The ghost and Mrs Wyper

A ghost and its headmaster helped uncover the last Aboriginal attack in this Queensland town. I told a version of the story on West Bremer Radio.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers and listeners are warned that the following article may contain the name of a deceased person.

The investigation of a Victorian ghost called Mary Esther led to the discovery of an early headmaster in country Victoria who was followed by two brothers from Queensland’s Ipswich Grammar School.

There was a third Ipswich boy who joined them at The Hamilton and Alexandra College in 1914. He was there for just one year, and his name was Douglas Wyper. There he is in the back row, second from left, in the school photograph above.

His grandfather was the first head teacher of the Ipswich State School.

His father was a mayor of Bundaberg and chairman of the Queensland National Bank. When his father died in 1940, his estate was valued at over £91,000 which is $43 million in today’s money.

Young Douglas Wyper himself was a solid unit. When he went to Hamilton College, he was fourteen-years-old and just five feet and one inch tall, but already weighed ten stone. When he returned to Ipswich Grammar, he was selected in the First XV rugby team. Years later his life took a turn for the worse when he was charged with manslaughter. However, the case was withdrawn.

Douglas Wyper (top row 3rd from right)

Douglas’s mother was Hortense Wyper. She was a champion croquet player, and the “Mrs James Wyper Trophy” was named in her honour by the Queensland Croquet Association.

Hortense had just given birth to young Douglas eight weeks earlier when in 1899 they both became victims of what was Ipswich’s last Aboriginal attack.

Hortense Wyper

That’s when a man called Johnny Logan went on a rampage. He’d been living at the Aboriginal settlement at Deebing Creek, which today is a suburb of Ipswich. The indigenous people there were apparently intending to spear him. He came to town and when he didn’t get the cup of tea that he was after, he ran amok by attacking with a stick in one hand and a tomahawk in the other.

He began in a house near Queens Park, smashing up the kitchen crockery, eggs and anything in his path. One woman and a girl were injured.

He then went across the park to John Scott’s house in Milford Street. John Scott was Douglas’s grandfather who was the head teacher at Ipswich State School mentioned earlier. His daughter Hortense and baby grandson Douglas were in the drawing room when the attack began.

A stone crashed through the French lights, followed by more stones, then a huge rock smashed through a panel of the front door. Hortense feared for her life, and in a near state of panic, grabbed baby Douglas and ran next door to the house of Thomas Cribb. Cribb was a member of Ipswich’s eminent Cribb and Foote families, and later the Treasurer of Queensland.

One of Hortense’s brothers fought back and chased the attacker eighty yards down Roderick Street, tackled and then held him until the mounted police arrived.

This was a harrowing experience for Hortense, which had not only threatened her life, but also that of her baby. However, the woman responded in a remarkable fashion.

Hortense dedicated the rest of her life to improving Indigenous health. She was a leading supporter of the Queensland Presbyterian Aborigines Mission Fund, and was especially supportive of the Aurukun Mission in North Queensland.

While orchestrating endless fundraisers and committees, she lived her final years in her home at Auchenflower in Brisbane, overlooking the Brisbane River.

Mrs Wyper at home

The investigation of the ghost of Mary Esther provided little evidence of the ghost itself, however it did reveal this wonderful woman Hortense Wyper.

Perhaps that was the intent of the ghost all along


Photo credits:
Hamilton College 1914 – Hamilton & Alexandra College archives.
Ipswich Grammar School Rugby Union Team 1917 – Whitehead Studios via Picture Ipswich.
Hortense Wyper nee Scott – State Library of Queensland.
Mrs Wyper at the entrance porch of her home high above River Road, Auchenflower – Telegraph, Brisbane, 23rd February 1939 page 17.


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