The Ghost of Francis Street

BA1657
Geraldton circa 1880s. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia.

Have you seen the ghost! is the latest query under the verandah. Dark rumors have been for some time circulated, of a mysterious apparition which at uncanny hours, haunts the solitudes of Francis street.

According to the Victorian Express, in 1882 numerous Geraldtonians had indeed seen the spectre, dressed in black and walking along Francis Street in the middle of the night. While the reporter was no doubt taking a little creative liberty, they stated that when it was approached it vanished “…into thin air, with a mocking laugh, a flare of blue light, and a smell of sulfur.

The level of interest nevertheless reached fever pitch and a group of men (some of whom were noted to be respectable citizens) began eschewing sleep and instead camped out on the street in the hope of seeing or capturing the “vagabond ghost.

Perhaps adding a little legitimacy to the story, the police (dressed in plain clothes) were also noted to have become involved but they too were unable to solve the mystery.

Everyone was lying in wait, including two thirds of Geraldton’s gamins (street urchins) who were said to be “hidden behind bush fences, and rush covered sand hills, thinking to surprise the supernatural prowler, while they fill the air with bad tobacco smoke, and irreverent gibes.

The mystery, however, still remains impenetrable.

Many speculated as to the identity of the ghost. Was it Charlie Hamilton in the flesh, having escaped prison and returning to finish off the job he started? NB: Charles Hamilton was convicted of attempting to murder a merchant, Henry Gray, at Geraldton in 1881. He was initially sentenced to death before having it commuted to life imprisonment.

Was it actually Old Mahomet roaming the street at night looking for his lost treasure? NB: Mahomet was a Turkish man who lived in an area of Geraldton which is today known as Mahomets Flats. He grew fruit, vegetables and flowers and sold them in town. Mahomet died in 1880 and it was rumoured that he had a large stash of gold coins buried in the sand dunes of his property.

The ghost, whether real or not, seems to have given many people a source of amusement. On one occasion two well-known citizens, one of whom was reported to be a doctor, were hidden behind a fence awaiting the appearance of the apparition. As they waited, two young men were seen walking along Francis Street, talking about the ghost. One remarked:

I don’t believe in ghostesses – when a man dies – he dies, and never comes back – Hang Ghosts! I’ll believe in ’em when I see one.

Having heard his declaration, the doctor popped up from behind the fence and let out an otherworldly howl, scaring the man half to death.

Non Believer

A Geraldton correspondent for The West Australian later attributed the ghostly conversation as nothing more than idle gossip but reassured readers that “If, in the fullness of time, this mysterious disturber of the people’s rest is by any chance captured, and turns out to be a real proper ghost, no delay shall take place in giving you a full and particular account as to what sort of fellows these ghosts are.

As I’m sure you can guess, no update was provided in later editions. Whatever or whoever the ghost of Francis Street was remains a mystery.

Sources:

  • Image of Geraldton courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (Call Number: BA1657/10). Online: http://purl.slwa.wa.gov.au/slwa_b2801193_1
  • 1882 ‘UNDER THE VERANDAH.’, Victorian Express (Geraldton, WA : 1878 – 1894), 1 March, p. 3. , viewed 29 Aug 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213978901
  • 1882 ‘COUNTRY LETTERS.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 7 March, p. 3. , viewed 29 Aug 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2986464
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