Metal detecting unearths a gruesome connection

I was invited to metal detect around a house at Sunnybank in Brisbane. Research revealed mysterious and gruesome connections.

The house was built in 1923 and I found a number of relics that predated the house itself. There were coins going back one hundred and ten years, a number of really old brass buckles, as well as a decorative brass scarf buckle and a pocket watch cover both from the Depression in the 1930s. The items are pictured above.

The window under which many of the coins were found

The first man to live in the house had a mystery past. His birth name was Christian Peter Fricke and he was born in Surry Hills in Sydney in 1877 to parents from Denmark. His life then became clandestine. He started going by different names, sometimes Christian other times Peter, and his surname changed first from Fricke to Hansen. His sister mourned his death in 1913 when he was murdered in Western Australia. He’d been shot dead and taken away in a wheelbarrow. But that was the wrong Peter Hansen, and our man was very much alive.

By the time that he got married in Ayr in North Queensland in 1914, he was going by the name of Christian Nugent. A family story suggests that he took on the name ‘Nugent’ because he was the ‘new gent’ in town.

Christian raised his family in the Sunnybank home from the mid-1920s. Sometimes vials of opium were found there from the Chinese gardeners nearby. He was a diver working on the pylons under bridges including those at Ipswich, Redbank, and One Mile. He wore those very early suits with a big brass diving helmet. In 1947 the gruesome Ipswich connection comes in.

Christian Peter Nugent aka Hansen aka Fricke

His seventeen-year-old son also called Christian was a volunteer lifesaver down at Broadbeach on the South Coast, now called Gold Coast. Christian Junior later became a life member at the club. One weekend he found a corpse in the surf. He reported the body to the Southport police, and then confusion reigned.

You see, the lifesavers were indeed looking for the body of a man, but the police said that this wasn’t him, it was someone else. This was a particularly gruesome find because it had no arms and had been severely mauled. Confusion continued for days.

Finally, an Ipswich dentist identified a single gold filling as being his handy work, and the body was identified as Ipswich-born nineteen-year-old Frank McNeill.

Young Frank was a sapper in the Australian Army and was on leave from his posting in Mackay when he drowned. His father worked at the T.C. Beirne department store in Ipswich, the family lived in Cribb Street and the house is still there today.

Frank McNeill

But back to the Nugent house at Sunnybank. The current owner has now lived there for over a quarter-of-a-century and he himself has a spooky story. That’s because in the yard today there’s a really long shed that has previously housed a large coffin collection, and parked inside right now is a 1939 hearse.

He’s none other than the acclaimed horror historian Jack Sim who does those fantastic ghost tours of Ipswich and elsewhere.

He is living the dream – surrounded by so much history of his own, as well as the history and mystery of the previous residents, including the story of that gruesome Ipswich body.

But we should pause to remember young Frank McNeill from Ipswich whose demise is now part of the house history.

Frank’s name is on Australia’s Roll of Honour and will be projected onto the outside of the Australian War Memorial in a few weeks’ time. You’ll be able to see it at 4.12am local time on the morning of Wednesday the 20th of October.

I definitely recommend to get onto one of Jack’s ghost tours to hear some fantastic stories.

Photo credits:
Metal Detecting discoveries – my own
The window under which many of the coins were found – my own
Christian Nugent the diver – Clarissa Klazema shared Ancestry 2018
Frank McNeill 1945 – National Archives of Australia

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