"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Ghost of the "Asp"

This tale of a shipboard haunting appeared in various newspapers during 1868. This particular reprinting came from the "Hampshire Advertiser," February 1:
To the Editor of the 'Pembroke Dock and Tenly Gazette. 
"Sir,—I shall feel obliged by your inserting in your next impression an account of a 'Ghost' which has been seen on board H.M. Ship Asp 1850 to 1857. 
''The account is in the handwriting of Captain Alldridge, R.N., who was in command of that ship at the time above named. 
"The MSS. was sent to me by a gentleman residing at Exeter, whose name I will give to any one wishing to know it, with a request that I should investigate the matter, and supply him with any information I might be able to gain in connexion with this most mysterious tale. 
"I know of no better way of attaining this end, than by publishing the story in your paper, at the same time soliciting information, in person or by letter, from any one who may happen to be conversant with the facts, and able to throw any light upon the subject. 
"I am, Sir, your obedient servant, 
"C. Douglas. 
Vicarage, Pembroke, Jan. 21, 1868."
"My dear Sir,—I herewith readily comply with your request as far as I am able, respecting the unaccountable apparition on board my ship, call it ghost or what you will, still it is a fact that I relate; and, much as I was and am a sceptic in ghost stories, I must confess myself staggered and completely at a loss to account for what actually did occur, and never could be accounted for. 
"Having retired from active service for some years, I am unable to recollect dates, but will, as far as I can remember, give them. 
"'In the year 1850, the Asp was given by the Admiralty as a surveying vessel; and, on taking possession, the superintendent of the dockyard jokingly remarked, 'Do you know, sir, your ship is said to be haunted? And I don't know if you will be able to get the dockyard men to work on her.' I, of course, smiled, and said, 'Ah, never mind, sir, I don't care for ghosts, and daresay I shall get her all to rights fast enough.' I determined in my own mind not to mention a syllable about a ghost to any one; but strange to say, before the shipwrights had been at work a week, they begged me to give the vessel up and have nothing more to do with her; that she was haunted, and nothing but ill luck would attend her, and such like. However, the vessel left the dockyard, and arrived safely in the River Dee, where her labours were to commence. 
"'After my day's work was over, I generally read a book after tea, or one of my officers would read aloud to me (he is now master of the Majicienne), and on such occasions he would meet with continued interruption from some strange noises in the after (or ladies') cabin, into which he could see from where he sat in my cabin—our general mess-place. The noise would be such as that made by a drunken person staggering or falling against things in the cabin, creating a great disturbance; indeed, so much so, that it was impossible for him to proceed in his reading. He would, therefore, stop and call out, 'Don't make a noise there, steward' (thinking it was the steward rummaging about); and, on the noise ceasing, he would continue his reading, until again and again interrupted in a similar way, when receiving no answer to his question 'What are you doing, steward, making such a d----d noise?' he would get up, take the candle, go into the cabin, and come back saying, 'Well, I suppose it is the ghost, for there is nothing there,' and on again reading, and the same occurring, he would say to me,  'Now, do you hear that; is there not some person there?' I would answer, 'Yes, I am positive there is. It must be some one drunk who has got down into the cabin, wanting, perhaps, to speak to me;' and so convinced was I, that I would get up, and with Mr. Macfarlane, go into and search the cabin, but to no purpose. All this happened repeatedly night after night. Sometimes the noise would be like that of the opening of the drawers or lockers of the seats, moving decanters, tumblers on the racks, or other articles; in fact, as though everything in the cabin was moved or disturbed. All this time the ship was at anchor more than a mile from the shore; and here I must remark, that there was no communication whatever with the fore part of the ship and the cabin, access being by the companion ladder directly between the two cabins, the door of each being at the foot of the ladder; and from one cabin you could see distinctly into the other, so that no person could escape from either up the ladder without being seen. 
"On one occasion, I and the master (Macfarlane) been on shore to drink tea at a friend's house near Chester, the vessel being lashed to the lower [word illegible] near Connah's Quay, and on returning about ten o'clock, just as I was descending the companion ladder I thought I heard some person rush from the fore cabin, it being quite dark at the time. I turned to Mr. Macfarlane, who was behind me at the time, and whispered to him, 'Stand still a moment, I think I have caught the ghost,' and then descended into my cabin, took down my sword from over the bed where it always hung, placed it drawn in his hand, and said, 'Now, Macfarlane, allow no one to pass you; if any one attempts to escape, cut him down; I will stand the consequences.' I then returned to the cabin, struck a light, and searched everywhere, but nothing could I find, or to account for what I had heard; but I will say, truly, I never felt more certain of anything in my life than I did of finding a man there; and I had to repeat the old saying so often repeated between us, 'Oh, it's only the ghost again!' I have often, when lying in my bed at night, heard noises as though my drawers were being opened and shut, the top of the washing stand raised and shut down carelessly, the jalousies of the opposite bed-places opened and shut, &c.; and of an evening, when sitting in my cabin, I have often heard as it were a percussion cap snap close to the back of my head. I have, also, very, very often (and I say it with reverence and Godly fear) been sensible of the presence of something invisible about me, and could have put my hand as it were on it, or the spot where it was, so convinced was I. And all this occurred without my feeling the least alarmed, or caring a bit about it, more than that I could not understand it, or account for what I felt or heard. 
"On one occasion, the ship being at anchor in Mostyn Roads, I was awoke by the quarter-master coming to call me, and asking me to come on deck, for that the look-out man had rushed down on the lower deck, saying that there was the figure of a female standing on the paddle-box, pointing with her finger up to heaven. I felt angry, and told him to send the look-out man up on deck again, and keep him there till daylight; but, on attempting to carry my orders into execution, the man went into violent convulsions, and the result was, I had to get on deck myself, and attend to him, and remain till day broke, but nothing was seen by me. 
"This apparition was often seen afterwards, and as precisely as first described pointing upwards with her finger; and strangely enough, as she was last seen by an utter stranger to the whole affair, she disappeared, as will be hereafter described. 
"On another occasion, when lying in the Haverfordwest river, opposite to Lawrenny, on a Sunday afternoon—the crew all being on shore, except my steward and two hands who pulled me on shore to church: during my absence the steward was going down into my cabin when he was spoken to by an unseen voice and fell down instantly with fright, and I found his appearance so altered on my coining on board that I hardly knew him, and extracted the above tale from him, at the same time begging to be allowed his discharge, and to be landed as soon as possible, to which I felt obliged to consent, as he could not be persuaded to remain on board through the night. The story of the ship being haunted seemed to get known on shore, and the clergyman of Lawrenny (Mr. Phillips) called on me one day, and begged to be allowed to question the crew, which he accordingly did, and seemed to view the matter in a serious light, and expressed his belief that there was a troubled spirit lingering on board the ship, wanting to make known the murder of a beautiful girl, which occurred when the vessel was carrying passengers, and which was as follows :— 
"The Asp had been engaged as a mail packet between Port Patrick. Scotland, and Donaghadee, Ireland, and on running one of her trips, after the passengers were all supposed to have landed, the stewardess went down into the ladies' cabin, where to her surprise and horror, there lay a beautiful young woman, with her throat cut, in one of the sleeping berths. quite dead, but how she came by her death none could tell, and it was never known. Of course the circumstance gave rise to much mystery and talk, and the vessel was at once removed from the station by the authorities, the matter was hushed up, and she had been laid aside and never been used again till handed over to us for surveying service. 
"During the successive years that I commanded the Asp I lost several of my men, some of whom ran on being refused their discharge, and others I felt I must let go, who declared that they saw a transparent figure of a female at night (all giving the same account) pointing with the finger up to the skies. I had for a year endeavoured to ridicule the whole affair, and each account as often told me (for I was often put to inconvenience in my duties by the loss of hands); indeed, I believe neither steward or boy would have gone down into the cabin after dark when the officers were out of the ship if you had paid them for it. I myself was awoke one night by a hand (to all sensation) being placed on my leg outside the bed-clothes. I laid for a moment to satisfy myself that such was the case, and then gribbed at it and pulled my bell, which was immediately over my head, for the quarter-master to come down with his lantern, but there was nothing! This has occurred to me several times, and precisely as related. But on another occasion a hand was distinctly placed on my forehead, and I believe if ever man's hair stood on end mine did at that moment, and I sprang out of bed—but there was no sound, nothing! Until then I had never felt the least fear or care about the ghost, or whatever it could be, but on the contrary it had been a sort of amusement to me in the night time as I lay in bed to listen to the unaccountable noises in my cabin, and when I felt there was some person there (probably playing tricks), to suddenly pull my bell for the look-out man, and listen most attentively if I could hear the least sound of a footstep or attempt to escape, but there was none. I could hear the look-out man walk from his post to my cabin door, when I merely asked some questions as to the wind or weather. It may be fancied that there were rats or mice in the ship, but I can confidently declare there were neither, and that during the 15 years that I commanded the vessel, I never could obtain the slightest clue to the cause of the noises or any other matter above described, nor have I the slightest conception what it may have been. 
"At length, the vessel requiring repairs, was ordered alongside the dockyard of Pembroke; and the first night, the sentry stationed near the ship, declared that he saw a female mount the paddle-box, holding up her hands towards the heavens, and step on shore. She came along the path towards him, when he brought his musket to the charge with 'Who goes there?' She then walked through his musket, which he dropped, and ran to the guard house. The next sentry describes the same thing, and he immediately fired off his musket to alarm the guard. The third sentry, placed near the ruins of Pater old church, says he saw the same figure, which mounted the top of a grave in the old churchyard, and stood pointing up to heaven, until she gradually vanished out of sight. The sergeant of the guard came with rank and file to learn the tale of the frightened sentries along the dockyard wall, who would not remain at their posts unless the posts were doubled, which, I believe, they were, and as may be seen in the report of the guards for that night. 

"Singular enough, since that night, the ghost has never been seen or heard on board the Asp, nor sounds or noises as before; and it seems as if the spirit or whatever it was departed from her that night inscrutable to all. 
"This ends my tale; and, much as I know one gets laughed at for telling ghost stories or believing in them, I can only say I give them with all truth as far as I know and believe, and you are welcome to make what use you please of the same. With kind regards, believe me, yours truly, 
"(Signed) G. M. Alldridge. 
"P.S.—The Asp was of 117 tons, officers and men numbered 16, commissioned in 1850 by me. Previously employed as a mail packet under the post office, between Port Patrick (Scotland) and Donaghadee (Ireland), but in what years I cannot say. The ghost left the vessel in 1857 or 1858, when the present Admiral Ramsay was superintendent of Pembroke Dockyard, and the story of the ghost on board the Asp is well known to the whole neighbourhood." 
[We insert this story as we find it in the local paper, and shall be glad if any of our readers can give any further information about it, or certify as to the truth of it.—Ed.]


  1. I'm surprised every ship doesn't have its own ghost, sailors being traditionally superstsitious types. But this story is rather creepy.


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