Loading, please wait.
If you have Javascript disabled in your browser (not recommended) this message will not close - please ignore it.

 

Ghost Stories of St Helena

Don’t look round, but…

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

Ghost Stories of St Helena

Below: Runaway Slaves • Phantoms of West Lodge • High Knoll execution • Ghosts of Pilling School • Free Molly • Kingshurst Community Centre • Ghosts of Plantation House • Mysterious concierge • Mutineers of Alarm House • Lowry’s Cell • Bishop Welby • Phantom Ship • Bertrand’s Cottage • Ghosts at the CCC? • Fragments • Superstitions • World Paranormal Day • Read More

Please note:

You may also be interested in our Myths Debunked! page and if you’re coming here to visit you may be interested to explore the darker parts of our history.

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{1}

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{2}, 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 re-cross 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{3} 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 sometimes 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
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 sadly died by falling over the cliffs at Ladder Hill Fort 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.

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 Ghosts of Plantation House

Upper east wing
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{4} 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.

Government Secretary C G Dixon, who stayed at Plantation for his first days on the island in 1957, was not given to superstition but even he reported mysterious door openings and closings and unexplained noises coming from ‘Chaos’. His dog, Ted, also reacted noisily to some unseen presence in the Billiard Room, and refused to spend the night there. Dixon was told by locals that the Billiard Room had been the location of both a duel and a suicide, though we cannot find any evidence of either.

A presumably 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.

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

Hear Tony Leo on Radio St Helena interviewing Mrs Joan Guy [wife of former Governor Geoffrey Guy, 1976-1981] about her ghostly experiences in Plantation House, 7th August 1991 (right).

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

In the gardens of Plantation House there remain two slave graves, the ‘Butcher Graves’ and the surrounding area is locally reputed to be haunted{5}. 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 House 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{6}.

We asked Governor Lisa Phillips 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.

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 bars 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 mutineers of Alarm House

Apparently you can see ten or eleven red-coated soldiers, pulling a cannon through sulphurous vapours, usually around midnight on Christmas Day in the vicinity of Alarm House. They are apparently the ghosts of mutineers executed after the 1787 rebellion (though actually Christmas Day was the ending of the 1811 mutiny, not the 1787).

Lowry’s Cell

gaol, 1904

For a long time the island’s police had an effective way of dealing with wayward youngsters - the miscreants were threatened with being locked overnight in ‘Lowry’s Cell’. This was apparently adequate disincentive for causing further trouble.

We know the cell was supposed to be somewhere in The Prison, but we have no idea which cell it might have been, if one was even ever designated. It is most likely to have been one of the four cells in the basement, which are now used for meeting rooms and storage because everybody is too scared to go down there at night.

In 1853 Lowry, a negro servant{7}, was executed for murder (on what today would be considered merely circumstantial evidence). He would naturally have been held in the prison awaiting trial and execution, but why his cell would have held any more horrors than any other is not clear. Why not Richard and Louis Crowie’s cell? The stories portray Lowry as a rather nasty character but we wonder how much this is simply because of his crime.

Our supposition is that Lowry’s Cell is really just a ‘bogeyman’ story, with the benefit that the threat, if successful, avoided an awful lot of paperwork that would have been needed if actual charges were brought. Even so it is widely remembered, though the details vary: the name is sometimes rendered as ‘Loudie’; sometimes he died in the cell; and in one version Lowry had horns sticking out of his head!

You can read a version of the Lowry story{b}, though it doesn’t mention the threat associated with his cell.

The threat is no longer used because nowadays the Police have a greater deterrent: If we arrest you, you won’t be able to work on the Falkland Islands.

Bishop Welby

Bishop Welby
Bishop Welby

The island’s Anglican Bishop, Bishop Welby, was killed on Shy Road in Jamestown in 1899:

6th January 1899: Bishop Welby is killed on Shy Road in Jamestown in a ‘pony & trap accident’. His ghost is said to haunt the road.

The horse shied and ran out-of-control, throwing the bishop over the edge. This is probably 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. Our theory is that this is how Shy Road got its name.

The Phantom Ship

The Flying Dutchman

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 fishermen’s 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

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.

Another fisherman’s tale describes a fishing boat rowed out of a cave near Egg Island by six headless oarsmen. There seems to be no historic reference point for this story.

Bertrand’s Cottage

M. Bertrand
M. Bertrand{c}

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!

Ghosts at the CCC?

Dedication, 2002
Dedication, 2002

The Princess Royal Community Care Centre, a residential home for the elderly in Half Tree Hollow, opened on 6th September 2008. Despite being so new, in 2017 it was claimed that there were ghosts in Blue Block, and the Bishop was called to perform an exorcism. Some say Blue Block was put into mothballs because of the ghosts. Others say it was due to shortage of staff. Believe whichever explanation you prefer!

Fragments

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

Superstitions

Saints tend to be of a rather superstitious nature. This is not uncommon on communities associated with the sea and seafaring. Here are a few of the more interesting ones.

Below: Gilly Gilly • Don’t Salvage Stones • Sundries • Prohibited by law?

The Gilly Gilly

The Gilly Gilly

There is a superstition that remains alive today, known as the ‘Gilly Gilly’. Perhaps the term ‘Evil Eye’ best describes it. The belief is that certain people in the population are able to curse others. If you are the victim of such a curse you will suffer poor health, or have accidents, or some other continual misfortune.

Exactly who has these mystical powers is never discussed, though the person believing themselves to be so cursed usually knows who they have wronged and hence believes they know the identity of their attacker.

Dr Richard Grainger in ‘Mixed Medical Memories of St Helena 1966-69’{12}{10} writes:

There were many people who believed in the evil eye. In effect they had a spell placed on them by a practitioner of the art. It was said that Dago Stevens, the local butcher, was a practitioner who would threaten to put the evil eye onto cattle if he did not get a good deal from the farmer who was providing meat to the butcher. There was plenty of meat at the time as the flax mills were closing and the beasts of burden that dragged the carts and turned the mill wheels were being used as a source of meat as they were culled over time.

When I carried out school medical examinations there were a number of children with rabbit paws on necklaces around their neck. They readily acknowledged that it was to ward off the evil eye.

Whilst I did not believe in the evil eye I had to be aware that some patients did. This did lead me to a difficulty once as a man described very strange feelings in his arm with mysterious crawling and tingling that moved around. He did believe in the evil eye but I eventually recognised what he was describing as pins and needles so was able to reassure him he was not under a spell.

This superstition is still sufficiently active that when we asked about it on Facebook™ most of the people who usually respond declined to do so. A few commented that we should not be asking such questions (though we didn’t take their posting as a threat). Only one person - a Saint who no longer lives here - made a meaningful comment:

There were many people on the island who were supposedly able to perform the ‘gilly gilly’…can’t name names as you’ll always find there’s someone who’s related and who won’t like it. I remember a lady (let’s call her A - lived in the area of the Dungeon) who often visited a supposed good friend B in the Alarm Forest area. She always turned up in time for lunch and apparently before leaving she’d always ask for something treasured and special. B had apparently being told that if A asked for anything she was to give it or she’d never be in possession of it again. One day A asked B for the biggest hen in the hen-house. Oh God, my best laying hen, can’t part with her B thought. This time I have really got to say no. Said no she did. A apparently stared strongly at her and said a peculiar Good Bye. Two hours later B found her precious hen sprawled on the floor of the pen…dead! I have heard some hair-raising stuff and the people we got told, who were able to perform the gilly gilly or the evil eye, had a strange aura about them, even a strange smell…hairs stood on end at the sight of them.

So if this website disappears off the Internet shortly after we update this page, you’ll know why…{11}

Don’t Salvage Stones

It is sometimes reported that an ancient ruin is seen, at night, to be on fire, but when approached no fire is present. And there is an interesting corollary to this story. It is also said that if you take stones from the ruin to build your house, your home will itself exhibit the appearance of being on fire.

We are bound to question whether this belief wasn’t created by early historians simply to stop people from raiding historic ruins for building materials!

Sundries

Here are some we’ve come across, listed in brief:

Prohibited by law?

In 1941 Former Governor Henry Gallwey wrote an article about his time here, ‘A Sojourn in St. Helena’ for the Journal of the Royal African Society, which included the following:

Henry Gallwey
Former Governor Henry Gallwey

Another Ordinance I enacted in the early years of my tenure of office was also of an unusual kind. In those days the islanders were great believers in the Evil Eye, Love potions, and such nonsense, in connection with which many undesirable persons made an uncommonly good practice. The Ordinance in question put an end to all such quackery, and if not popular when enacted, the islanders were cute enough to bless it in the long run.

We think it rather touching that Governor Gallwey believed his Ordinance ended these superstitions! If the Ordinance had any effect at all it was to drive such things underground. Given the almost feudal power a Governor wielded at the beginning of the 20th Century it is perhaps unsurprising that he should over-estimate his ability to control the thinking of Saints. All of these superstitions remain to some extent today, though very much reduced - which can be attributed to education, not Ordinances.

Most books on witchcraft will tell you that witches work naked. This is because most books on witchcraft are written by men.
Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett in Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990)

World Paranormal Day

World Paranormal Day, on 3rd May, is not celebrated on St Helena (most people who know about the day probably stay in bed with the covers over their head!)

Read More

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

Cartoon Witch

Published in the St Helena Herald 30th October 2009{10}

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

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.

Laugh at funny Ghost Stories of St Helena humour - LOL

Credits:
{a} Walter Barshai{b} St Helena Herald, April/May 2002{10}{c} Domaines Français de Sainte Hélène

Footnotes:
{1} Illustration by Johnny Drummond.{2} A lighter-skinned slave, possibly a half-caste.{3} Which, incidentally, would have been entirely legal at that time - a fact that is possibly more scary than the ghost story.{4} Having a tendency to be gloomy, bitter, and sarcastic; sullenly sardonic. - en.wiktionary.org/wiki/saturnine.{5} Students at Prince Andrew School studying GCSE English are taken there each year on a school trip to ‘experience the atmosphere’.{6} See other debunked myths.{7} Sometimes described as a ‘slave’, but all the slaves had been freed by 1853…{8} We suspect this to be a St Helena version of an old English story. In the original the light draws you into the swamp and you drown, but St Helena has few swamps but plenty of cliffs… The scientific explanation for seeing lights over a swamp is the sporadic burning of Swamp Gas (Methane) given off by decomposition. The name ‘Jack-O’-Lantern’ does not seem to be related to the Halloween Pumpkin.{9} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{10} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{11}  years later and still here!{12} Published in ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{9} #48, August 2019.

Full NAVIGATION requires that you have Javascript enabled in your browser.

HISTORY: History pages index

PEOPLE: People pages index

INFORMATION: Information pages index

You may also find useful: • Subject Index • Site Index

Ghost Stories of St Helena | Copyright © John Turner

About This Site • Introduction • Where is • Visitor Information • Pictures • Information Index • On This Day • Information Pages • Subject Index • Community Pages • FAQ • Downloads • Contact • Link to us • Related Sites • Legal • Site Index