January 3, 1804
Hammersmith, London, England
Thomas Millwood (22) is shot after he is mistaken for a ghost
For five weeks before Millwood’s death, the Hammersmith area had been seemingly plagued by a malevolent ghost. During one incident, a woman watched the ghost “rise from the tombstones.” The sighting scared her to the point she fainted and eventually died from fright, though not before she described her encounter. In a separate event, a wagoner and his team of 8 horses were startled enough by the ghost that the driver lost control of the wagon, endangering himself and his 16 passengers. And one man recounted how he had been grabbed around the throat from behind as he walked through the churchyard. The man punched the ghost and fled.
Rumors circulated in the area with the assumption the spirit was that of a man who had killed himself the year before and was described as being tall and wearing white, as demonstrated by the attached engraving of the Hammersmith Ghost which appeared in Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, published in 1804.
Not all witnesses to the ghostly sightings believed they were paranormal, however; at least one witness saw the supposed ghost tossing away a white tablecloth before running away. Additionally, John Graham later came forward to admit he had played the ghost on one occasion, dressing in a white sheet to scare his apprentices after they had told ghost stories to Graham’s children.
While the Hammersmith Ghost haunted the area, a bricklayer by the name of Thomas Millwood began to scare his share of townsfolk, as well. He was in the habit of wearing a clean, white outfit that those within his trade often donned, and had inadvertently startled a couple as they were walking, to the point the man threatened to punch Millwood in the head.
Several of the Hammersmith citizens took it upon themselves to wait for the ghost to appear and, on the night of January 3, it was Francis Smith’s turn. Smith laid in wait for the ghost and armed himself with a shotgun in the event he might encounter the spectre. Around 11 p.m., Millwood left the Black Lion Inn to return home, dressed head-to-toe in his signature white garb. A witness later told the court Millwood wore “linen trowsers entirely white, washed very clean, a waistcoat of flannel, apparently new, very white, and an apron, which he wore round him; his trowsers came down almost to the edge of his shoes.”
Millwood had been accompanied by his sister at the inn and as the pair departed she heard a voice call out, “Damn you, who are you? Stand, else I’ll shoot you.” According to Millwood’s sister, a shot immediately followed the command. Millwood was killed on the spot.
Smith confessed the same night, though he sincerely believed the figure had been the ghost and not Millwood. He was soon tried and the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter rather than murder. The judge instructed the jury to dismiss Smith’s defense of mistaken identity and to either clear him or convict him of Millwood’s murder. The jury returned with a guilty verdict and, despite strong recommendations for mercy, Smith was sentenced to death; his execution was to be carried out the following Monday. By January 24, Smith was granted a reprieve from the King and his sentence was reduced to a year of hard labor.
Alexander, Jane. “The Time Someone Shot A Ghost Dead In Hammersmith.” Londonist. October 25, 2019. Accessed: January 3, 2020. https://londonist.com/london/features/hammersmith-ghost-story-murder
Jackson, Graham and Ludlow, Cate. A Grim Almanac of Georgian London. The History Press, 2012
Walter, Ernest. “Before The Magistrate.” The Vancouver Daily Province. November 15, 1946
Jackson’s Oxford Journal. January 28, 1804
“Murder At Hammersmith.” The Hull Packet. January 24, 1804
Trial of Francis Smith. 11th January 1804. Digitized: https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=180401110065
“Fears Of A Ghost, And The Fatal Catastrophe.” The Morning Chronicle [London, England]. January 6, 1804
“The Ghost Of Hammersmith.” The Morning Post [London, England]. January 6, 1804