For a bit of harmless fun on a Friday night, rug up in your warm gear and try out a Williamstown Ghost Tour by Lantern Ghost Tours. An inexpensive $25 per adult entitles you to an hour and a half of fun including the history of the area which, given that it was to be Victoria's initial capital (as King William's Town) until better fresh water reserves were found across the bay, is really interesting. Add a walking tour around the alleys and laneways, visiting the long abandoned spots where morgues, brothels and cemeteries once operated and murder and mayhem reigned.
Try The Town Fryer for the best fish and chips in Williamstown or, as I did, sample some of the best seafood pasta around and follow it up with some wonderful desserts at Sam's Boat Shed Restaurant. It was a little cold on the night I went, but for the warmer months maybe try Sam's outdoor eating area under a majestic peppercorn tree.
All of these dining options are located directly across from the Visitors' Centre, which stands on Commonwealth Reserve in Nelson Place. This architecturally modern building, alongside an old fashioned rotunda, is the meeting place for the Ghost Tour participants. Gather at the cast iron Wilkinson Memorial Fountain, in honour of the Anglican Reverend of the same name who shipped the pieces out from Glasgow and had the fountain rebuilt in 1876. The story goes that, being concerned at the level of drunkenness, he thought that if free water was available, residents may choose it over alcohol. No?
The tour guide will regale you with stories of the darker side of human nature which for some, is the highlight of the evening. However, if you're a bit of a sceptic, just take in the history, join in the fun and go along for the ride. It's a really good adventure, an hour and a half of exercise and a history lesson all in one.
Your Tour Guide Extraordinaire will share the story of the little girl who fell from the Custom's House balcony. This 1873 stucco building is a fine example of the Classical Revival style architecture. You'll also hear about the "lady" who, with assistance from some willing locals, used to haul her alcohol up into her bedroom in a bucket on a rope from the footpath at the Old Royal Hotel. The Licensee never did figure out how confined to her room, the lady always managed to be drunk. This fabulous old hotel was established in 1852 and rebuilt in the early 1890s.
As the tour progresses, you'll find yourself at the RMS Titanic Restaurant, formerly the Prince of Wales Hotel constructed in 1857. Here the group (usually about 15 people), squeezes down an alleyway behind the old hotel and experiences a sense of eeriness as both lanterns are extinguished and silence pervades, along with a hint of lavender.
A little further along the track, the barred vaults that used to store grain and later bodies catches one's interest as does the block of land surrounding the old Timeball Tower, as bodies only buried in three feet of earth, regularly surfaced . The wonderful old Timeball Tower was used to check the accuracy of clocks on ships in the bay. When the ball was lowered, all knew that it was 1pm.
Wending our way back to Nelson Place, we stop at the old Britannia Hotel with its haunted cellar and wander past the production studio cleverly named, the Wicked of Oz. Our next to last point of interest is the Oriental Hotel, built as the Barkly Arms in 1871 and renamed in 1881. It was here that the Press Gangs would find their prey for manning the ships at sea.
Our final stop is at the heritage listed Old Morgue in Ann St on the old Port of Melbourne Authority site. This Georgian style building was the first morgue erected in Victoria. In 1859 on its original site at Gem Pier, this bluestone building was built entirely by convict labour. As the door was opened, there was a long pause before entering the Morgue, where we were then educated in the mortician's ways and heard tales of events that went on in this eerie place. The swaying effigies represented the bodies of old that were hung by their heels from the rafters to avoid the rats from reaching them. From here, we bade our lovely guide a Good Night and headed back to the Visitors' Centre.
The tour is very well organised and informative, so it is no surprise that Lantern Tours won the 2011 Tourism Award Hobson's Bay for Business Excellence and also for Star Women in Business and was a Victorian finalist in the 2012 Australian Business Awards.
The tours run every Friday night at 8:30pm and again at 10:30pm
Depart from Hobson's Bay Visitor Centre,
Cnr Nelson Place & Syme St, Williamstown
Adult $25/Conc $22/Children $15/ Family $70
Ph: 1300 390 11 www.lanternghosttours.com
Williamstown, just 15minutes by car from Melbourne's CBD via the Westgate Freeway, sits on Hobson's Bay, 8kms SW of the city. A 30 minutes train ride from Flinders Street or a ferry ride from Southgate's Art and Leisure precinct will deliver you to this interesting and historic suburb.