'The Hammersmith Ghost' etching. Published by R. S. Kirby. London House Yard & I Scott. 447 Strand. Feb 1 1804.
I found this etching whilst looking for images to post and as I was in the Hammersmith area of London recently (and not knowing much about the area) I thought that I’d research the image. There are differing accounts online but the basic story is consistent.
Towards the end of 1803 several people in Hammersmith reported seeing and some were apparently attacked by a ghost. One terrified woman walking near a churchyard claimed that a ghost had risen from the gravestones and put it’s arms around her, she fainted and died of shock two days later. ”Neither man, woman, nor child could pass that way for some time” and the report was that it was “the apparition of a man who cut his throat in the neighbourhood.” (Faulkner - History of Hammersmith from ‘British History Online’).
Armed vigilante groups were set up and Thomas Millwood, a bricklayer ( some accounts say a plasterer), who wore white clothes ( white linen trousers, a flannel waistcoat and an apron) was mistakenly shot and killed by Francis Smith an excise officer. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death which was commuted to one year’s hard labour.
Apparently, the real ‘ghost’, a shoemaker, confessed later but other accounts say that a ghost appears every 50 years in Hammersmith.
The question of whether acting on a mistaken belief was a sufficient defence to a criminal charge was debated for nearly two centuries ( 180 years) until it was clarified at the Court of Appeal in the case R. v Williams (Gladstone) (1984) Wikipedia.
Image courtesy NYPL Digital Gallery