The legend of Fisher's ghost is a popular Australian story dating to the early 19th century. The legend of farmer Frederick Fisher is one of the most popular ghost stories in Australia. On a calm June evening in 1826, Fisher left his house in Campbelltown to run some errands, never to return. He was gone without a trace, leaving no clues that could explain his sudden disappearance.
Four months after Fisher vanished, a local resident stumbled into a Campbelltown hotel, pale and shaken to his very bones. He told the assorted audience that he had just encountered the ghost of Frederick Fisher. The spectral farmer had been sitting on a fence by the road, pointing with his finger at a paddock near the river that ran nearby. Then, the startled man watched the apparition fade away in front of his eyes.
The man who had seen the ghost was a wealthy and well-respected member of the community, so the police decided to investigate the paddock the ghost had pointed at. To their shock, they found the body of Frederick Fisher, dead and hidden from view. His murderer was soon found to be one George Worrall, Fisher’s neighbor and friend who had been taking care of his legal matters in the past. Worrall had already raised some eyebrows after Fisher’s disappearance, as he told everyone that Fisher had sailed to England and soon started selling the poor farmer’s belongings. The emergence of the body soon caused Worrall to confess, and Fisher could finally rest in peace.
Or could he? Some sources say that Fisher quite liked being a ghost . . . to the point that he still haunts the hotel mentioned in the legend today. In 1826 an English-born Australian farmer from Campbelltown named Frederick Fisher (Born : London-August 28th ,1792) suddenly disappeared. His friend and neighbour George Worrall claimed that Fisher had returned to England, and that before departing had given him power of attorney over his property and general affairs. Later, Worrall claimed that Fisher had written to him to advise that he was not intending to return to Australia, and giving his farm to Worrall.
Four months after Fisher's disappearance a respectable local man named John Farley, ran into the local hotel in a very agitated state. He told the astonished patrons that he had seen the ghost of Fred Fisher sitting on the rail of a nearby bridge. Farley related that the ghost had not spoken, but had merely pointed to a paddock beyond the creek, before disappearing.
Initially Farley's tale was dismissed, but the circumstances surrounding Fisher's disappearance eventually aroused sufficient suspicion that a police search of the paddock to which the ghost had pointed was undertaken - during which the remains of the murdered Fisher were discovered buried by the side of a creek. George Worrall was arrested for the crime, confessed, and subsequently hanged. Fred Fisher, whose lands he had coveted, was buried in the cemetery at St. Peter's Anglican Church in Campbelltown.
It is thought by some that the story of the ghost may have been invented by Farley as a way of concealing some other speculated source of his knowledge about the whereabouts of Fisher's body, but this cannot be confirmed. Contemporary police and court records do not mention the ghost story - but they are also silent on how the authorities knew where to look for Fisher's body.
The legend of Fisher's ghost has since entered popular folklore and the creek beside which the body was discovered is known as Fisher's Ghost Creek, although it has now, however, been converted into mostly a storm water drain
Who was Fred Fisher?
Frederick George James Fisher was born in London on 28 August 1792. He worked as a shopkeeper until, either innocently or deliberately, he obtained forged banknotes through his business. On 26 July 1815, Fred was sentenced to 14 years transportation to Australia. In 1822 he applied for a ticket-of-leave and eventually secured a property at Campbelltown.
What happened to Fred Fisher?
In 1825 Fred had an argument with a local carpenter and received a light prison sentence. Worried about his farm, Fred gave his neighbour, George Worrall, power of attorney during his sentence. After his release, on 17 June 1826, Fred Fisher mysteriously disappeared and George Worrall announced that Fred had sailed for England. Three week´s later, George sold Fred´s horse and belongings. Needless to say the townspeople were suspicious!
On 17 September 1826, George Worrall was arrested on suspicion of Fred´s murder. During the trial George confessed - even though the tale of the ghostly sighting could not be told in court, as stories of the supernatural were not permitted in a court of law.
In a strange twist of fate, George Worrall is now buried at one of Australia´s most popular locations overlooking Sydney Harbour at The Rocks. Take yourself back to the early 1800's. Australia was then a rough, rugged and mostly unsettled wild country. It was then full of convicts who had been shipped to Australia for punishment for crimes such as stealing loaves of bread, murder and any other acts deemed as criminal.
Frederick George James Fisher was a 35 year old ticket-of leave man who originally came to Australia from England as a convict. He left England on a ship named the 'Atlas', and arrived in the colony in 1816. Soon after he acquired his ticket of leave. A ticket-of leave was something convicts, who were particularly well behaved, could gain for themselves to be able to buy themselves land and settle without being imprisoned.
He soon bought 30 acres of land in Campbelltown, the house being close to the spot which the Old Post Office now occupies . The farm was located between the main street which is now renamed Queen Street, bounded on the north by the line of Lithgow Street and on the south by a line from Allman Street. His property extended out to and ended at the Bow Bowing creek line.
The Town Hall Theatre is the site of George Worralls Farm Fisher prospered on his land and had purchased himself more land located at Appin, Cabramatta and Nepean. A little known fact about Fisher was that he was also the first man to attempt to make paper in New South Wales.
Fisher's close friend, confidant and neighbour was a man named George Worrall, who was also a ticket-of-leave man. He rented the property next door to Fisher and must have much envied his prosperous neighbour. Worrall rented a cottage 140 yards south of Allan Street, the site occupied by the first Campelltown Town Hall and now contains the local theatre. At one time, Fisher got into debt and counted on his best friend Worrall to help him out. He signed over his property to Worrall to either stop it from being seized by the law or to give the impression he had no assets. Fisher was then arrested and sent to Jail. Worrall was noted to be boasting at this time how his own land had suddenly increased by 30 acres. He was heard to say "It's all mine now.....all that was Fred's.....he give it to me 'afore he went to prison,'.
Fisher was released 6 months later and did the natural thing, returned to claim his property back off Worrall.
Frederick Fisher then suddenly and mysteriously disappeared on June 17, 1826. The last that was seen of him was by Jane Hopkins on June 17th, 1826, who saw Fisher give money to some men who worked on his farm to buy drink.
Worrall, while walking around town wearing Fishers pants, told a story of how Fisher supposedly returned back to Sydney and then sailed back to England on the Lord St Vincent (also reported as the Lady St Vincent in some accounts) and had therefore left Worrall in charge of his estate. The story was soon investigated and it was discovered that no ship by that name was docked at Sydney. Suspicion turned on Worrall as to mysterious disappearance of Fisher.
Locals such as James Coddington also became suspicious when Worrall offered to him for sale a horse and other property belonging to Fisher. He claimed Fisher had fled back to England fearing he would be prosecuted for forgery, whilst Coddington himself recognized a forged receipt for Fishers items, presented to him by Worrall.
Fishers friends who had dined with him on the night he dissappeared all wondered where Fisher really was, and noted how Worrall took immediate possession of Fishers property. But where was Frederick Fisher? A £20 reward for any information on the whereabouts of Frederick Fisher was advertised by Hon. Alexander Macleay, Colonial Secretary, in the Government Gazette at the end of September, 1826. It is also reported that the Sydney Gazette carried the same ad.
The Monitor of November 3, 1826 reported news that the discovery of Frederick Fisher's murdered body had been made at Campbelltown after Fisher had been missing for four Months. The report continued to tell that the search had continued for some time until on Tuesday, October 31 "by the aid of some black natives" the body was discovered in a field three feet below the surface of the ground.
"The face was completely flattened, the head fractured......Suspicion, it is said, attaches to a man resident in the neighbourhood......."
Worrall was arrested by Robert Burke, chief constable of Campbelltown after the body was found by George Luland. The name "Luland" was mistakenly reported in some newspapers as "Looland".
Luland was sent to the creek to investigate by Wm Howe, the local police magistrate, although it is not reported anywhere why he sent Luland or for what reason he sent the Constable to the creek. The report of finding the body is as follows:
"Two black natives came up and joined in the search till they came to a creek where one of them saw something in the water'.......Gilbert, a black native, went into the water and scumming some of the top with a leaf which he afterwards tasted and called out that there was the fat of a white man."
Natives then led the party up another creek 40 or 50 yards when "one of them struck a rod into some marshy ground and called out there was something there; a spade was immediately found and the place dug when the first thig which presented itself was the left hand of a man lying on his side, which witness from a long acquaintance with him immediately declared to be the hand of Frederick Fisher......"
A warrant was immediately obtained and Worrall was then brought in under arrest.The coroners report told of fractures to the head and a conclusion of wilful murder by a person or persons of unknown origin was given. Policemen examined the fence where the blood was found on the rails, they noted there was the evidence of fire on the lower rail. It was thought that this was a feeble attempt to burn off the bloody marks.
While under arrest Worrall then made a statement incriminating Laurence, one of the men who Fisher was seen drinking with on his last night, and another. Worall claimed they admitted to him they had done away with Fisher, wanting to secure what money he had. The case was brought to trial at the Supreme Court. The Trial of George Worrall as reported in The Australian 3rd February, 1827
R. v. Worroll
Supreme Court of New South Wales
Forbes C.J., 2 February 1827
George Worroll stood capitally indicted for the wilful murder of Frederick Fisher, on the 17th of January last.
Mr. Daniel Cooper deposed that the prisoner came to him several times, prior to the deceased being found, respecting some papers, which were the title deeds of a farm belonging to Fisher, in the district of Campbell Town; these papers were in witness's possession and prisoner said if witness would give them up he would satisfy a debt due to witness about £80. Witness pressed him to state what had become of Fisher; but prisoner, in an indifferent manner, said he had gone out of the country to avoid a prosecution for perjury. In another conversation which witness had with the prisoner, he said that Fisher had given him a power of attorney to act for him; but witness never saw any such document.
James Coddington, is overseer of a farm belonging to last witness, in the district of Campbell Town. On the 8th of last July, he was in the township, and met the prisoner, who proposed selling him a young horse, which witness partly agreed to buy; however, having some scruples that the horse formerly belonged to Fisher, who was then reported to have absconded - witness requested to see prisoner's authority for selling the animal, when he presented a bill of sales and receipt for 134l. for four horses, signed "Frederick Fisher."
Thomas Hammond, knew deceased - remembers prisoner coming to him about the mouth [sic] of July last, and offer to him some building boards for sale, which he stated to belong to Fisher - but must be sold to ratify an execution. Prisoner said that Fisher had left the Colony, and assigned as a reason for his departure, that he was apprehensive of a criminal prosecution being entered against him - prisoner said he would produce his power of attorney to sell - but failed to do so.
In August following, prisoner came with witness to Sydney, in a gig, and put up at the Emu Inn. On the road, witness mentioned to prisoner, that it was the opinion of a good many persons, Fisher had been murdered. The prisoner treated the subject with levity - observed him turn pale, and affect to smile. The conversation on that subject ceased. It had been arranged between witness and prisoner to stay at the Emu Inn that evening, and return to Campbell Town next morning - but prisoner without stating his intention to any one, left the house, and was not seen until next morning; when he appeared, he said, he had been to Parramatta and back.
A receipt deposed by the last witness, to have been shewn to him by the prisoner, purporting to be Fisher's, was here handed to the witness, and denied by him to be Fisher's receipt.
Mary Talbot deposed, that prisoner received monie from witness, on Fisher's account. - Prisoner said that Fisher was not in the Colony.
Jane Hopkins deposed, that on the 17th June last, prisoner and deceased left the house wherein they both lived, at about the same time - saw deceased about nine o'clock on that evening - he gave some trifle of money to some men on the farm, to go and get something to drink.
Newland, a constable, was employed to search for the body of Fisher - saw sprinkling of blood, on some paling, about 50 rods from prisoner's house - some blacks accompanied him to a creek, at a short distance - Gilbert, the black native, jumped into the water, and with a corn husk swept the surface of the water - then put it to his nose and declared that he could smell "a white man's fat." The body was found, buried close to - his features, though decomposed, were identified by several persons to be the body of Fisher. Proof was adduced that the prisoner made a declaration that two persons were guilty of the murder, and confessed he was present, though not an active agent in the business - Guilty. - To be executed on Monday.
George Worralls Exucution as reported in The Australia, 7th February, 1827
(5th February, 1827)
Monday morning George Worrell, who was convicted on Friday last of the wilful murder of Frederick Fisher, a settler living at Campbell Town, underwent the awful sentence pronounced upon him, in pursuance of his conviction. The culprit, during his trial, appeared wholly indifferent as to its issue, and that sameness of demeanor was observable upon the retirement of the Jury.
Criminals in his situation are generally remarked to betray some emotion of alarm upon the return of the Jury, but this was not the case with this unfortunate man. As the Jury re-entered their box, after having retired for consideration, prepared to give the fatal verdict, the prisoner stood boldly forth, and without betraying the slightest visible change of countenance, heard the fatal verdict of guilty recorded. His demeanour was afterwards precisely the same, but savoured of sourness, which precluded the society of those who were desirous of conversing with him.
As the awful hour which was fixed for his final dissolution drew on, he expressed a strong desire to be visited by a Protestant Clergyman. The Rev. W.Cowper promptly attended to the request, and administered to him spiritual consolation. The Rev. Minister was unremitting in his exertions to bring the culprit to a proper sense of his awful condition. The criminal, aroused to a sense of religious duty, communicated to his Clergyman that what he had stated to the Magistrates upon his examination, was wholly false, and confessed he alone was the murderer.
It will be recollected by our readers that the prisoner attempted to relieve himself from the imputation of murdering the deceased Fisher, by stating that two persons were guilty of the murder, and that he was present, though not an active agent in the business. In accounting for his motive in perpetrating the awful deed, he said, that he and Fisher (the deceased) left the house together, with an intention to go into the township to enjoy the evening. They were perfectly good friends and had been so for some time before - that having walked together a distance of about 30 rods from the house, he observed some stray horses among the wheat crop, one of which was within a short distance of him, when he laid hold of a rail, which lay on the ground, and thereupon aimed a blow at the horse; it struck his companion Fisher. The latter, by the force of the blow, fell to the ground. The night was dark, but he quickly discovered his mistake, and in raising Fisher up, found that he was in an almost lifeless state. Fearful of communicating the circumstance to any one he watched by the insensible man for some time, when finding life was extinct, he raised him on his back, and in that position carried the deceased to a distance of about fifty yards. For that night he left the mangled victim among some rushes, which grew on a marshy spot of ground, and which was strongly impregnated with alum.
Having done this, he returned to his home. There was a jovial company of hard working labourers, who had met to spend the evening - but he escaped to rest. "Ah," said the wretched man, "the evening before this fatal occurrence I was happy; I could boast of being a free man; I had my two or three servants at command, and my orders were obeyed; I was possessed of property; I had a relative who was dear to me, but now how can I dare to meet the face of an honest man to-morrow." The man died penitent, but left the confession of his guilt to be made known by a person who sat up with him the previous evening. A few moments only sufficed for his dissolution.