“The Ghostly Crew”


A sailor has endured much without fear -- until the night twelve ghosts board his ship and take stations "as if [they] had a right." They disappear as the ship passes a lighthouse. The singer is sure they are sailors drowned in a collision with his ship


Gordon Bok reports, "The story I heard was that the schooner _Haskell_, out of Gloucester, was anchored near George's [Bank] when a sudden gale parted her ground tackle and she went charging, bare-poled, down through the fleet. She cut the schooner _Johnston_ almost in two, killing all her men. On every voyage thereafter, a crew would appear on her deck at night and go through the motions of fishing. After a few trips, no crew would even sign on her, and she rotted at the wharf."

Creighton-SNewBrunswick adds more details: On March 7, 1866, the new _Charles Haskell_ rammed the _Andrew Jackson_, inspiring this song; the _Haskell_ later became known as "the ghost ship."

Some of this may be folklore; after all, we hear a lot of ghost stories about ships sunk by ramming. For example, a story very much like this took place twenty years *after* Marcy's text was published: On June 22, 1893, HMS _Camperdown_, in a confused practice maneuver involving an admiral showing off, rammed HMS _Victoria_, causing the latter to sink with the loss of 358 men including the admiral. _Camperdown_ survived, but was put into reserve roles not long after, and was broken up in 1911 although she was only 22 years old.

And there is a ghost associated with the story: According to Peter Underwood's _Gazetteer of British, Scottish & Irish Ghosts_, p. 135, shortly after the _Victoria_ sank, the ghost of the admiral aboard, George Tryon, was seen at the home of Lady Tryon in London. - RBW

Cross references


  • Morris Houlihan, "The Ghostly Fisherman" (on NFMLeach)


  1. Laws D16, "The Ghostly Crew"
  2. Doerflinger, pp. 180-182, "The Ghostly Crew" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  3. Greenleaf/Mansfield 115, "The Spirit Song of George's Bank" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Peacock, pp. 873-874, "The Ghostly Sailors" (1 text, 2 tunes)
  5. Leach-Labrador 96, "Ghostly Fishermen" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Creighton-NovaScotia 117, "The Ghostly Sailors" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Creighton-SNewBrunswick 114, "The Ghostly Sailors" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Smith/Hatt, pp. 96-99, "The Ghostly Sailors" (1 text)
  9. Ives-DullCare, pp. 79-80, 245-246, "The Ghostly Fishermen" (1 text, 1 tune)
  11. Roud #1822
  12. BI, LD16


Alternate titles: “The Ghostly Seamen”
Author: Harry L. Marcy
Earliest date: 1874 ("Fisherman's Ballads and Songs of the Sea")
Keywords: sea ship ghost
Found in: Canada(Mar,Newf)