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The untold ghost stories of Sydney’s oldest buildings

Ever since the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Harbour, Australia’s earliest settlement has had no shortage of grisly deaths.

Behind many of the city’s early buildings, some more than 200 years old, dotted around The Rocks are tales of murder, mayhem, and dismemberment.

Some of the buildings are said to be haunted and thousands of tourists are led through the streets at night on hair-raising ghost tours.

Some of Sydney’s oldest buildings are said to be haunted and thousands of tourists are led through the streets at night on hair-raising ghost tours

Today they are pricey homes and popular restaurants, or even torn down only for archaeological digs to uncover startling finds.

A least one photograph claims to reveal the ghost of a long-murdered wife and several killers were sent to the gallows for their macabre deeds.

Cadman’s Cottage, 110 George Street

The cottage was built as a barracks to house naval coxswains and their families until it was taken over by the water police in 1846.

Two years before that, Jean Videll was caught outside trying to dispose of the body of his boss Thomas Warne, whom he had murdered the night before.

Videll and Mr Warne were arguing at Mr Warne’s house and he demanded he leave or he would stab him with an old sword he had hanging on the wall.

Cadman's Cottage, 110 George Street, was built as a barracks to house naval coxswains and their families until it was taken over by the water police in 1846

Cadman’s Cottage, 110 George Street, was built as a barracks to house naval coxswains and their families until it was taken over by the water police in 1846

The murderer left before rage overcame him and he quietly returned and hit Mr Warne over the head with an axe, killing him.

He then tried to dispose of the body by hacking off the limbs and trying to burn the body in the fireplace.

However, the fat from the body’s flesh caused a huge fire through the chimney that Videll put out by pouring buckets of water down it.

He instead dismembered the body further and piled it into a chest, then cleaned up the mess. However, some of the blood seeped through to the apartment below.

Videll took the chest to the jetty next the cottage, which was by Sydney Harbour at the time, and tried to get a boatman to help him dump it in the water.

Cadman's Cottage is now a historic site near the Overseas Passenger Terminal and hosts light shows during the Vivid festiva

Cadman’s Cottage is now a historic site near the Overseas Passenger Terminal and hosts light shows during the Vivid festiva

He said the bad smell coming from the chest was rotting pork but the boatman was not fooled and told the police.

Videll was hanged several months later after being convicted at trial.

Cadman’s Cottage is now a historic site near the Overseas Passenger Terminal and hosts light shows during the Vivid festival.

Room 8 in the Russell Hotel

This is known as the most haunted hotel room in Australia, said to be inhabited by the ghost of a sailor murdered by a prostitute.

The ghost supposedly only appears to women sleeping alone, recreating the circumstances of his death.

Employees have said they felt like they were walking through a cobweb, like they were being watched, or an instant chill in the room as if a fridge door had just been opened. 

Russell Hotel is home to the most haunted hotel room in Australia, said to be inhabited by the ghost of a sailor murdered by a prostitute

Russell Hotel is home to the most haunted hotel room in Australia, said to be inhabited by the ghost of a sailor murdered by a prostitute

The ghost supposedly only appears to women sleeping alone, recreating the circumstances of his death

The ghost supposedly only appears to women sleeping alone, recreating the circumstances of his death

‘Two girls on separate occasions have said they woke up to a sailor standing at the end of the bed looking at them,’ one said.

In 2014 a Daily Mail Australia reporter spent the night in the room and wrote that she was jolted awake about 4am.

‘Between the hours of 4am and 5.30am there was a completely different feeling in the room which hadn’t been there before,’ she wrote.

‘I wanted to get up and get out of the room but felt completely incapable of moving a muscle.

‘I felt intense pressure on my chest, like something was pushing down on my diaphragm. I couldn’t even lift my head off the pillow. It was a shock and made it hard to breathe.’ 

In 2014 a Daily Mail Australia reporter spent the night in the room and wrote that she was jolted awake about 4am

In 2014 a Daily Mail Australia reporter spent the night in the room and wrote that she was jolted awake about 4am

Russell hotel is one of the oldest buildings in Australia – a sandstone, maze-like, beautifully restored boutique first built in 1790. It was rebuilt about 1820 and restored again multiple times since.

It served as a hostel for the sailors that docked in Sydney Harbour, then a hospital once the bubonic plague hit, before it was restored as a boutique hotel.

The Dead House, 102-04 George Street

This building was the site of the inquest into what became known as the ‘shark arm murders’, a bizarre series of events in Sydney’s underworld.

Ben Hobson owned the Coogee Aquarium and Swimming Baths, now the Coogee Pavilion, in 1935 and caught a tiger shark to attract curious visitors. 

On Anzac Day that year there was a huge crowd but the profitable day to a strange turn when the shark convulsed and vomited up a human arm.

The left arm had a tattoo of two boxers fighting and had a rope attached to it, but most surprising was that it wasn’t bitten off but had been cut from its body.

This building was the site of the inquest into what became known as the 'shark arm murders', a bizarre series of events in Sydney's underworld
This building was the site of the inquest into what became known as the 'shark arm murders', a bizarre series of events in Sydney's underworld

This building was the site of the inquest into what became known as the ‘shark arm murders’, a bizarre series of events in Sydney’s underworld

The victim was soon identified as Jimmy Smith, 45, an English boxer from Gladesville, now running a billiards saloon in Rozelle and working at Tattersall’s.

On the side he worked for crime boss Reginald Holmes whose family built speedboats – which he used to deliver cocaine around Sydney.

Holmes also dabbled in insurance scams and had Smith look after a boat called the Pathfinder which was overinsured then deliberately sunk.

They also forged cheques from wealthy Sydney elite and laundered the money through Smith’s saloon, but they had a falling out and Smith started blackmailing Holmes.

Smith met his end after a noisy card game in Cronulla with forger Patrick Brady on April 7, 1935, who did a bad job covering up the crime.

The left arm had a tattoo of two boxers fighting and had a rope attached to it, but most surprising was that it wasn't bitten off but had been cut from its body

The left arm had a tattoo of two boxers fighting and had a rope attached to it, but most surprising was that it wasn’t bitten off but had been cut from its body

The arm was soon identified as Jimmy Smith, 45, an English boxer from Gladesville, now running a billiards saloon in Rozelle

On the side he worked for crime boss Reginald Holmes (pictured) whose family built speedboats - which he used to deliver cocaine around Sydney

The arm was soon identified as belonging to Jimmy Smith, 45, (left) an English boxer from Gladesville, now running a billiards saloon in Rozelle On the side he worked for crime boss Reginald Holmes (right)

It was far too easy for police to trace Smith’s movements to Brady’s house, and then Brady taking a taxi to Holmes.

‘He was dishevelled, he had a hand in a pocket and wouldn’t take it out… it was clear that [he] was frightened,’ the taxi driver told police.

But police didn’t have a body, making a conviction very difficult, but decided to arrest Holmes and sweat him out.

He denied everything but once released had too much to drink on his boat and shot himself in the head – miraculously not dying as the bullet merely knocked him out.

Police took off after him and he sped 2km out to sea before eventually surrendering.

During interrogation he claimed Brady killed Smith, and put his body in a chest and dumped it in Gunnamatta Bay – called the ‘Sydney sendoff’ at the time.

He said Brady kept the arm to blackmail Holmes, and gave it to him when he received the bag of ₤500 in cash.

Smith met his end after a noisy card game in Cronulla with forger Patrick Brady on April 7, 1935, who did a bad job covering up the crime

Smith met his end after a noisy card game in Cronulla with forger Patrick Brady on April 7, 1935, who did a bad job covering up the crime

Holmes then panicked and tossed it in the ocean off Maroubra, where the shark had it for lunch.

The drug lord agreed to testify at an inquest, but the day before it began he was found shot to death with three bullet in his chest while sitting in his car parked under the Harbour Bridge.

Theories about that Holmes paid a hitman to kill himself, but it is more likely that Brady was the one who organised the assassination.

Brady walked free and no one was ever convicted of the murders. Smith was later revealed to be a police informant. 

93 Gloucester Street

George Legg was found guilty of stealing in 1786 and sentenced to seven years transportation in Australia as a convict

He arrived in Sydney in 1788 aboard the Charlotte and married 1795 Ann Armsden and lived in a stone cottage that has since been demolished.

In 1807 he disappeared while fishing in Botany Bay and a shark was found with his hand in its mouth.

Local Aboriginal people visited Ann about a month later to tell her where the rest of his body was.

George Legg arrived in Sydney in 1788 aboard the Charlotte and married 1795 Ann Armsden and lived in a stone cottage that has since been demolished

George Legg arrived in Sydney in 1788 aboard the Charlotte and married 1795 Ann Armsden and lived in a stone cottage that has since been demolished

Their house was significant in that it revealed much about early Sydney convict life when it was dug up in a major expedition in 1994.

‘We got a lot of remains from her house, including a golden wedding ring and a huge amount of material that tells us about the kind of things that they were eating – local species, particularly fish and oysters – and about the goods that were able to be imported,’ Professor Richard Mackay told the ABC.  

‘Their lives – though cramped – were not the depraved existence that’s commented on by contemporary social commentators.’

Reynolds Cottages, 28-30 Harrington Street

Irish blacksmith William Reynolds bought two of the cottages for £100 in 1830 and built a third one three years later.

He was a former convict originally sentenced to lifetime transportation for highway robbery, arriving in Sydney in 1816 aged 32.

Amassing a property portfolio as a free man elevated his standing so much that his obituary called him ‘a man of considerable property and… highly respected amongst his brother tradesmen’.

Irish blacksmith William Reynolds bought two of the cottages for £100 in 1830 and built a third one three years later
Inside he died from falling off a ladder and his son after his infected leg was amputated

Irish blacksmith William Reynolds bought two of the cottages for £100 in 1830 and built a third one three years later. Inside he died from falling off a ladder and his son after his infected leg was amputated

However, things did not go well for the Reynolds family in the next decade as two of them suffered dramatic deaths.

Reynolds’ son William Jr died an agonising death after being accidentally shot in the leg while pigeon shooting in 1838 in Surry Hills.

The leg became badly infected and was amputated in the cottage without anesthetic, but he still died later.

His ghost is said to haunt the cottages along with that of his father, who died after falling off a ladder in the home just three years later.

The buildings passed to his son Maurice and are now home to several shops. 

Gannon House, 45-47 Argyle Street

Michael Gannon was an Irish convict sentenced to life transportation, arriving aboard the Almorah in December 1820.

After securing his ticket of leave he built the New York Hotel along with the house on Argyle Street in 1939-41 which he used for a variety of businesses.

A carpenter by trade, he put his skills to work making coffins and serving as an undertaker for Catholic burials out of the site.

Michael Gannon was an Irish convict who built this house on Argyle Street in 1939-41 which he used for a variety of businesses including a undertaker. It is now home to the Gannon House Gallery of Australian contemporary and Aboriginal art

Michael Gannon was an Irish convict who built this house on Argyle Street in 1939-41 which he used for a variety of businesses including a undertaker. It is now home to the Gannon House Gallery of Australian contemporary and Aboriginal art

He went bankrupt and lost everything in 1945 but rebounded to ‘play an active and largely hidden role in Sydney politics’ from 1948.

The house was sold off to pay creditors and is now home to the Gannon House Gallery of Australian contemporary and Aboriginal art, and the La Renaissance Café.

Merchant House, 37 George St

This house is considered to be one of Australia’s most haunted with the visitors claiming to see a murdered housewife.

Sometime in the mid to late 1800s, a rich businessman chased and strangled his wife after finding her in bed with another man.

Believers in ghosts say she can be heard walking on the stairs and some have even claimed to have seen her.

‹ Slide me ›

Merchant House is considered to be one of Australia's most haunted with the visitors claiming to see a murdered housewife
Sometime in the mid to late 1800s, a rich businessman chased and strangled his wife after finding her in bed with another man

Merchant House is considered to be one of Australia’s most haunted with the visitors claiming to see a murdered housewife

This photo claimed to show the woman as a ghostly figure with a shining necklace

This photo claimed to show the woman as a ghostly figure with a shining necklace

‘Quite a few people have sightings of this old woman. A lot of the rangers go there late at night but often what they see is an old lady,’ Wes Raddysh from The Rocks Ghost Tours said.

A photo claimed to show the woman as a ghostly figure with a shining necklace. 

Merchant House is also home to what is claimed to be the scariest staircase in Sydney and is a regular stop on ghost tours.

The Rocks Ghost Tours shared a photo taken by a tradesman who after one visit refused to work on it. 

‘I am the only one there… the doors are slamming shut and I checked that I closed them all, yet they keep making loud slamming noises… the place is freaking me out.’ he said. 

Merchant House is also home to what is claimed to be the scariest staircase in Sydney and is a regular stop on ghost tours

Merchant House is also home to what is claimed to be the scariest staircase in Sydney and is a regular stop on ghost tours

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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