Mythical Monday: Ghost Ship, the HMS Eurydice by Mae Clair

October is a time when our thoughts easily turn to restless ghosts and apparitions. But phantoms aren’t restricted to dwellings only on land. Case in point—the tragedy of the HMS Eurydice.

Illustration of the HMS Eurydice caught in the squall that caused the ship to sink

By Illustrated London News [Public domain] courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 A wooden frigate in a time when steam-propelled and iron clad vessels gradually commandeered the waterways, the Eurydice was converted to a training ship in 1876. The British Navy felt there was still benefit for their ratings to learn the old ways of sail.

On March 22, 1878, the Eurydice was returning from the West Indies. She passed the southeastern side of the Isle of Wight in the British Channel and was spied under full sail by coastguards. Forty minutes later, off Sandown Bay, two smaller vessels sighted her as she continued her journey toward Portsmouth harbor.

Within moments an icy squall arose, bringing a frigid blizzard of snow. One of the smaller ships took shelter in a lee, while the other “reefed” his sails, prepared to ride out the storm. The Eurydice, however, continued under full sail, her gunports wide open. It’s believed she intended to fire a salute when she reached Portsmouth, just eight miles away.

Sadly, for the 366 men on the ship, she never arrived at her destination. Survivors say the captain ordered the sails lowered, but the squall engulfed the vessel so quickly, there wasn’t time. Spun about in the storm, the Eurydice tipped onto her port side and the sea rushed through the open gunports. She sank rapidly, most of the crew trapped below deck. Those who were tossed into the ocean froze to death in the icy waters as they struggled to swim to shore. Of the entire crew, only two survived, rescued by the vessel who had reefed her sails.

Since that fateful day in 1878, the Eurydice has been seen multiple times. Several people also reported experiencing premonitions of the ship’s demise at the exact moment the vessel was engulfed. Later, in 1880, local fishermen reported spying a fully-rigged sailing ship off Sandown Bay. The vessel mysteriously vanished when they drew closer. But not everyone believed the tales. Some whispered that the reports of a phantom vessel were nothing more than the result of lingering mist and imaginative thinking.

Then in 1934, the commander of the submarine HMS Proteus reported nearly colliding with a sailing man-of-war in the same area. Captain Lipscombe was on the conning tower of his boat, the sub returning from an exercise in the English Channel, when a phantom ship abruptly appeared from nowhere. He was forced to take evasive action, narrowly avoiding ramming her. Just that quickly, the phantom vessel disappeared. Lipscombe was reported to be a highly reputable witness who had no previous knowledge of the Eurydice’s sinking.

Finally, in 1998, while filming a TV documentary, Prince Edward spotted a three-masted ship off the Isle of Wight. It’s rumored the crew caught the spectral ship on film, and although their tape jammed during playback, they were able to show a portion of the footage on the program “Crown and Country.”

The tragedy of the Eurydice is considered one of Britain’s worse peace-time naval disasters. Perhaps that is why the phantom ship still haunts Sandown Bay, her gunports fully open as she slides in and out of the mist—one moment there, the next gone. Much like her own fate on March 22, 1878.

Do you think the stories could be true?

24 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: Ghost Ship, the HMS Eurydice by Mae Clair

  1. I do believe in such stories and there are many, many stories on such ghost-ships. Your fab post reminded me of a recent, similar, mystery: It sounds like something from Gothic literature or B-horror movies. Lyubov Orlova, a 1976 Yugoslavia-built ice-strengthened cruise ship, which was primarily used for Antarctic cruises, was initially abandoned due to a debt scandal. It disappeared on February 4, last year, while it was being towed from Newfoundland to the Dominican Republic. Somehow the towline parted, the ship started drifting, and since then it has occasionally reappeared with unsuccessful attempts to retrieve it. Worse yet is that some sources say the Lyubov Orlova contains a population of rats that have turned on each other due to the lack of food.

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    • I love stories of ghost ships, too, Carmen, and especially love when an author uses a haunted ship in a novel.

      I’d never heard of the Lyubov Orlova, but I can just imagine it gliding over the ocean. How eerie to think it’s deserted but for rats. *shudder*

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  2. This is great post Mae, and what a sad story it tells. I believe the phantom ship still sails in the area. The sightings you quote sound very reliable. What a pity for the poor sailors who lost their lives that bitter night.

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    • They say Winston Churchill (as a child) witnessed the sinking from a distance. Such a tragedy. If she’d only gotten her sails down or gunports closed, the Eurydice might have survived the squall. It makes you realize how truly dangerous it was for seafaring men.

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  3. What a great (and sad) story. Reminds me of so many other sea legends, not the least of which is the one of the Flying Dutchman. I initially thought of the Mary Celeste, but she just lost her crew, not the ship. The old stories of ghost ships are so interesting!

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    • Those are two great legends, Julie. I did a post on the Mary Celeste some time last year, but I don’t think I’ve ever tackled the Flying Dutchman. Perhaps it’s time. And I would love to know what happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste. I believe that’s still considered the greatest maritime mystery of all time. Like you, I love tales of ghost ships!

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    • I actually stumbled over it in a book I have. I wasn’t familiar with it either, but it seemed a good mythical Monday topic and a match for this time of year. Plus I love history 🙂

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  4. I relish these nautical stories, and I wouldn’t presume to discount the report of a trusted naval officer, even if the rum ration had been raided a few hours before! I have heard of the Eurydice, and what befell her was similar in some ways to the fate of the Mary Rose. Channel fogs are notorious: I’ve been at sea near the Isle of Wight on a foggy night, and believe me it is scary. It’s so easy to imagine things floating in the blank grey sheet that replaces the sea, the sky, everything more than about six feet away. I would love to believe the Eurydice still sails out there!

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    • Fred, I wondered if you would be familiar with the Eurydice. I’m sure there is a lot more available history on this particular vessel across the pond. (BTW, I had to Google the Mary Rose).

      Your description of braving the Channel on a foggy night near the Isle of Wight gave me goosebumps. I’ve been on fishing boats when the fog was horribly dense, but tin a bay, never something like the Channel, and never at night. I like your thought that the Eurydice still sails from time to time, cutting through the mist!

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      • Yes, I did some stuff on the Channel wrecks some years ago now – I’ve just been scrabbling through my hard drive, but it hasn’t emerged so far. The smugglers’ tales,the Cornish wreckers, the Armada, a couple of private yachts that mysteriously disappeared; we’ve got our own little Bermuda triangle out there!

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      • It certainly sounds like it. A plethora of interesting history. Somehow I can see you weaving one of those tales into a fascinating micro fic 🙂

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