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Ghost Stories of St Helena

Don’t look round, but…

blank [Saint Helena Island Info:Ghost Stories of St Helena]

During the day, I don’t believe in ghosts. At night, I’m a little more open minded
Anon

St Helena has more than its share of ghost stories.

This page is in indexes: Island History, Island People, Island Detail

Ghost Stories of St Helena [Saint Helena Island Info:Ghost Stories of St Helena]{1}

Go to: The Runaway SlavesThe Phantoms of West LodgeThe High Knoll executionThe Ghosts of Pilling SchoolThe Ghosts of Plantation HouseFree MollyKingshurst Community CentreThe mysterious conciergeThe Phantom ShipBishop WelbyBertrand’s CottageFragmentsRead More

This website does not promote any belief in ghosts. The stories presented here have not been independently verified and some have doubtless ‘mutated’ over many generations. Some lend themselves to rational explanation; others less so. They are presented here for amusement only, and as an illustration of St Helena’s culture.

It may not be surprising that slaves feature in quite a few ghost stories, given how badly they were treated, and how gruesomely they often died.

Incidentally, according to research published in 2009, people who drink too much coffee could start seeing ghosts or hearing strange voices…

The Runaway Slaves

Back in the 16th Century, two slaves ran away from their owner and hid in a cave at Lot, in Sandy Bay. Troops were sent to capture them and as the soldiers climbed Lot, to evade capture the fugitives stood on the ledge in front of their cave and threw stones down on their pursuers.

One of the soldiers was sent to climb up the back of Lot and reach a ledge above where the slaves stood. Once there he hurled down a large rock that killed one of the slaves and severely wounded the other, who was immediately re-captured and would doubtless later have been executed.

The story goes that, since that day, the ghost of the slave that was killed haunts the spot where he was brutally murdered. Apparently he takes nightly strolls around the base of Lot.

The Phantoms of West Lodge

The phantoms of West Lodge [Saint Helena Island Info:Ghost Stories of St Helena]{2}

West Lodge is in the Blue Hill district, on the ridge above Blue Hill village, and this story is one of the more widely-known on the island. A late 19th Century sailor described an apparition he witnessed while staying overnight at West Lodge thus:

Figures were there, figures in the dress of the earlier part of this century. In the centre stood, bound, a tall, well-formed mulatto{3}, his naked back standing out almost white in the moonlight. By him was a white man wielding a terrible looking lash. Stroke followed stroke, but no sound broke the stillness. The mulatto was impassive as a statue, though I could see the great weals cross and recross till the blood spurted out in jets. A moan turned my spellbound eyes to a group standing in the shadow. Dimly revealed in the obscurity were an elderly man, a gentleman, supporting a fainting girl and evidently forcing her to watch the torture. At length the mulatto tottered and fell and was lashed as he lay on the ground. A groan followed and his executioner turned him over. His eyes were glazed and starring, his jaw dropped. Everything to me seemed reeling. I caught at a post and fell, fainting.

The story behind the vision is that a slave and the daughter of his overseer fell in love, but upon the discovery of their relationship the overseer beat the slave to death{4} at West Lodge in front of his daughter, just as seen by our watching sailor.

Our witness ends his tale with the words:

I would not spend another night alone in West Lodge for all the wealth of the Indies.

There is a curious similarity between this and the story of the High Knoll execution.

The High Knoll execution

It is claimed that night-time visitors to High Knoll Fort somestimes see a black slave being brutally murdered, whilst his owner’s daughter is forced to watch.

Unfortunately, it seems there is no way to know on what night this mysterious apparition will show itself.

There is a curious similarity between this and the story of the Phantoms of West Lodge.

The Ghosts of Pilling School

Pilling School [Saint Helena Island Info:Ghost Stories of St Helena]
Pilling School{a}

During the early 20th Century, a young girl had an accident in the area of Pilling School in Jamestown (which was, at that time, the military barracks). While skipping down the road she somehow fell and died. In recent years a resident from the area told that, early one morning she was in bed and heard a sound as if someone was skipping in the street outside. She looked, but could see nobody. Then she heard a thump, as if someone had fallen, followed by a moaning like someone in pain, which grew fainter and ceased.

Students at Pilling School have also reported seeing a woman in white, who was initially taken as a new teacher until she just vanished.

And in 2006 a student at the school and a keen footballer died by falling over the cliffs at Ladder Hill while attempting to retrieve a football. For some time afterwards, both children and teachers at the school reported seeing the child playing football in the school playground, generating sufficient concern that the Bishop of St Helena was called in to Exorcise the school.

The Ghosts of Plantation House

Upper east wing [Saint Helena Island Info:Ghost Stories of St Helena]
Upper east wing

Plantation House is one of the island’s most prominent country houses, and has stood, broadly in its present form since 1792, so it’s perhaps not surprising that a number of ghost stories have become associated with it.

Most of the stories seem to centre in or around the General’s room, upstairs at the far end of the east wing. A butler who spent the night in the room awoke to find “things flying around the room”. Another visitor, as recently as the 1960s, reporting awakening in the night to find all the drawers of the room’s Victorian chest sliding continuously in and out, an event witnessed by another guest in an adjacent room. (For the record, no earthquakes were reported on St Helena in the 1960s.)

Another vision from the east wing was of a man in a black silk coat, of “saturnine countenance{5} and wearing an undone cravat, standing in the doorway and holding back the curtain with a clearly deformed thumb. When the witness switched on the light, the man vanished.

But the stories do not relate just to the upper east wing. There is a report of a coach and horses passing the house late at night and disappearing through the locked gates. There are also many reports of footsteps being heard, late at night, long after all the house staff had gone home.

Perhaps the most reliable report comes from Governor Gallwey (1903-1912) himself. He says that one night after his guests and the staff had departed he was sitting alone in the library when “some whim” urged him to rap loudly three times on the library table, which was answered a few seconds later by three more. He reports that there was no sequel because “I decided to pursue it no further, and went to bed.

The West Room is also sometimes said to be haunted but we cannot find any reports describing the nature of this haunting. If you can help, please contact us.

The Butcher Graves [Saint Helena Island Info:Ghost Stories of St Helena]

In the gardens of Plantation House there remain two slave graves, the ‘Butcher Graves’ and the surrounding area is locally reputed to be haunted{6}. These are the graves of a husband, who was a butcher, as depicted by a cleaver on the gravestone, and his wife, who presumably must have worked at Plantation and been buried in the grounds. The local legend is that he killed his wife; probably started because her grave bears a skull and two arrows, and his, a butcher’s cleaver. Actually there is no evidence for this in the Records{7}.

We asked Governor Lisa Phillips (2016-) if she had ever met a ghost at Plantation House and she replied:

Fraid not…there are just the spirits in the wine cupboard.

Many Saints are reluctant to enter Plantation House late at night.

Free Molly

A story is told that ‘Free Molly’ can be seen at night, strolling in the streets near Pilling School in Jamestown. Molly was a young woman imprisoned by her father, who would not allow her out of the house or any human contact apart from her immediate family. Molly was often seen, looking out of her window at all the children playing and doubtless wishing that she could be free like them.

She died young, in her early twenties, some say from suicide. Now, it is said, her ghost walks at night, enjoying the freedom she was never permitted in life.

Kingshurst Community Centre

The building that is currently Kingshurst Community Centre, at White Gate near Plantation House and St. Paul’s Cathedral, was previously an isolation centre.

Several ghosts are said to haunt the place, but one is most commonly mentioned. It is said that the ghost of a young girl who died there of TB can be seen at night, walking through the building.

The mysterious concierge

In recent times one of the island’s police told a curious story. While on duty at the police station in Jamestown, he was requested by a yachtie to accompany him back to his hotel in the town. The visitor had, it seemed, been drinking late in one of the Jamestown pubs and had got back to the hotel to find the place locked up with nobody answering the door. The constable accompanied the yachtie back to the hotel, knocked loudly on the door and it was promptly opened by the owner, who let the guest in. And that, says the officer, would have been that except that when he got back to the police station he learned that the owner of the hotel - the man who had answered his knock - had actually passed away at the General Hospital some two hours earlier. Curiously, he also reports that the yachtie was never seen again…

The Phantom Ship

The Flying Dutchman [Saint Helena Island Info:Ghost Stories of St Helena]

Various island fishermen have reported encountering a mysterious vessel out at sea while fishing. It is always described as a huge sailing ship, usually brightly lit but occasionally with no lights. It normally blocks the fishermens’ intended path, forcing them to change course or, after repeated blockings, return to their moorings. It is also sometimes reported as being seen approaching Jamestown from the eastern side of the island and then disappearing.

The Flying Dutchman [Saint Helena Island Info:Ghost Stories of St Helena]

Some say the ship seen is in fact the Flying Dutchman, though unlike the legend associated with the Flying Dutchman, no harm seems to befall those that encounter it. It has been reported as recently as the 1950s.

Bishop Welby

On 7th January 1899 the island’s Anglican Bishop, Bishop Welby, was killed on Shy Road in Jamestown in what the Records{7} report as ‘a pony & trap accident’. The nature of the accident is not clear, but it may be related to a persistent story whereby a ghostly horseman, sometimes claimed to be headless, is seen to ride at night on Shy Road. Some say he is dressed as a bishop.

Bertrand’s Cottage

A ‘lady in black’ is said to climb the stairs at Bertrand’s Cottage, and some say it is the ghost of Mdme Fanny Bertrand, wife of General Henri Gatien Bertrand, one of Napoleon’s most loyal companions during his exile here. Mdme Bertrand didn’t die there, but the explanation offered is that she is in her mourning clothes after Napoleon died.

It seems Fanny Bertrand hated St Helena. “The devil shat this rock when he passed from one world to the next” she is supposed to have said. It would therefore be somewhat ironic if her ghost should be forever trapped here!

Fragments

We would like to know more about these fragments of stories. If you can help, please contact us.

  • An ethereal horse and carriage has apparently been seen coming up Deadwood, in the Longwood district.

  • A ferryman told that late one night he heard someone out in James Bay shouting “boat ahoy”, but when he went out to see who it was nobody was there, so he returned to the steps and tied his dinghy up. He told some of his fellow fishermen and they said that they and others had heard it too, but in all cases there was never anybody there.

  • There are various stories of people hearing a baby crying at the Wharf, particularly in the area of the old Coal Yard (now part of the Customs complex).

  • it is commonly believed that the souls of dead slaves still haunt Rupert’s Valley (where they were quartered after liberation) or Lemon Valley (where the sick were quarantined). We’d like to hear specific stories.

  • A ghost is said to haunt the Post Office Building in Jamestown, but the nature of the haunting is not clear.

Read More

Article: “Remember the gh’oul times - it’s Hallo-scream!

Cartoon Witch [Saint Helena Island Info:Ghost Stories of St Helena]

Published in the St Helena Herald 30th October 2009{8}

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-in’).The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter; a time of year that was often associated with human death.

Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31st, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st as All Saints’ Day, a time to honour saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English ‘Alholowmesse’ meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

Cute Devil [Saint Helena Island Info:Ghost Stories of St Helena]

Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2nd All Souls’ Day, a day to honour the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints’, All Saints’, and All Souls’, were called Hallowmas.

The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain and frightening time. Food supplies often ran low and, for the many people afraid of the dark, the short days of winter were full of constant worry. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.

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Laugh at funny ghoststories humour - LOL [Saint Helena Island Info:Ghost Stories of St Helena]


Credits:

{a} Walter Barshai



Footnotes:

{1} In case you are not aware, this is NOT a picture of a ghost. 19th Century cameras needed very long exposure times and the ‘ghostly image’ is caused by a chap in a light-coloured suit moving while the camera shutter was open.

{2} Illustration by Johnny Drummond.

{3} A lighter-skinned slave, possibly a half-caste.

{4} Which, incidentally, would have been entirely legal at that time - a fact that is possibly more scary than the ghost story.

{5} “Having a tendency to be gloomy, bitter, and sarcastic; sullenly sardonic.” - en.wiktionary.org/wiki/saturnine.

{6} Students at Prince Andrew School studing GCSE English are taken there each year on a school trip to ‘experience the atmosphere’

{7} The St Helena Records is a collection of documents dating back to the earliest days of St Helena, held in the Government of St Helena Archives. The Archives can be accessed in person or via email - see our Family And Friends page for more. You can search our events database, extracted from the Records, on our Chronology page.

{8} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged



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