The Guyra Ghost of 1921

Until the Humpty Doo poltergeist outbreak of 1998, Australia’s most notorious poltergeist was a very persistent, wall-bashing, stone-throwing entity known as the “Guyra Ghost” which terrorised William Bowen, his wife and three children in their tiny weatherboard cottage just outside Guyra, NSW in early 1921.

Tony Healy and I covered the story in great detail in our Australian Poltergeist book, so if you want a more exhaustive investigation of the Guyra case, grab a copy.

Minnie Bowen
Minnie Bowen

The haunting began on about 8 April with “tremendous thumping’s” on the walls followed by showers of stones which eventually broke every window in the house. Nobody could see who or what was creating the mayhem but it was soon noticed the attacks seemed to be focused on 12 year old Minnie: stones smashed through her bedroom window and fell on her bed.

The Bowen House in Guyra, 1921

Whether they believed a ghost was responsible or whether they thought a fiendishly clever prowler was at work, local residents – many of whom had observed the phenomena at the Bowen’s – became quite jittery. Some took to sleeping with loaded guns at hand. As a result a young girl was wounded in the head and several other people narrowly escaped being shot.

In this stressful atmosphere the local police sergeant, who sat up night after night at the cottage amid the interminable thumps and stone showers, broke under the strain and was sent away for a rest.

Minnie and her stepfather, William Bowen

Alarmed at the dangerous situation which was developing, the State government sent a team of detectives from Sydney which maintained a constant surveillance of the stressed but cooperative Bowen family, interrogated a large number of Guyra residents and organised teams of up to 80 armed volunteers.

Despite a double cordon being maintained around the house the mighty thumping continued, “sufficient to shake the cottage to its foundations and audible to watchers a hundred yards from the house.” To those outside, the thumping appeared to come from within; to those inside, it seemed to come from outside.

A smashed window at the Bowen house

Ghost busters bested

At its peak the “Guyra Ghost” created international interest. One of the people drawn to the remote township by the mystery was a certain Mr Moors, a personal friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and who, like Conan Doyle, had a great interest in psychic phenomena. Given full access to the house, he removed portions of the roof to create lookout posts and set an elaborate system of traps.

Completely unimpressed, the “ghost” continued its maddening mayhem. Moors and his five assistants were completely flummoxed: they couldn’t even say for sure whether the walnut-sized stones were thrown from inside or outside the house. But where a foreign expert failed, a local ghost buster may have partially succeeded.

When Ben Davey of Uralla, a student of spiritualism and theosophy, visited the Bowen household he learned that a daughter of Mrs Bowen by a former marriage had died about three months earlier. As he told The Sunday Times later, he immediately suspected the spirit of the dead girl was trying to communicate with young Minnie:

I said to the girl, ‘If the knock comes again, ask if that’s your sister May.’

She replied, ‘I can’t speak to my sister she’s dead.’ I coaxed her, saying, ‘Speak, dear. Even if your sister can’t speak she might knock again.’

I hardly spoke the words before the knock came again. I can tell you my hair stood up on end. But I continued to coax the girl, and about five minutes later a third knock came. Then the little girl crossed and blessed herself, put her hands up in supplication, and said, ‘If that’s you. May, speak to me.’ She was silent a moment and then began to cry.

I asked her, “Did May speak ?’

She said, ‘Yes, May spoke.’

I said. ‘What did she say ?’

She said, ‘I can’t tell you. The message is for mother.’

She then went over and laid her head on her mother’s lap, crying. Her mother said, “Well, tell the gentlemen what she said’

The little girl looked up and said the message she received was this : ‘Tell mother I am perfectly happy where I am, and that your prayers when I was sick brought me where I am, and made me happy. Tell mother not to worry, I’ll watch and guard over you all.’

What with the near-destruction of the house and the whole town in an uproar, it would seem that her sister had a very strange way of “watching and guarding” over her family. However, Ben Davey’s belief that she was behind the haunting seemed to be confirmed by the fact that after Minnie’s chat with her all polt activity ceased …… at least for a while.

When, to the despair of all, the thumpings and stonefalls recommenced, Minnie’s parents, in desperation, sent her 60 kilometres away to her grandmother’s house in Glen Innes. Proof that she really had been the focus of the polt’s attention was soon provided : it followed her there.

The Glenn Innes House

As the second house was situated in town it was possible to imagine the flying stones were the work of local larrikins, but the wall-shaking thumps were as difficult to explain as ever. Some thumps were heavy enough to dislodge ornaments on a sideboard. When a 200 pound man threw his full weight against the wall next to the sideboard the ornaments did not even shake.

The “Ghost” fades

After a time Minnie’s parents took her back to the Guyra cottage. Thereafter, it seems, the strange phenomena simply faded away.

Nowadays it is hard to find any resident of Guyra who knows much about the story which pushed the little town into the spotlight so many years ago. The townspeople’s attitude to the “ghost” seems tinged with embarrassment and they seem content with explanations of the episode which don’t make a lot of sense. Interestingly, one of their “explanations” – that the stones were all fired from a giant slingshot set up on a distant hill – has been suggested several times before in several different countries to account for polt attacks.

A photo of the Bowen house from the 1990s.

Twelve year old Minnie appears to have been a typical “poltergeist medium” : the kind of troubled adolescent who very often seems to be the focus – and possibly the unconscious instigator – of polt attacks. A Sunday Times journalist considered her a rather odd little girl: “Minnie is tall, thin and dark, with peculiar dark, introspective eyes that never seem to miss any movement in a room. When she speaks to you she never smiles, and seems to look beyond or through you … she has a rather uncanny aptitude for anticipating questions, almost before they are asked …”

The two houses involved in the mystery still stand, although the Bowen residence has been enlarged and renovated. The current occupants , though a little nervous when they moved in, have never heard a peep out of the “ghost.”

Minnie Bowen grew up, married, and, as Mrs Frank Ince, lived for many years, apparently normally, in Armidale. If she knew more about the “Guyra Ghost” than she let on as a child, there is no record other telling anyone about it in later life.

Minnie Bowen – then Mrs Ince – in 1943, on the far left of the photo.

In about 1988 or ’89 an elderly, slow-moving lady, once a strange, dark-eyed, haunted girl, was run over and killed on the Grafton Road, just outside Armidale.


Raymond Bayless, The Enigma of the Poltergeist.

Janet and Colin Bord, Modern Mysteries of the World

Frank Cusack, Australian Ghost Stories

The Sunday Times, Brisbane, 17 and 24 April 1921

One Reply to “The Guyra Ghost of 1921”

  1. My mother was a Guyra girl and I often listened to my Grandfather talking about the ‘ ghost ‘ and laughing his head off.
    At one stage many of the Guyra residents encircled the house with their cars with the headlights on. The stones still came over the top and hit the house. I will leave the rest of the story to your imagination.

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