Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Aussie Paranormal Story: The Enigmatic 'Claremont Ghost Seer'

By John Wyatt - In 1887 a young man testified at a coronial inquiry he saw three ghosts by a road at Claremont, W of Sydney, Australia, and they glided through trees towards where possible human remains were later found. But did he actually see ghosts?

Alfred Jackson
Alfred Jackson 'the Claremont ghost seer' was born in Camden, SW of Sydney, NSW, in 1871. His father died in 1885 and his mother, Mary, married Henry Small who had children from a previous marriage. In early 1887 the Jackson-Small family moved to the Claremont Estate about 50 miles W of Sydney, where it lived in an abandoned woodcutters bark hut. The eldest son, William Jackson, 28, soon left the district, and the husband was rarely home.

According to the published inquiry proceedings Alfred Jackson arrived home after dark and told his mother about seeing glowing ghosts on the Luddenham Road; and about a fortnight after that, he and his stepbrother had also stumbled on cremated remains by a creek about 400 yards from the family home, while collecting bark. In the ashes of the fire they discovered tiny round bone fragments, one or two teeth and three metal and one glass button.

When police investigated the cremation site they discovered somebody had thrown onto the fire 15 posts and the rails from an old dairy, about 400 yards away (and not far from the Jacksons), and somebody had also dug a trench a short distance from the fire. Somebody had intended to bury a body but instead cremated it. Why go to so much trouble to dispose of a dead sheep?

On July 22, 1887, a coronial inquiry was conducted at the Penrith Courthouse and Alfred Jackson gave evidence by sworn statement. His testimony in part reads as follows:

"I am a laborer and reside with my mother at a place called Claremont in the Penrith district; I remember the 13th of the present month [elsewhere corrected to the 1st of June} coming home from Luddenham; at about half past ten at night, I was then on my way home, and on coming along the road, near the land board at Littlefields I turned into the bush on the Claremont estate; before I got within 100 yards of the land board at Littlefields my dog became restless and came up howling as if another dog was behind him; on looking round I saw a large figure about six feet some inches high in the shape of a dog; I stood still and looked at it and it disappeared to gradually vanish; I then saw a woman standing beside the fence, without a head, having a sort of plaid dress on... the dog I saw was all white except the shoulders which were red; the woman and the dog both vanished in the same way in the direction of a gully where the remains of the fire were afterwards discovered; the woman's dress was a red plaid; the dog appeared to me about a quarter of a mile from the remains of the fire..."

"I could not tell whether the woman was young or old; after going about ten yards along the road I saw a man who stepped up towards me and went through the fence like a puff of wind... the man was dressed in a dark suit; he stood still for about five minutes and looked me in the face, he made two steps towards me and went off the side of the road towards the fence... the man was the height of myself perhaps a little taller; I could not tell his age, he was not a very old man; I walked about five yard, and then ran home for my life... the man... appeared to be about 40 years of age; he had a short reddish beard and had on a light felt hat...."

Alfred's mother, Mary, in her testimony confirmed that “he returned between 9 and 10 o'clock the same night; the night was very dark; he was very pale when he came home, and I asked him what was the matter with him, was he sick, he said 'No I have seen something to-night—they talk about ghosts and spirits but I have certainly seen one tonight, it appeared to me in three different things'; I said 'Nonsense you couldn't have seen anything like that for I've come along that road all hours of the night and I've never seen anything'; he said there's no more going out at night for me'.... (Penrith Nepean Times 6 August 1887, p6)

But were they human remains? well, the medical men disagreed.

Dr O C Brady thought they were “but there are no means of telling whether the bones are those of a male or female, or of a white of aboriginal.” While the Government Medical Advisors in Sydney, Dr. McLaurin and Professor Anderson Stuart, in written evidence, recognised “parts of the limb bones of a large animal, but no fragment have been recognised by us as part of a human bone....”

The coronial inquiry adjourned and resumed the following week, and Coroner J K Lethbridge told the jury, the government medical advisors were unwilling to attend the inquiry unless summoned; so it heard from two local doctors who believed the remains were human.

Faced with conflicting evidence the jury returned an open finding, and, as there were no reports of missing persons in the district, the police investigation also lapsed; which with hindsight was unwise--because the Jackson-Smalls was a family from hell.

In 1888 Alfred, and William Jackson (who had priors) and a John Walpole were found guilty of shooting five deer with intent to steal and Alfred served eight months in goal. In 1889 he and Henry Small were goaled for larceny from premises. In 1890 Alfred was charged with the shooting murder of a Chinese shepherd, Ah Sue, at Brandy Creek, near Orange NSW, in 1885—when he was only 15.

Alfred told the court he'd taken a rifle out of the home to sell it to the shepherd and when he refused “I fired at him, but did not think I would hit him”. The court apparently believed his story and, after taking his age at the time into account, he was only found guilty of manslaughter and he served a short four-year sentence. In 1894 he was back inside for stealing six cattle.

In 1900 Alfred was sentenced to two years in Bathurst Gaol for 'safe bursting' or safe cracking and after release he appeared as a key prosecution witness in the infamous 1903 Auburn Murder Trial.

In 1903 Constable Samuel Long, 38, was shot dead during the early hours while investigating a burglary at the of Royal Hotel, Auburn, 19km (12mi) W of Sydney. The public was shocked by the brutal crime and the NSW government offered a large reward. The police, who were under pressure to get a result, charged two gangsters Digby Grand and Henry Jones with the murder and offered immunity to John Woolford for providing evidence. During the trial Woolford suffered memory loss and Alfred Jackson's evidence was pivotal for the prosecution's case.

Alfred Jackson, 33, contractor, testified he knew Henry Jones from Bathurst Gaol, where they'd discussed safe-cracking methods, and Jones had later visited his home in Sydney where they discussed prospective 'jobs'. The witness recalled “Well?--I said. 'What's the strength of it?' and he said, “the Auburn Post Office, and there is a small 'tank'--a nickname for a safe—at the Royal Hotel, Auburn.”

The evidence was damning and Grand and Jones were hanged at the Darlinghurst Gaol on 7 July, 1903.

However it was widely felt that Grand and Jones had been framed and a Sydney newspaper The Newsletter launched a blistering campaign against Jackson, claiming amongst other things that he was a “perjury wolf” and receiver of “blood money”; and it published copies of affidavits that, if true, proved he had asked relatives to give false collaborative evidence for a slice of the reward money.

Alfred Jackson who claimed to be reformed character and a trusted employee on a large estate near Sydney, sued the paper for criminal libel and was awarded a sizable settlement in 1908.

Whatever happened to the enigmatic Claremont ghost seer? well it seems, from the available evidence, he may have indeed reformed and settled down. An Alfred Jackson, 79, father of three, died in Sydney in 1949.

Did he see ghosts? Well, the jury is still out.

Jon Wyatt 2014 Copyright total wordcount 1465

Weird Australia: Real Reports of Uncanny Creatures, Strange Sightings & Extraordinary Encounters

Australia's Strangest Mysteries

Missing You: Australia's Most Mysterious Unsolved Missing Persons Cases

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