Ghost Ships: The Octavius

The Octavius is one of the most legendary ghost ships due to both its mysterious nature, and from the seamlessness from where fact and fiction blur. Little is known about the true origins of the vessel, but identical stories of a ghost ship of this kind were written in articles going back to the late 1820’s. However, the ship’s name was never divulged by the author at that time. Stories to this day are widely accepted as being true, although the authenticity of the tale cannot be fully documented as of this time.


In 1761 the three-masted schooner, the Octavius, began a journey out of the port of London on a route to China. There were 28 sailors on board, along with the Captain with his wife and son. Approximately one year later, they arrived safely in China and unloaded their cargo. The Octavius headed back to sea once she was loaded with goods destined for British shores, but as the weather was unusually warm, the captain gambled on a return through the treacherous and then little known Northwest Passage, a voyage that at the time had not been accomplished. This was the last that anyone had heard of the vessel and consequently, the Octavius was declared lost.


On October 11th, 1775, the whaling ship Herald stumbled upon a rather strange looking schooner, drifting aimlessly off the coast of Greenland. The crew of the Herald thought it suspicious that the badly weather-beaten boat was left drifting and decided to give it a closer inspection. The ship appeared to be weather beaten and the sails were tattered and torn, hanging limply on the masts. The captain of the Herald ordered a boarding party to search the vessel, which they had then discovered was the Octavius.


Upon searching the deck, they found the boat deserted. They descended into the ship's hatch and discovered the entire 28-man crew frozen to death in their quarters as if trying to escape the cold. When they reached the Captain’s office, they found him sitting behind his desk, also frozen. They saw a woman wrapped in a blanket on the bunk, frozen to death with the body of a young boy.


Stories detail that the captain of the Octavius was still holding his pen as if he was frozen instantly. His logbook was open to his most recent entry, written in 1762, stating that the ship had become hopelessly imprisoned in the ice of the Arctic. The crew of the Herald were frightened that the Octavius was cursed, refused to search the rest of the ship, promptly rejoined the rest of their crew, and left the Octavius adrift in the waters. To this day, the ghost ship has never been sighted since.

The ship’s last recorded position while the crew was still alive was, about 250 miles north of Barrow, Alaska, while the ship was discovered near Greenland. Thus, the Octavius had made the Northwest Passage posthumously, lost in the Arctic for 13 years, sailing the icy waters with a dead crew. It took more than a century before another attempt at crossing this passage was made by a different ship and this time successfully.


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