At the peak of the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, a road snakes above bushland, dropping away at each side into a forested gully. Cars careen through here, supported from beneath by a sturdy, stone causeway, built by convicts close to 200 years ago.
The Victoria Pass is a piece of NSW heritage, an engineering marvel. But it has a dark past. This snaking stretch of road serves as the setting for one of the region’s most horrific crimes; one that has carved a place in local folklore, and sparked the urban legend of “The Woman in Black”.
You’d call the man a senseless fool, —
A blockhead or an ass,
Who’d dare to say he saw the ghost
Of Mount Victoria Pass;
But I believe the ghost is there,
For, if my eyes are right,
I saw it once upon a ne’er-
These are the opening lines of a poem published in 1891 by the legendary Sir Henry Lawson. Called The Ghost at the Second Bridge, it described his claimed encounter with an apparition two years earlier, one many have claimed to experience on the Pass both before and since. According to the legend (of which Lawson was all too familiar as he traversed the area with his friend that evening), the figure of a young woman, dressed in black, would appear to travellers late at night.
As the Blue Mountains Library’s Local Studies website notes, many riders reported that their horse became restless and unsettled, before the figure appeared on the road in front of them; “Some reported that her long, dark hair streamed out in the wind and that her arms were raised in a suppliant gesture. Some said that her eyes shone in the dark like a tiger’s and a few said that she was headless. As suddenly as she appeared the spectre would disappear.”
That’s certainly how Lawson described it:
Its look appeared to plead for aid
(As far as I could see),
Its hands were on the tailboard laid,
Its eyes were fixed on me.
The face, it cannot be denied
Was white, a dull dead white,
The great black eyes were opened wide
And glistened in the light.
Who is ghost of The Lady in Black on the Victoria Pass?
While stories about a ghost will surely raise a skeptical eyebrow or two, there is a haunting truth to the tale. The savage murder of a 13-year-old girl named Caroline Collits.
Caroline’s short life was one marred by tragedy. She was one of six children, to parents Mary Hopkins and William James, who ran an illegal liquor shop west of the Blue Mountains. Mary, an alcoholic, died by suicide in 1835 when Caroline was just eight. After suspicions were raised that William may have played a role in her death, he was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. But before the execution took place, the conviction was overturned on a point of law, and William walked free.