by Tracie Griffith
When we began our research into Port Fairy’s ghost stories, we started with a list of about 30 stories that we called our rumour file. They were simply the stories that members of the committee had heard over the years and which seemed as good a starting point as any for further research.
Despite finding evidence to back up the majority of the stories – and by that we mean first person accounts or secondary published sources – a handful continue to languish in the rumour file. We’ve also heard a few new stories that we can’t advance yet either.
Our publication deadlines are drawer nearer, so this blog is presenting those stories with a request for assistance, if there are any Port Fairians out there with additional information they can share.
We have permission to use two published accounts, but do not know the exact location of either story and would like further clarification if possible. If anyone can help us with these questions or corroborate the events described, we would love to hear from you.
The first story was published in The Moyne Gazette on the 1st February 1995 and reads as follows:
Whose was the first ghostly fiddle heard in the now unoccupied old home on Toolong road. Relaters of local legends claim to have heard incredibly beautiful violin music, mostly Celtic folk airs extremely well played.
I have visited on numerous occasions, sometimes in company, sometimes alone, at different hours of the day, hoping to but never hearing this first fiddler. The second fiddler I have heard while he was still alive, but after his demise nothing further has reached the ear. Certainly Anno Domini has crept up which in itself makes hearing more difficult, but as a lover of music, particularly of the Celtic sounds, if the second of the ghostly musicians practised his beloved art, I am the loser for others have claimed to have heard Ted playing, that is in his spirit form. Perhaps since going over to the other side he has found in me something he dislikes, hence his reticence to play for me.
Sitting and musing, the thought comes and I wonder if these two ghostly figures of the past ever play a duet. In my cynical eye (only one of these organs can see any distance), visits to the old home, usually and preferably alone, the wild and unkempt orchard and garden, once kept in order by the lady of the house (now the inhabitants of her domain appear to be of the slithery, wriggly variety) is still one conductive to peaceful contentment, a setting perfectly suited to music. Some of the present owners firmly believe the stories but seldom visit.
One story is told, the truth of which cannot be doubted, of one grand-daughter taking a party of incredulous friends to stay overnight. In the wee small hours of the morning the most beautiful violin awakened the sleepers. Later that morning, Siobhan (not her true name) told me of her difficulty in starting her hidden record player but the disbelievers were convinced of the truth of the legend. I myself, a cynic of the first water, on one occasion believe I could hear the longed for sound. Opening the gate there I stood dumbfounded, yes truly there was a fiddler playing. Creeping to the front window I peeped in. Imagine the surprise and disappointment when there, as solid as myself, stood an acquaintance from the city who had come, seeking to put his fantasies to music.
The old place was certainly conducive to composition, the works written there are still played, both by himself and his admirers, but still I long to hear those two old fiddlers, perhaps in duet playing Kathleen Mavourneen.
The second story was published in The Moyne Gazette on the 4th January 1995 and is equally vague:
What would be considered a beautiful ghost story has been old of an occurrence to a lovely lady, a new-comer to the town about ten years ago This lady, with her husband had rented a house of early vintage in the Yates hill area.
To avoid embarrassment to the descendants of persons concerned, no names will be put in print but in truth this haunting, quite scary, but to a degree a happy story did occur.
The facts leading to the appearance of this presence begin with the suicide of a former occupant of the old house. He in a moment of deep despondency hanged himself in a woodshed adjacent to the house. A later owner, unaware of the incident, extended the house, building a parlour over the site of the suicide scene. This was a fine room, catching the winter sunshine, an ideal spot for an infant enclosed in a play pen.
Since the beginning of her occupation of the dear home, madam had heard sounds resembling footsteps proceeding from the rear of the house, up the central hall and turning into one of the two opposite rooms. On the day of the reported occurrence, mother was in the room with baby in the play pen enjoying the sun streaming through the window, when suddenly she became aware of the footsteps coming up the hall, mother, not being of a squeamish nature listened closely. This time she learned which of the rooms the footsteps entered, it was the room in which she was sitting with her baby in the play pen. It was the room erected over the site of the former woodshed. The steps had turned in her door and quite gently, as if not wishing to alarm the infant, they approached and stopped at the side of the play pen, creating the impression of a person stopping to admire the baby. After a short while, the footsteps retired, retracing the route by which they had entered. From that day on mother was never again concerned when the steps were heard, realising now that it was a friendly spirit.
The next two accounts were featured in the past series of Port Fairy ghost tours, but we don’t have sufficient information to include them in the book. Again, if anyone can provide further clarification, we would love to hear from you.
The first story describes the appearance of the ghost of Jonathon Griffiths in Gipps Street. The ghost apparently doffs his hat and says “Good night ladies” to those he meets (presumably women). Jonathon Griffiths was the father of John Griffiths, a pioneering whaler and businessman in Port Fairy, whom our beloved Griffiths Island is named after. Jonathon Griffiths was sentenced to transportation at the age of 15 years, survived the Second Fleet and fathered a total of nine children in the new country. He is believed to have drowned off Griffiths Island and to be buried somewhere along the river bank in Gipps Street.
The second story is of the discovery during renovations of a skeleton concealed in one of the walls at the Merrijig Inn. Naturally it was assumed to be foul play.
Lastly, we would love to hear from anyone who knows the story of Old Joe, who died in one of the attic rooms at The Stump early last century.
We will end this blog with our oft repeated request for anyone with a Port Fairy ghost story to please get in contact with us. So far, we have over 20 eye-witness accounts of ghostly encounters and many stories you won’t have heard before. We can’t wait to share them with you!