Cumberland College is a residential college in Dunedin, for the University of Otago. The iconic landmark was established as a hall of residence in 1989 and is located in the former Dunedin Hospital Nurses’ Home, built in 1916, just across the road from Dunedin Hospital and the Queen Mary Maternity Hospital.
There are underground tunnels linking Cumberland College to both Dunedin Hospital and Hayward College (formerly the maternity hospital).
Cumberland is reputed to be haunted by a spirit known only as the Grey Lady; an apparition possibly dating from the college’s time as a nurse’s hostel, is rumoured to roam the corridors of Cumberland College, leaving resident students that have encountered her, unnerved by the mysterious ghostly presence.
One such sighting in May 2012, caused much disruption amongst students at the college. So intense was the panic, that staff of the college requested that the chaplain of the University of Otago come visit the school to help alleviate the student’s fears.
One theory on who the restless spirit might be, follows a story of a young mother who gave birth in the psychiatric unit of the now closed Queen Mary Maternity Hospital, a short distance from Cumberland College, back then a nurse’s home.
The story goes that a overly concerned nurse took her new born baby away from her, claiming she was unfit to be the child’s mother.
Tragically, the young and very distraught mum died soon after the birth of her baby.
It is said, that her spirit then ventured over the road to the Nurse’s home, in search of her baby. An action the lady has been repeating ever since. These types of hauntings are termed Residual Hauntings.
This type of haunting is much more common than people realize.
The easiest way to explain this type of haunting is to compare it to an old film loop. Imagine an old movie tape is stuck in the VCR or DVD player for the younger crowd and the same clip keeps repeating itself. In locations where these hauntings take place, a powerful event or a series of events may be imprinted on the atmosphere. It can then suddenly pop up and play itself at random. But it’s not necessarily visual; they are often replayed as unexplained sounds. The famous “phantom footsteps” reported in many haunted locations are a perfect example of this.
How does this kind of thing happen? One theory is that the sounds and images are related to traumatic events that took place at the location, causing some sort of disturbance sometimes called a “psychic impression.” This is possibly the reason why so many battlefields have become famous for their hauntings over the years.
In other situations, the images might have been created by events or actions that were repeated, which caused an impression. Reputedly, that is why so many haunted staircases exist, because of the number of times people go up and down them and the amount of energy that is expended in doing so. Our continued investigations of Puhinui Homestead, located at the Howick Historical Village may highlight a good example of this effect. The alleged vision of a ‘grey woman’ is often seen ascending the stairs, by staff, building contractors and casual visitors.
Is it possible that these kinds of locations may act as a type of hard drive? Saving and storing the impressions of sights and sounds from the past. As time goes by, these impressions appear again as if in a loop mode. While apparitions are most commonly connected to these types of hauntings, much of the activity may be in the form of sounds, and even smells. A theory is that these ‘recordings’ will replay, in a loop type form. Be it every few minutes, hours, days, weeks. Perhaps even years or decades.
If this theory is so, then the trick is to find a loop pattern, to determine when the image or sound will replay itself again. If a pattern can be detected, via noting and journaling dates and times of occurrences, then eventually a pattern can possibly be pinpointed and recording equipment can then be deployed to document these historical time captures as they happen.
One confrontation with the alleged Grey Lady, occurred on May 5, 2012, when two female Health Science students, while walking down the corridor together, noticed a putrid smell in the air, which also suddenly became unusually icy cold.
One of the girls then states she saw a black figure standing next to a fire hydrant and, after pointing it out to the other girl, they felt a cold rustle of air go past them, and the apparition disappeared. The two girls where terrified after their encounter, and went immediately to report their unnerving incident to the college’s deputy head.
Strange occurrences have been reported by numerous other students at college through the years. Claims of being woken during the night, to find a figure dressed in black, standing at the end of the bed, are common. Fear has spread at times, to the point that some students are compelled to sleep with their lights on. That is, if they can sleep. Reverend Greg Hughson, the University chaplain for many years; also a respected local kaumatua, was called in to conduct a blessing on the premises in the hopes of calming some of the growing hysteria. While the ghostly activity slightly settled down in frequency after his visit, it is still ongoing to this day.
‘Panic after ghost sighting by Otago students
Reported By Vaughan Elder in the Otago Daily Times, Tuesday May 22, 2012.
A “sighting” of a ghost known as the Grey Lady has terrified residents at Cumberland College, and staff have called in the University of Otago chaplain to calm students at the hall of residence.
Students at the college, which accommodates more than 300, said a significant number of residents had slept with their lights on and shared rooms with other students in the aftermath of the sighting.
The “ghost” has been linked to the story of the Grey Lady, which in one account involves a tragedy at the now closed and nearby Queen Mary maternity hospital.
The story goes that the woman haunted a nurse who stayed at Cumberland College when it was a nurses’ home, after the nurse took her baby for being an unfit mother.
College resident Mareck Church said the “ghost sighting” happened on the night of Saturday, May 5, when two female health science students noticed a weird smell and a chill in the air as they walked down the hallway after coming back to the college from studying.
“One of the girls saw a black figure beside the fire hydrant, turned to the other girl to point it out and as they both turned round, they felt a cold whoosh of air pass them,” Mr Church said.
The two women were left very shaken after the incident and immediately told the college’s deputy head, Rosemary Tarbotton.
In the week following, a “substantial number” of female students at the college had slept with their lights on and shared rooms with other students.
Some of the other students, Mr Church included, took advantage of the situation to play pranks on other residents, including going around the corridors with pillowcases over their heads.
The situation had calmed down since staff arranged a blessing on May 10.
University chaplain the Rev Greg Hughson said he and a local kaumatua were brought in to calm students after they had been through a “genuinely frightening experience”.
“We reaffirmed God’s presence and God’s love and God’s peace and God’s power in that place and then we said the Lord’s Prayer together.”
In his 12 years as university chaplain he had twice previously been asked to do blessings after “ghost sightings”.
Resident Catherine McKessa said students had noticed “other things” since the initial incident. Another girl had seen a black figure at the end of her bed.
Owner-operator of Dunedin ghost tour company HairRaiser, Andrew Smith, said there were a couple of stories involving the Grey Lady and there had previously been sightings at the recently moved psychiatric unit in Dunedin Hospital, as well as at the site of Dunedin’s first hospital.
It was “very fashionable” to name ghosts the Grey Lady in Victorian times, Mr Smith said.
“It was believed that a new ghost would be quite bright white and that over time, as the ghost was seen more often, it would fade to a greyish colour.”
Then there was this report on TV 3 News Tuesday 22 May 2012
Dunedin hostel ghost could be the “Grey Lady” – By Krissy Moreau
A supposedly haunted hostel is causing a stir in Dunedin, leaving scarfies shaken and sleeping with the lights on.
But one of Dunedin’s paranormal experts thinks he might know who the uninvited guest is.
Student Abby Hope lives at Cumberland College where the ghost has allegedly been seen.
“All the girls were freaking out about it, it was a bit intense some girls had their lights flicking on and off.”
Hysteria filled the halls of the hostel after students were shocked by a black figure, an odd smell and a chill in the air.
“People sleeping in each others rooms, I slept with my friend for a couple of nights,” Ms Hope says.
It is a story Dunedin ghost tour guide Andrew Smith is familiar with.
“It is again very typical of an unfriendly spirit.”
He thinks this spirit may be the spirit of the “Grey Lady”.
“A young mother who was actually staying in the original part of the hospital in a psychiatric unit, the baby was taken from her, she died.”
It is said the young mother’s spirit crossed the road into what was the old nurses residence, looking for her stolen child.
The situation at Cumberland College has calmed after the university brought in the resident chaplain, and a local kaumatua to bless the halls of residence.