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Issue 73 - The Spirits of Discovery

Scotland Magazine Issue 73
February 2014

 

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The Spirits of Discovery

All aboard with the ghost club to explore Scott's famous ship

Dundee is now well known as the City of Discovery after the Royal Research Ship Discovery, custom built there in 1901 for the British National Antarctic Expedition which, led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, went on to explore that vast icy wilderness.

Sadly, Scott’s fame is largely as the man who finally reached the South Pole after his rival Amundsen and then died on the return journey. He was rightly hailed as a hero and awarded a posthumous knighthood.

Scott had intended to use the
Discovery for his final expedition but the vessel had been sold on to the Hudson Bay Company and they were not willing to sell her. In the spring of 1986, the story of the Discovery came full circle when she returned to Dundee, eventually taking her place at Discovery Point where she is now a major tourist attraction, as well as being a memorial, not just to Scott and the other Antarctic explorers, but also to the men who built her. There are tales of ghostly experiences with some visitors unwilling to go into certain parts of the ship while others hear the sound of unexplained footsteps.

Perhaps the most intriguing tale is of a vision so real that a number of visitors have engaged him in conversation without realising that he is a spirit.

During the voyage out to Antarctica, a young sailor called Charles Bonner fell to his death from the rigging and some of the strange happenings are attributed to him.

There is another belief however that the spirit that haunts the
Discovery is that of another polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton, who was one of the members of the 1901 expedition. This theory stems from the suggestion that Shackleton’s affections for the Discovery was so great that he was unwilling in death to leave her.

Part of this story may be because the electric light bulb over Shackleton’s bunk is known to ‘blow’ frequently. The circuitry has been checked but no technical explanation has been found for this, apparently regular, occurrence.

Of course, the ship is forever associated with Captain Scott and I joined Falcon Scott, the explorer’s grandson, his wife Jane, children Lucy and Charles, and members of the Ghost Club on board in an attempt to find out more about the spirits on the Discovery.

The Ghost Club itself, founded in 1862, also has an illustrious history and past members include Charles Dickens, Siegfried Sassoon, Donald Campbell and Peter Cushing.

Our investigation was carried out in small groups about the ship and I was allocated to join Joan, Lisa, Andy, Jane Scott and her daughter Lucy for the evening’s vigils.

Investigations take many forms, and silent vigils and communication circles, both of which are probably self-explanatory, were carried out in different parts of the ship. Other techniques involved the use of sound recorders and radios which rapidly scan different frequencies to see if any voice communication is received. Some techniques are very simple, such as the use of trigger objects, items with which the subjects of the investigation would have been familiar. These are left in the hope that any spirit present might move them. In this instance, playing cards, dominos, a compass and a silver mug belonging to the Scott family were used.

Our first vigil took place on the fo’c’sle, where media worker Lisa, who has been mediumistic for about 30 years and a Ghost Club member for ten, sensed a man. She got the name Charles, describing him as having a black moustache, high cheekbones and wearing a black peaked cap and Aran jumper. Andy, a former police officer who has been a member for five years, came up with the surname McAllister and said the figure was smoking a pipe.

Lisa announced that ‘Charles’ was about 30 years of age and in Jane Scott’s space.

At that point, Jane announced she was feeling sick. Just a few moments later however, she felt much better, although she said could still feel the presence there.

Shortly afterwards, our group moved to the stern area where Andy saw a cat while both the writer and Lisa simultaneously felt a blast of cold air. Lucy also saw the cat while Jane said she could see a young boy, possibly about ten years old, whom she felt wanted her to come and see something with him.

The group continued their investigations in the wardroom. As we sat around the wardroom table, Lisa felt there was curiosity as to why we were there and she described a man in his fifties, with a big beard and blue jumper. (She said he looked like Captain Birds Eye and talked like Uncle Albert from
Only Fools and Horses.) Joan, our group leader, a retired lady who has been investigating the paranormal for around ten years, asked any spirit present to knock and there was a slight noise.

Meanwhile, Jane felt a presence behind her – someone standing over her with their hands on the table. She felt they were senior, dismissive, serious and abrupt and she also thought someone was smoking a pipe, possibly in Shackleton’s cabin. The presence was thought to be Scott, aware that his descendants were present.

Later, when one of the staff members was present, there was considerable excitement when a voice on one of the radio scanners appeared to call the employee by name. Despite attempts to pursue the issue, no further contact was made and in subsequent replays the ‘name’ isn’t clear. Some employees have had strange experiences though.

Falcon felt there was someone in Armitage’s cabin and Joan said that when she had been placing the trigger items on the wardroom table earlier she had been aware of noises from that area.

The wardroom was also the scene of the most exciting moment of the investigation when a small wooden panel from one of the pillars crashed noisily to the floor with no one in the vicinity.

So for us there were no fused lights or mystery sailors on the night but there certainly still seems to be more questions than answers about supernatural happenings on
RRS Discovery.