It is October, time for all things spooky. So here is another historical ghost story – pre-Regency, but that’s okay because there is a Wellington connection.
The Wynard Ghost Story
This event was experienced by two military officers, Sherbroke and Wynyard, who were stationed in Canada in 1785. Both were in the 33rd Regiment, which in later years was commanded by Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington. Sherbroke and Wynyard were friends who often studied together in Wynyard’s apartment. One day as they were studying, Sherbroke glanced up and saw the figure of a
THE WYNYARD GHOST-STORY
‘They were one afternoon sitting in Wynyard’s apartment. It was perfectly light, the hour was about four o’clock; they had dined, but neither of them had drunk wine, and they had retired from the mess to continue together the occupations of the morning. It ought to have been said, that the apartment in which they were had two doors in it, the one opening into a passage, and the other leading into Wynyard’s bedroom. There was no other means of entering the sitting room but from the 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. This point is of consequence to the story.
‘As these two young officers were pursuing their studies, Sherbroke, whose eye happened accidentally to glance from the volume before him towards the door that opened to the passage, observed a tall youth, of about twenty years of age, whose appearance was that of extreme emaciation, standing beside it. Struck with the presence of a perfect stranger, he immediately turned to his friend, who was sitting near him, and directed his attention to the guest who had thus strangely 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,” says Sir John Sherbroke, “of a man’s being as pale as death, hut I never saw a living face assume the appearance of a corpse, except Wynyard’s at that moment”
‘As they looked silently at the form before them, for Wynyard, who seemed to apprehend the import of the appearance, was deprived of the faculty of speech, and Sherbroke perceiving the agitation of his friend, felt no inclination to address it as they looked silently upon the figure, it proceeded slowly into the adjoining apartment, and, in the act of passing them, cast its eyes with an expression of somewhat melancholy affection on young Wynyard. The oppression of this extraordinary presence was no sooner removed, than Wynyard, seizing his friend by the arm, and drawing a deep breath, as if recovering from the suffocation of in tense astonishment and emotion, muttered in a low and almost inaudible tone of voice, “Great God! my brother!” “Your brother!” repeated Sherbroke, “what can you mean, Wynyard? there must be some deception follow me;” and immediately taking his friend by the arm, he preceded him into the bedroom, which, as before stated, was connected with the sitting room, and into which the strange visitor had evidently entered. It has already been said, that from this chamber there was no possibility of withdrawing but by the way of the apartment, through which the figure had certainly passed, and as certainly never had returned. Imagine, then, the astonishment of the young officers, when, on finding themselves in the centre of the chamber, they perceived that the room was perfectly untenanted. Wynyard’s mind had received an impression at the first moment of his observing him, that the figure whom he had seen was the spirit of his brother. Sherbroke still persevered in strenuously believing that some delusion had been practised.
‘They took note of the day and hour in which the event had happened; but they resolved not to mention the occurrence in the regiment, and gradually they persuaded each other that they had been imposed upon by some artifice of their fellow officers, though they could neither account for the reason, nor suspect the author, nor conceive the means of its execution. They were content to imagine anything possible, rather than admit the possibility of a supernatural appearance. But, though they had attempted these stratagems of self delusion, Wynyard could not help expressing his solicitude with respect to the safety of the brother whose apparition he had either seen, or imagined himself to have seen; and the anxiety which he exhibited for letters from England, and his frequent mention of his fears for his brother’s health, at length awakened the curiosity of his comrades, and eventually betrayed him into a declaration of the circumstances which he had in vain determined to conceal.
The story of the silent and unbidden visitor was no sooner bruited abroad, than the destiny of Wynyard’s brother became an object of universal and painful interest to the officers of the regiment; there were few who did not inquire for Wynyard’s letters before they made any demand after their own; and the packets that arrived from England were welcomed with more than usual eagerness, for they brought not only remembrances from their friends at home, but promised to afford the clue to the mystery which had happened among themselves.
‘By the first ships no intelligence relating to the story could have been received, for they had all departed from England previously to the appearance of the spirit. At length the long wished for vessel arrived; all the officers had letters except Wynyard. They examined the several newspapers, but they contained no mention of any death, or of any other circumstance connected with his family that could account for the preternatural event. There was a solitary letter for Sherbroke still unopened. The officers had received their letters in the mess-room at the hour of supper. After Sherbroke had broken the seal of his last packet, and cast a glance on its contents, he beckoned his friend away from the company, and departed from the room. All were silent.
The suspense of the interest was now at its climax; the impatience for the return of Sherbroke was inexpressible. They doubted not but that letter had contained the long expected intelligence. After the interval of an hour, Sherbroke joined them. No one dared be guilty of so great a rudeness as to inquire the nature of his correspondence; but they waited in mute attention, expecting that he would himself touch upon the subject. His mind was manifestly full of thoughts that pained, bewildered, and oppressed him. He drew near to the fireplace, and leaning his head on the mantel-piece, after a pause of some moments, said in a low voice, to the person who was nearest him: “Wynyard’s brother is no more!” The first line of Sherbroke’s letter was “Dear John, break to your friend Wynyard the death of his favourite brother.” He had died on the day, and at the very hour, on which the friends had seen his spirit pass so mysteriously through the apartment.
It might have been imagined, that these events would have been sufficient to have impressed the mind of Sherbroke with the conviction of their truth; but so strong was his prepossession against the existence, or even the possibility of any preternatural intercourse with the souls of the dead, that he still entertained a doubt of the report of his senses, supported as their testimony was by the coincidence of vision and event. Some years after, on his return to England, he was walking with two gentlemen in Piccadilly, when, on the opposite side of the way, he saw a person bearing the most striking resemblance to the figure which had been disclosed to Wynyard and himself. His companions were acquainted with the story, and he instantly directed their attention to the gentleman opposite, as the individual who had contrived to enter and depart from Wynyard’s apartment without their being conscious of the means. Full of this impression, he immediately went over, and at once addressed the gentleman. He now fully expected to elucidate the mystery. He apologised for the interruption, but excused it by relating the occurrence, which had induced him to the commission of this solecism in manners. The gentleman received him as a friend. He had never been out of the country, but he was the twin brother of the youth whose spirit had been seen.’
From the interesting character of this narration the facts of the vision occurring in daylight and to two persons, and of the subsequent verification of likeness by the party not previously acquainted with the subject of the vision it is much to be regretted that no direct report of particulars has come to us. There is all other desirable authentication for the story, and sufficient evidence to prove that the two gentlemen believed and often told nearly what is here reported. Dr. Mayo makes the following statement on the subject: ‘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 from his own mouth. More recently a gentleman, whose accuracy of recollection exceeds that of most people, has told me that he had heard the late Sir John Sherbroke, the other party in the ghost story, tell it much in the same way at a dinner table.’
‘The ghost passed them as they were sitting at coffee [between eight and nine in the evening], and went into G. Wynyard’s bed closet, the window of which was potted down.’
‘I remember the date, and on the 6th of June our first letters from England brought the news of John Wynyard’s death [which had happened] on the very night they saw his apparition.’