#96 - THE GHOST SHIP "YARMOUTH"
Yarmouth Vanguard, Tuesday, October 30, 1990
As I do not believe in ghosts, I will try to vouch for the accuracy of the story that I am about to tell you, although it had been published by many people as having really taken place. It must have been told again and again while it was happening and after it happened in Yarmouth, although it came out in print for the first time but some 40 years after it started when a certain Frank R. Ross published it in the November 16, 1854, issue of the "San Francisco Golden Era," several thousand miles from the Yarmouth wharf where a man of the place had told him about it a few weeks before. December 25, 1862, the "Yarmouth Herald" reproduced the article on its first page under the title "The Spectre Brig," although J. Murray Lawson did not think that it was worthwhile mentioning in his "Yarmouth Past and Present--A book of Reminiscences."
In 1960, April 3, the "Yarmouth Light" gave a version of the story, again on its first page. It was republished the following year by public demand. We find it also in The Vanguard, March 15, 1967, and March 19, 1969. Then again in the "Light Herald," July 11, 1974.
Among the authors who gave us an account of it, I want to mention George McInnis; also our Nova Scotain folklorist, Helen Creigton, who has just passed away; the co-authors Diana Dalton and Brian Allen. I want to mention in a special way Sister Catherine Jolicoeur, of the Daughters of Mary of the Assumption (Campbell, N.B.), who spent two years teaching in Amirault's Hill, 1960-62, and one year in Yarmouth at the Yarmouth Consolidated School, when she registered on tapes many stories regarding the people of southwestern Nova Scotia. She is the one who gathered more information regarding the sinking of the Nelson A (see sketch No. 93) than anybody else, that which she got directly from CÚlestin Muise, the one who had to meet the captain of the U-boat. While in Yarmouth, she gave a talks to the members of the Yarmouth County Historical Society on "Phanton Ships," March 7, 1969. Her thesis for her doctorate, that she took at Laval University, was published in 1970 under the title of "Le Vaisseau Fantome" (the Phantom Ship) comprising 337 pages. In it she refers at many places to the "phantom ship Yarmouth." Although she is still living, I am sorry to say that sister Catherine Jolicoeur is completely invalid, suffering from alzheimer disease.
All this being said and done, there might be after all some truth in the story that I am about to tell you.
Randall McDonald arrived in Yarmouth from Aberdeen, Scotland, with his wife, Rebecca, probably shortly after 1790; their first child recorded in Yarmouth, Sally by name, was born July 8, 1793, according the the "Early Vital Records of the Township of Yarmouth." We have the name of four more children, viz., Alexander, Charles, Randal and Rebecca. Thus it is erroneous to say that Randall McDonald got married in 1810, when he was 22. According to the Record of the Shipping of Yarmouth compiled by J. Murray Lawson, he had a brig of 200 tons built in 1811, to which he gave the name of "Yarmouth." Thus the owner of the "Yarmouth" was not a certain Bruce, and 1812 is not the year when the "Yarmouth" was built, as it is said in one of the accounts.
She had just been built when it left Yarmouth for Antigua, in the British West Indies, with a load of salt fish and lumber. Randall Mcdonald himself was captain; he had with him his wife Rebecca and a crew of nine men. While in Antigua, Captain McDonald sent a letter to Yarmouth by another vessel stating that they had arrived safely and that they would be back in Yarmouth in a few weeks. And that is the last that was ever heard of the "Yarmouth," the captain, his wife and the crew. Some people started to say that they knew that it would happen because, according to a common belief, it is of ill omen to have a woman on a ship on its maiden voyage.
A year later, at about the time of the year that she was due to return the previous year, a ship was seen entering Yarmouth harbour, covered with canvas, "from truck to klenson." "She was a cable's length from the shore when her mainsail was backed and her anchor dropped. The tacks and sheets were let go and her sails chewed up and furied. The ship then swung with the current and rode quickly at a single anchor."
The first to see all this was a watchman on the wharf; he recognized immediately and without trouble the "Yarmouth." He hurried to rouse a number of people, who started to wonder why she did not proceed up to the wharf. They waited to see if anyone would disembark and come ashore. But there was no sign of life. So, a few men rowed towards her, and when they came close to the vessel, they said that they could hear Captain McDonald shouting in a hoarse voice: "Keep off! Keep off!" -- so goes the story. And then all of a sudden, the ship vainshed into nothingness. The men looked at one another completely astounded, wondering if they had been dreaming. But they could swear to All Mighty God that the "Yarmouth" was there, before their eyes, each of them, and that within a few seconds after, it wasn't there anymore.
You can imagine the stir that such an extraordinary yarn created in the small community of Yarmouth. The "visionaries" had to be completely out of their mind; they were even mocked at. What would you have done? And yet, they were serious people who had no motives whatsoever to invent such a bizarre stroy. Finally, weeks and months went by, and the "excitement" died.
But, hold and behold! Exactly a year after, here came back, entering Yarmouth harbour, the very same "Yarmouth," dressed as it was the previous year. We are not told what happened this second time, but it seems that it was overshadowed by fog and mist. The following year, 1814, we are told that two men got about six or seven feet from her before she disappeared.
And the "Yarmouth" kept faithfully its rendezvous with Yarmouth harbour for 60 years; WE ARE TOLD; yes, I said SIXTY YEARS. Even the year of her last appearance is given precisely as 1872. It is said that as the years went by, the intensity of the vision diminished, till it vanished to nothing.
And that is the story that we are told about the "Ghost Ship Yarmouth." Believe it or not! I was going to say: "It's unbelieavble," and yet, if it were all fake, how can we explain the attitude of so many "Yarmouthian visionaries" during 60 long years! True or false, I thought it would be a good ghost story to be told on the eve of Halloween, which took place in our midst.