Around 1891, Peter Stein, a “hard headed, practical, frugal German,” sold his property at Wagga Wagga, packed up his family, including his adult son Jacob, and set off in search of new property in the Dubbo district of central western New South Wales. On arrival in the district, Peter and his son, Jacob, took up two areas of 2,560 acres each at Coalbaggie, just outside Dubbo. However, no sooner had the Steins settled in, than they began hearing at night “strange voices, loud cooeying, and awful screamings”.
And before long, things would get a whole lot worse for the Steins.
In May 1894, the Steins’ remarkable story was reported in the Dubbo Dispatch causing somewhat of a sensation throughout the central west at the time.
According to the report, at first, the Steins paid little attention to the noises carrying across the barren landscape in the still of night. They presumed the “strange voices, loud cooeying, and awful screamings” originated from travellers “more merry than sensible” making their way along bush tracks in the dark.
“These sounds were only heard at intervals,” the Dubbo Dispatch reported. “A fortnight or three weeks intervening between their occurrence. They, however, took place so regularly, for they were at one time heard at Jacob Stein’s and again at the father’s, that the idea of noisy roysterers, making night hideous with their noises, was given up.
“About 18 months ago there were further developments and, according to the family, strange manifestations. The furniture in Peter Stein’s house became as possessed. It jumped about in all directions, and on one occasion the crash of crockery was something decidedly extraordinary and uncanny. Mrs. Stein was baking in the kitchen one day, and after she had her dough prepared to be placed in the oven an invisible hand caught it up and tossed it on the floor.”
Conversation with a spirit
The Dispatch continued: “These things, or akin to them, have kept on from then till now, but with the further development that the person responsible, whether spirit of heaven or goblin damned, has frequently interviewed and has had conversations with the several members of the family.
“In reply to a question from Peter Stein the invisible visitor has said that his name is George William Herbart, and that his mother, who was named Annie, and his sister, who was called Julia, were burnt to death on the South Balladoran run – that his father died in the Cootamundra Hospital 18 years ago – that he (the speaker) had been hit upon the head and left for dead on the road, that he had been saved, and had subsisted upon herbs and weeds.”
It was then that Peter Stein asked the disembodied voice to show himself. The disembodied voice replied somewhat frighteningly:
“If I did those who saw me would faint, for they have never seen anything like me before.”
A fascinating interview with Jacob Stein
After receiving wide coverage throughout the central west region of New South Wales and beyond, the Stein’s story soon caused quite the stir.
On 1 June 1894, the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal published an interview with Jacob Stein conducted by the Dubbo Dispatch.
“The account recently published in the Dubbo Dispatch regarding the peculiar manifestations at the residence of Mr. Peter Stein, at Coalbaggie, 27 miles from Dubbo, excited very much curiosity and no little argument. The continuation of the manifestations, to the great annoyance of the family, induced Mr. Jacob Stein, the eldest son … to visit Dubbo on Saturday last, with a view to obtain such assistance as would enable a solution of the mystery.
“Mr. Stein called at the Dispatch office, and in the presence of several well-known gentleman, told a most extraordinary tale, bearing out in every particular what had been previously published – showing, in fact, that what was said was only a part of what had occurred almost continuously during the four years the Stein family have been on the Coalbaggie.”
This is Jacob Stein’s fascinating interview.
What age are you, Mr. Stein, and how long have you been on the Coalbaggie?
I am going on for 29 years, and with my father and the rest of us I came here about four years ago. My father took up one selection on South Balladoran, and I took up the other. They are about three miles apart.
When did these annoyances commence?
From the first day we went there. There was, I may tell you, an old hut on the ground when we took it up, and we heard noises there first. Then when the new place was built it commenced in earnest.
It chucked candlesticks, furniture, and everything else about. It hammered the tin dishes, and you could see the dents in the dishes afterwards. It started to talk to us then, but since Father Bolger and Father Moylan were out it has not talked so much. It was quiet for some time afterwards.
Has it told you what it is, or anything of its history?
Yes, it has often said that its mother and sister were burned to death in the hut. The mother was ironing, and her dress caught fire. He said an aunt and uncle lived across the creek, and the mother when she was dying gave £60 and a gold watch to the aunt, asking her to keep them for her boy and take care of him. The uncle, a man named [left blank] hit him upon the head with the handle of a stock whip, and left him for dead on the road.
Have you ever seen anything, Mr. Stein?
Well, one night, mother and I were sitting in the room, by the fire, and clods were pelted at us as if by some person in the fireplace. We looked and saw a strange figure. It had the body of a child, about five years old, and a most peculiar face, with a whitish beard on it. I went to catch it and it disappeared.
On another occasion I saw something like a hand coming over a box, and when I tried to grasp it there was nothing.
When you heard it talking, did the things move about?
Yes, while it talked outside, as it were, the furniture and other things would be knocked about inside. In fact, in four different places the racket would be going on. It used to catch the bedsteads and shake them violently, and while this was taking place a few yards away, the crockery would be smashed at the same time.
On one occasion, it took up a crucifix which was in the house, broke it to pieces, and flung the bits in our faces. At another time, some blessed candles brought from Dubbo, were broken into bits before us and cast at us. The candles and crucifix were quite uninjured a minute or two before, and without our seeing what was doing it, they were pulled to pieces and cast at us.
Was any person outside the family in the house at any time when these occurrences were going on?
Yes, why only the other day it attempted to set fire to the house in four different places, and it also set fire to my sister’s clothes, and did other things, and this can be testified to by Mr. McLeod, who is now in Dubbo, and a Mr. Dwyer, who with his son was at our place at the time, making arrangements for the purchase from us of 1,000 sheep.
When did it appear last?
On Friday and Saturday last, it was very bad, and it took us all we could do to prevent it burning down the place. We can smell like fire before we see it, and the house will be on fire in four places at once, and the bedclothes and articles of female apparel also burning.
It has been suggested Mr. Stein that one of your family is a ventriloquist, and that accounts for some of the manifestations?
Whenever I hear this – and I have heard it several times – I get real ‘narked.’ I wish those who offer this solution had the thing tied round their neck. Then they would know if it was a ventriloquist. It is, I assure you, a regular torment to us, and it is driving my father and mother real mad. My opinion that it is a live spirit, possessed of the devil.
Have you seen anything at any other time than you have told us?
Well, on one occasion, it came in the shape of a bear, got up on the wall of the kitchen, and when we went to chase it away, it disappeared in a white smoke.
On another occasion, a big mouse, about a foot long, came on the roof, and it mysteriously moved about. Again it took the shape of a kangaroo, and another day a wallaby was near the house and it would not shift for my sisters. They tried to put the dogs on it, but the dogs came back, with their tails between their legs.
My brother and myself put two kangaroo dogs on it, and it ran into the creek and disappeared as if into the ground. The dogs came out on the other side, looking terribly frightened, but there was no wallaby. That night it talked to us and said it could appear in any shape – that it was the wallaby which we were chasing. It said it could appear as a lizard or a snake, or any shape it liked. It told us that it was no use bringing out the priests. It said it would haunt us and torment us not only while we were on the Coalbaggie, but would follow us about wherever we went.
You say it has talked to you very frequently?
Well’ yes, but not so much during the last few months. It talks in two voices, and sometimes speaks sensibly enough, while at others it seems quite mad, and uses language which could not be beaten by the lowest Sydney larrikin.
It bids us the time of day, and when I have remonstrated with it for its actions, it says it is only having a bit of fun. I once said to it that there was not much fun in breaking crockery and generally knocking things about, and it told me it couldn’t help it, for when its mother caught fire it was taking some crockery out, and the shock was so great that it dropped it.
Since then its favorite amusement has been smashing up the crockery. It has done, from first to last, £100 worth of damage, and you may be sure if it was one of ourselves we would not waste money like that. Not long since, it went into the kitchen, and in the presence of three or four took down the frying-pan, placed it on the fire, and put six eggs in it. The frying-pan could be seen moving and the eggs put in it, but the agency which moved it was invisible.
It is no wonder that we are scared, when these things take place. Why, even the dogs know when it is about. You can hear it talking to them, and they look in mortal dread, their hair standing up and their eyes bulging out of their heads. It talks in two voices, and sometimes so loudly that it ought to be heard a mile away.
Does it ever sing, and are the songs up to day?
Yes, it sings, and it seems to know all sorts of songs. Two in particular it seems to be very fond of – ‘The Banks of the Clyde’ [and] ‘The Ship that Never Returned.’ It sings the last one pretty fair, but it is quite horrible to hear it singing ‘The Banks of the Clyde’ – it’s quite sickening. It does not trouble me at my selection so much as it troubles them at my father’s place.
It sometimes comes and takes my tools when I am at work and plants them. I find them after wards, however. We are quite full about it. The family will come into Dubbo, and then it can bash away.
Do you suspect any neighbours of being concerned?
No, we are on the best terms with everyone, and the nearest neighbor is living nearly three miles away. I have really no conception of what the thing is, beyond that I honestly believe it is a live spirit, possessed by the devil, and having the power of making itself invisible. Why, the night when we were praying, and it lifted up the table towards the ceiling, there were present my father and mother and four of my sisters. Not one of them touched the table, but it went up just the same.
The affair is extraordinary
At the request of Peter Stein, the Very Rev. Father Byrne visited the property, but alas, after staying overnight experienced nothing out of the ordinary himself.
Following his own investigation, he concluded that the Steins were “believers that they are being annoyed by a power which can act materially, talk like a man or woman, all the time being invisible. The affair is extraordinary and a searching inquiry should take place.”