In Grahamstown, South Africa there is a ghost story about a convict haunting the place where he was hanged. His ghost can forever seen walking the last walk he ever did on the way to the gallows, still bitter about receiving the death penalty.
In Grahamstown, South Africa there is a ghost story about a convict haunting the place where he was hanged by the Old Provost. His ghost can forever seen walking the last walk he ever did on the way to the gallows, still bitter about receiving the death penalty.
Today Grahamstown or Makhanda wich it is now officially known as in South-Africa is a city with a well known university town, housing Rhodes University, one of South Africa’s oldest as being a popular place for backpackers. The town on the Eastern Cape also have a big Art festival, the biggest one in the country, and is otherwise for those people that wish to live a quiet life.
The Town Under Military Law
But this wasn’t always the case however as it was founded as a frontier military outpost built after the Fourth Xhosa War in 1812. and has an old prison known as the Old Provost. A long time ago Grahamstown was better known as a place under militant law, public punishments and public hangings, watched by a lot of people. The legend is that the ghost of one of these hanged people are still haunting the place next to the botanical gardens.
Built in Grahamstown in 1838, the Old Gaol or Old Provost was a military prison when martial law ruled in the old town during colonial times. The fortress was designed as a Panopticon prison, meaning a design that allowed for constant surveillance of the prisoners.
During this time the town was seen as rather uncivilized and it was said of it in 1833: “two or three English merchants of considerable wealth, but scarcely any society in the ordinary sense of the word. The Public Library is a wretched affair”
A few decades after this was said about the town however, Grahamstown was the second biggest town after Cape Town in the English colony.
The Haunted University in Grahamstown
The Old Provost is not the only ghost haunting the university town, as most of the faculty buildings have some sort of history and its local ghosts roaming around on the campus.
There are according to campus rumours, witnessed a young boy and girl in the journalism department haunting the halls. There is also whispers of ghosts that used to live in the small cottages the Institute of Biodiversity is now built on top over.
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Even the botanical garden close to Old Provost has a ghost wandering in the green garden, smelling like perfume and feeling like a cold wind passing by. This is the ghost of Lady Jana Maria de los Dolores de Leon Smith.
But who was this ghost from the Old Provost, and why is he still haunting the place?
Dead Men Walking by Old Provost
The Old Provost prison was built for military offenders, and although a small building, ruthless punishments were put in place. Those who were convicted and served their time were put in these cells completely designed that you would never have a private moment inside the walls.
Those even more unfortunate and convicted to death were chained on their feet and hands, humiliated as they were lead from the fortress of the Old Provost to the plaza they were going to be punished in front of the entire population of Grahamstown. “Dead men walking”, as they were called.
The last person we know of that was publicly hung was in these parts were Henry Nicholls and is also known as the ghost that walks this final walk forever as a ghost. He pleaded guilty and was convicted for a rape happening in 1862.
He had already confessed to the crime, but didn’t really think it was a crime he had to pay with his life. Nicholls spent four months in the Old Provost, hoping to get of with his life as rape was not a capital punishment under English law but only prison time.
But since he was a military man, he was under military law. And according to that, the punishment for his crime was death by hanging.
The Last Hanging on the Eastern Cape
Watching a hanging like this was great entertainment for the people of Grahamstown and the rest of the surrounding areas. According to the stories, people rode for as long as seven days to behold the execution of Henry Nicholls by Old Provost. This hanging was the last execution in the Eastern Cape.
On 19 February 1862 was the last day for the convict and it was also his last walk. He was led out from the Old Provost and had to walk past the gathering crowd towards the gallows. He never got a chance for last words or prayers. He was simply strung up and hanged to his death in front of a blood thirsty crowd.
But why is he still haunting the place? It’s perhaps difficult to answer for a ghost, but one of the theories was that Nicholls was unhappy and bitter about receiving a death punishment some only served prison time for.
The Bitter Ghost Haunting
Rape rarely got the death sentence, even back in that time and you mostly got sent away or served prison time, although being actually convicted for it was a lot harder than today.
A lot retelling the story of the ghost wandering from the Old Provos think that because of this, Nicholls meant that the punishment he received was too hard and the humiliating Nicholls ended his life, his soul can never be free.
Instead of going forward in his afterlife he is convicted of a life sentence, lasting for eternity, and must wander in all the remaining days between the Old Provost, now turned into a cute cafe, and the gallow, passing through the entrance to the now so modern university.
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