In 1912, a 17-year-old girl died at a remote island lighthouse off the New South Wales mid-north coast.
- The 17-year-old daughter of South Solitary Island’s lighthouse keeper died of typhoid on the island in 1912
- Because the island was mainly rock, she was unable to be buried so was sealed in concrete in a bathtub
- Those who have lived on the island since and regular visitors there have reported mysterious happenings that they link to a haunting
She had succumbed to typhoid during a raging storm on the rocky island, leaving her family no choice but to entomb her body in a bathtub until she could be moved to the mainland.
When the storm calmed, Lydia Gow’s body was shipped off South Solitary Island for burial, but some — like Darren Squibb, who lived on the island during the 1970s — say her spirit never left.
“I heard footsteps moving about the house,” Mr Squibb said.
Buried in a bathtub
Selina Lydia Gow fell ill in November 1912 and her father, the principal lighthouse keeper, called for a doctor from the mainland.
Rob Trezise, a former lighthouse keeper and president of the Friends of the South Solitary Island Lighthouse, said heavy seas and strong winds hampered the doctor’s journey, and when he arrived it was too late.
“Lydia had contracted typhoid and that was, in those days, basically fatal,” he said.
“She passed away before they could get her off the island.”
With the storm raging, there was no way of getting Lydia’s body to the mainland for several days and burial was not an option.
“The island is nearly all rock and there was really no top soil that they could dig up to put her grave on there,” Mr Trezise said.
Archives held at Lydia’s final resting place, Sandgate Cemetery, state her mother did not want her body thrown into the sea, so she was placed inside one of two bathtubs, covered in either concrete or lime, before the tubs were soldered together.
The teenager was buried in Newcastle four days after her death and, according to some sources, she was still inside the tub.
Did Lydia really leave the island?
In 1971, then nine-year-old Darren Squibb moved to South Solitary Island where his father took a job as a lighthouse keeper.
From the first day, he said he felt there was something strange about their new home.
During his two years on the island, Mr Squibb said he became traumatised by a constant feeling of a presence in his room, the sounds of footsteps in the hallway and someone playing with his hair as he tried to sleep.
He also believes he saw the ghost of Lydia Gow after running into his mother’s room during the night.
“I could see what appeared to be a very shadowy, sort of flowing light up in the corner of the room; that’s the only time I saw anything visually.”
Mr Squibb said his father also believed he saw a ghostly figure in the house on a separate occasion but did not say anything until after the family left the island.
Following the encounters, Mr Squibb said he began having nightmares, started sleepwalking and became a “very nervous child”, so his parents chose not to tell him they were having similar experiences.
“They downplayed my fears and concerns and experiences; it wasn’t until probably eight or nine months after we came off the island that mum sat me down and she acknowledged for the first time, that yes, the house was haunted, and mum and dad had experienced things on an almost daily basis,” he said.
Mr Squibb has returned to stay on the island on several occasions to carry out restoration work on the cottage.
A visit to the mainland
For two weekends every August, tourist flights are made to South Solitary Island.
Staff at Precision Helicopters have their own stories to tell about Lydia — and even joke that she’s been to the mainland.
“We do laugh that sometimes she might come back on the helicopter, just for a bit of a run around on the mainland, and then she’ll just fly back out to the island,” office manager Jo Young said.
Ms Young had her own “unexplained” experience she believes might be Lydia’s work.
When the tours were being conducted in 2018, she came into the office one morning to find a historic photograph of Lydia on the floor — three metres from where it was hung.
“I thought, ‘well that’s a bit strange’, it’s never fallen off in the past two years and the other photo frames were all up, and so I put her back up on the wall, but then the next day it flew off again.
Ms Young said the volunteers who restored the cottages often came back with stories of strange happenings.
“They hear sweeping in the passages, doors are locked and unlocked, and things are moved around,” she said.
“Last night a torch came on in the middle of the night and scared everyone — I’m not sure how that happens.”