Ghost of Mary Esther

I’m standing here in Hamilton in country Victoria, three hundred kilometres west of Melbourne, the temperature feels like it’s below zero, and I’m looking at the magnificent old clock tower of The Hamilton and Alexandra College that was founded in 1871. I’m here because of the ghost of Mary Esther. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

Educationalist officianados may have heard of Richard Kerr. He’s the longest-serving headmaster in the history of Ipswich Grammar School, which was founded in 1863 to be the oldest school in Queensland. He was headmaster there for thirty years in 1915-1945.

Richard Kerr

But what has seemingly been written out of Mr Kerr’s biography is that just prior to that, his first headmaster’s job was here at Hamilton College for just two years in 1913-1914.

I’m here to find out why the college has been left out of his history, and to see if it has anything to do with a ghost that’s rumoured to have been at Hamilton College since the early 1900’s – since the time that Mr Kerr was here.

The ghost is reported to do odd things like mysteriously opening and closing doors and peering in through windows. It’s called colloquially ‘The Ghost of Mary Esther’. She’s said to have been a teacher who had an affair with a principal in the early 1900s. Allegedly, she fell pregnant, after which he left her, and she hanged herself from the clock-tower and still haunts the building today. I’m looking at the clock tower through the early morning mist now and it seems spooky.

There have been five deaths known to have occurred at the college, and all happened in the headmaster’s quarters that adjoins the clocktower. The school’s inaugural headmaster Henry Beresford de la Poer Wall died there in 1895, the father of the next headmaster in 1897, a deputy headmaster in 1899, a headmaster’s infant son sometime after 1901, and the father of a headmaster in 1911.

Henry Wall

All the headmasters covering the period concerned were all highly respected Victorian gentlemen. However, one of them stands out, and that’s Mr Kerr. He came down from Ipswich in 1913 and returned to Ipswich the following year. In fact, his two years in charge is the shortest tenure in the first fifty years of the college history.

Mr Kerr himself was highly respected. His father was a Presbyterian minister who was a moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Queensland, and one of the best-known ministers in the Darling Downs. His grandfather was a Justice of the Peace at Murphy’s Creek in the Lockyer Valley who died from the effects of fighting a bushfire.

When Mr Kerr came to Hamilton College in 1913, he was thirty-five years old and married, and brought with him two boys from Denmark Hill in Ipswich. They were the brothers Selwyn and Percy Outridge who were oldest sons of a magnate of the North Australian pearling industry. The older brother Selwyn, the next year in 1914, became the school captain, and at the end of that year, well that’s when Mr Kerr took-off back to Ipswich.

But was Ipswich’s Richard Kerr the headmaster responsible for the Hamilton College ghost?

He was here during the right period in the early 1900s.

He left after just two years, so why was he the shortest serving headmaster in the first fifty years of the school’s history.

His time at Hamilton College has been glossed over in his official history. In fact, his biography explains his two-year absence from Ipswich Grammar as because he was studying a science degree at Melbourne University, which isn’t true. In any case, he had already been the head science teacher so another degree wasn’t necessary.

And the two boys he brought with him from Ipswich, their mother was named Esther – co-incidentally perhaps, that’s the same name as that of the Hamilton College ghost.

Esther Outridge

There’s no evidence that Mr Kerr is responsible for the ghost, and he did return to Ipswich Grammar to become one of the most respected principals in Queensland.

But strange things did happen at Ipswich Grammar all the same.

Mr Kerr’s first position at Ipswich Grammar was as head science and maths teacher and deputy headmaster. This was a role that he took over in 1900 from the previous deputy head, Edward Lytton Caras Wilson.

Edward Wilson

Wilson had departed the school in sensational circumstances. He was charged with the murder of a fifteen-year-old boy at Goodna. Those charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence, but he was successfully convicted of immoral acts with another boy and sentenced to seven years imprisonment.

So who is responsible for the Ghost of Mary Esther here in country Victoria?

Perhaps we’ll never know.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD LIVE ON RADIO.

Photo credits:
Hamilton and Alexandra College 2022 – Harold Peacock.
Richard Alexander Kerr – State Library of Queensland.
Henry Beresford de la Poer Wall – Ballarat Heritage Services.
Esther Evelyn Outridge – State Library of Queensland.
Edward Lytton Caras Wilson – Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs General Advertiser QLD, 12th January 1899, page 3.

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