Ghosts and the supernatural were a popular topic in Georgian England, and, in the 1700s, no story appeared to be more authentic or capture the attention of the British public than the tale known as the Wynyard Ghost. Although there are some slight variations and differences in the story — including exactly what time the event happened as some reports state it occurred at four in the afternoon and others claim it took place at eight or nine in the evening — the main elements of the story remain the same.
The story begins when the English troops were camped in Nova Scotia at Cape Breton during the war with America. At the time, the weather was severe. The harbor was frozen and the supplies expected from England delayed. On the afternoon of 15 October 1785, four officers — Sir Hildebrand Oakes, Colonel Ralph Gore, Captain John Coape Sherbrooke, and Lieutenant George West Wynyard — in the 33rd regiment dined together in their small barrack. The men drank no wine and “retired from the mess to continue together the occupations of the morning.”
Oakes and Gore went upstairs and Sherbrooke and Wynyard were studying downstairs. The sitting room Sherbrooke and Wynyard occupied had two doors, “one opening into a passage, and the other leading in[to] Wynyard’s bedroom.” There was no other way to enter the sitting room except through the outer passage and “no other egress from the bedroom but through the sitting-room; so that any person passing into the bedroom must have remained there, unless he returned by the way he entered.”
Suddenly, the men upstairs heard an exclamation from the rooms below. Gore rushed down stairs to investigate. He discovered, “Sherbrooke standing with a look of amazement gazing towards the inner room.” Gore inquired as to what was going on and Sherbrooke replied, “I do not know … but a figure has certainly come into this room and passed into the bedroom, and Wynyard said it was his brother Jack, and he is searching the other room; but there can be no one there, for there is no place to hide.” Gore begged for further explanation and asked Sherbrooke exactly what he saw.
Sherbrooke claimed that as he and Wynyard were studying a figure suddenly appeared “dressed in a hunting suit such as he never saw before, with a hunting cap on his head, and a whip in his hand.” He noted that the figure “had come in from the outer door, looked fixedly at Colonel Wynyard, and passed into the inner room without speaking.” Sherbrooke maintained that the figure was a tall 20-year-old youth, “whose appearance was that of extreme emaciation.”
Sherbrooke continued and told Gore that he was struck by the presence of the mysterious stranger and turned to Wynyard, who was sitting nearby. The report of what happens next follows:
[He] directed his attention to the guest who [had ] … broken in upon their studies. As soon as Wynyard’s eyes were turned towards the mysterious visitor, his countenance became suddenly agitated. ‘I have heard,’ Sir John Sherbrooke [said], ‘of a man’s being as pale as death, but I never saw a living face assume the appearance of a corpse, except Wynyard’s at that moment.’
Sherbrooke had never seen Wynyard’s brother Jack, but Wynyard recognized his brother immediately. However, Wynyard was so shocked to see him he “was deprived of the faculty of speech, and … as they looked silently upon the figure, it proceeded slowly in to the adjoining apartment, and in, the act of passing them, cast its eyes with an expression of somewhat melancholy affection on young Wynyard.” It was at that point that Wynyard declared in “a low and almost inaudible tone of voice, ‘Great God! my brother!'”
Thinking there must be some deception, the two men followed the figure into the bedroom, but Wynyard’s brother Jack could not be found. When Oakes ran down the narrow pathway that lead to the barracks, he also found no one present. The men noted the time and day of the event and made a pact to not mention the mysterious occurrence to their regiment, but because Wynyard was so concerned about his brother’s health, “at length [he] awakened the curiosity of his comrades, and eventually … [made] a declaration … which he had in vain determined to conceal.”
After the incident, Wynyard remained anxious about his brother’s health. The ships arrived at Cape Breton days later, and, when they did, “the first news [Wynyard] received was that his brother had been killed hunting at the very hour he had seen him pass through the room.” Because Sherbrooke and Wynyard were both men of great character and indisputable honor, the conclusion by most people was that they had seen an apparition and experienced a spiritual incident.
Some 40 years later, Sherbrooke repeated the story during a visit with a nephew of Gore’s shortly before he died. According to Gore’s nephew, Sherbrooke solemnly maintained:
[H]e was a very changed man … and had learned to look very seriously on subjects which concerned eternity, but as he expected soon to be called into another world, where all things would be revealed, he would still say, as in the presence of God, that every word he had asserted was true, and that although he could not tell for what purpose it was sent, he did see the figure, and it was exactly as he had described it.
- Chambers, Robert, The Book of Days, Vol. 2, 1832
- Jarvis, T.M., Accredited Ghost Stories, 1823
- Lee, Frederick George, Glimpses of the Supernatural, 1875
- Tetley, George, “Literary Extracts,” p. 6, in The Evening Telegram and Post, 12 September 1905