Wednesday, December 28, 2016

HGB Ep. 173 - Commissariat Store in Brisbane

Moment in Oddity - Posthumous Executions

A posthumous execution is a ceremonial or ritual mutilation of a corpse as a type of punishment. Most people probably think that it is a waste of time to disinter a body to ritually execute that person, but for Christians centuries ago, there was a real purpose behind the morbid practice. It was believed that a body needed to be buried facing the East and that the body needed to be whole and intact in order to meet God when the resurrection occurred. Dismemberment was believed to stop the body from rising, so it was considered a form of punishment. Corpses were generally hung in public for a time and then dismembered. Men like Oliver Cromwell and Robert Blake were subjected to posthumous executions. Cromwell's head was displayed on a stick for nearly 25 years and was never returned to his body. Even stranger is the fact that this practice still continues on even in the modern era. In 1986, General Gracia Jacques, who was a supporter of Haitian dictator Francois Duvalier was exhumed and his body was ritually beaten to "death." Bodies have also been unearthed to stand trial in the past. Interrogating or executing a dead body, certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Florence Lawrence Commits Suicide

On this day, December 28th, in 1938, the silent-film star Florence Lawrence commits suicide in Beverly Hills. She had been born as Florence Bridgewood in 1886 to a vaudeville actress. Her mother took her on the road and she soon was joining her mother on stage. She had her first movie role in 1907. She appeared in nearly 250 films and was so successful that she was able to buy her own car which was unheard of in the early 20th century. Although she was famous for being a silent film star, she was also a talented inventor. She designed the first “auto signaling arm,” which was a mechanical turn signal that worked by pressing a button that raised or lowered a flag on the car’s rear bumper that told other drivers which way a car was going to turn. She also invented the first mechanical brake signal that worked the same way. When a driver pressed the brake, a stop sign flipped up on the back bumper. Unfortunately,she did not patent these inventions and so she received no credit or profit from either of them. She was only 52 when she took her own life.

Commissariat Store in Brisbane (Suggested by Danika Ehlers)

The Commissariat Store in Brisbane is the second oldest building in the city and dates back to the early years when Brisbane was a penal colony. The penal settlement in Brisbane was the most violent and toughest on the continent. Convict laborers were used to build many of the early buildings in the settlement, which included the store. A violent confrontation during that construction seems to have led to at least one haunting at the store, but there could be more spirits hanging around this building that now houses a museum that includes some morbid artifacts among its displays. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Commissariat Store.

Brisbane is a very old city, one of the oldest in Australia. The area was inhabited by the Turrbal and Jagera Peoples and they called it Mian-jin, which means "place shaped like a spike." As was the case with much of early Australia, Brisbane started as a penal colony. The first European to discover Moreton Bay was James Cook in 1770. The English man who circumnavigated Australia and recognized it as a continent was Matthew Flinders and he was the first European to detail the Queensland coast more thoroughly, which he did in 1799. The bay is surrounded by red-colored cliffs and he called it Red Cliff Point. Flinders is who put forward the idea that Australia be named Australia as well.

The Governor of New South Wales was Sir Thomas Brisbane and he ordered further exploration of Moreton Bay because he wanted to establish a new northern penal settlement. Because of his leadership, the river was called the Brisbane and later the settlement would carry the same name. Non-convicts started coming to Brisbane in 1838 and by 1842, Brisbane was declared a free settlement. Queensland separated from New South Wales in 1859 and Sir George Ferguson Bowen became the first governor of Queensland. Brisbane was chosen as the capitol at that time, but it was not incorporated until 1902.

The Moreton Bay Penal Settlement was considered experimental at the time it was founded. Commandant Henry Miller was tasked with finding a good location. The first place he chose proved to be indefensible and malarial mosquitoes swarmed heavily. The second location was found in 1825 and was a triangle of land bounded on two sides by the Brisbane River and the escarpment which is now Wickham Terrace. An added bonus was that there was a natural barrier against escape. This settlement was as tough as they come. Only the most hardened criminals and re-offenders were sent to Moreton Bay. The prison was very violent and death from disease was rampant. Dress for the convicts were grey jackets with the word "Felon" painted across the back, trousers that buttoned at the side and leather hats. The convicts worked in chain gangs of up to 15 men and they were connected by fitted leg irons that had leather cuffs to prevent chaffing. Between the irons was a length of chain attached to a rope that was used to keep the chain from dragging on the ground.

One of the jobs given to the convict laborers was the building of the Commissariat Store that would be Queensland's first stone building. The construction began in 1827 and would last for approximately two years. The local aborigines would occasionally raid stocks of supplies for sugar and flour and so this store was built to be secure with walls over two feet thick. The building was set into the surrounding riverbank between William Street and Queens Wharf Road. It was a perfect location with a pier at the front of the building making the delivery of government supplies easy. These supplies included tools, seeds, grain and various other provisions. The goods stayed here until a department requisitioned them and these included stores at Dunwich, the pilot station at Amity Point and upriver to Ipswich.

When the penal settlement was closed the Commissariat Store building served a number of other purposes. It became a repository for the Queensland State Archives and later a migrant depot. It is one of only two buildings to have survived from the convict era. Today, the Royal Historical Society of Queensland has its headquarters located inside the Commissariat Store building. They opened a museum there with many artifacts that may carry the same affect as objects displayed at Ripley's Odditoriums. There is a bottle from the St. Helena Island Penal Establishment that has the finger from an unknown convict sealed inside and a gallows beam from Boggo Road Gaol. These kinds of objects sometimes carry energy within them that can lead to supernatural occurrences. And it would seem that something is haunting the store.

Employees that have been working in the building alone have reported hearing strange noises like disembodied footsteps in vacant parts of the building. A side door has this phantom footsteps phenomenon occur frequently, particularly after someone knocks on the door. It sounds as though someone is approaching to open the door, then comes to a stop, but the door never opens. Objects are routinely moved from one place to another over night. And shadowy figures are seen waving from the windows of the empty building.

It is thought that one of the ghosts of the store is a convict. The former president of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, Allan Bell, remarked to The Courier Mail in an article published on October 9th in 2009, that he didn't think the building was haunted even though there are reports that a ghostly convict roams the grounds. The story that is told is that two convicts were building something in the rear yard when one of them attacked the other with an axe. The victim was wheelbarrowed to the hospital where he later died. The convict that did the murdering was John Brungar. He had been a native of Kent and was convicted of a crime for which he was given a life sentence. This meant that he would have a free trip to the penal colony of Australia. He was loaded aboard the convict transport Prince Regent on Septmeber 17, 1819. There were 159 convicts abaord the ship with 43 of them being sentenced to life sentences of servitude in Australia.

The trip took four months and the ship landed in Sydney Cove. Brungar spent a year in Sydney before he got in trouble again and was  brought up on charges at Parramatta and another two years was added to his already life sentence. He was tranferred to Newcastle in March of 1821.Four months after arriving there, he broke out and fled into the bush. He was found quickly and was given 50 lashes as punishment. He kept up the best behavior for a while and was put on a detail to transport livestock from Windsor through to Wallis' Plains. It was a poor decision on the part of the authorities as Brungar took off again. He was found once again and given 75 lashes as punishment. The guy just couldn't stay out of trouble and he was brought up on charges again that added another seven years to his life sentence. There really was no choice, but to send Brungar on to the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement.

Brungar was assigned to the chain gang that was building the Commissariat Store. On September 27, 1828, Brungar would commit his final offense. Another convict named William Perfoot was working nearby digging the trenchwork, using a mattock. His mattock was considerably lighter than the other ones and Brungar wanted to get it for his own. He first asked Perfoot to hand over the mattock. The man, of course, refused. The two got into a tussle and the overseer told Brungar to move to the other side of the trenchwork. Brungar moved, but he was seething and plotting his revenge. At midday, he decided to carry out a plan of attack. He grabbed his mattock and ran across the pit until he reached Perfoot. He slammed the pick end of the mattock into the man's skull and it sunk in two inches. Perfoot fell over, but he was not quite dead. Brungar grabbed a shovel and started digging, pretending like nothing had happened. But everybody on the convict work detail had witnessed the crime. Perfoot was loaded into a wheelbarrow and carried up the hill to the hospital. He lived for six days before he finally died from his injuries. Brungar was sent to Sydney to face murder charges before the Supreme Court and he was found guilty. This time he did not have additional years added to his sentence. He was sentenced to die and he was hanged shortly thereafter. The convict haunting the store could be either Perfoot or Brungar. Neither actually died on the property, but their deaths were connected to it or it could be somebody else's spirit.

There are many ghost stories in Brisbane. We thought we would share a few that are not connected to any particular historical properties as documented by the Brisbane History website:
"In Bardon, 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 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."
"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."
A pickle factory had once stood on the corner of Adelaide and Wharf streets. It later became the home of Radio 4BC, but was demolished some time ago. Night-time radio announcers would complain that the broadcast room would get icy cold and that they would hear the sound of someone crying out for help. The sound usually came a dumb waiter like shaft. When the building had been the pickle factory, there was a staff tea room in the back where this shaft was used to bring up food. One day, a factory worker fell down that shaft when he was fixing the lift. Could this have been his spirit? And does it still haunt that corner?

Brisbane is another city in Australia that it seems we can add to the list of haunted cities. Do the spirits of those who died in or near some of these location, still roam about in the afterlife? Is the Commissariat Store that was built on the backs of convicts, holding on to some of that negative energy and now reflecting as hauntings? Is there a spirit of a formerly alive convict hanging around the museum? Is the Commissariat Store haunted? That is for you to decide!

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