor in any other of the vulgar displays of supernaturalism. All the facts can be accounted for simply and satisfactorily enough on purely natural grounds. The mysterious footsteps were nothing more than echoes, distinct enough and near enough to startle anyone in a lonely place who had not been previously warned about them. The falling of the stick from the ceil-ing was due to an ingeniously devised man-trap, which had been fixed up with invisible threads, and subsequently forgotten. The mysterious rapping and moving of the stick on the floor was due to the fact that the stick had been leaned up against the blind, and, the window not having been quite closed, the blind had slowly waved about with the wind, and had caused the stick to move with it. The maid who was frightened by the oc-currence had partaken of an indigestible supper that night, and had been tossing about with incipient nightmare. The tremendous noises heard in our room were due to the fact that our room acted as a sounding-box to the next room, and the noise caused by the frightened maid jumping out of bed, leaping across the floor, banging and locking the door after her, which, no doubt, were loud enough in her own room, were intensified tenfold to us by the resonant action of our room. Indeed, we can at any time reproduce such noises at will. A little manikin placed in the body of a violin, even though that violin were played by a Kruse or a Remenyi, would scarcely consider the internal din which oppressed his ears as sweet music. And we were in a similar position, our room being like the sounding-box of a gigantic instrument. The rustling in the chim-neys, and the plaintive moanings were, of course, due to the wind and the rats and birds in the chimneys. And the strange and mysterious turning on of the tap was owing to the way in which the tap had been fixed, and the position of the key. It was not an ordinary house-tap with a fixed handle, but one of those which are turned by a removable square-headed key. And it was fixed, not projecting horizontally in the usual manner, but vertically, and when the tap was turned off the key had been so placed as to be horizontal, so that the weight of the key tended to make it turn downwards, just as the hands of a clock when they are loose, tend to drop down to half-past 6. The tap, for some reason or other, had become loose, probably owing to the unequal con-traction of its parts during the exceptionally cold night, and the weight of the key had made it turn on. And thus ends the strange story of my haunted house.
You can see the full article here on Trove. This article was already translated, however, I have had to fix parts of it, so there may be some small errors. Stay tuned for more Ghosts of the past!
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