As Halloween approaches it’s only right that we dig into the strange and unexplainable stories shared throughout the decades. Our first story comes from the ship that was launched in blood…
The SS Great Eastern
Originally built as a passenger ship, the SS Great Eastern eventually found its way as a cable ship. It was the Cableship that laid the 1865/66 Transatlantic cable and the Bombay to Aden cable – part of the project that linked India to Porthcurno in 1870.
After the Great Eastern’s scrapping in 1890, rumours spread that the shipbreakers had found the skeletal remains of a trapped worker within her hull. Over the course of its existence, the Great Eastern killed (directly or indirectly) some 30 people, suffered four mutinies of varying description, struck an uncharted rock close to Montauk Point, NY, and was the cause of 13 law-suits – A cursed ship, or just simply unlucky? The SS Great Eastern was in dire need of a good luck charm, like a cat?
Supernatural Cats at Sea
Cats became passengers on ships for many reasons, mainly to control rodents, but also due to their “mystical” powers. Carriers of the plague, rats on ships were always associated with disease, having a companion who loved hunting them down was a no-brainer. The ‘ship’s cat’ has been a common feature on trading, exploration, and naval ships dating back to ancient times.
Life at sea is one surrounded by superstition, cats were believed to have miraculous powers, a sixth sense that could sense dangerous weather and would protect ships from fatal storms. Their offer of companionship, security and camaraderie was invaluable to telegraph staff away from home. The equipment loaded upon a cable ship could cost hundreds-of-thousands, so you can’t blame the captains for taking these superstitions seriously!
The Arabian Ghosts of Zanzibar
There’s also some spooky tales hidden away in the Zodiac – the staff newspaper of the telegraph workers – from all over the world!
Housing shortages in remote areas meant that Telegraph company staff and their families sometimes had very little choice of property to move in too. A story from the zodiac magazine recounts the tale from Mrs. H. E. Cooper and her experience living under the same roof as friendly ghosts. In their old Arab house in Zanzibar – it was custom to bury the dead within the basements of their own homes. Every night the ghosts religiously noisy climb the wooden stairs from their graves into the basement and knock on their bedroom door. Mrs Cooper even recalled one night when her husband was away on work duties that every once in a while a figure in a white robe with a sword held upright in one hand made an appearance. It was to her great relief in 1926 when her husband transferred to Mombasa, leaving their nocturnal visitors behind.
Strange tales from Porthcurno
Locally we have our fair share of folklore and tales in and around Porthcurno. From the Witches of Hella Point, conjuring storms and forcing ships towards the dangerous cliffs, the Giants living on the fortress of Logan Rock, or the spirits of long lost lovers still waiting for her partner to return on the cliff-edge. A personal favourite would have to be the reports over the years of witnesses spotting a ghost ship sailing towards the shoreline of Porthcurno, this misty figure floats toward the shore and continues as if it was still on water before fading away…
A crew returning to land, one of the witches victims? Perhaps a long-lost cable ship which met an unfortunate end, retracing the telegraph lines to shore…
Digital Marketing Apprentice, PK Porthcurno
Header image: St Levan Church: PK Archives