Victorian Ghost Hoaxers: Part 2

a halftone line drawing of a ghost with the words "ghost hoaxing"

Note: This contains mentions of colonialism and people being attacked.

Dr. David Waldron, a folklorist and historian at Federation University in Ballarat, Australia, is an expert in the subject of Victorian ghost hoaxers. In his paper "Playing the Ghost," he talks about the disaster of colonialism in Australia, as well as colonizers' misguided attempt to pretend that Australia was England:

Even in the Australian climate with its scarcity of water and blistering heat, people attempted to create a British environment. They wore formal suits, even in summer; they created English dinners; they imported English animals; and the Acclimatization Society of Victoria was formally established in 1861 to make the environment more familiar, more English . . . English building styles were used, even though totally inappropriate for the Australian climate, and British farming practices were introduced with disregard for the alien landscape, often with disastrous consequences . . .  Displacement was endemic, which made nineteenth-century Victoria a fertile environment for the advent of ghostly experiences and ghostly conjuring.

English colonizers were creating a ghostly landscape, destroying the existing culture and land in an effort to summon the spirit of the place they'd left behind. But that was obviously impossible:

Australia was a world turned upside down. This was in part due to the gold rushes, but also because it was a country where emancipated convicts could rise in the ranks of government and become landowners, and where aristocrats could be found working the gold mines alongside emancipated convicts and commoners.

Waldron goes on to talk about how ghost hoaxing almost acted as a release valve, a way for otherwise respectable people to behave badly:

The people who participated in colonial goldfields ghost hoaxing were often the representatives of the rational, respectable, and safe community: school-teachers, housewives, and public servants, even though they were described as riff-raff and working-class ‘larrikins’ in the print media. (‘Larrikin’ is a popular term used to describe mischievous working-class pranksters and troublemakers.)

Rich kids up to no good

The paper compares the Australian ghost hoaxers to a group of young aristocratic men in England in the early 1700s, who prowled around London and attacked people of all genders.

The group of rich, bored sons were such a problem that in 1712, the royal court put a 100 pound bounty on their heads

Waldron writes:

This appears quite distinct from the populist perception of the ‘prowling ghosts’ of England from the same era, who in the public imagination were primarily young aristocrats. These perceptions had their origin in earlier panics surrounding the ‘Mohocks’—well-dressed, affluent, aristocratic young men with too much time, wealth, and boredom on their hands—who had been terrorizing the inhabitants of the cities in the gloom of England’s poorly lit urban streets .

This post doesn’t link to sources as comprehensively as usual, because it's based on an old episode of Buried Secrets Podcast. I wrote this based on the original episode notes, which I penned when I was worse at adding specific in-line citations. But all of the sources I used are linked at the bottom of the episode shownotes page. The main source that I used for the episode was "Playing the Ghost" by Dr. David Waldron.