In the late 1800s, Cooktown was a relatively prosperous town, thanks to its proximity to the Palmer River goldfields. A gold rush was in full swing, and Cooktown was the nearest port, the nearest big town. A fair slice of the money made on the goldfields found its way to Cooktown, to the great benefit of the shopkeepers, publicans and merchants who had set up in this remote corner of far north Queensland.
Margaret Timony had her millinery shop on the corner of Charlotte and Walker Streets, in a building with a wedge-shaped front, affording entry from both streets. Business was good, with a steady passing trade and plenty of mail order customers out bush.
That building still stands, but not in Cooktown. It was shipped to Cairns in the 1920s, erected in McLeod Street, opposite the cemetery, and went on to be Herries Hospital. It’s been empty and virtually derelict for many years, clad in black plastic to keep the elements out. The heritage listed building is now being restored by John Westwood, who owns a motel next door. He’s restored a few old buildings in his time, and intends to make his home in this one.
But his future home may already have at least one occupant. A ghost.
Bev Hewson, who manages the motel, has seen an apparition in the old house. So too has at least one motel guest. And builders working on the restoration have had some odd experiences they can’t explain. The apparition is said to be the figure of a woman, wearing old fashioned clothes, with an indistinct face. She’s given at least one observer a fright, but doesn’t appear to be threatening. She’s just a quiet presence who seems to be keeping an eye on the place.
LISTEN to Bev describe the ghostly apparition
John Westwood talks about the restoration
Cairns artist Julie McEnerny has long been fascinated by the old Herries Hospital building, and has portrayed it in her artwork. And she’s had a look at the story of the place, and the people who lived and worked in it. So who is the ghost? Margaret Timony, or the matron who ran Herries Hospital?
More about Julie McEnerny at http://www.juliemcenerny.com.au/
More on the Herries Hospital story at https://heritage-register.ehp.qld.gov.au/placeDetail.html?siteId=16873