The Wynyard Ghost
In 1785 two junior officers serving with the 33rd Regiment of Foot in Nova Scotia had an interesting experience, witnessing the apparition of Lieutenant John Otway Wynyard, 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards. The following account of event was found in ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ by John Ingram (1897).
Of all the stories of apparitions extant, none, probably, has excited so much discussion as that of the Wynyard ghost. With variations of one kind and another it has been published in many dozens of works, and has been continually discussed at the mess dinners of our army in every part of the world. From time to time inquiries have been made about the circumstances in Notes and Queries, in the pages of which invaluable publication nil the facts of the case have been gradually revealed. From the periodical referred to, and from other sources of credit, we have been enabled to compile a complete history of the affair.
In 1785, the 33rd Regiment, at the time commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Forke, was stationed at Sydney, in the island of Cape Breton, off Nova Scotia. Among the officers of this regiment were Captain (afterwards Sir John) Sherbroke* and Lieutenant George Wynyard. These two young men are said to have been connected by similarity of tastes and studies, and to have spent together in literary occupation much of that vacant time which was squandered by their brother officers in those excesses of the table that, in those days at least, were deemed part of the accomplishments of the military character.
*[Sir John Coape Sherbrooke (Baptised 29 April 1764 – Died 14 February 1830) joined the British Army on 7 December 1780 at the rank of Ensign in the 4th Regiment of Foot. On 22 December 1781 he was promoted to Lieutenant. In March 1783 he gained a Captaincy in the 85th Regiment of Foot and on 23 June 1784 joined the 33rd Regiment of Foot. It was during this time in his life that he shared the experience with Lt Wynyard. Sherbrooke fought in the French War having been promoted to Major on 30th September 1793 and then Lieutenant-Colonel on 24 May 1794. In 1805 he was promoted to Major-General and in 1809 served with the 68th Regiment of Foot as Lieutenant-General during the Peninsular Campaign. Sherbrooke was eventually appointed as Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia on 19 August 1811 and on 10 April 1816 Governor-in-Chief of British North America]
On the 15th of October of the above year, between eight and nine o’clock in the evening, these two officers were seated before the fire in Wynyard’s parlour drinking coffee. It was a room in the new barracks, and had two doors, the one opening on an outer passage, the other into Wynyard’s bedroom. There were no other means of entering the sitting-room but from the passage, and no other egress from the bed-room but through the sitting-room; so that any person passing into the bed-room 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 thus sitting together, Sherbroke, happening accidentally to glance towards the door that opened to the passage, observed a tall youth of about twenty years of age, but pale and very emaciated, 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 agitated. “I have heard” said Sherbroke “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. “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 on 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 intense 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 I before stated, was connected with the sitting-room, and into which the strange visitor had evidently entered. I have already 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 untenanted. Another officer, Lieutenant (afterwards Colonel) Ralph Gore, coming in, joined in the search, but without avail. Wynyard’s mind had received an impression, at the first moment of his observing it, that the figure which he had seen was the spirit of his brother. Sherbroke still persevered in strenuously believing that some delusion had been practised.
At the suggestion of Lieutenant Gore, they took note of the day and hour in which the event had happened, but they resolved not to mention the occurrences 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, or suspect the author, or 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 a 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. Still the secret was unexplained. They examined the several newspapers; 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. At 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 mantelpiece, after a pause of some moments, said in a low voice to the person who was nearest to 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 his friends had seen his spirit pass so mysteriously through the apartment.
[The Regiment returned to England in 1786]
Some years after, on Sherbroke’s 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 another brother of the youth whose spirit had been seen.
This story is related with several variations. It is sometimes told as having happened at Gibraltar, at others in England, at others in America. There are also differences with respect to the conclusion. Some say that the gentleman whom Sir John Sherbroke afterwards met in London, and addressed as the person whom he had previously seen in so mysterious a manner, was not another brother of General Wynyard, but a gentleman who bore a strong resemblance to the family. But, however, the leading facts in every account are the same. Sir John Sherbroke and General Wynyard, two gentleman of veracity, were together present at the spiritual appearance of the brother of General Wynyard, the appearance took place at the moment of dissolution, and the countenance and form of the ghost’s figure were so distinctly impressed upon the memory of Sir John Sherbroke, to whom the living man had been unknown, that, on accidentally meeting with his likeness, he perceived and acknowledged the resemblance.
It maybe added that the brother of General Wynyard**, who died on; the 15th of October 1785, was John Otway Wynyard, at the time of his death lieutenant in the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards.
**[John Otway Wynyard (Born 24 May 1755 – Died 15 October 1785) was the son of Lieutenant General William Wynyard (Born 1732 – Died 25 January 1789) and his first of three wives Mary Sophia Otway. Though John had at least three brothers who attained the rank of General, George West Wynyard (Born 18 May 1762 – Died 14 June 1809), who I assume was the brother who had this experience only attained the rank of Colonel and died serving with the 24th Regiment of Light Dragoons].
Colonel Gore, being asked many years afterwards by Sir John Harvey to give an account of the affair, so far as it came within his cognizance, testified in writing to the main facts of the narrative here given; and Sir John Sherbroke, forty years after the event, assured his friend, General Paul Anderson, in the most solemn manner, that he believed the appearance he had seen to have been a ghost or spirit, and this belief, he added, was shared by his friend Wynyard.