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Britain's Haunted Ships

Updated on March 17, 2013
RSS Discovery - Dundee, Scotland
RSS Discovery - Dundee, Scotland | Source

Paranormal events on board?

When we think of haunted locations, perhaps ships are not the first image that springs to mind. However, they do have paranormal activity in abundance. Not surprising when we think about life aboard and the dramas and tragedies that take place when people are on the high seas. Harsh life or not, there does seem to be some seamen who are reluctant to leave the physical plane and prefer to stay on board where they spent the majority of their lives.

Lets then take a look at some of these extraordinary and beautiful haunted ships!

RSS Discovery with the Tay Bridge in the background.
RSS Discovery with the Tay Bridge in the background. | Source
Captain Scott's Cabin aboard RRS Discovery. Is he one of the spirits who visits the ship on occasion?
Captain Scott's Cabin aboard RRS Discovery. Is he one of the spirits who visits the ship on occasion? | Source

A quick tour on board RRS Discovery

RSS Discovery - Victoria Port, Dundee, Scotland

Luckily for me this beautiful, famous ship is only a few miles up the coast from my home in Fife and I can vouch for it being a wonderful, atmospheric experience. Now used as a museum and heritage centre, RRS Discovery has thousands of visitors every year.

A historical overview of RRS* Discovery

(*RRS stands for - 'Royal Research Ship' - a merchant vessel used by the British Government for scientific experiments and exploration).

The RRS Discovery was built in Dundee on the east coast of Scotland. It was the first ship of its kind to be constructed specifically for scientific research. She was the last wooden, three masted ship to be built in Britain and is the only one that survives.The basics of the ship were built on the same principles as the whaling ships - hundreds of them worked out of Dundee in the 19th and early 20th century. In 1986 the ship was finally brought home to Dundee where it is now a museum and heritage centre.

The Discovery's first captain was the famous explorer 'Scott of the Antarctic'. Captain Robert Falcon Scott, was appointed in 1901. He was Born in Devon, England, basically a shy man who also had great courage and strength. It was said that Captain Scott was responsible for the errors that turned his expedition into a disaster. However, research in the past few years has discovered that it was some of the men under Captain Scott's command, who disobeyed his orders that led to tragedy.

Another famous explorer joined Captain Scott on RRS Discovery's first voyage and that was Sir Ernest Shackleton. He would later sail in another famous ship the 'Endurance' in 1914-16.

The Hauntings:

The RRS Discovery is one of the most haunted ships known. Nearly every paranormal investigation group have had some form of activity ranging from poltergeist-like activity, orbs, EVP's (electronic voice phenomena), noises, shadows and apparitions.

One of the main spirits said to roam the ship is that of Charles Bonner. While Discovery was leaving New Zealand, the young seaman fell from the crows nest, on the mainmast, landing head first onto the deck, crushing his skull. Quite a few independent psychics have picked up on the seaman and feel that he is still a strong presence on the ship. His spirit is said to be most powerful on the deck at the place where he fell to his death. It's also been reported that people have sensed and seen the spirit of Shackleton roaming around the ship and it may be his spirit that has been observed in one of the cabins. Psychic mediums have also picked up this presence on numerous occasions. Other apparitions include the spirit of a little boy and shadow figures are seen roaming the ship in various areas.

Electricity seems to attract the spirits on the Discovery. In the cabin that belonged to Ernest Shackleton, light bulbs constantly blow despite the area being checked by electricians. In addition when the 'Ghost Club' investigated the ship, light bulbs in Captain Scott's cabin were found to be dislodged from their fittings.

The Ghost Club investigators experienced strange movements of a rope. This was a very heavy ship's rope that couldn't be moved simply by walking past, so why it began swaying remains a mystery. In addition investigators felt the chairs or benches that they were sitting on being moved by an unseen force.

There are also frequently the sound of footsteps roaming around the ship. These have been heard by people and also caught on recording equipment. Investigators have yet to find out who is making the footsteps - could it be Charles Bonner or Ernest Shackleton?

There is also one interesting account of a visitor to the ship who had spent some time talking with a sailor, but no one else could see the person she was speaking to. Similar events have happened with other visitors to the ship, where they have seen a spirit that looked solid and stopped to talk to him only to realise later that the person was not anyone alive connected to the ship.

The Discovery also has poltergeist activity. TV's Most Haunted investigation team had numerous objects thrown at them including a toggle from a duffel coat, a dice and a wooden pulley from a ships rope.

HMS Unicorn is only a few yards away from RRS Discovery - both ships are very paranormally active!
HMS Unicorn is only a few yards away from RRS Discovery - both ships are very paranormally active! | Source
The icon of the HMS Unicorn. This ship is very paranormally active.
The icon of the HMS Unicorn. This ship is very paranormally active. | Source

HMS Unicorn, Victoria Port, Dundee.

This fascinating ship is situated less than a mile away from RRS Discovery and is also a major tourist attraction. She is the oldest British ship of her kind and the sixth oldest in the world.

His Majesty's Ship (HMS) Unicorn was a frigate built at the Royal Dockyard Chatham, England being launched in 1824. The ship is unique however, as she was never engaged in any sea battles - none of her 46 guns have ever been fired in aggression. The reason for this was that steam power had now come into being and quickly superseded the older types of wooden sailing ship. Nevertheless, she did have an important role as both a supply and storage ship for the Royal Navy as well as a training vessel. Later, during world war I and II she had a vital function as a command base for the Royal Navy in Dundee.

She was saved from being scrapped in the mid 20th century by the formation of the Unicorn Preservation Society headed by Lord Dalhousie in 1968. In 1970 the Queen Mother accepted the role as the Society's Patron. Today she is a well preserved and beautiful boat that is filled with history - and of course ghosts!

The Hauntings:

As with RRS Discovery, the Unicorn has a variety of paranormal activity ranging from footsteps, dark figures lurking around the ship, intense feelings of being followed and watched and poltergeist-like activity. Some areas of the ship are so unpleasant that staff refuse to go into these locations on their own. On deck many visitors also feel a strong sensation of being watched.

The poltergeist-like phenomena happens in one particular area of the ship where hefty objects - such as a large, heavy display case - has been thrown down onto the floor. In other areas investigation teams have reported small objects being thrown at them.

Another interesting phenomena that has happened is the strange shadow figures seen in photographs taken aboard the Unicorn. People claim that nothing was seen to account for the shadows when the photograph was taken.

In addition, the Unicorn has common haunting activity such as light anomalies (orbs), footsteps, strange knocks and bangs that don't have a natural cause. A figure of a man that disappears suddenly was witnessed by a former custodian on the deck of the ship while his daughter heard the distinct sound of footsteps over head at the same time. Other people including paranormal investigators have reported strange white mists and shadowy mists, as well as faces suddenly appearing. Investigators also have problems with electrical failure of newly charged equipment.

Other phenomena reported by investigation teams include not jut cold spots, but 'icy breezes' passing by the investigators. Many EVP's have also been recorded in addition to voices being heard by the ear alone.

One of the most significant paranormal events to happen in recent years, was caught on camera by TV's 'Most Haunted'. The paranormal investigation team looked in awe as a heavy, thick ship's rope buckled as if a weight was being put on it, it then suddenly pulled taught as the weight seemed to be suddenly removed. Before leaving the location, a cat-o'-nine tails rope whip was thrown in their direction.

One of the spirits thought to haunt the Unicorn is a former captain, Commander Charles Walker. His presence and strong spirit has been picked up particularly by psychics. In addition, many people and psychics have felt another presence that roams the ship. This second spirit is believed to be of a man who died on the ship - the only known death to have occurred.

The gun deck is a very creepy location for both staff and visitors. They regularly experience very oppressive feelings and an intense sensation of being watched. In addition, shadow figures have been seen watching people from the dark recesses of the area.

The SS Great Britain - reported to be one of the most haunted locations in the UK.
The SS Great Britain - reported to be one of the most haunted locations in the UK. | Source
Long dark corridors may hide the spirits of the SS Great Britain.
Long dark corridors may hide the spirits of the SS Great Britain. | Source
Even in well lit places such as the dining hall give no reprive from the ghosts of SS Great Britain
Even in well lit places such as the dining hall give no reprive from the ghosts of SS Great Britain | Source

If you had to carry out a ghost hunt on one of the ships, which one would scare you the most?

See results

SS Great Britain, Bristol, England.

This famous ship is now over 160 years old and can be visited in a dry dock in her hometown of Bristol. She now acts as a museum ship and is one of the many who are part of the National Historic Fleet.

She was launched in 1843 with Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert watching on and at this time she was the most modern steam ship afloat. The SS Great Britain was first of all used as a luxury passenger ship between the UK and New York. Unfortunately she ran aground in 1846 at Dundrum Bay in Ireland. Her hull was intact but her engines badly damaged and once she was afloat, the owners went bankrupt due to the cost of saving her. She was sold and became an emigrant ship. She made many voyages carrying hundreds of people from the UK to Australia. Inevitably there was much suffering and death on board - especially in the lower decks where the poorest emigrants were put.

In 1970 she was salvaged and over the next 35 years extensive conservation and restructuring work was carried out. She is now a major tourist attraction and special events location.

The Hauntings:

The SS Great Britain is not only regarded as a very haunted ship, but one of the most haunted locations in the UK. Numerous ghosts and other paranormal activity has been reported on board by staff and visitors alike.

As to the ghosts? One of the Captain's - Captain John Gray - mysteriously disappeared from the ship during the night in 1827 while on route to Australia. It's believed he could have ended up in the sea but was it murder or suicide? Captain Gray is known to have been depressed at times and he may also have had a painful illness just prior to his disappearance. This has led to the theory of suicide but others believe he may have been murdered for the gold that was kept secure in his cabin.

The spirit of a large man has been seen on numerous occasions roaming the decks of the ship. It's known from research and photographs that Captain Gray was a large man and heavily made. Footsteps have also been heard near to the captain's cabin and many feel that this is also Captain Gray.

An apparition that has also been seen frequently has been named 'Johnnie' by the staff. He is dressed in a very old sailor's uniform, has a beard and is described as being very scruffy. Normally he doesn't respond to questions by people, he simply stares at them. However when a young student witnessed the apparition a few years ago and then was shown a picture of Captain Gray, he was shocked to see that their appearance was very similar to each other. Could John Gray and 'Johnnie' be the same person?

Other apparitions include the face of a small child that appears and more strangely, ghostly legs disappearing through a doorway. A rather frightening looking Victorian woman has also been seen walking about the decks. This spirit looks so solid that people have actually chased after her, thinking it is one of the staff in historical costume. They are shocked when the figure suddenly disappears.

There could also be the tragic spirit of a 13 year old boy who was a member of the crew in Victorian times. This poor boy fell to his death from the rigging and even more tragic was that the accident happened in front of his father.

There is also the sad looking woman with a small child who haunts the family cabin on the promenade deck. A young female passenger by the name of Mary Cohen is also thought to haunt the ship. Her apparition has been seen walking sadly along the decks of the ship.

Other paranormal activity that occurs includes, security guards reporting door handles moving and doors opening and closing, frequently the sound of footsteps will also be heard immediately after these incidents. Staff on board the ship have also reported phantom piano music playing. There is certainly a piano aboard ship, however, when the phantom music is heard there is no one at the instrument and the lid is down. In addition, there are frequent cries of babies and young children heard by staff and visitors - could this be a replay from the time the ship was used for emigrants going to Australia? What is certain is that many of these spirits seem destined to remain on board for a very long time to come.

I hope you've enjoyed this excursion into the UK's haunted ships and I look forward to sharing many more paranormal experiences with you!

© 2013 Helen Murphy Howell


Submit a Comment
  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Elias Zanetti, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub and yes, even just for their historical interest they are worth a visit.

  • Elias Zanetti profile image

    Elias Zanetti 

    6 years ago from Athens, Greece

    Great hub! They might not be the usual creepy haunted houses that are most usually associated with ghost but the ships you mention are really interesting cases. Hauntings aside, they certainly deserve a visit for their historical value.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Alicia, lovely to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

    I loved Discovery during the day with my friends - but at night and alone? No way!!! If there was a group of us, yes I think it would be exciting, but I couldn't do what lots of ghost hunters do, lone vigils, that's just too spooky!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi ytsenoh, lovely to hear from you and thank you for stopping by. I think what I don't like about ships is the very long narrow corridors - especially in the dark - they look like tunnels! Very creepy. And all those doors! I would just be waiting for some ghostly face to come peering out!!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    This is another fascinating paranormal hub, Seeker7. I would love to visit all these ships - but never at night, and never on my own! Thank you for a very interesting article.

  • ytsenoh profile image


    6 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    Helen, I absolutely enjoyed reading this! Very well written and your subject matter should just work like a vacuum for readers! I can't imagine walking down a dark corridor on a ship alone, but I don't think I could go into a haunted anything once I knew there was speculation this was the case. I do love the first two images of ships. Thank you!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Kalmiya, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub. I've only visited the Discovery during the day and it was very atmospheric and creepy! So I can only imagine what it would be like at nighttime - very scary indeed!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Deborah-Diane, many thanks for stopping by.

    Now the Queen Mary is one ship that I would love to visit. I've only ever seen it on TV and have watched some of the ghost hunts - that ship is awesome! And yes, I would imagine having a great time on board!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rosemay - LOL!! Yes the first time I looked at the videos I was really hoping to see a shadow person or a face peering out from somewhere but no such luck!

    I agree about the SS Great Britain. It's said that the people in the third class in particular had a very bad time of it with horrible cramped conditions and illness such as cholera never far away. I would reckon that most of the poor souls would never make it to Australia. I'm not surprised that so many psychics get distressed when the go on board - and this is before they know about the ship's history - they just know that people have suffered on the ship.

    Many thanks again Rosemay for stopping by and for your lovely comment!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Klidstone1970 - love your name!!!

    Thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed this spooky hub and the photos!!

  • Kalmiya profile image


    6 years ago from North America

    What a neat hub, voted up! It would be really spooky to be out in one of these ships at night; I'd definitely be too creeped out to manage that so it's a good thing for dry dock.

  • Deborah-Diane profile image


    6 years ago from Orange County, California

    Here in Southern California we have the Queen Mary. You can tour it and see the little signs that designate the areas where ghosts have been spotted. It's a lot of fun!

  • Rosemay50 profile image

    Rosemary Sadler 

    6 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

    I read this last night, took the poll and voted but was just too tired to concentrate on a comment, so back again for another read.

    I watched videos very carefully, think I was hoping to spot some strange figure. Lol.

    All three ships have fascinating stories attached to them. The SS Great Britain must have seen a lot of tragedies while carrying all those immigrants to Australia so not surprising there is so much activity.

    I do so enjoy reading these 'spooky' articles of yours, they always grab my attention and you put so much into them, they are just awesome.

  • klidstone1970 profile image

    இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу 

    6 years ago from Niagara Region, Canada

    How fascinating! Thank you for such an in-depth hub. Love the pictures too!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Eddy, glad that you enjoyed the hub and many thanks for the vote and share - greatly appreciated!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi onegreenparachute, many thanks for stopping by, great to hear from you.

    Glad that you enjoyed the hub and the ghosts. I've only managed to visit Discovery and that was awesome and very atmospheric. Now that was during the day in bright sunshine, so I can only think that at night the atmosphere must be electric and just a bit scary!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Judi, many thanks for stopping by. I can only vouch for the Discovery - that was a super place to visit, the ship is awesome and it's really like stepping back in time. I have heard though that the Unicorn and SS Great Britain are excellent as well and I haven't heard anything negative about them.

    I was on Discovery during the day and it was very atmospheric - so at night, yes! I think it would be very scary!

  • Eiddwen profile image


    6 years ago from Wales

    Wow amazing;a great read which I vote up and share.


  • onegreenparachute profile image


    6 years ago from Greenwood, B.C., Canada

    This article is so interesting! I love anything to do with the paranormal and the legends of these ships makes it doubly fascinating.

    Thanks for writing this - it made my morning!

    Voted way up and shared!

  • Judi Bee profile image

    Judi Brown 

    6 years ago from UK

    Haunted or not, they all look well worth a visit. The stories are great though - not sure I'd like to be aboard any of them after dark.


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