Ghost stories from Melbourne’s Princess Theatre

Jesse Cain from Melbourne’s Princess Theatre explains that the venue is host to a sensational supernatural citizen.

The Princess Theatre opened its doors in 1854 and is famous as Melbourne’s home for international musical productions. As with many great performance venues, the Princess plays host to its own resident ghost. The spirit of the actor Frederick Federici has been haunting the theatre enthusiastically since 1888. Jesse, the theatre’s business development manager, gives us the lowdown on Federici’s fabulous fate.

Frederick Federici has been 'residing' at the Princess Theatre since his death.

Frederick Federici has been ‘residing’ at the Princess Theatre since his death

Federici’s final curtain call

“It’s a terrific story, although not so terrific for him! His real name was Frederick Baker, but he went under the stage name of Frederick Federici,” Jesse says. “He came out to Australia in the mid-1880s to perform various operas and operettas around the country, which is how he found his way to Melbourne and in a production of Faust at the Princess Theatre. The opening night was the third of March 1888, and Federici was playing the role of Mephistopheles. The play finishes with Mephistopheles and Faust descending into hell through a trapdoor in the stage. As Federici went through the trapdoor the audience is reported to have noticed that he was slumped over slightly. He had actually suffered a heart attack and died at that exact moment. For an actor, he had a very good sense of timing!”

Princess Theatre Melbourne

Princess Theatre, Melbourne

Jesse explains that the rest of the cast had no idea and went back out onstage for the curtain call to take their bows as usual. “It wasn’t until after they had left the stage it was discovered dear old Fred had passed on. The spooky thing was that everyone at the performance, including the cast, swore he had actually been there onstage for the curtain call, taking his bows with the rest of the cast,” he says.

The ghost of the Princess Theatre, Frederick Federici, died in 1888.

The ghost of the Princess Theatre, Frederick Federici, died in 1888

The ghost of Federici remains present

In what must be one of the more extreme manifestations of the adage “the show must go on”, Federici had immediately returned from the dead so as not to miss the adulation of the crowd. Jesse explains that the spirit has been encountered many more times over the years. Bert Newton, Marina Prior, Lisa McCune and many of the venue’s everyday staff have also reported experiences.

While this all might seem pretty creepy, Jesse insists that Federici is not a threatening spirit. The theatre even has a tradition of saving him a seat for every opening night performance.

“Fred is very much a benevolent presence, nothing nasty ever happens. He’s more of a friendly poltergeist,” he says.

Princess Theatre: 163-181 Spring Street, Melbourne.

Visit for: Currently showing is Matilda the Musical – Roald Dahl’s classic story reimagined by Dennis Kelly with original songs by Tim Minchin.

Stay for: Discuss the performance over post-show snacks at Melbourne Supper Club, right next door.

While you’re there: Head upstairs to grab a cocktail and check out the treetop views over Parliament at Siglo.