Your Guide to the Ghosts of Tasmania
Island of Ghosts
The title might sound dramatic, but Tasmania apparently teems with members of the afterlife. It is no small wonder either—the island saw mass murders and graves, violent criminals, and an unforgiving penal system that cost the lives of many inmates. Located south of Australia, it remains one of the most gorgeous places in the world today. But postcard beaches and the lull of everyday normality sometimes makes it easy to forget the shadows furled so deeply into the island's soil and history.
Author's Boo: Please note that I have never washed ashore on Tasmania. Therefore, I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the following stories or claims, but present them, as always, for those who love their chills and thrills.
No brave investigation into Tasmania's past is complete without making a turn at Port Arthur. Said to be Australia's most haunted spot and one of the planet's most paranormal locations, Port Arthur was built entirely by convict hands. There was a brutal prison, now a museum, that contained the most hardened of male convicts. The skeletons of nearly 2,000 inmates huddle in mass graves on the nearby Isle of the Dead and eventually the captive population dwindled so much that the Penitentiary closed in 1877. Today, Port Arthur is a World Heritage site that attracts many tourists. Some go there especially for the ghost factor. On top of the old cases, Port Arthur continues to rack up so many new sightings that one cannot list them all.
The Civilians and Soldiers
The small town's civilian ghosts don't appear in any malicious fashion. The Blue Lady hangs around the parsonage and is believed to be a teenage wife lost during childbirth. Unseen hands ring the bell at the Port Arthur Church and children laugh upstairs at the medical officer's quarters. However, the military ghosts appear to be more brusque and tormented. For over a hundred years, people have claimed to hear the long-dead moans of Commandant Charles Booth who has a thing for weeping at the window at his residence. Apparently, he gets sad while looking at the colony. One can understand. A more physically active soldier still patrols the Power Magazine and likes to grab tourists by the arm. In addition, men in old-fashioned uniform have been spotted outside many of the buildings and in visitor's rooms.
Island of the Dead
There is not a happy ghost among them. In the empty prison itself, there are reportedly screams from death row and gloomy emotions envelope visitors in the cell where inmate William Carter hung himself. Inevitably, legends surrounding the prison's cemetery, the Isle of the Dead, also began circulating. The resident grave digger was an Irishman called Mark Jeffrey. The moody character was serving a sentence for manslaughter, but was allowed to live on the island by himself. One day the guards noticed smoke signals coming from the island and found Jeffrey in a panicked state. He described how his hut shook during the night and lit up with a red glow. The grave digger was convinced that the Devil had dropped by but after mentioning the Evil One, nobody took him seriously. Jeffrey was thought to have finally lost his mind due to the isolation and life of crime.
A Haunted Bridge
Australia's oldest bridge was built in 1823 by prisoners. The project lasted two years and linked the banks of the Coal River to allow smoother trading in Richmond. But give credit where it's due—Richmond Bridge is still standing and even proudly poses for tourist selfies. While no troll lives underneath, the bridge has its paranormal legends.
George Grover was a burglar and rapist sentenced in 1826. Since everybody needed to pull their weight on the project, he was given the position of overseer. However, he liked whipping and fighting the other men too much. At one point, somebody murdered Grover by throwing him off the bridge. He survived the fall and even named his attackers. But after he succumbed to his injuries the guilty party was never convicted. Some say a blind eye was turned because Grover was universally despised. In the following years, many claimed to have watched a ghostly figure cross the bridge. The cruel overseer is the number one suspect when people ask, “Who's haunting Ridgemond Bridge?”
The Old Hobart Gaol
Complete with solitary confinement, gallows and secretive underground passageways, the Old Gaol is fertile grounds for ghost stories. Around 50,000 prisoners saw the inside of this penitentiary and some walked to the execution yard and to their deaths. Dying under sudden and emotional circumstances has been linked to hauntings. The atmosphere and the history of the place also makes people more vigilant in case they see something not from this world. There are reports of moans and shadow people, especially at night. Perhaps the most disturbing at the Old Hobart is not something visible—but a very recognizable smell. While it may just be for effect, some tour guides mention the inexplicable reek of blood. Occasionally, it turns up at the place where the men were hanged.
In the southeast of Tasmania is a small town called Derwent River. It is home to the longest running licensed hotel in Australia, the Bush Inn. The two hundred year old building comes with a guest that will never grow up. In room six, the spirit of a little girl is said to linger. Nobody knows the details surrounding her life but a fall down the hotel's stairs is usually named as the reason she's stuck between worlds. Room six is available to the curious needing a place for the night. Perhaps the hope of seeing a real ghost will make up for the cramped, spartan surroundings. For some reason, the owners kept the original furniture and nothing else—a small bed and a chair.
Haunted Historic Building
This historic home was raised in 1838 by Britton Jones. A man who changed his ways, he was a former criminal who went legit and opened an inn and brewery. These days Franklin House belongs to the National Trust and several volunteers taking care of the residence have reported odd happenings. Things move around and ghost hunters claim to have found hot spots, a light beam that moves up (or down, sometimes both) the main stairway and a ghost whispering the name “Will” when asked its name. Nobody has a clue who Will is.
Something for Everybody
This collection of Tassie hauntings is by no means exhaustive or complete. Every old building and field seem to have a ghost story of its own. Together with Tasmanian devils, tulips, and quaint villages, the island's tragic history and paranormal elements blend together a unique flavour that few visitors will ever forget.
© 2018 Jana Louise Smit