Ghosts Of The Past: Melbourne's Springheeled Jack

5th August 2023. Reading Time: 4 minutes Ghosts Of The Past, General. 1404 page views. 0 comments.

In this series, I take a look at some historical accounts of ghostly encounters published in newspapers. In this edition, we look at claims of a potential poltergeist in Melbourne who bared a resemblance to the infamous Springheeled Jack! It became such a sensation that the local press bombarded the area all wanting a glimpse or to experience the rappings of Springheeled Jack.

In this series, I take a look at some historical accounts of ghostly encounters published in newspapers. In this edition, we look at claims of a potential poltergeist in Melbourne who bared a resemblance to the infamous Springheeled Jack!  It became such a sensation that the local press bombarded the area all wanting a glimpse or to experience the rappings of Springheeled Jack.

The following article was published Saturday 29th July 1950 in Smiths Weekly

Five frightened women, alone in a big, old, creaking house on the top of a hill, a "fabulously wealthy" octogenarian widow on her death-bed, swirling fog, sinister rappings on the doors and windows — these were the thriller ingredients of last week's Melbourne "Springheel Jack" mystery.

WHETHER the knocker is a man or poltergeist, practical joker, or someone with vicious intent, or simply the creaking boards of an old
house and plain-clothed Sherlock Holmes knocking out their pipes, may never be known. After a thorough and calm investigation of the mystery, Smith's is prepared to admit any one or combination of these alternatives could be the solution. The Melbourne daily Press
reached semi-hysterical heights last week giving a knock - by - knock description of the affair. The story was flashed round Australia that
a "Black Prowler" was rapping on the doors and windows of an eerie, 12-roomed, two-story house in the most exclusive part of Heidelberg,
a Melbourne outer suburb.

Constant Vigil

Inside the house three highly skilled nurses, and a niece, were mounting constant vigils striving to save the ebbing life of Mrs. J.
Byrne, a wealthy widow. The rapping sounds were heard between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. for two weeks before the scared women
called in the police. And that's where the daily Press came in. They descended on the "haunted" house like locusts. Readers
were told the prowler could run like a deer, jump like a kangaroo, disappear into thin air. On one night the infuriated police allege it was not possible to poke a bush or look behind a tree in the area without finding a pressman.

The flashlight bulbs of Press photographers pierced the fog, the headlights of Press cars slowly cruising round the block were enough to frighten away even the most courageous ghost — and severely hampered any police plans for trapping the "thing."

"Off Front Page"

One police chief said disgustedly to Smith's: "If this keeps up the Korean affair will soon be pushed off the front page!" One nearby neighbor threatened to shoot any pressman who came near his place. In spite of Press vigilance only one person had "seen" the prowler
up to the time Smith's went to press. He was Detective Rayner, who reported:
"I was in the house in the dark when I had a strange feeling I was being watched. Suddenly I heard the rapping! I rushed into the front garden, pistol in hand. I saw a lithe-looking man only a few yards away. He appeared to be dressed in black and to be wearing black
gloves and something black around his head. I told him to stop, but he ran lightly to a gap in the hedge. As I fired he neatly and lightly vaulted the six-foot fence and disappeared
into the darkness!
"

Smith's does not even suggest that a calm, experienced, efficient detective like Rayner could believe in ghosts. It is possible his bullet passed right through the intruder. But who has ever heard of a mere bullet worrying a poltergeist? Smith's talked with neighbors; not one of them had heard the knocks. One adjoining neighbor openly, scoffed at the suggestion that there is a "Springheel lack" operating in the district. Mrs. Byrne is almost constantly in a state of coma and knows nothing about the knocking.

Since Detective Rayner's "description" of the prowler was published people have reported "seeing" and "hearing" him in other places.


Springheeled Jack

Springheeled Jack is an old English legend of a devil-like figure who was seen leaping from rooftop to rooftop in the South of London.  In 1838, a local barmaid by the name of Polly Adams was attacked.   So too was Mary Stevens, Lucy Scales and even Jane Aslop was almost strangled by the mysterious figure. 

Image: Public Domain

In her description to police she stated:

"He was wearing a kind of helmet and a tight fitting white costume like an oilskin and he vomited blue and white flames!"

During the 1850's and 60's sightings of Spring-heeled Jack were reported all over London with even the Duke of Wellington heading to the streets on horseback to catch the fiend.  In 1870, the Army set out traps to catch him and locals also claimed to fire bullets at him.  They weren't successful and he was seen laughing and escaping by leaping over fencings and over buildings.  The identity of Springheeled Jack was never confirmed but was suspected to be the eccentric Marquis of Waterford.  Springheeled Jack was last seen in Liverpool in 1904 where he disappeared into the darkness never to return.


References

https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Spring-Heeled-Jack/

https://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/wikispeedia/wpcd/wp/s/Spring_Heeled_Jack.htm

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