May 30, 2012


How did San Diego's Star of India, the world's oldest seafaring ship, earn her reputation for being haunted? Why is she the focus of frequent paranormal investigations? A disturbing history of collisions, mutiny, and death may be the answer.

To recap my previous post (5/26/12): Star of India, christened the Euterpe, was launched on November 14, 1863 and first used in the Indian jute trade. Enduring a rather hard-luck beginning, she was sold in 1871 to the Shaw Sevill line, which partnered with the White Star line. The latter’s fleet included the ill-fated Titanic. Now a transportation ship for passengers, the Euterpe’s strange history of violence and tragedy continued: 

Part II -- John Campbell

I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife …

On April 19, 1884, Euterpe set sail from the port of Glasgow bound for Dunedin, New Zealand. Her prize cargo: Scottish emigrants seeking a new life and, in many cases, religious freedom, in the South Island provinces. But hiding deep in Euterpe’s dark hold was secret cargo—the key player in a story that would end in tragedy.

The voyage had begun badly. Euterpe was scheduled to leave on April 9 and had departed Glasgow as planned under the command of Captain George Edward Hoyle. However, the ship had not even cleared the Clyde River before colliding with the British steamer Canadian. The subsequent lay-up for repairs took ten days—time enough for a young stowaway by the name of John Campbell to slip aboard and hide deep in the ship’s hold amidst stacked and secured crates, barrels, brass-fitted trunks and chests, bundled goods, stacks of canvas, and piles of thick, neatly coiled rope. Here in the musty, sour dampness, with nothing but the inevitable ship rats for company, John played a perilous waiting game. Port authorities and ship’s captains did not look kindly on stowaways.

But luck favored John, and he remained undetected until Euterpe was well out to sea. Playing a skillful game of hide-and-seek with crew and passengers, he avoided capture for several weeks, holing up in various parts of the ship and living on pilfered food from the emigrants’ dreary fare of salted meat, biscuits, and oatmeal. He was only in his teens, but a life of grinding poverty had sharpened his wits and kindled a fierce desire to seek adventure at sea or perhaps a change of fortune in a new land. We’ll never know for certain which.

John was eventually caught and put to work. He soon learned first hand that keeping a ship “ship shape” is a never-ending cycle of backbreaking, often dirty, frequently dangerous work. Still, the young stowaway proved willing and capable. One day, he was sent aloft. Scrambling high into the mainmast rigging was exhilarating—the wind clean and bracing; blue ocean as far as the eye could see. Impulsively John raised a friendly hand to a fellow crewman. It was a fatal mistake. He felt himself slipping, and in a terrifying split second, John lost his footing and helplessly plunged 100 feet to the deck below. Both his legs were shattered. The poor lad hung on for three agonizing days before dying. As was fitting, his remains were consigned to the Deep.

John Campbell risked all and realized his dream of adventure and a new life for only briefly. Yet those few weeks may have been the happiest he had known. Is the young stowaway still aboard? There are those that believe so. Stand quietly on the deck near the mainmast where John fell. Do you sense a presence or a feeling of sadness? If you are lucky, the touch of cold, ghostly “hand” may let you know that John is near.


So, one-by-one, the square-rigged sailing ship's ghostly crew was growing. Today, she is a favorite supernatural destination among ghost hunters. What else was in store for her? How did the Euterpe become the Star of India? That and more in my next post about this "spirited", history-haunted ship.
Happy Hauntings!

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