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Werribee Park


“What caused Thomas to take his own life …? ”

The history

When most people think of Werribee Park, they think of Werribee park Mansion – a grand Renaissance revival-style property with 60 rooms across several wings. While the designing architect is still a mystery, construction of the large basalt and sandstone mansion was completed in 1877 as an opulent home for the Chirnside family – a family of Scottish pastoralists who made their fortune from wool across the western district of Victoria.

But before the Chirnsides made their massive fortune and had the means to build such a grand home, around 1857 they constructed a relatively modest compound of bluestone buildings including a homestead, stables, blacksmith and carriage house, close to the existing mansion site. This area is known as Werribee Park Homestead and became the working heart of the Werribee estate – but it was also the site of the many early trials and tragedies of the Chirnside family.

Who were the Chirnsides?

The Chirnside family was headed up by two brothers – Thomas (b.1815 – d.1887) and Andrew (b.1818 – d.1890), with Thomas migrating to Australia in 1839 and Andrew following in 1841.
They were seasoned businessmen and came with wealth unlike anyone in the region had seen before; it was rumoured that Thomas came loaded with a few hundred pounds (and a Bible) given to him by his father, which at the time, was equivalent to more than a few years’ pay for a skilled worker.
After a few failed ventures with cattles and merino sheep around South Australia and New South Wales, Thomas teamed up with his newly arrived brother Andrew and as they grew their flock, began to purchase runs throughout Port Phillip. Around 1850, the brothers bought the Werribee property, and continued to buy up close to 80,000 acres freehold in Wyndham.
Astute businessmen, the brothers may have prayed on the misfortunes of others in the region during this time, notably buying up the property of Edward Wedge after his death in the Werribee flood of 1852. They also built a homestead at Point Cook where at times, Thomas resided and by around 1880, they owned around 93,000 acres in the district.

What happened to them?

Despite their wealth and status, tragedy – spawned by some very strange decisions – would follow the Chirnside family.  

Thomas went back to Scotland around 1845 and fell in love with his first cousin, Mary. He was so smitten with her that he almost immediately asked for her hand in marriage, but her parents refused. Desperate to be with her, the story goes that when Andrew returned to Scotland for a visit, Thomas begged him to bring Mary back to Australia any way he could.

Now, most loving brothers would plead Thomas’ case with Mary’s parents and try their damndest to convince them that his brother was the right choice for her. But no, in 1852 Andrew married her and brought her back to Werribee. Awks. Thomas and Andrew then went ahead and built the mansion for Mary and she and Andrew’s children. Thomas then also moved from Point Cook Homestead to live with them. Despite their enormous wealth, times grew tougher and the financial burden of such a massive estate and their business ventures took a toll on Thomas, and his health began to suffer.

Suffering from severe depression, Thomas had lunch with the family, grabbed a shotgun, then walked to the laundry of the Werribee Mansion and committed suicide. What caused Thomas to take his own life? Was it business pressure, mental health issues, or because he couldn’t bear the heartache of living with Andrew and Mary any longer? We’ll never know. 

Andrew then fully inherited the property, but died three years later from heart disease, leaving the property to his sons George and John Percy on the condition that Mary could live out her days at the mansion. She lived there for another 12 years, and died in Colac on March 4, 1908 from burns after her hair caught fire by a candle. However, the Bacchus Marsh Express reported on 14 March 1908 that Mary’s cause of death was blood poisoning from a knee injury. Either way, it would have been a painful demise for poor Mary.

The paper reported that after she passed, Mary was placed in a lead-lined polished oak coffin with a silver plate on the top which said “At Rest” and another at the foot stating “Hope” with a silver anchor, and was transported from Colac by a special train, with hearse, to Werribee Park.

Her coffin was placed in the vestibule of the mansion at the foot of the stairs, surrounded by floral tributes and messages of condolence. After the funeral, Mary was taken to the Eastern Cemetery in Geelong where she was laid to rest in the family vault, beside her husband Andrew. 

There’s also stories of farmhands drowning in mysterious circumstances in the adjoining Werribee River, illicit affairs and infanticide which all add to the tragic history surrounding one of the region’s pioneering families.

Our investigation

The Hallozween paranormal team was joined by guest investigators Cindy and Vicky for a three-hour tour of Werribee Park Homestead and surroundings, led by ‘Outback Medium’ and Twisted History guide Jodie.

We started our investigation in the stables, where Jodie says shadow figures had been captured. We set up a rem pod in the corner where activity had been reported but it didn’t trigger at all during our time there and we didn’t pick anything up on the SLS camera either.

We did get some relevant words through GhostTube – the word ‘angel’ was particularly interesting as it may have been a spirit looking for some guidance? – and we did get some action on the GhostMeter but nothing terribly significant.

From there, we headed over to the carriage house where Jodie said the heavy wooden door leading into the house was violently slammed during her last visit there a month ago. We set up various devices – catballs, the boo bear, rem pod, MelMeter and KII – and used the EchoVox app to open the lines of communication. We did get some significant words through and the MelMeter did trigger on command.

As darkness fell, we headed into the homestead itself where we set up a Laser Grid, as well as the other equipment we had with us. In here, we got a few triggers on the catballs in front of the boo bear and numerous temperature fluctuations, but again, nothing too significant. 

In a smaller hut behind the homestead, we tried and Estes session and while Cindy and I didn’t have much luck isolating any distinct words due to the enormous amount of chatter coming through, Jodie had had numerous previous experiences at the location, and did make contact with quite and angry spirit who wanted Jodie’s partner Nick to leave us alone in the building, calling him a snake and naming him numerous times. It was a very interesting session, but we didn’t linger too long as the energy there was quite dark.

The final stop of the evening was the blacksmith’s workshop where we also got a lot of chatter through the EchoVox, as well as some minor temperature fluctuations. I felt something brush past my leg while standing next to the bellows, Vicky felt something touch the back of her head immediately after that, and all four of us felt cool breezes circle around us numerous times despite the warm temperature inside the workshop.  With Jodie’s assistance, we did seem to make contact with a few entities – a potty-mouthed, but ‘proper’ lady with a rather aristocratic English or Scottish tone who wasn’t happy that someone else had spilled the beans on her potentially illicit affair with the blacksmith. We also got the name Thomas – the brother who committed suicide on the property back in 1887 – through a few times.

All in all it was a great location to investigate with so much local history – and more than a few skeletons in closets.

Twisted History hosts monthly paranormal investigations at Werribee Park. You can also follow them on Facebook.



Andrea is the founder of Hallozween and a paranormal enthusiast who has visited locations all over the world.


Andrea is the founder of Hallozween and a paranormal enthusiast who has visited locations all over the world.

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