When in Williamstown, stick around to meet Reverend George Wilkinson. Did we mention he died 140 years ago?
Williams Town or Williamstown as it is now known, I believe is one of Melbourne’s best kept secrets. I struggle to think of a place that has so much to offer, yet is still so conveniently placed to Melbourne.
I have watched Williamstown change over the years. I remember my aunt and uncle buying their first home in “Willy”. I was just a little tot, but I still remember building sandcastles on the beach and feeding the swans along Nelson Place. As property prices have peaked in Melbourne, so too have the prices in Williamstown. However, Williamstown has still managed to maintain a balance. It’s a place that not only offers magnificent dining and a great café culture, but also a very “waterscape/country feel”. Life seems to slow down when you step into “Willie”—with all its modern conveniences, but with still so many links to the past.
Williamstown sprang up in the 1830s, and was originally considered as a contender for the capital of the new colony. However, inadequate fresh water supplies in the area at the time, prevented this and gave the honor to Melbourne.
I spend a lot of time in Williamstown, and will cover the suburb more thoroughly in the next issue of the magazine. For now I’ll try and paint a picture of what life was like in the 1800’s and maybe this will explain why it is said there is still a “ghostly” presence in the area.
I recently went on one of Jackie’s tours, the owner of Lantern Ghost Tours and whilst I have never seen a ghost, nor want to, I was intrigued by the stories. The stories link the past to the present, and whether they be myth or legend they are definitely entertaining. The mood of the night, the wind howling, the rain, and the full moon, raised the hairs on my arms as we ventured into a darkened morgue, opium den and other “creepy” places, in search of connecting with the spirits of yesterday.
Williamstown residents—tell of stories that can’t be explained and of sightings they later think they’ve imagined. They tell of a “feeling” or a “presence”. These are things we tend to dismiss, “Ah, that can’t be, you’ve been drinking/dreaming…”.
Café Cirino on Nelson Place has great food and hot chocolate, amongst other delicacies and is one of my own “haunting places”. I was talking to the owner, Max, the other day over a cup of hot chocolate, and I asked him if he had any ghost stories to share. He laughed, and told me he had a photograph which was taken in his restaurant. It took him a few minutes to locate the picture and it isn’t something he has made “public”. On first glance, I thought “Ok that’s a nice shot”. He almost read my mind and said, “Look into the fire”.
I’ll let you be the judge!
From so much mayhem in the early days of settlement, Williamstown soon became a rich and affluent area. Women were in short supply in the early days, but alcohol flowed freely at the pubs. It’s said there was a pub on every corner of Williamstown and the men worked and played hard.
Being a naval port, men who had been on the sea for months at a time quickly disembarked and headed straight for the closest pub to quench their thirst.
Back in 1876 the local Reverend George Wilkinson felt if he erected a fresh water drinking fountain close to the disembarkment area for the boats, it would encourage people to stay sober and the town would be more orderly. Unfortunately the Reverend died before he could witness his dream come true.
The fountain is the earliest known memorial drinking fountain in Melbourne, is made from cast-iron and was imported from Glasgow. It has recently undergone a restoration and has only been unveiled in the last couple of weeks.
It stands just near the information centre and Gem Pier and is well worth a visit. However, you would be advised to ensure you don’t go near the fountain whilst intoxicated, as I have heard stories of those walking past the fountain at night, under the influence of alcohol being splashed with water as they pass the fountain.
Some believe it is the spirit of the late Reverend still trying to take care of his “flock”, and giving a gentle reprimand to those he feels are walking the wrong path.