Ghost Hoaxing in Early Australia
Playing the Ghost
Playing the Ghost:
Ghost Hoaxing and Supernaturalism in late Nineteenth-Century Victoria
By Dr. David Waldron
Provenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria
Issue Number: 13
Date: 2014

On the night of Wednesday 29 May 1895, two young ladies were approached by a spectral figure clad in black robes, with arms and face covered in phosphorescent paint. This individual frequently patrolled the area around Sturt Street and Dana Street in Ballarat attempting to harass young women. A search of newspaper articles from this period indicates a wide-spread proliferation of ghost hoaxing, referred to as ‘playing the ghost’, between the 1870s and World War I, with a particular focus on the Ballarat region in central Victoria. This extraordinary behaviour occurred in the context of the rising popularity of spiritualism, which challenged traditional notions of the role of the dead, as well as a similar proliferation of ghost and monster hoaxing in Britain, perhaps best exemplified by the character of Spring Heeled Jack.

This paper examines the phenomenon of ghost hoaxing in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Victoria through its reportage in the print media of the era, with a focus on the causes and legacies of the phenomenon in the broader cultural context of central Victoria and the Goldfields region.
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Part 1: 1819 to 1853 - Hoaxing, Cock-lane Ghost in Sydney, The Ghost, Spring-Heeled Jack, Assault and False Imprisonment, Capture of a Ghost, Extraordinary Case, A Ghost in Love, A Dumfrisshire Ghost Story, Acting the Ghost, Horrible if True—But Not True
Part 2: 1854 to 1871     - A Ghost Freak, Fatal Result of Personating a Ghost, Ghost seen in Yass, A Ghost, A Night with the Spirits, Bentley Mystery, Pepper's Ghost, Extraordinary Capture of a Ghost, The St. Kilda Ghost Captured, Lal Lal Ghost