- 1A Lantern Ghost Tour - A skeptics tale
- 1.1A spooky evening begins
- 1.2Susannah Place
- 1.3Observatory Hill - the best view in Sydney
- 1.4Parbury Ruins
- 1.5The Hero of Waterloo
- 2The Niggly bits
- 2.1What should you wear?
- 2.2How long does it run for?
- 2.3Where should you park?
- 2.4Is it real?
- 2.5Will you see a ghost?
- 2.6Should you take a Lantern Ghost Tour of The Rocks?
- 2.7How much is it?
- 3Accommodation in The Rocks
A Lantern Ghost Tour – A skeptics tale
All places have stories. They may vary in infamy and the ability to make us scoff, gasp in wonder, or apply a healthy dose of skepticism. As a place increases in age it collects stories, and old stories grow in the minds and mouths of the storytellers, taking upon a life all of their own and passing into myth and urban legend.
Even as a local there can be many stories we never hear and things we haven’t seen unless we go in search of them. I may not live in Sydney itself but I have lived west of it my entire life and I still have plenty to see and explore.
The Rocks, Sydney Australia, has long been my favourite part of Sydney. Perhaps it’s my British heritage and love of history, but I love that the glass and concrete high-rises and offices give way to old stone structures and cobblestone streets, some of which date back to the establishment of the New South Wales colony. So much has been buried over time and is now being uncovered as the city expands.
So its understandable that the idea of a Sydney history tour appealed to me, and a ghost hunting Sydney adventure with Lantern Ghost Tours even more so! I didn’t see any ghosts, and I’m not sure if I’m disappointed about that or not, but it was a really fun and unique evening full of places I had never seen. Read on for my The Rocks ghost tour review or book yours!
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A spooky evening begins
The Rocks is one of the most historic parts of Sydney, dating back to the late 1700’s. A sordid history of plague, crime and hardship in the early settlement of Australia lends itself to it’s reputation of one of Sydney’s spookiest locations.
My tour kicks off at 8pm, but we are meeting out front of the Endeavour Hotel on George Street at 7.45pm and I’m surprised by the number of people waiting when I arrive after a brisk stroll from my car (parking tips to come!) Our guide is waiting dressed in corsetry, top hat and tailed black jacket, dramatically speaking in a booming voice and holding the namesake lantern aloft. This is going to be fun!
We wait a while longer for the other expected guests and are then ushered around the corner into the stone courtyard of another building which provides a wall for our guide, who introduces herself as Alison, to address us from. Alison runs through the rules for the evening, and we are all told to look at someone in the group that we don’t know and remember them, they will be our buddy for the evening. Rather than everyone being delayed by headcounts for the evening, we are to sing out if we can’t find our buddy in the group. We are also dramatically told that if a ghost follows us home, to keep the lights on.
She asks us if anyone knows what a divining rod is and I raise my hand, explaining that they are allegedly used to detect the presence of water. “Exactly!” She says and with a flourish pulls a pair of silver rods out of the sack I hadn’t noticed her carrying. “They actually detect the presence of energy, and we can use them to communicate with spirits.” She proceeds to demonstrate how to hold the rods to allow them free movement, followed by asking “Is there anyone here that wishes to speak with us?” At this point the rods may move to indicate an affirmative answer, which if so you could then ask follow up questions, instructing the rods to swing one way for yes, and the other for no. She offers the rods to the group and someone puts up their hand. Another two pairs from the sack closely follow.
All primed for our evening, she sets off and we all follow.
Our first destination is a spot I have never heard of on Gloucester Street. It is a heritage listed piece of The Rocks Sydney history, a terrace of four houses built in 1844. It is now the Susannah Place Museum and can be toured during the day. We are gathered in front of number 64 on the rear side of the building. It was once the corner store. Surrounded by the old stone and corrugated iron it is easy to forget we are standing in the midst of a capital city.
Alison places her lantern on the step in front of the door of number 64, but mysteriously says she will not stand there for reasons she will reveal, but invites anyone from the group to have their photo taken in the doorway. No one moves, so naturally it is me that hands my phone to a member of the group and leaps into the doorway for a photo.
She then tells us that some people report feeling touches while standing in the doorway, and passes her phone around to show a photo supposedly showing two heads coming out of the door. It seems more likely a trick of the light to me, but I snap away with my phone curious to see whether anything gets captured. It doesn’t.
There are stories of a young boy murdered by a gang in this street, as well as a prostitute who worked this part of the street. Photos posted online also refer to a curtain which appears and disappears, but in my photos it never appears.
Observatory Hill – the best view in Sydney
On our way to Observatory Hill we pass through a tiled tunnel, and are encouraged to add our footprints to the hundreds already marking the tunnel walls.
I’ve never been to Observatory Hill even in daylight. Huge trees overhang the path leading up to the bandstand. I admire them for their sheer size and dominance, but Alison tells us once we have reached the bandstand that they were once used for hangings, and there are still reports of sightings of the bodies swinging from them. The very first hanging in the new colony occurred here. Observatory Hill is the highest hill overlooking the area of the Sydney settlement and served as a fort, mill, hospital and school along with being the location of the colony’s first observatory.
While it’s certainly a chilling thought, I was unable to find anything verifying hangings in Observatory Park, though Gallows Hill, the site of many, is not too far away.
Ghosts or not, its worth the trip for the view!
In the ultimate blending of the old and new world of The Rocks, in the basement of a modern apartment block on Windmill Street is preserved the remnants of a cottage built in the early 1800’s, discovered during construction in 2000. Alison has the keys to take us down into the foundations of the ruins, including the fireplace and a well.
We are told the story of Anne Walker, who’s body was found at the bottom of the well, and the three men believed to potentially be responsible for her death. Alison tells us Anne responds better to women and has some of the women in the group take the divining rods and stand over the well while she asks questions to the atmosphere and the rods spin madly around. Alison tells us she normally responds more emphatically to one of the three names as her killer.
The only reference I found to Anne Walker and this story was on paranormal forums. I could find no evidence that such a person existed at this time.
The Hero of Waterloo
Our next stop on the walking tour is the hotel The Hero of Waterloo, one of those that claim to be the first in the region. We have to walk up an alleyway first, and Alison pauses for a moment to tie back her hair and tuck it securely under her top hat. She tells us there is a ghost that frequents this alley that is partial to women with long hair and likes to run his fingers through it. I defiantly take my long hair out of its bun and let it hang loose down my back. But apparently the ghost didn’t like mine!
The Hero of Waterloo is named after the Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon, and dates back to 1843. It has a notorious past and in some circles the reputation of Australia’s most haunted pub.
Back in those times, finding sailors to work the whaling ships wasn’t easy, but many found themselves with no choice. The term was ‘Shanghaied’ – the practice of kidnapping men to serve as sailors. Many a young man might find themselves drinking at the bar one moment, to waking on a ship out at sea via the smugglers tunnel which runs from the Hero of Waterloo down to the wharf. Mediums are convinced many of them never made it out of the tunnel. There are still shackles on the walls of the cellar and the tunnel entrance is still evident. There is talk of the tunnel being reopened for the purpose of tours, possibly the ones which have recently been commenced by the hotel.
The hotels own website refers to a rumour that in 1849 the publican at the time pushed his wife down the stairs to her death and they believe she frequents the hotel. Furniture is moved in the function room where no one has been and music played from the piano in the bar in the middle of the night, stopping when the owners descend the stairs with the piano lid left open. The piano was moved down to the cellar years ago to give the owners some peace. Guests have run screaming from the women’s toilet saying they saw a lady standing behind them in the mirror.
Our attention is drawn to the window above the door, where Alison tells us a figure has at times been photographed. Once again my camera reveals nothing.
A short walk from the Hero of Waterloo the tour concludes under The Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The Niggly bits
What should you wear?
Ladies, leave the heels at home, or at least in the car. Many of the streets in The Rocks are old cobblestone and the steps down to the Parbury Ruins are of the holey scaffolding variety. You’ll be asking for trouble in heels.
How long does it run for?
It runs pretty close to the two hour mark.
Where should you park?
Street parking is pretty plentiful in The Rocks, paid for in blocks of two hours. If you head for Lower Fort Street you will be in proximity of both the start and finish points.
Is it real?
How long is a piece of string? The history is undoubtedly so. As for the stories, they say that the tour was put together with the assistance of mediums. I was able to verify some, such as the Hero of Waterloo and I saw references to the other tales mentioned in passing as we walked past other old hotels in the area. Some I wasn’t able to corroborate, but who’s to say how good the records were back then.
Will you see a ghost?
Best to temper your expectations here. While I am skeptical I am open to the possibility that there are things beyond our understanding, but there was nothing I witnessed on the tour to convince me.
Should you take a Lantern Ghost Tour of The Rocks?
The Rocks is a really old and interesting part of Sydney and personally I think it is a beautiful part of the city. I thought it was worth the money just to walk around and see some parts of The Rocks I hadn’t before and hear about their history. If you are looking for a Sydney night tour it is definitely a good bit of fun.
How much is it?
Get Your Guide sells this tour starting from $36.
Whether its a haunted location or just a street, The Rocks at night lends itself to some spooky and atmospheric photography.
Accommodation in The Rocks
If you want to make a night of it, check out the accommodation options in The Rocks below.
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