Why HMS Eurydice, the Island's own ghost ship, sank on March 22nd 1878 is a mystery which has not been satisfactorily explained. Of the 366 men onboard under the command of an experienced crew, only 2 survived.
The History of HMS Eurydice
HMS Eurydice was launched in 1843 as a 921 ton 26-gun frigate. She was designed to be fast with a sleek wooden hull and a broad expanse of sail, and was considered to be one of the finest vessels in the Royal Navy. In 1876 she underwent a routine refit at J. Whites shipyard1 at Cowes, and was considered to still be in top-condition after her recommisioning on the 7th February in Portsmouth.
As ironships and ironclads such as HMS Warrior had made wooden warships obsolete from the front-line fleet, she was converted into a training vessel under the command of Captain Hare. On November 13th 1877 she set sail for a successful three month tour of the West Indies and Bermuda, and left the West Indies on the 6th March 1878, sailing for Portsmouth.
Her Last Voyage
HMS Eurydice crossed the Atlantic in only 16 days, handling perfectly. She arrived off the Isle of Wight on 22nd March, at 3pm as Bonchurch Coastguard Station recorded, "moving fast under plain sail, studding sails on fore and main, bonnets and skycrappers." By 3:40 she was sailing besides Sandown Bay.
Only two other vessels were in the area, a fishing boat captained by Mr Colenut returning to Shanklin and the schooner Emma, under Captain Jenkins.
Suddenly a great squall bore down on the bay, blackened with snow and ice circulating at enormous speed. Mr Colenut put in under Culver Cliff and Captain Jenkins reefed his sails, yet according to eye witnesses, the Eurydice continued at full sail with her gun ports open before disappearing in the midst of the blizzard. Why she was sailing with open gunports has not been resolved.
One of the two survivors stated that Captain Hare ordered the sails to be taken in, yet it was impossible to obey the order in the storm when the snow was so thick that it was impossible to see. The frigate was blown to face South-East, and was toppled onto her starboard side, where the sea apparently entered through her still-open gun ports. Many of the crew were trapped when she was was sucked to the seabed, or were soon sucked down with the ship when she sank.
Although many of the crew were strong swimmers, the waters in the blizzard were little above freezing with the snow still falling heavily, and most of the survivors simply froze to death before the blizzard ended and the Emma was able to return to pick up survivors. Of the 5 she rescued from the waters, only 2, Fletcher and Cuddiford, survived by the time she got to Ventnor Cottage Hospital.
After The Sinking
HMS Eurydice was raised soon after the disaster, but never recommisioned. Her bell now hangs in St. Paul's Church, Shanklin. Gerard Manley Hopkins composed a short poem about her:
Too proud, too proud, what a press she bore!
Royal, and all her royals wore.
Sharp with her, shorten sail!
Too late; lost; gone with the gale.
Significantly, the sinking of the Eurydice caused the Royal Navy to abandon sail-training. From then on, Naval Officers no longer had to learn how to hand and reef sail. It was a final recognition that the days of the traditional man-o'-war were over.
The Ghost Of The Eurydice
The legend of the haunting of the Eurydice began on the very day she sank. On the afternoon of the 22nd March 1878 in Windsor, the Bishop of Ripon and Sir John MacNiell were dining with Sir John Cowell when MacNiell suddenly exclaimed, "Good Heavens! Why don't they close the portholes and reef the sails?". When asked by Cowell what he meant, he replied that he didn't know, but had had a vision of a ship coming up the Channel under full sail with her gunports open while a great black squall attacked her.
Since she sank, several people witnessed sightings of a phantom three masted ship which vanished if approached. Many of these have blamed on "freak reflections of light on mist". Yet in the 1930s Commander Lipscomb was in command of a submarine which was forced to take evasive action to avoid striking a full-rigged ship which promptly vanished...
Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks
1 Which later made aircraft in the 20th Century