Was the Theatre Royal resident ghost 'Fred' the saviour of the building that night?
A Close Call
Legend says that the fire curtain located at the edge of the stage let itself down smothering much of the fire. Had this not happened it is said the fire would have left the theatre completely gutted and Australia one less historic icon.
At the time of the fire the Theatre Royal was 147 years old. It opened in 1837 and had been designed by Peter Degraves, the founder of Australias oldest brewery: 'Cascade'.
The Theatre Royal was Australia's second purpose built theatre and it offered a large variety of different forms of entertainment. Stage shows, live music and even cockfights were part of the itinerary.
A Seedy History
It's location also saw it sitting on Campbell street with the the docks only a few blocks in one direction and later the hobart Gaol a few blocks in the other. As one could expect this was not the atmosphere 'high society' was accustomed too. Unfortunately for the upper class theatre goers it was not just the atmosphere outside that was uncomfortable but also the atmosphere below the theatre.
The theatre stank with the smell of the tobacco and stale beer that wafted out of the tavern aswell as the smell of the unwashed sailers, prostitutes and other general 'undesirables'.
Their ease of access to the auditorium from 'The Shades' also meant that shows were regularly interrupted by the raucous cries of the drunkards and prostitutes 'selling their wares'.
The Shades closed within the year. It would be understandable if you thought they were closed due to the unending dramas unfolding off the stage but it was really a financial decision; the tavern was starting to pull more customers in than the theatre was!
Did a Ghost Save the Theatre Royal?
The number of seats has both risen and fallen as the theatre underwent these changes. The theatre has also been under threat of demolition on several occasions but was always saved by groups or individuals who understand and respect the need to save the building.
After the fire in 1984 over $1 million was raised to save and repair the theatre. It reopened in 1986.
It is said that the theatres resident ghost 'Fred' was the saviour of the theatre. It is said that he dropped the fire curtain as no one else could have when the fire broke out at three in the morning. With the aid of this event it only took firefighters about an hour to fully contain the blaze and save much of the theatre.
There are several possibilities of who Fred could be. Some believe he is the spirit of an actor that died during a performance in the late 1800's.
Others believe he may be the spirit of a sailor killed by a prostitute in 'The Shades'. The final theory is that an argument started between two actors resulting in the death of one during a duel at dawn.
It would seem the theatre has had as much drama behind the scenes ats it did on stage!
Fred has been seen on several occasions startling the workers late at night by walking down the aisle and taking a seat before dissappearing. He is also said to have been seen in the basement, the previous location of the old tavern.
Regardless of who he is there seems to be no malicious intent within this ghost. I think he is just happy to still have a place he can call home.