Elaine Forrestal

Wrestling with Ghosts

While researching West Australian ghosts for my next novel I have come across some very interesting, and real, characters from the early days of settlement in the Swan River Colony. There was Sophia Dent whose family arrived in 1829 aboard the Marquis of Anglesea. This was the second ship to arrive in the Colony carrying settlers from England. But while it was anchored in Gage Roads, near the mouth of the Swan River, a sudden storm blew up and drove the ship onto the rocky shore where it immediately started to fill up with water. Elizabeth Dent, who was in the last stages of pregnancy, went into labour and her husband, Thomas, waded ashore with her in his arms. Sophia was born on the beach a short time later. She was the first female child born in the Colony.

I suppose that, coming into the world in the way that she did, Sophia’s life was always destined to be tempestuous. In 1847 she married William Charles Ellery, an American whaler, and they had six children. Will Ellery worked on a boat that ferried goods up and down the Swan River. One fateful day in 1860, on a return trip to Fremantle, the boat’s boiler blew up and Will was tragically killed. Within a year Sophia had married William (Flash Jack) Mitchell, but her family didn’t approve of Flash Jack and disowned her. The couple left Fremantle and travelled north. They settled at Irwin, near Geraldton, where Sophia had two more children.

Linked as they are by exceptional circumstances to the mouth of the Swan River, do the ghosts of Sophia Dent and Will Ellery still visit? Some say they do, just as the ghosts of Black Jack Anderson and Dolly Petit still visit Albany. In the next few weeks I am hoping to find out more so, if you like ghost stories, stay tuned.

The ghost of Dolly Petit has been seen sitting in front of this fireplace in her Albany house.