Friday, June 5, 2015
A Ghost in the Forecastle
Extract from a whaling journal kept in the Arctic Ocean
July 8 -- This morning died Wahineoholoa, one of our foremast hands, a native of Hawaii. The poor fellow had been sick for a month or more from a disease that resembled pleurisy, but which seemed to be out of reach of any remedies our limited skill could suggest. There being no place on shore where a grave could be made, except right in the village, the corpse was sewed up, and placed at the gangway. Permission was then given to the kanakas to perform any ceremony they wished, and I was much surprised to see one of them produce a Catholic prayer book, and after devoutly crossing himself, read a portion of what I presumed to be their burial service. The rest stood around with hats off, and when the reader had finished he made the sign of the cross on the body, and it was then launched overboard. As usual the lighter spirits of the crew had been restrained while the corpse remained on board, but in five minutes after its disappearance beneath the waves everything was as before -- no one would have supposed that we had been witnessing the burial of a shipmate.
BUT IT WAS NOT THE END OF THE STORY
July 9 -- Some of the crew have got it into their heads that the ghost of the seaman who died yesterday was in the ship last night. I have not taken much pains to investigate the facts concerning this supernatural visit, but have learned that during some time in the night (which was unusually dark for this time of the year) the dog "Tow" set up a most strange and unaccountable howling, and the conclusion of the watch on deck was that he was terrified by the presence of the spirit. Some of the kanakas, I hear, actually saw the apparition. Here we have an instance of the superstition which is so prevalent among sailors of every nation. The cause of their belief in the supernatural I will not attempt to analyse, but if sailors, as a class, were as well educated as most occupations are on land, ghosts and apparitions would be less often seen on shipboard.