10 April, 2017

Things that go bump at 'The Heights'

Over the years, my most popular blog post has transpired to be one in which I looked at ghosts. In "...landlord to a ghost..." I took a look at which of the old houses along the Barwon were believed to be haunted. As it happens, most of the oldest buildings claim to have acquired a ghost or two over the years. 'The Heights" in Newtown is no exception and it was there on a recent Saturday evening that I was invited to act as a volunteer whilst 'The Heights' played host to a "paranormal investigation".
We arrived just on dusk and along with a further four volunteers proceeded to get things ready for the arrival of the living guests.
Our hosts for the evening - Paranormal X-Files - also arrived to set up an array of electronic equipment including infrared cameras, digital thermometers, spirit boxes, an Ovilus and REM pods. If you don't know what this equipment is or how it claims to work, a quick check on Google will set you straight.
A REM-POD similar to that used at 'The Heights'
Eventually, as darkness descended and with all the guests in attendance, we were divided into two groups and set off to investigate. Our group remained in the house where our investigation took us from room to room in search of spirits. At various points the equipment glowed as various coloured lights flashed and an array of electronic noises issued forth. After 3/4 of an hour the group concluded that they may have made contact with a spirit called "Ian" and some guests indicated that they had "felt" a temperature change, a "presence" or been "touched". Two unaccountable knocks were heard in reply to the investigators three knocks and the word "white" was also heard.
At this point, we exchanged places with the other group and all trooped outside to investigate the cold room under the water tower and the stables. Once again the equipment flashed and screeched and people reported temperature changes. Whereas the other group claimed to have been told to "GET OUT!" of the stables, we were not.
The night ended with a joint discussion of what had been seen, heard and felt and the guests were escorted through the darkness to the gate.
So, if ghosts really were present at 'The Heights' who were they? So far I have been unable to find anyone named "Ian" who had an association with the property however the word "white" is a little mcore interesting when one considers the history of the place.
'The Heights' is a pre-fabricated timber building which was purpose made in Germany, shipped to Australia and assembled at "Newtown Hill" for local woolbroker, merchant and pastoralist Charles Ibbotson in 1854. I have mentioned both Ibbotson and the property not only in the post about ghosts mentioned above, but also speculated that the European landscape painter Eugene von Guerard may have paid a visit to Ibbotson and 'The Heights' during its construction whilst he was staying with Frederick Bauer - owner of 'Fritzwilhelmberg House' (now 'Raith') - not far away in Newtown. It was Bauer, a German ironmonger who ran a business in Ryrie St, who was responsible for the erection of 'The Heights'.
The original building erected by Bauer consisted of 14 rooms. Verandas were also added then stables (1855), a groom's cottage (1856-7), water tower (c1860) a bluestone stable complex (1862) and in 1875, a billiard room. Towards the end of the 19th century, a dovecote was also built. According to the National Trust who now own the property, the original garden was designed by Scottish gardener Robert Hughes in the 1860s.
'The Heights' 1866, image held by the State Library of Victoria
'The Heights'' first owner, Charles Ibbotson was an Englishman, born in Derbyshire, England who migrated to Sydney in the 1830s. He and his wife Maryanne Dickens were married in Sydney in 1850 and moved to Geelong not long after. Whilst 'The Heights' was erected in 1854, the surrounding land was not purchased by Ibbotson until the mid-1860s. The original purchaser was Duncan Hoyle who bought allotment 3, Section 10 of the Parish of Moorpanyal at a government land sale in July, 1847 (Geelong Advertiser and Squatters' Advocate, 23rd July, 1847), allotment 5, Section 10 in December, 1847 (Port Phillip Gazette and Settlers' Journal, 11th December, 1847) and may well have purchased the neighbouring allotment 2 the previous year (Sydney Morning Herald, 6th February, 1846) as he is listed on survey maps as the original purchaser. 'The Heights' sits in the middle of allotment 2 but appears to have been built on around 2 acres of land already owned by Ibbotson at the time.
In addition to his business interests in Dalgety & Co. Woolstores, Ibbotson sat on a number of boards and committees including the council of the Borough of Newtown and Chilwell, where he served a term as mayor. He was supportive of efforts to bring the railway to Geelong and was a member on the committee of management of the Botanic Gardens. On 16th December, 1863, he chaired the meeting which established the Geelong branch of the Zoological and Acclimatisation Society of Victoria, whose aim was to introduce familiar and productive species of plants and animals from around the world to the Colony of Victoria (Geelong Advertiser, 17th December, 1863). On 22nd July, 1867 it was reported in The Argus that a shipment containing "a number of larks, thrushes, sparrows, chaffinches, and other birds" had arrived for Ibbotson who is widely attributed with having introduced several such species to Victoria, releasing them from 'The Heights'.
Towards the end of 1866, not long after purchasing the surrounding land from Duncan Hoyle, Ibbotson - then the mayor of Newtown and Chilwell - hosted members of the council and the press to a meal at 'The Heights', showing off his newly-acquired land and outlining his plans to develop it (Geelong Advertiser, 22nd November, 1866). This included planting the slopes stretching down to the river with vines, fruits and vegetables.
In 1882, Ibbotson's wife Maryanne died after an extended illness and was buried at the Western Cemetery, then, after also suffering a long health battle Ibbotson died the following year on 20th October and was buried with his wife.
The Ibbotson grave in the Church of England Section, Row 1. grave 1515
His estate was divided amongst his two sons and four daughters, with 'The Heights' passing to his youngest daughter Minna Elizabeth.
Although the Victorian birth, death and marriage records do not appear to show it, the Geelong Advertiser recorded on 4th November, 1887 that Minna married James Burnett. It did not indicate where the ceremony took place. The marriage however was short-lived as James died at the Grand Hotel, Spring St, in Melbourne on 6th January, 1888 at the age of 39.
By June that year, Minna had placed 'The Heights' on the market. Advertisements throughout May and June indicate that "upwards of 80 acres" of the property was to be offered for sale by tender (Geelong Advertiser, 1st June, 1888). According to a later report in the Geelong Advertiser of 16th June, the property was snapped up amidst keen interest by a Melbourne syndicate who intended to subdivide the property. Although it is not made clear, the land sale presumably did not include the house and land immediately surrounding it as this remained in the possession of the family for decades to come, with significant areas sold to the Geelong College and St Joseph's College in later years.
Not long after the death of her husband, Minna must have travelled to London as it was here on 28th September, 1889 that she married her second husband (The Argus, 31st December, 1889). Not long after, they returned to live at 'The Heights'.
This gentleman went by the name of Louis Australia WHYTE ...