For decades, the grave of an eccentric vagrant woman known as ‘Annie Bags’ was unmarked at Townsville’s Belgian Gardens Cemetery.
The daughter of a Prussian aristocrat, Annie Ferdinand, has been recognised with a memorial service and a new headstone 109 years after her death.
Annie’s tragic riches to rags story
In the late 1880s, Annie travelled from Europe to Australia to be reunited with her intended husband – an English gentleman she had met in Europe.
After searching Australia’s goldfields from Victoria to Queensland, she found him in the mining town of Ravenswood in north Queensland, married to another woman.
The shock was too much for Annie, so she spurned all men, took to wearing sugar bags for clothes and became a vagrant traversing vast distances across northern Queensland on foot, accompanied by a menagerie of animals.
Locals came to know her by the name of ‘Annie Bags’.
There is speculation that Annie had some wealth when she died in 1910, but her grave was marked only with a small iron peg, until this week.
For the past year, historical tour guide Rod Jones from Raven Tours has been crowdfunding to get a memorial headstone made for Annie.
It was unveiled on Wednesday, on the anniversary of her death – April 17.
Mr Jones said after researching Annie’s life for his historical tour, he was determined to keep her story alive.
“After doing the research you kind of have an emotional connection,” Mr Jones said.
“Then when we saw the gravesite was unmarked we thought we should do something about it.
“We thought we would love to get the community involved in this to remember her, and keep her story alive.”
Mr Jones’s partner Cheryl Toms said as Annie’s grave was unmarked it required some sleuthing, and she believed a bit of spiritual intervention helped to locate the exact plot.
“I was walking around the graveyard yelling ‘Annie! Annie Bags! Give me a sign, where are you?’,” Ms Toms said.
“Rod was taking photos of two markers that were leaning up on a gravesite that was one over from her … I lifted it up and ‘Annie Ferdinand’ was on the back.
“It was quite surreal.”
New headstone and renewed interest
More than 40 people attended the memorial service for Annie Ferdinand at Belgian Gardens Cemetery.
Alison Savis came to represent her family who owned the bakery in Ravenswood in the late 1890s.
Ms Savis said her great-grandmother would feed and bathe Annie, and give her fresh clothes to wear.
Like many north Queensland children, Ms Savis said she was often scolded for looking like ‘Annie Bags’.
“I used to get called ‘Annie Bags’ as a kid because I dressed like a boy and had a lot of animals all around me,” Ms Savis said.
“I have known about ‘Annie Bags’ for a long time, but I didn’t know actually what she was … her story is tragic. It is so sad and I think we need to remember the people who made our history.”
The new headstone features a poem penned by local author Laurence Murphy, who has written a book about Annie Ferdinand’s life.
From a noble Prussian family, she was a lady of fine fashion, Who cast aside her regal robes for wretched rags, For the gentleman she loved and professed to her his passion, Was a rogue who changed her into Annie Bags.
Ms Toms said Annie’s story has “touched her heart” and she hoped the headstone would help preserve the story of Annie’s life.
“She died of a broken heart. I don’t care about the consumption thing. She wouldn’t have had consumption if she didn’t have a man that treated her the way that he did,” Ms Toms said.
“Instead she became a bag lady with a broken heart.”
Annie Bags’ aristocratic ancestry to be explored
Mr Jones said there was more research to be done on Annie Ferdinand’s life, and he was keen to explore a suggested link between Annie and Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria who was assassinated before World War I.
“It is an amazing story of ‘Annie Bags’, to travel from one side of the world to the other side of the world for love,” Mr Jones said.
“Even just to find him [her beloved] in Australia was just an incredible feat as well.
“We know that for generation after generation this story has been passed down and we didn’t want it to die.”