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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

MORE GHOSTLY TALES...ESMERELDA OR Was it really the butler...?

The elegant nineteenth century mansion, Grosvenor (or Lanark as it was originally called) still graces Queens Road, Melbourne, although now a tizzed up shadow of its former glory, it forms nothing more than a facade to a large apartment complex.

Grosvenor - just after the Army moved out.
Built in 1887, Grosvenor was acquired by the Australian Army in 1942 for the princely sum of £25,000. Since that date it was used exclusively by the Army until it was finally sold in the late 1990s.

I was posted to Headquarters 4th Brigade, the last unit to occupy Grosvenor, in the mid 1990s, as the Brigade’s first legal officer. I was assigned a small, chilly office in what would have been the servant’s quarters. It was a room that resolutely refused to warm up, even on the chilliest day and I would often find my computer switched on after I was sure I had switched it off. The more experienced members of staff would just shrug their shoulders and blame it on “Esmerelda”.

There had been stories of Esmerelda in circulation for many years before I came to Grosvenor. She was reputed to have been a parlour maid with whom the master of the house had a dalliance. The story was that the butler killed her and concealed her body in the swamp which is now Albert Park Lake but her restless, unrequited spirit returned to the house. A LTCOL Thomas wrote a brief history of the house and although sceptical to the point of scathing about the existence of a ghost, did find a report in the Police Gazette of 1890-1910 of the body of a female child being found in the swamp on 19 June 1900. An autopsy revealed she had been suffocated but there did not appear to be any link to the house.

The Servants Wing from the carpark
One crusty old warrant officer who was posted to the house from the early 70s to 90s was convinced of supernatural occurrences in the cellar and the area behind the bar of the officers’ mess (the old butler’s pantry). He would frequently hear footsteps emanating from this area. One evening around dusk, he and an officer were leaving for the day. The building was deserted and locked up. As they got into the car he looked up and saw the shadow of a girl holding a candle holder in one of the upstairs rooms of the servant’s annexe. 

Esmerelda’s presence would be felt in other ways. From the bathroom next to the billiard room the staff were irritated by the persistent sound of a dripping tap. On investigation the taps were found to be firmly turned off. Before and after the building was carpeted, the sound of footsteps crunching on sand would be heard about the building.

The "Pink" Bathroom
Before my time there had been at least two sightings of Esmerelda, one in the dining room and one in the “pink bathroom” (attached to the commander’s office which would have been the master bedroom to the house). Both witnesses described a “white lady”. In the 1980s a soldier checking the pink bathroom was unable to open the door which was never locked. Once inside, he retreated hastily when the cups and saucers stored on a bench inside the bathroom began rattling and dancing.

Which brings me to my own time at Grosvenor. I had a young captain working for me who was not a person with a vivid imagination by any stretch. One evening he came up to our office, whitefaced, and told me he had been in the officers’ mess doing up his bootlaces. He became aware of someone entering the Mess and looked up thinking it was one of the other officers. He saw a “grey-white” image of a woman which abruptly disappeared.

(The following photograph is of "The Officer's Mess" where there were many sightings of Esmerelda. I took these photos using an a fairly simple standard film camera - remember those? - not long after the Army had moved out and in this photograph only there is a mysterious white "blob" in the middle of the floor. Just behind the "blob" is the bar area where the Butler's Pantry was situated. You can see the room is heavily curtained. A trick of the light or an "orb"? You be the judge.)

When I mentioned this story to the regular army members of the staff, they were livid. How come he had seen Esmerelda and they hadn’t? Out the stories came.
  • One warrant officer told me he had been alone in the building and gone for a shower. When he came out he distinctly heard the sound of voices talking. He prowled the building and found the offices locked and silent.
  • The Brigade RSM, a hard bitten English veteran, refused to spend a night in the building after hearing sounds of doors opening and closing and footsteps coming from the servant’s wing.
  • A civilian guest, with psychic abilities, claimed on entering the building that she felt a distinct presence in the building. Undeterred she stayed for the Mess Dinner

F   Finally my own son claims to have met Esmerelda. I called in one day with him in tow. In the car going home he said he had seen a grey white blob that had passed through him and felt very cold. Now I am less inclined to believe a 10 year old with a vivid imagination but, at the time, he hadn’t heard the stories of Esmerelda. 

The "Billiard Room" 

Like Netherby (see THE LAST RESIDENT OF NETHERBY), Grosvenor lay empty for many years before the developers moved in. Much of the building was demolished, notably the servants wing where she seemed to have been most active. I wonder if her lonely spirit now lives in the glammed up modernity of the apartment complex?

Grosvenor today...any self respecting ghost would stay away!

Post script: Since writing the article on Netherby, the Sergeant I mentioned in that article got back in touch with me.  When I told him I was planning on putting up the companion piece on Grosvenor, he wrote: "I played a great prank on the the receptionist at Grosvenor who I knew quite well from my posting to 4 Bde (I was there for a short time before coming to Netherby). Terrified the life out of her,rang 4 Bde she answered and I pretended to be Albert, with a growly groaning voice looking for Esmerelda, told her that she was probably upstairs in the pink bathroom and I needed to speak with her. It took her a long time to forgive me and she would not venture into that bathroom for anything. Funny though I never felt Esmeralda's presence at Grosvenor, perhaps it was because I wasn't there long enough as we had recently moved there from Kensington and everything was still quite disorganised."