Tag Archives: maritime ghost stories

The Black-Whiskered Sailor: 1840s

‘A story with much more of the supernatural about it was related to me by Mrs. Hughes the other day which is, I think, one of the best authenticated ghost stories in existence. It was narrated to her by Mrs. Hastings, wife of Captain Hastings, R.N., and ran to the following effect:

‘Captain and Mrs. Hastings were driving into Portsmouth one afternoon, when a Mr. Hamilton who had recently been appointed to a situation in the dockyard there, made a third in their chaise, being on his way to take possession of his post. As the vehicle passed the end of one of the narrow lanes which abound in the town, the latter gentleman, who had for some little time been more grave and silent than usual, broke through the reserve which had drawn a remark from the lady, and gave the following reason for his taciturnity :—

‘”It was,” said he, “the recollection of the lane we have just passed, and of a very singular circumstance which occurred to me at a house in it some eighteen years ago, which occupied my thoughts at the moment, and which, as we are old friends, and I know you will not laugh at me, I will repeat to you.

‘”At the period alluded to, I had arrived in the town for the purpose of joining a ship in which I was about to proceed abroad. On enquiry, I found that the vessel had not come round from the Downs, but was expected every hour. The most unpleasant part of the business was, that two or three King’s ships had just been paid off in the harbour, a county election was going on, and the town was filled with people waiting to occupy berths in an outward-bound fleet which a contrary wind had for some days prevented from sailing. This combination of events, of course, made Portsmouth very full and very disagreeable. After wandering half over the town without success, I at length happened to enquire at a decent-looking public-house situate in the lane alluded to where a very civil, though a very cross-looking, landlady at length made me happy by the intelligence that she would take me in, if I did not mind sleeping in a double-bedded room. I certainly did object to a fellow-lodger, and so I told her; but, as I coupled the objection with an offer to pay handsomely for both beds though I should occupy only one of them, our bargain was settled, and I took possession of my apartment.

‘”Having retired for the night, and having, as I thought, carefully locked the door to keep out intruders, I undressed, jumped beneath the clothes, and fell fast asleep.

‘”I had slept, I suppose, an hour or more, when I was awakened by a noise in the lane below. I was turning round to recompose myself, when I perceived, by the light of the moon which shone brightly into the room, that the bed opposite was occupied by a man, having the appearance of a sailor. He was only partially undressed, having his trousers on, and what appeared to be a Belcher handkerchief tied round his head by way of a nightcap. His position was half sitting, half reclining on the outside of the bed, and he seemed to be fast asleep.

‘”I was, of course, very angry that the landlady should have broken her covenant with me, and at first felt half disposed to desire the intruder to withdraw; but as the man was quiet, and I had no particular wish to spend the rest of the night in an altercation, I thought it wiser to let things alone till the morning, when I determined to give my worthy hostess a good jobation for her want of faith. After watching him for some time, and seeing that my chum maintained the same posture, though he could not be aware that I was awake, I reclosed my eyes, and once more fell asleep.

‘” It was broad daylight when I awoke in the morning, and the sun was shining full in through the window. My slumbering friend apparently had never moved, and I had a fair opportunity of observing his features, which, though of a dark complexion, were not ill-favoured, and were set off by a pair of bushy black whiskers that would have done honour to a rabbi. What surprised me most, however, was that I could now plainly perceive that what I had taken in the moonlight for a red handkerchief on his forehead was in reality a white one, but quite saturated in parts with a crimson fluid, which trickled down his left cheek, and seemed to have run upon the pillow!

‘”At the moment the question occurred to me—how could the stranger have procured admission to the room? as I saw but one door, and that I felt confident I had locked, while I was quite positive my gentleman had not been in the chamber when I retired to bed.

“I got out and walked to the door, which was in the centre of one side of the room, nearly half-way between the two beds; and as I approached it, one of the curtains interposed for a moment so as to conceal my unknown companion from my view. I found the door fastened, with the key in the lock, just as I had left it. Not a little surprised at the circumstance, I now walked across to the farther bed to get an explanation from my comrade, when to my astonishment he was nowhere to be seen! Scarcely an instant before I had observed him stretched in the same position which he had all along maintained; and it was difficult to conceive how he had managed to make his exit so instantaneously, as it were, without my having perceived or heard him. I, in consequence, commenced a close examination of the wainscot near the head of the bed, having first satisfied myself that he was concealed neither under it nor by the curtain. No door nor aperture of any kind was to be discovered.

‘”I was the first person up in the house ; a slipshod being, however, soon made its appearance, and began to place a few cinders, etc., in a grate not much cleaner than its own face and hands. From this individual I endeavoured to extract some information respecting my nocturnal visitor, but in vain; it ‘knowed nothing of no sailors,’ and I was compelled to postpone my enquiries till the appearance of the mistress, who descended in due time.

‘”After greeting her with all the civility I could muster, I proceeded to enquire for my bill, telling her that I certainly should not take breakfast,  ‘nor do anything more for the good of the house,’ after her breach of promise respecting the privacy of my sleeping-room. The good lady met me at once with a Marry come up!’ a faint flush came over her cheek, her little grey eyes twinkled, and her whole countenance gained in animation what it lost in placidity.

“What did I mean? I had bespoke the whole room, and I had had the whole room, and, though she said it, there was not a more comfortable room in all Portsmouth; she might have let the spare bed five times over, and had refused because of my fancy. Did I think to ‘bilk’ her? and called myself a gentleman, she supposed!

‘”I easily stopped the torrent of her eloquence by depositing a guinea (about a fourth more than her whole demand) upon the bar, and was glad to relinquish the offensive for the defensive. It was, therefore, with a most Quaker-like mildness that I rejoined, that certainly I had not to complain of any actual inconvenience from the vicinity of my fellow-lodger, but that, having agreed to pay double for the indulgence of my whim, if such she was pleased to call it, I, of course, expected the conditions to be observed on the other side; but I was now convinced that they had been violated without her privity, and that some of her people had doubtless introduced the man into the room, in ignorance probably of our understanding.

‘”‘What man?’ retorted she, briskly. ‘There was nobody in your room, unless you let him in yourself; had you not the key, and did not I hear you lock the door after you?’

‘”That I admitted to be true. ‘Nevertheless,’ added I, taking up my portmanteau and half turning to depart,’ there certainly was a man—a sailor—in my room last night; though I know no more how he got in or out than I do where he got his broken head or his unconscionable whiskers.’

‘”My foot was on the threshold as I ended, that I might escape the discharge of a reply which I foreboded would not be couched in the politest of terms. But it did not come, and as I threw back a parting glance at my fair foe, I could not help being struck with the very different expression of her features from that which I had anticipated.

‘”I hesitated, and at length a single word, uttered distinctly but lowly, and as if breathlessly spoken, fell upon my ear; it was ‘WHISKERS!!’

‘”‘Ay, whiskers? I replied; ‘I never saw so splendid a pair in my life.’

‘”‘And a broken head! For Heaven’s sake, come back one moment,’ said the lady. ‘Let me entreat you, sir, to tell me, without disguise, who and what you saw in your bedroom last night.’

‘”‘No one, madam,’ was my answer, ‘but the sailor of whose intrusion I before complained, and who, I presume, took refuge there from some drunken fray to sleep off the effects of his liquor, as, though evidently a good deal knocked about, he did not appear to be very sensible of his condition.’

‘”An earnest request to describe his person followed, which I did to the best of my recollection, dwelling particularly on the wounded temple and the remarkable whiskers, which formed, as it were, a perfect fringe to his face.

‘”‘Then, Lord have mercy upon me!’ said the woman, in accents of mingled terror and distress; ‘it’s all true, and the house is ruined for ever!’

‘”So singular a declaration only whetted my already excited curiosity, and the landlady, who now seemed anxious to make a friend of me, soon satisfied my enquiries in a few words.

‘”After obtaining a promise of secrecy, she informed me that, on the third evening previous to my arrival, a party of sailors were drinking in her house, when a quarrel ensued between them and some marines. The dispute at length rose to a great height. The landlady in vain endeavoured to interfere, till at length a heavy blow, struck with the edge of a pewter pot, lighting upon the temple of a stout young fellow of five-and-twenty, one of the most active of the sailors, brought him to the ground senseless and covered with blood. He never spoke again, but, although his friends immediately conveyed him upstairs and placed him on the bed, endeavouring to staunch the blood, and doing all in their power to save him, he breathed his last in a few minutes.

‘”In order to hush up the affair, the woman admitted that she had consented to the body’s being buried in the garden, where it was interred the same night by two of his comrades. The man having been just discharged, it was calculated that no enquiry after him was likely to take place.

‘”‘But then, sir,’ cried the landlady, wringing her hands, ‘it’s all of no use! Foul deeds will rise, and I shall never dare to put anybody into your room again, for there it was he was carried ; they took off his jacket and waistcoat, and tied his wound up with a handkerchief, but they never could stop the bleeding till all was over; and, as sure as you are standing there a living man, he is come back to trouble us, for if he had been sitting to you for his picture, you could not have painted him more accurately than you have done.’

‘”Startling as this hypothesis of the old woman’s was, I could substitute no better; and as the prosecution of the enquiry must have necessarily operated to delay my voyage, without answering, as far as I could see, any good end, I walked quietly down to the Point; and my ship arriving in the course of the afternoon, I went immediately on board, set sail the following morning for the Mediterranean, and have never again set foot in Portsmouth from that hour to this.”

‘Thus ended Mr. Hamilton’s narrative.

‘The next day the whole party set out to reconnoitre the present appearance of the house, but some difficulty was experienced in identifying it, the building having been converted into a greengrocer’s shop about five years before. A dissenting chapel had been built on the site of the garden, but nothing was said by their informant of any skeleton having been found while digging for the foundation, nor did Mr. Hamilton think it advisable to push any enquiries on the subject.’

The life and letters of the Rev. Richard Harris Barham, Richard Harris Barham,1880: pp. 104-113

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Dark doings, indeed, at Portsmouth! Mrs Daffodil wonders whose hand it was that held the fatal pewter pot? Despite her initial vain intervention, the landlady no doubt knew a trick or two about quelling customers’ disputes.

At this time the city was the greatest naval port in the Empire, and, like most seaports, no better than it should be.  It was a town of great bustle and ferment; it was no wonder a lone seaman, even one adorned with a set of splendid whiskers, could disappear without trace. Since traditional apparitions often haunt until they are “properly” buried, Mrs Daffodil wonders why the whiskered seaman did not haunt the back garden or, later, the chapel, instead of the bedchamber. Perhaps he was a Dissenter and was finally able to rest.

Another maritime ghost story: Guts, the Ghostly Sailor-Cat

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

The Captain’s Vision: 1830s

Mary's ghost a pathetic ballad BL

The Captain’s Vision.

I t was on a miserable cold day in February that the good bark Emerald, in which I was second mate, weighed her anchor from the mud opposite Gravesend, and commenced her voyage for the Mauritius. I had sailed with the captain (Wharton) to the West Indies on a former voyage, and had been asked by him to take the second mate’s place this trip, although I was only twenty-one years old at the time. I thought it was a good berth, and accepted it, although I disliked the man.

He was a good sailor, there was no denying, but a bit of a bully, and, I always suspected, drank a good deal when quiet in his cabin. He had been married just before our voyage, and his honeymoon was rather curtailed by our departure. I saw his wife several times before we left England, for she was staying at Gravesend; and also came on board while we were lying in the docks. She was a pretty young girl, and seemed to be too quiet and good for the skipper, who, I thought, did not treat her as he ought to have done.

She told me that she was going to take a cottage at Gosport while her husband was away, and asked me, if I had time, to write her a few words to say how the ship got on, in case we met any of the homeward bound, or stopped at any port. I believe when she shook hands with me, and said, “good-by, sir; a happy voyage to you,” I felt much inclined to do her any service, and pitied her lonely situation more than her husband did. She told me that her only relation was an aged aunt. Well, we floundered across the Bay of Biscay, and ran down the trades, and in twenty-seven days from leaving England with a freezing north wind, we were baking under the line with 95 degrees in the shade shown on our thermometer. The skipper had shoved a couple of our men in irons for very slight offences during our run, and seemed to be a greater brute than ever. He was one of those fellows who acted like an angel on shore, so pleasant and kind, but when he got afloat in the blue water, he wasn’t an angel exactly, at least not the right sort of an angel.

We jogged on, however, till we passed round the Cape; we gave it a wide berth, and kept well off the bank, to avoid the current that runs from the east all down that coast for seventy miles distant. We were about off Cape L’Agulhas, when the northwest wind that we had carried with us from near South America, turned round and blew right in our teeth; we had plenty of wind in our jib then, it blew great guns, and we were under close-reefed topsails for a week.

One night I was on the watch, and finding it was blowing harder than ever, and the ship was making very bad weather of it, I thought I would go down and ask the skipper’s leave to lay to. I dived down the hatchway, and knocked twice at the captain’s door before I received an answer; at last I heard his “come in.” I opened the door and was about to report the gale increased, but was stopped by the appearance of the captain.

He was as white as a sheet, and his eyes were staring like a maniac’s. Before I could speak a word, he said, “Have you seen her?” I did not know what he meant, but said, “Beg pardon, sir, the ship is making very bad weather of it.”

He cursed the weather and repeated, “Did you see my wife as she came in?”

I said, “See your wife? No!

He stared at me for an instant and then dropped on his couch and said, “God have mercy on me!”

It was the first time that I had ever heard him use that sacred name, although the evil one’s was often enough in his mouth. I then asked him about the ship, when he told me to go and do what I thought best. I went up and took all the canvass off, with the exception of the mizzen trysail. I got the peak lowered down to the deck, and showed but a pocket-handkerchief sort of a sail; this kept her head to the wind. I had a guy made fast to the boom, which kept it firm, and lashed the helm; we then rode like a duck on the water. I turned in as usual after being relieved, and said nothing to anyone about what I had heard.

In the morning the captain sent for me, told me not to speak about what he said last night, but that he had been told that his days were numbered. He pointed to the log-book, in which he had put down that he had seen his wife come into the cabin, and that she spoke to him, and told him something about himself. He then requested me to sign his statement, in the book, and ordered me not to say a word to any one of the men as long as he lived. I told him not to think anything about it, as such things were only imaginations, and were caused by the stomach being a little out of order. I did not think it at the time, although I thought it would quiet him by telling him so. We lay to all that day; the captain came on deck once, but spoke to no one. In the afternoon I went down to ask him about getting a little sail on again; I found him reading his Bible, a thing I had never heard of his doing before.

He put it down and came on deck; ordered me to get up the foretopsail; I went forward to see about it, and the skipper walked to the poop; the helm was still lashed, and no one there but him.

“I was giving the men orders to go aloft, when I heard a crack astern and felt a jar through the whole ship. I turned round and found the pitching had caused the heavy boom of the try-sail to break the guy that fastened it, and it was swinging from side to side with every lurch of the ship. I ran aft with all the men, and with great, difficulty made it fast again; it took us some time to settle, and I then went down to tell the captain. His cabin was just as I left it before, and no one in it; came out and asked for him on deck, but no one had seen him there. The men said that he was on the poop when the guy gave way; there was a general call throughout the ship, but the captain was not found. The first mate and I went on the poop, and looked well round. On the bulwarks near the stern there was a slight dent, and close beside it a streak of blood; there was no doubt that the boom in its first swing had knocked the skipper clean overboard, and the chances were had smashed some of his limbs too.

We never saw him more. The first mate took the command, and I told him about the captain’s vision; he laughed at me, and told me I was a fool to believe in such rubbish, and recommended me not to talk about it. I quietly tore the leaf out of the log-book, and have got it now. I will show it to you. (Saying this he went down to his cabin and brought me up the sheet of paper, which I read and found it as he had described.)

We went on to the Mauritius, loaded and returned to England. I had no opportunity of fulfilling my promise of writing-to the captain’s wife; so immediately I could leave the ship, I started for Gosport to tell her about his loss. I found her house from the address she had given me, and walked once or twice up and down to consider all I should say to her. It was any way a difficult thing and one I did not much like doing, having to relate the death of her husband; and, besides, women are inclined to think there is always some neglect in others if an accident happens to those they love.

At last I plucked up courage and knocked at the door. A decent-looking servant came, and upon my asking if Mrs. Wharton was at home, she replied: “Mrs. Wharton don’t live here, Mrs. Somebody or other lives here, and she ain’t at home.” I asked if she could tell me where to find Mrs. Wharton—and was informed by the maid that she was a stranger, and knew nothing; but the baker over the way, she thought could tell me. I went over and asked the baker’s wife, and she informed me that Mrs. Wharton had been dead nearly five months, and her aunt had moved away. I was thunderstruck at this intelligence, and immediately inquired the date of her death. She looked over a day-book in the drawer, and told me. I put it down in my memorandum book, and when I got back to the ship I found the date the same as that noted on the leaf of the log-book as the one the captain had seen her off the Cape. Now, I never was superstitious before this, nor am I alarmed now at the idea of seeing ghosts; but still there is a queer sort of a feeling comes over me when I think of that night.

The Spiritual Age 22 May 1858

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Well really, that is not the ending we have a right to expect. Not quite playing the game… The young man should have found the pretty young widow alive and well and, after a decent interval, he should have married her and made her happy. These authors who kill off perfectly innocent characters and deny their readers a satisfactory denouement are little better than Bolsheviks in Mrs Daffodil’s view.

Still, it is the narrator’s own story, told as a true one, and, to be fair, it has the consistency and symmetry one demands from a ghost story. Yet, while one was perfectly content to see the bullying Captain Wharton knocked over-board; one somehow feels that his young wife, whose honeymoon was cut as short as her life, deserved better.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.