In this series, I take a look at some historical accounts of ghostly encounters published in newspapers. In this edition, we look at "The Melbourne ghost scare! Widespread Terror"
This article was originally published on the 31st of July 1895, and published again in the Adelaide advertiser on the 5th of August 1895.
Of course no one believes in ghosts. In Australian surroundings the suggestion of such phenomena seems absurd, because with-out the assistance of old graveyards or romantic ruins with associations of mysterious crime, a disembodied spirit finds itself too much alone in the world to impress the public with a due sense of awe. yet, in spite of uncongenial circumstances, there is no gainsaying the fact that the existence of ghosts is nightly suddenly revealed to unsuspecting wayfarers in dark quarters of the metropolis and as rapidly withdrawn. The intangibility of these apparitions alone assists the notion that they might be supernatural. If they loitered for a moment they could be tested at the throat, on the nose, in the eye, at the point of the jaw, below the belt, or a posteriori, and their mortality instantly determined upon beyond a doubt. As they pursue the Fabian policy of judicious retreat, however, their victims "shy" and failing to find anything to investigate on recovery are quite nonplussed. Talk eventuates. The tale of the three black crows applies to ghost stories, and then any suburb without a wraith is held to be behind the times. Very soon after the South Melbourne "spook"- a commonplace electric light illusion- had been exploded there were rumours of the appearance at South Yarra of an uncanny looking goblin man dressed in a soft black hat and a huge overcoat of the same colour who hung about sombre parts of unfrequented streets, and had the Christian-like habit of following young ladies home.
One of the victims said after leaving some friends one evening she noticed this figure on the other side of the street, but could not see its face. It walked if she walked. If she stopped, it stopped. Having occasion to use her handkerchief, it did likewise. Finally it ran in front of her, threw open the great coat it wore, and exhibited the words, "Prepare to Meet Thy Doom" in luminous paint. She screamed, and it disappeared. A week or so later, about half past 1, on a bleak, dark morning, Constable 3594, on duty near the Sarah Sands Hotel, Brunswick, met the town lamplighter careering towards him in a breathless condition, pale and perspiring. This man, a tall, strong young fellow about 25 years of age, named Bate, explained that he had "seen a ghost." Bate lives at West Brunswick, where the settlement is merging into the open country. His story is that on his way along Fleming-street, which practically runs between two fenced paddocks, pursuing his nocturnal duty of turning out the lights, when nearing the corner of Park street, "a black cloud suddenly presented itself in front of him and whisked past his side with a swish. He turned to look behind, feeling a little startled, and saw it rapidly receding in his wake. Although it seemed shapeless, he concluded it must be a bicyclist, without a light, and yelled after him, "All right Spider, good night." Then he tramped on with his lamp stick, thinking idly of good ness knows what-the love or the ambition of a lamplighter- and keeping close to a fence.
Whisk! A black cloud passed like a cold wind with astounding celetiry between him and the post and rails foward into the darkness, to a distance of 20 yards ahead, turned in a semi circle, came towards him and passed him again on the other side. It was no bicyclist this time, he thought, for his ear had been strained to catch the rattle of a machine, and he had not heard it. Morover, the manifestation had cleared a gutter which would almost smash any bicycle, and certainly set his bell going. Bate shouldered his lampstick and ran for the nearest house at top speed. He says few men can give him 10 yards' start in 100, but although fright impelled him to Tam o'Shanter alertness, the black cloud again overtook him, making him trip with fright and sending his heart into his boots. When it had again got well ahead it seemed to open out into a blaze of phosphorescent light. Again it passed him, and finally disappeared.
A newsboy the other night, trying almost hopelessly to sell papers amongst the half-deserted land boom settlements of East Brunswick, saw a tall, dark figure of a man standing erect near an empty house. Approaching him the lad bawled "Paper, sir?" whereupon the cloak was thrown back, and the man's body was revealed in an apparently incandescent condition. "I'll never be short in my money any more," blubbered the boy, and bolted like the wind. A poor old lady, about the same time, having occasion to go into her backyard saw a similar apparition there , and was so shocked that she became nearly insensible, and has not yet recovered. To a policeman she said she had seen one Shakespeare's plays at the theatre some time ago, and it look like a horrible character called "Hamlet's father's ghost." It appeared to her that the thing vanished through her house instead of out by the back gate. The Brunswick police state that some years ago a resident there was guilty of playing the ghosts. He went away for a time, but has since returned. Having carefully watched him, however they do not think he is the culprit. A son of one of the local councillors, who has a Mephistopheles fancy dress, horns, tail and bats' wings complete, is also, after surveillance, pronounced to be above suspicion, but that some inconsiderate mountebank is playing upon people's nerves is evident. "spring-heeled Jack," as he is called after a celebrated English criminal has been reported as seen recently on different nights in Gladstone-street, South Melbourne; in the reserve at the corner of Dandenong-road and Chapel-street, Windsor; at Elsternwick, Fitzroy, Northcote, and Collingwood. The description given of him in most cases includes the limelight effect under his overcoat. At Northcote a woman who saw him says he exhibited a coffin on his stomach with the cheering inscription around it "This is for you," whereat she was much alarmed. At Elsternwick last Wednesday evening the supposed ghost was followed by a local constable and some young man through the paddocks to Allison-road, where he was observed to go into a house. A search of the premises failed to discover him, but later in the evening, when the place was temporarily left in charge of three children, a man in dark clothes with his face blackened appeared at the dining-room door. The youngest child screamed in fight, but the eldest, a boy of 11 years, although also much upset, seized a red hot poker and "went for" the intruder, who thereupon noiselessly got away out of the front door and over a fence into oblivion. Marks of the skates of springs he wore were noticed on the linoleum in the passage.
By far the most serious report in connection with these manifestations has been one which, for three days past, has been current all over the metropolis, that a boy named Brown, living in Mater-street, Collingwood, who had been frightened by the man in overcoat lined with brimstone had since died. A representative of the Age enquiring into this matter last night was informed that happily, this statement is quite incorrect, young Brown being as well as ever and attending night school. As previously reported, he was returning home on Monday night week, when he was confronted with the spectre, who exhibited the words on his body, "Prepare to meet thy doom." The poor boy shrieked with fear, and Constable Nolan, who was returning off duty, ran to his assistance, just in time to see the dark figure disappear around the corner of the street. Nolan, being too far behind to give chases effectively, took young Brown home in a palpitating condition. The same ghost has been "playing it rather low down" as they say in the locality, on young couples spooning under the trees in the neighboring reserve, giving them tremendous fights at critical moments. Three girls crossing a vacant allotment were frightened by it a night or two ago. Their screams brought a man and his wife to the door of a neighboring house, and the latter, seeing the rampageous goblin, fainted into her husband's arms. In Keele-street Collingwood, the other evening, it was seen disappeared into a half-built house. Several men gave chase, and one fired a pistol shot after the retreating figure. No harm was done, but the report of the firearms aroused the whole street, and a great commotion followed. Our representative yesterday called on a lady living at South Melbourne, who stated that on Saturday night last, when returning home with her daughter, a girl about 16 years of age, along Ferrars-street, just as she was about to cross Gladstone-street she saw the profile figure of a man in the centre of that thoroughfare, standing about 8 ft. high! "It" had on a soft felt hat over its eyes and an immense overcoat with a cape. Under the cape was a sort of short skirt-like appendage of white material. Being too frightened to pass the apparition, she and her daughter fled into a neighboring hotel for assistance. When they came out of the bar immediately afterwards the thing was gone. This lady is a woman of good character, and both she and her daughter were so much affected by what they saw that they had evidently not recovered from the effects of their fright yesterday.
These numerous reports are naturally causing a widespread feeling of uneasiness amongst the female and juvenile population after nightfall and during the dark hours of the morning. It is simply disgraceful that mischievous practical jokers have exercised such terrorism so long undetected. Last night news came to hand from South Yarro that the masquerading scoundrel had been captured, but it turns out the prisoner was only a weak imitation. Sydney Errington, a lad aged 17, who resides with his parents in Great Davies-street, left home shortly after 8 o'clock decorated with flaming red whiskers, a pair of spectacles, and a grotesque adornment of sticking plaster arranged upon his cheeks. On his head he had placed a red Tam o'Shanter cap pulled up high, and he was also attired in an overcoat and a colored silk necktie. After frightening some girls in a dark part of the Toorak-road he caused two other females to scream and run away by glaring at them from under a lamp-post near the railway station. On his way home by way of Powell Street into Great David-Street he was arrested. Whilst it is to be hoped that this young gentleman will receive a caution commensurate with the folloy of which he has been guilty, it is to be hoped the police will not rest content until they have secured the principal offencer and had him treated in an exemplary fashion. If the force takes this hint and bestirs itself the wearers of great coats on dark nights would do well to advise their best girls not to keep them loitering about too long at street corners, in case it should lead to a misapprehension.
You can see the full article here on Trove. I have had to translate much of this myself, so there may be some small errors. Stay tuned for more Ghosts of the past!
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