Sunday, 12 October 2014

A Salon Guest... Ghost Ships, Treasure and Tragedy

It is my pleasure to welcome Willow C Winsham to the salon today. A blogger on the witch, the weird and the wonderful, Willow is my much-valued writing partner in crime and brings us a spooky tale of ghost ships, treasure and tragedy.

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Everyone loves a good ghost story, especially with the approach of Halloween. It is with great delight that I make my first visit to the salon with the sad and chilling story of the ill-fated Lady Lovibond, a three masted schooner that met her end on the treacherous Goodwin Sands off the coast of Deal, Kent.    

Ship


The Lovibond, so the legend goes, left harbour of Friday 13th February, 1748. Her captain, Simon Peel (or Reed as he is sometimes known) was young, handsome, and very much in love with his beautiful new wife. Unable to bear the thought of leaving her behind and wishing to celebrate his recent marriage, he brought her aboard with several guests on the voyage bound for Oporto, Portugal, the hold filled with flour, meat, wine and gold.

What should have been a joyous occasion, however, soon turned to tragedy. Unbeknownst to the captain, his first mate, John Rivers, was deeply in love with the lovely Mrs Peel. Driven out of his mind with jealousy and unrequited desire, Rivers made a terrible decision. While the happy couple were celebrating below decks, in a bitter rage Rivers knocked the man at the wheel senseless. With the ship under his control he steered her straight onto the Goodwin Sands where she ran aground, sinking into the perilous sandbank and taking everyone with her.   

The Goodwin Sands at low tide
The Goodwin Sands at low tide

A terrible tragedy in its own right, but the story does not, however, end there. Every fifty years, on the date of the disaster the Lady Lovibond is said to sail again, appearing on the site of her sinking. With several accounts up until 1948, she failed to keep her appointment in 1998, but is still one of the most popular British ghost ships on record. The  spine-chilling story is repeated in countless books and websites, in many cases virtually verbatim, the story taken as established fact.

What truth, if any, is there in the story of the Lovibond? A cursory glance at the records brings up no evidence of a Captain Simon Peel or Reed, much less his much-coveted wife. Whether there was any such couple and the details have been lost to time is impossible to tell. There is also no record of a ship named The Lady Lovibond or similar in the eighteenth century or any other. Reports that the tragedy was declared a case of misadventure at a subsequent inquest appear to have materialised from nowhere, or were borrowed from the tale of another wreck in the area.

One thing we can be certain of is the location of the tragedy. There is little surprise that the Goodwin Sands is the setting for such an enduring story.  The sandbank, which lies approximately seven miles off the coast of Deal, Kent, has been claiming ships since records began, with an estimated 50,000 people having lost their lives there. Ten miles in length, the sand is solid enough at low tide that funfairs and cricket matches have been held there, but once the tide turns, it is a different story. The mass of shifting, sinking sand can suck a whole ship down to the depths in minutes, leaving no trace.  Many 18th Century vessels met their fate here but could one of them have been the inspiration for The Lovibond?

A 1736 Map of the Downs, showing the position of the Goodwin Sands in relation to the shore
A 1736 Map of the Downs, showing the position of the Goodwin Sands in relation to the shore

The Rooswijk, a ship of the Dutch East India Company, is one possible contender. Built in the Company's Amsterdam yard and Launched in 1737, she met her end on the Goodwins on 19th December 1739, one day out of Texel.  Captained by Daniel Ronzieres, she was on her second voyage east, the purpose of her journey to purchase spices, textiles, porcelain, pepper and tea. Caught in a violent storm that also claimed several other ships that night, she was lost on the Sands with no survivors.

The sinking of the Rooswijk and the fateful legendary voyage of the Lovibond were less than a decade apart. The hold was indeed filled with treasures, as proven when the Rooswijk's wreck was discovered by a diver in 2004 in Kellett Gut, a natural channel that runs through the Goodwin Sands. In 2005 the Dutch government carried out surveillance and dives and it is believed that at least 10,000 finds, including over 900 coins, may have been found at this time. Further investigations were completed in 2007. There are at least two concentrations of 18th Century material, including a cast iron muzzle loading gun.  

Thirty chests of silver coins minted primarily in Mexico were loaded aboard the Rooswijk. Each pine chest was wrapped in canvas, tied with rope, and sealed in red wax with the personal seal of the Captain. In 1536 the Mexico City Mint became the first mint to produce coins in the New World.
Thirty chests of silver coins minted primarily in Mexico were loaded aboard the Rooswijk. Each pine chest was wrapped in canvas, tied with rope, and sealed in red wax with the personal seal of the Captain. In 1536 the Mexico City Mint became the first mint to produce coins in the New World.

Another wreck contemporaneous to The Lovibond is that of a French Privateer that grounded on The Sands in 1747. In pursuit of the Britsh ship, Fanny, she was lured over the sandbank, sticking fast while Fanny escaped to safety. The captain of the Fanny followed the code of the sea however and went to rescue survivors, discovering, or so the tale goes, his own wife who had been captured from a collier by the Frenchman a few days previous. Thirteen men out of one hundred and twenty were saved. Fanny herself was eventually lost herself on September 25th 1860 after a storm pressed her onto Northern Gogland Reef.   

Was the Lovibond inspired by a mixture of these and other such tales? As with any legend, the fact blends seamlessly with fiction, until it is almost impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. One thing is certain, there will be many gathered waiting in 2048 to see if she sails again and perhaps the question as to her identity may at last be answered.     

Cricket on the Goodwin Sands by J.M.W Turner c. 1828-30
Cricket on the Goodwin Sands by J.M.W Turner c. 1828-30

About the author:

Willow is an author and blogger, currently working on her first series, The Virginia Dewhurst Trilogy. Visit her witchy blog at http://winsham.blogspot.co.uk/.

Written content of this post copyright © Willow C Winsham, 2014.

4 comments:

  1. Fascinating! Very strange though that there should have been all those reported sightings of a ship that never existed.Maybe by 1998, technology would have exposed any attempt to fake something.

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  2. I love a good story and this one really hits the spot. But ... with my writer's hat on there is a hole in the re-telling..... if everyone perished how do we know that Rivers steered the ship to its doom? Perhaps he came back to someone in a dream and told them all about it! Thank you for this wonderful tale, I will certainly visit your blog, WCW!

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    1. Oh, good point! Let's say it was a dream...

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