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The Specter of Eldon House
by Christopher Doty

eldon houseSarah Harris of Eldon House may have suffered from the ultimate bad date experience one evening in May of 1841 when her boyfriend showed up very late - and very dead.

 

Eldon House, a gracious Georgian mansion, was built for John Harris, the treasurer of the London district in 1830. Following the establishment of a nearby military garrison in 1839, Eldon House became the major social centre for visiting officers from England.

"John Harris welcomed the garrison with open arms," says Peter Smith of Museum London. "Eldon House was immediately known as a place where an officer could receive a meal, a pleasant social evening and, even more than that, John Harris had seven daughters."

One of these young ladies was Sarah Harris. In the spring of 1841 she allegedly struck up a courtship with 26-year-old Lieut. Wenman Wynniatt. Harris was so taken by Wynniatt she asked him to attend one of Eldon House's numerous dances which was to be held on the evening of May 14th.

Late that Friday afternoon Wynniatt set out for a horseback ride. He was last seen riding past the northern branch of the Thames River at five o'clock. He was curiously absent when the party began a few hours later.

At quarter past ten Sarah Harris was in the ballroom of Eldon House having a polite conversation with two young officers, Ensigns David Anderson and Robert Portal. Some fifty years later, an article in Review of Reviews related what happened next:

"They all saw Mr. (Wynniatt) come into the room, look calmly and steadily at her and pass into the dining room. She thought it strange that he did not come to speak to her, and alluded to it to the gentlemen, saying she thought Mr. (Wynniatt) was really the rudest man she ever saw, and laughing, followed him into the dining room. There, however, he was not."

Historian Orlo Miller elaborated that Wynniatt "looked strangely pale and his clothing was wet although it wasn't raining outside."

The next morning a local farmer returned Wynniatt's riderless horse to the garrison. An all day search proved fruitless. But on Sunday Wynniatt's lifeless body was discovered in the middle of the Thames River, covered with sand. In attempting to ford the river, Wynniatt had either fallen or had been thrown from his horse and had drowned.

"His watch had stopped at quarter past ten, which was the hour at which he had been seen in the ballroom," added the breathless writer in Review of Reviews. "The rose Miss (Harris) gave him was still in his button hole."

sarah harrisEldon House diaries from the period offer infuriatingly scanty information about the so-called specter. Sarah, for her part, apparently got over Wynniatt's death. She married another army officer and moved to England in 1847. Neither she nor her husband were known to have discussed the strange events of that May evening, although Sarah may have passed the tale on to the Psychical Research Society in London, England.

Meanwhile, back in Canada, Wynniatt's body was buried at a local church yard on May 17th and his story, by all factual accounts, ended.

But in June 1930 Bell Telephone workmen discovered Wynniatt's tombstone wedged under a tree near St. Paul's Cathedral. The body had been moved following the closure of the graveyard in 1852. As a result, the final resting place of the unfortunate lieutenant remains unknown to this day.

It would appear Wynniatt's body, like his spirit, remained restless.