Wynyard Ghost Story of the Eighteenth Century

No story appeared to be more authentic or capture the attention of the British public than the tale known as the Wynyard ghost story from the 1700s. Ghosts and the supernatural were a popular topic in Georgian England, and, although there are some slight variations and differences in the Wynyard ghost story — where it happened or 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 Wynyard ghost story begins when the English troops 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 — of 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.”[1]

wynyard ghost

Infantry uniforms of the British Army, left to right: private (1750), officer (1780). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Oakes, who served under Lord Cornwallis, and and Gore went upstairs while 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 into Wynyard’s bedroom.”[2] 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.”[3]

Wynyard ghost

Sir Hildebrand Oakes. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Suddenly, the men upstairs heard an exclamation from the rooms below. Gore rushed downstairs to investigate. He discovered, “Sherbrooke standing with a look of amazement gazing towards the inner room.”[4] 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.”[5]

Gore begged for further explanation and asked Sherbrooke exactly what he saw. He claimed that as he and Wynyard were studying a figure suddenly appeared and then declared:

“A man dressed in a hunting suit such as he never saw before, with a hunting cap on his head, and a whip in his hand, had come in from the outer door, looked fixedly at Colonel Wynyard, and passed into the inner room without speaking.”[6]

He also maintained that the figure was a tall 20-year-old youth, “whose appearance was that of extreme emaciation.”[7] Sherbrooke then 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.'”[8]

Sherbrooke had never seen Wynyard’s brother Jack,* but Wynyard recognized his brother immediately. However, Wynyard was so shocked to see him it was reported:

“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.”[9]

It was at that point that Wynyard declared in “a low and almost inaudible tone of voice, ‘Great God! my brother!'”[10]

Sir John Coape Sherbrooke. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery.

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.”[11]

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 that Wynyard received was about his brother. According to Frederick George Lee in Glimpses of the Supernatural Wynyard’s brother “had died on the day and at the very hour on which the friends had seen his spirit pass so mysteriously through the apartment.”[12]

Because Sherbrooke and Wynyard were men of great character and indisputable honor. Thus, the conclusion by most people was that they had seen an apparition and experienced some sort of spiritual incident. In other words they had seen what would be known as the Wynyard ghost.

Many people hoped to verify the the story of the Wynyard ghost. Among them was a Dr. Mayo who reported:

“I have had opportunities of inquiring of two near relations of this General Wynyard, upon what evidence the above story rests. They told me that they had each heard it form his own mouth. More recently a gentleman, whose accuracy of recollection exceeds that of most people, had told me that he had heard the late Sir John Sherbroke, the other party in the ghost story, tell it in much the same way at the dinner-table.”[13]

Some 40 years later, Sherbrooke, who served under the Duke of Wellington as a Major General in the Peninsular War, repeated the Wynyard ghost story during a visit with a nephew of Gore’s. Shortly before Sherbrooke died, on 14 February 1830, he supposedly told Gore’s nephew:

“[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.”[14]

Sir John Coape Sherbrooke, Author's Collection

Sir John Coape Sherbrooke. Author’s collection.

*Jack was John Otway Wynyard, a lieutenant in the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards at the time of his death.


  • [1] Chambers, Robert, The Book of Days, Vol. 2, 1832, p. 448.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Jarvis, T.M., Accredited Ghost Stories, 1823, p. 27.
  • [4] Tetley, George, “Literary Extracts,” p. 6, in The Evening Telegram and Post, 12 September 1905, p. 6.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Jarvis, T.M., p. 27.
  • [8] Chambers, Robert, p. 448.
  • [9] Lee, Frederick George, Glimpses of the Supernatural, 1875, p. 28.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Jarvis, T.M., p. 30.
  • [12] Lee, Frederick, George, p. 30.
  • [13] Ibid., p. 32.
  • [14] Tetley, George, p. 6.

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  1. […] The entire Georgian era has many fearful stories to recommend, but I especially love the tale of the Wynyard Ghost. The story concerns four English officers encamped at Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, during the American War of Independence. Like the cliché portends, it was a dark and stormy night . . . and a brother of one of the gentlemen was soon to make an unexplainable visit. You really should read the whole story, and historian and author Geri Walton tells it much better than I ever could in her blog post Wynyard Ghost Story. […]

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