30 September, 2016

Thomas Brock: the ghost of the Friend in Hand

In recent weeks, I have done some research on some of Fyansford's lesser known public houses from the 19th century. In addition to the Fair View Hotel over looking the Moorabool Valley at the top of the Fyansford hill, the Swan Inn - Fyansford's earliest hotel - and the Junction Hotel on the road out of town at the turnoff from Hamilton to Gheringhap, there was another hotel which has disappeared from site, if not from local memory.
Known by the welcoming name of the Friend-in-Hand Hotel, the establishment was situated on the Ballarat Rd from Fyansford (today's Fyansford-Gheringhap Rd) where that road intersects the Friend in Hand Rd.
Whilst the hotel itself was probably only in operation for around ten years, the stories of its past and reputation have lasted much longer in local memory; chiefly in the form of ghost stories - a few of which I have stumbled across over the years. For such a fleeting establishment, I have garnered quite a significant amount of information, so in this post, I will look at the stories and legends of the "Friend in Hand ghost" and in the following post I will look at actual events.
Most recently, in a letter to the editor of the Weekly Review (3rd June, 2013), Geoff Searle gave the following version of events:
The story goes that in the 1850s, the pub's owner hit his son-in-law over the head with a saucepan. He died, was buried on a farm and haunted the area. The pub ended in ruins.
Such was the ghost's reputation that my grandfather and his brother dressed in white sheets to spook a notorious cattle duffer who stole stock from farms at night.
The pair jumped out in front of the thief's horse, which bolted. He was never seen again.
Some of the local ghost stories seem to centre more on kids hiding under sheets
than any possible supernatural occurrence
In his book The Stepping Stone: a History of the Shire of Bannockburn (1995), Derek Beaurepaire talks about the Lamb family, early settlers in the area who lived near site of the Friend in Hand Hotel where a lane bore their name. This version of the tale stated that children riding their horses in the area should be especially careful passing Lamb's Lane lest their horses suddenly take fright and bolt. One of the family described the "Ghost of Lamb's Lane" to Beaurepaire thus:
The Lamb family often had an unwanted visitor who came across the Barwon to pay his respects and drink the Lamb's whisky. He had a habit of staying until the early hours of the morning which was upsetting to everyone. So the Lamb children told him vivid tales about a ghost which appeared in the lane on dark nights. The visitor took little notice, had several more whiskies and set forth, only to be confronted by one of the children dressed up in a sheet. The horse reared and bolted giving the visitor a rapid and rough ride home through the river. He did not return for 3 months and then only arriving and departing in daylight.
Beaurepaire then adds that local legend claimed that a father and son working at the hotel nearby had a disagreement, resulting in the death of one party.
The entrance to Lamb's Lane today, September, 2016
A third version of the story can be found in Roy Holden's notes on Fyansford, held at the Geelong Historical Records Centre:
...the old Friend in Hand, which was situated on the Ballarat road about three miles from Fyansford. It was the home of tramps for many years. Early residents said that when it was being built two bricklayers (father and son) quarrelled and one killed the other with a hammer. Afterwards the place was supposed to be haunted, so that with fewer teams passing and the supposed ghost, trade fell away and tenants did not stay long in it.
These are just a few of the tales told. So what truth - if any - is there to the legends? As it turns out, quite a bit. Surprisingly however, the most accurate version of events is perhaps a fictional account written in 1977 as a children's novel by local author John W Pescott. The book - The Ghost at Friend In Hand - which takes the form of a "boys own adventure novel" follows the story of a group of boys who go looking for the ghost after hearing the tale from an adult.
The Ghost at Friend-in-hand, (John Pescott, 1977)
According to the story, at the height of the gold rush, just over 100 years ago (remember, this was the 1970s), a butcher by the name of Thomas Brock decided to enter the hotel trade, building a sizeable establishment on the Ballarat Rd from Fyansford, at the intersection of the Friend in Hand Rd. Before Brock could complete his hotel however, he was fatally injured by his step-father wielding a large iron saucepan.
Eventually, to cut a long story short, Brock was buried behind his hotel and his step-father was sentenced to seven years hard labour for manslaughter. Subsequent owners of the hotel attempted to make a go of the business, however all were unsuccessful and the building was eventually abandoned and fell into ruin. The reason given for the failure was of course, Brock's ghost.
As for the rest of Pescott's story, the boys set out to find the ghost and were surprised by a strange man who turned out to be all too alive but of course bore an uncanny resemblance to the long-dead Brock, leaving them questioning whether or not there might actually be a connection...
So, what was truth and what was fiction? In my next post, I will dig into what may really have happened...