Captain German Wheatcroft
On 14th November 1857 Captain German Wheatcroft died whilst serving his country during the Indian Mutiny and at the time of his death, his wife is said to have witnessed his apparition whilst in her Cambridge home. This case has appeared in many books on hauntings including The Haunters and the Haunted by Ernest Rhys (1921) and The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain by John Ingram (1897). Robert Dale Owen (born 7 November 1801– died 24 June 1877), a spiritualist who was fooled by Katie King investigated the case and wrote the following account in his Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World (1859).
In the month of September 1857 Captain German Wheatcroft, of the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, went out to India to join his regiment.
His wife remained in England, residing at Cambridge. On the night between the 14th and 15th of November 1857, towards morning, she dreamed that she saw her husband, looking anxious and ill; upon which she immediately awoke, much agitated. It was bright moonlight; and, looking up, she perceived the same figure standing by her bedside. He appeared in his uniform, the hands pressed across the breast, the hair dishevelled, the face very pale. His large dark eyes were fixed full upon her; their expression was that of great excitement, and there was a peculiar contraction of the mouth, habitual to him when agitated. She saw him, even to each minute particular of his dress, as distinctly as she had ever done in her life; and she remembers to have noticed between his hands the white of his shirt-bosom, unstained, however, with blood. The figure seemed to bend forward, as if in pain, and to make an effort to speak; but there was no sound. It remained visible, the wife thinks, as long as a minute, and then disappeared.
Her first idea was to ascertain if she was actually awake. She rubbed her eyes with the sheet, and felt that the touch was real. Her little nephew was in bed with her; she bent over the sleeping child and listened to its breathing; the sound was distinct, and she became convinced that what she had seen was no dream. It need hardly be added that she did not again go to sleep that night.
Next morning she related all this to her mother, expressing her conviction, though she had noticed no marks of blood on his dress, that Captain Wheatcroft was either killed or grievously wounded. So fully impressed was she with the reality of that apparition, that she thenceforth refused all invitations. A young friend urged her soon afterwards to go with her to a fashionable concert, reminding her that she had received from Malta, sent by her husband, a handsome dress cloak, which she had never yet worn. But she positively declined, declaring that, uncertain as she was whether she was not already a widow, she would never enter a place of amusement until she had letters from her husband (if indeed he still lived) of a later date than the 14th of November.
It was on a Tuesday, in the month of December 1857, that the telegram regarding the actual fate of Captain Wheatcroft was published in London. It was to the effect that he was killed before Lucknow on the fifteenth of November.
This news, given in the morning paper, attracted the attention of Mr Wilkinson, a London solicitor, who had in charge Captain Wheatcroft’s affairs. When at a later period this gentleman met the widow, she informed him that she had been quite prepared for the melancholy news, but that she had felt sure her husband could not have been killed on the 15th of November, inasmuch as it was during the night between the 14th and 15th that he appeared to her.
The certificate from the War Office, however, which it became Mr Wilkinson’s duty to obtain, confirmed the date given in the telegram, its tenor being as follows:—
9579. No.___, War Office, 30th January, 1858.
“These are to certify that it appears, by the records in this office that Captain G. Wheatcroft, of the 6th Dragoon Guards, was killed in action on the 15th of Nov.,” 1857.
(Signed) “B. Hawes.”
“Mr. Wilkinson called at the office of Messrs. Cox and Greenwood, the army agents, to ascertain if there were no mistake in the certificate. But nothing there appeared to confirm any surmise of inaccuracy. Captain Wheatcroft’s death was mentioned in two separate despatches of Sir Colin Campbell, and in both the date corresponded with that given in the telegram.
“The difference of longitude between London and Lucknow being about five hours, three or four o’clock a.m. in London would be eight or nine o’clock a.m. at Lucknow. But it was in the afternoon, not in the morning, as will be seen in the sequel, that Captain Wheatcroft was killed. Had he fallen on the 15th, therefore, the apparition to his wife would have appeared several hours before the engagement in which he fell, and while he was yet alive and well.”
1858, the family of Captain Wheatcroft received from Captain G C , then of the Military Train, a letter dated near Lucknow, on the 19th of December, 1857. This letter informed them that Captain Wheatcroft had been killed before Lucknow, while gallantly leading on the squadron, not on the 15th of November, as reported in Sir Colin Campbell’s despatches, but on the fourteenth, in the afternoon. Captain C was riding close by his side at the time he saw him fall.
He was struck by a fragment of shell in the breast, and never spoke after he was hit. He was buried at the Dilkoosha; and on a wooden cross, erected by his friend, Lieutenant R of the 9th Lancers, at the head of his grave, are cut the initials * G. W.,’ and the date of his death, the 14th of November, 1857.’
“The War Office finally made the correction as to the date of death, but not until more than a year after the event occurred. Mr. Wilkinson, having occasion to apply for an additional copy of the certificate in April, 1857, found it in exactly the same words as that which I have given, only that the 14th of November had been substituted for the 15th.
“This extraordinary narrative was obtained by me direct from the parties themselves. The widow of Captain Wheatcroft kindly consented to examine and correct the manuscript, and allowed me to inspect a copy of Captain C ‘s letter, giving the particulars of her husband’s death. To Mr. Wilkinson, also, the manuscript was submitted, and he assented to its accuracy so far as he is concerned. I have neglected no precaution, therefore, to obtain for it the warrant of authenticity.
“It is, perhaps,” concludes Owen, “the only example on record where the appearance of what is usually termed a ghost proved the means of correcting an erroneous date in the despatches of a Commander-in-Chief, and of detecting an inaccuracy in the certificate of a War-Office.”
Captain German Wheatcroft who has a memorial in Sedbergh School, Cumbria, was the son of David Wheatcroft of Wingfield Park, Derbyshire. He bought his promotion from Lieutenant to Captain in 6th Regiment of Dragoons on 20th October 1854 whilst serving in the Crimean War, where he took part in the famous Charge of the Heavy Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava.
The Indian Mutiny began on 10th May 1857 when sepoys from Meerut rebelled and marched on Delhi. On 23rd May 1857 Sir Henry Lawrence began preparing the Residency at Lucknow for a siege, collecting supplies, fortifying the walls and offering shelter to the British civilians from the region. Amongst those defending the Residency and its 1280 non combatants, Lawrence had the 32nd Regiment of Foot and some locally recruited pensioners (a force numbering roughly 855 British soldiers, 712 Indians and 153 civilian volunteers). On 30th May 1857 the native troops in Lucknow rebelled and the siege bagan. Lawrence died in action on 4 July 1857 and Colonel Sir John Inglis, 32nd Regiment of Foot, took command.
Major General Havelock captured Cawnpore from the rebels on 16 July 1857 and it is from here that the attempts to relief Lucknow which lay 48 miles away were launched. Havelocks first attempt with 1500 troops on 20th July 1857 failed as his strength was effectively halfed after a battle at Unao. He pressed on after receiving reinforcements but could not reach the besieged Residency and was forced to retreat.
Havelock launched another attempt on 18th September 1857 after Major General Sir James Outram arrived at Cawnpore. His new force had six battalions of British Infantry (including the 78th Highlanders) and one Sikh battalion (a total of 3179 soldiers). 87 Days after the siege bagan, the relief force reached Lucknow suffering heavy losses. The defenders of the Residency had suffered greatly and their fighting strength had been reduced to 982. Taking into account their combined losses, Major General Sir James Outram decided that he could not evacuate the non combatants which included hundreds of women and children, sick and wounded, therefore the defensive perimeter was enlarged and they prepared to be besieged. This second siege was to last a further 61 days.
The new Commander-in-Chief of the Bengal Army, Lieutenant General Sir Colin Campbell arrived in Cawnpore on 3 November 1857. Deciding against pacifying the surrounding area, he left 1100 soldiers to defend Cawnpore and he led a relief force heading straight to Lucknow. The force consisted of 3500 infantry (including the 93rd Highlanders and the 4th Punjab Regiment), 600 cavalry (including the 9th Lancers) and 42 guns. Upon reaching Cawnpore from England Captain Wheatcroft volunteered for the relief column. He approached Colonel Wilson of the 9th Lancers (the Delhi Spearmen) but his request was at first refused. Eventually he was accepted and joined Lancers in the Military Train heading to relieve the siege of the Lucknow Residency. (The relief of Lucknow was one of the three major events in the Indian Mutiny and the 9th Lancers played a part in each of them).
The force they were marching to engage has been estimated to be between 30,000 and 60,000, including trained sepoy regiments. At dawn on 14 November 1857 the successful relief of Lucknow, which resulted in a mass evacuation began and of course it is in this battle that Captain Wheatcroft lost his life. It is worth noting that for actions taken during the fighting to relieve Lucknow on 16 November 1857 a total of 24 Victoria Crosses were awarded, the largest number for a single day.
Unfortunately I don’t know exactly where in Cambridge Mrs Wheatcroft was when she had her experience, so the map below should not be considered to be accurate.