Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 2) – Johanne Schippan and Her Family





The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 2) – Johanne Schippan and Her Family

 Johanne Schippan had come to Australia as a nine year old girl from Prussia. She had emigrated with her parents and her brother. The family first lived in Victoria, but later moved to the larger German community that had settled in the Valleys north of Adelaide.
 These areas were settled by the Germans who missed out on the lad around Hahndorf and other Germanic settlements, but in the mid north and Long Plains, these settlers would find areas much akin to their homelands and start settlements like Ebenezer, Bethel and Bethany.

  Johanne was the matriarch of the family, and as was done at the time, always asked her husband’s opinion on all matters. The opposite of Matthes, Johanne was much loved in the Towitta area for her hospitality.  Johanne was the one the children would go to when they needed encouragement, support or parental love, as Matthes, like most men of his period, was somewhat disconnected to his children and only really gave them attention when they had to learn something or he was dispensing punishment.

 Johanne witnessed her husband’s shooting charges, and probably issued a sigh of relief when he was acquitted, 7 children to raise on her own would have been a nightmare. Only three years after her husband’s trial, she would see her oldest daughter, Pauline, die of tuberculosis in 1899.
The Schippans: Gustave, Matthes, Mary, Johanne and Wilhelm


 In 1899, some of the older children in the family had moved on, and found work in other areas. Heinrich was working on a farm near Keyneton, and Fritz was working in another town in the Barossa Valley.
The two other boys, August and Wilhelm, still lived at home, and barely ventured out into the community, both boys were considered uneducated, and somewhat mentally disadvantaged.

 Mary and Bertha worked together in a local cannery. Other workers often commented on the fact they didn’t seem like sisters, but more like Mother and Daughter. Mary was a tall young woman with deep brown eyes, attractive, quiet and somewhat quiet. She was nervous and next never left home at night.
 Bertha on the other hand was an outgoing young lady, about to become a young woman. She was strong and of strong will, and was by far Matthes favourite child. She had her Dad wrapped neatly around her finger and could easily subdue his anger with a quick smile and a batter of her eyelashes.
 The two Schippan girls worked hard in the nearby town of Angaston, inside the Yalumba fruit canning factory.

 The Schippan family lived in a primitive house, with a number of sheds surrounding it, It had two large underground water tanks, and a partially underground dairy. The Men of the house were slowly building a new house for the family, but for now, the Parents and daughters all lived within the main house, and boys all shared a large shed a few meters out the back of the house


In 1902 Matthes Schippan had been in the area for 27 years and had cultivated a 65ha farm whose settlements included a cottage with a kitchen garden and substantial farm buildings. Matthes had recently built a ‘new’ house to replace the crumbling pug and pine, and this house was built to last – along with two huge underground water tanks and a cool underground dairy.

Next Week: The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 3) – Intruder

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 1) – Matthes Schippan






The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 1) – Matthes Schippan

Towitta, a tiny township located on the Long Plain, about 5kms north-west of Sedan, is a remote village consisting of just a few houses. The original settlement was put in place in 1877 due to an excellent water resource in the area, used to sustain stock traveling through the region to interstate destinations.
 It is most probable you have never heard of this town, nor of what unfolded within in it in 1902, an event that would mark the area, the people and annuals of South Australian Law for all time.

Matthes Schippan was born in 1853 in Germany. Legend has it that after his mother died, his father became a raging alcoholic and his brother was killed and eaten by a wolf.
 His Father moved him to Australia at three years of age. His future wife, Johanna Dohnt, was born in Kotbus, Prussia on the 9th of April 1844, and had moved to Australia with her 1854 to Victoria, to later move to the wine regions of South Australia, where her father worked around Eden Valley, the Barossa Valley and Flaxmans Valley.

The Schippan family first came into the region when Matthes Schippan acquired land on the 18th of August 1873 through a Government lease. Matthes purchased the property at the end of the lease in 1888 and built the family home - a pug and pine construction.

The couple had seven children; The oldest being Pauline Auguste, born in 1875, followed by Maria Auguste, born in 1877 in Towitta (known in the family as Mary), then followed Fritz Carl Martin in 1879, Heinrich Johann Gustav in 1881, August Wilhelm in 1883, Wilhelm Johann Gottleib in 1886 and the youngest, Johanne Elizabeth in 1888, who was known in the family as “Bertha.”

Although many identified the Schippans as German, they were actually of Wendish descent, a people with their own language and customs, distinctly different to their neighboring German cousins. A large Wendish community can be found in the Barossa Valley in the town of Ebenezer.
 The Wendish were often regarded by Germans as a strange group, due to being prone to superstition and belief in witchcraft, which put them offside with God Fearing Lutherans.

 Matthes was a man of little emotion, except anger – he fired up to a rage very easily and was a strict disciplinarian to his children. Everyone in Towitta knew Matthes, but few called him friend, in fact most people avoided the bearded grizzly looking man if they could.

 In 1896, Matthes found himself in a world of trouble. On his way to a neighbour’s home one Sunday evening to collect two of his children and bring them home, Matthes came across three young men,  Karl Hartwig, his brother Hermann and their friend William Radomi. The three men young, all around 20 years of age began to taunt Matthes, who was walking the road to his neighbours, carrying only his rifle.
 The three young man tried to get Matthes to fire his rifle in their direction, one of them started throwing stones at the older man, goading him into firing the rifle. Matthew warned them to stop.
 They continued their taunts, until finally Matthes fired his gun into the ground.
The three young men rushed at Matthes and pushed him, then began to sprint away, Matthes anger drew up, he fired his gun into the ground again, but this time the bullet ricocheted and hit Karl Hartwig in the calf, wounding him.

 Matthes Schippan was arrested for his crime, and later released on bail. He appeared in the Adelaide Supreme Court, but the case was soon dropped when the prosecutor dropped the charges. However, Justice Boucat did caution Matthes about the firing his rifle in the manner he had, and warned him the young man might have been killed if circumstances were different, and this could of seen him hung in Adelaide Gaol.

 After this event, Matthes was avoided even more so than usual in and around Towitta, and he became much more withdrawn from society and his family, finding it hard to trust anyone.

Next Week: The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 2) – Johanne Schippan and Her Family

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Haunted Port Dock Hotel




Haunted Port Dock Hotel

On June 19th 1855, the newly built (Port) Dock Hotel opened its doors for Port Adelaide’s beer and rum loving sailors and public. In the same month, 15 other new hotels were also declared as licensed in the colony as well – even early South Australian’s loved a cold one after work!
 The building that houses the Port Dock Hotel was rebuilt in 1882. This building was a two story construction containing fifteen rooms, a dining room, a cellar and a number of bars, each with their own separate entry to the Port Adelaide streets outside. This building was built from local stone, coming from Dry Creek, the previous building, as were many others in the Port, were built from ships ballast left from ships travelling to South Australia, removing the Ballast, and filling back up with things like Kapunda Copper, Marble or other commodities.
 The Hotels location was chosen due to its proximity to the South Australian Company Wharf properties and the railway station, this allowed a steady stream of customers to patronise the hotel. Including Sailors, Dockworkers, Stevedores, train passengers, new immigrants and locals.


 In 1902, there was an incident within the hotel that saw the publican, Mr Joseph Haines, almost end up the victim of a shooting. A former soldier who fought in the Boer War, Mr Thomas Hope, returned from service in South Africa. On January 15th of that year, Mr Hope saw fit to celebrate and got very drunk and rode his horse through the streets of Port Adelaide, only to fall heavily from his stead.
 He re-mounted his horse and made his way to the Port Dock Hotel. A large crowd had gathered to watch Mr Hope’s antics, and when he arrived at the Port Dock, Mr Haines went outside to help Mr Hope dismount his horse safely.
 Hope, in his drunken state, saw Mr Haines offer of help as a hindrance, and challenged the publican to a fight. After a barrage of foul language, Mr Haines told Mr Hope it would be in his best interest to take his horse and go home.
 Hope remounted his horse and rode away.
 As with most drunks with a bee in their bonnet, Mr Hope returned shortly after, he entered the hotel demanding to be served a drink. Mr Haines flatly refused to serve him. Hope, now furious, pulled out his pistol and pointed it at Haines, scowling “If you don’t serve me, I’ll shoot you with this!”
 Mr Haines, stayed calm, quickly disarmed and detained Hope. The police were called and Mr Hope was shuffled off to the police station. Soon after he was sentenced in local courts to two months hard labour in Yatala Prison.
 Haines moved on from the Port Dock Hotel not too long after the incident with a new publican taking over in 1904. This publican would find his run with the hotel ending only 5 years later when the momentum of Reverend Kirby and the Temperance movement installed Nocks Act into parliament, forever changing the face of drinking laws in South Australia, with the 6pm shut out.
 The new laws saw hotels across the state lose their liquor license and a number shut down entirely, some though, like the Port Dock Hotel found a new way to survive, becoming an illegal brothel and gambling house.
Allen Tiller in the basement with a number of trigger objects
For the next 66 years, The Port Dock Hotel was used for a number of different things, including a Stevedores office, and the aforementioned Brothel. It wasn’t until 1986 that it reopened as a licensed hotel under the name The Port Dock Brewery Hotel.
 Since the hotel’s reopening a number of ghost sightings have occurred, which have led to multiple investigations by different paranormal investigation teams and amateur ghost hunters over the last few years. The activity has also seen ghost tours become a regular feature in the hotel, the most popular being the Port Adelaide Ghost Crime Tour.
 I myself have investigated this building, and used a number of trigger objects, and a technique of playing age appropriate music that spirits of the late 1800’s may recognise. During our investigation we didn’t gather much information that would conclude a haunting, but the staff at the hotel did tell us that the following few days, they noted regular activity seemed to amplify.
 There are a number of spirits reported in the hotel, one of the more commonly seen ones is a little boy in the basement. I have heard an EVP recording of what sounds like this little boy, taken during a Ghost Crime Tour, there is also a very clear photo of a young boy standing in the cellar that could possibly be of him (please note children under 13 are not allowed on the Ghost Crime Tours, which eliminates the possibility of a child a young as the one on the photo).
Another regular spiritual visitor, most often seen by the staff, is thought to be that a former Madame of the brother, by the name Emily. Emily is often seen on the staircase that leads into the basement. Despite claims she appears in a green or blue dress, staff most often report her wearing a large white Victorian era dress (which doesn’t fit with the time period of the hotel being a brothel, but a much earlier time period – so perhaps the “Madame” isn’t a former prostitute at all, but maybe Mrs Haines or some other woman of importance).
The haunted stairwell in the basement of the Port Dock Hotel
 There are also reports of a former Sea Captain, who may have something to do with the allegations of people being shanghaied at the hotel in the early days, a practice that saw drunk men, knocked out and taken into the basement. The men would be taken by a tunnel out to awaiting ships, and awoken the next morning, just far enough out at sea to see the coastline, they would be told they have two choices, sail on-board as a crew member, or swim back to shore.  There is speculation that the alleged tunnel was a made up story for a former Port Dock Brewery owner to help sell his crafted beer, but there have long been rumours of these kinds of tunnels running under Port Adelaide, and evidence of one in another former hotel that was recently renovated on Commercial Road.

 There have been numerous sightings and odd photographs since the inception of the Ghost Crime Tours, some of these are simple to explain away as dust, hair or other contaminants, but there is quite a few that are not so easy to explain. It is these photos, and video’s that add weight to the argument that the Port Dock Hotel is indeed very haunted!