We finished season 4 of our ghost hunting show, Calamityville Horror in style – on board the luxury passenger ship, the SS Great Britain.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed the SS Great Britain for the Great Western Steam Ship Company. At 100 metres, she was the longest ship in the world. She was launched on 19th July 1843 for the Trans-Atlantic luxury passenger trade. However, this failed financially, so she was sold and became an emigrant carrier, transporting 16,000 passengers on 32 trips to Australia over 24 years. One voyage included the first English cricket team to contest the ashes.
Now fully restored
Later in life she transported coal, but after suffering storm damage, became a floating warehouse for 47 years. She was eventually towed to Sparrow Cove in the Falklands, holed and sunk. In 1969, Naval architect Ewan Corlett raised her and she was patched up whilst at sea. 127 years to the day of her launch, the SS Great Britain floated up Bristol docks by herself.
Are there ghosts on board?
Today, she's still carrying passengers, albeit ghostly ones. The most famous phantom is Captain John Gray, who was captain for 18 years. Despite his popularity with crew and passengers, he suffered from depression – his son died, his cousin was swept overboard, and he developed kidney disease. On 26th November 1872, Captain Gray disappeared. A window in the bow of the boat was open, despite being screwed shut that night. Gray was never found. Some believe he committed suicide, others say he was murdered for his gold.
Many people died on the SS Great Britain and one was pickled in vinegar!
His wasn't the only death the ship witnessed. A 13 year old boy died after falling from the rigging. A 17 year old bride, Mrs Cohen, died on board and was pickled in vinegar for her journey home. A number of passengers, including the ship's doctor's steward were swept overboard. A German passenger vanished and was suspected to have jumped overboard.
Dressing up for our ghosthunt
In 1992, a teenager on work experience saw a broad-shouldered man sitting on a beam in the ship's bowels. He had a white collared shirt and a beard, like Captain Gray. In 1999, a consultant heard footsteps descend into the Forward Hold. Workers saw a lady on the Promenade deck but when they approached, she disappeared. During a wedding, a steward who'd worked on board for 23 years was standing beside the piano on the Promenade deck with another man, when it began to play. The lid was closed.
Many ghostly occurrences
A Brunel actor heard footsteps behind him and doors opening and closing. He saw a woman and child in the Family Cabin and legs disappear into the State Room. In 2008, a staff member saw a child's face in the steerage compartment. A security guard witnessed doors moving, heard a door slamming in the captain's cabin and watched a locked door handle turn.
We took our friends, Tom and Amy for this voyage. While we filmed by the ship, a man verbally abused us. Apparently, we're 'freaks of nature'. Yet abusing strangers is normal, is it? After informing him this was going on YouTube, he fell silent.
The front of SS Great Britain
The SS Great Britain is beautifully restored to her passenger trade glory. Visitors are allowed to sit on bunks and sample life in the first class dining area. After exploring the hull in the dry dock, we amused ourselves (and children) by donning Victorian clothes in the museum.
A volunteer worker relayed a ghost story he'd heard – wine was drunk when there was nobody around. A Brunel impersonator told us that beside the window Gray was suspected to have jumped from, a lantern had been extinguished. Gray was fire-safety conscious so would have extinguished the lantern before leaving the ship. The night he disappeared, a steward saw him writing letters. They've never been found.
Did we feel a ghostly presence?
In a cabin by the bow's windows, there was a sweet smell of perfume and Cat heard a woman singing in an operatic voice. The perfume could have lingered from a tourist and maybe someone on the deck was singing. We didn't encounter Captain Gray, though we have a theory on why. Gray was six foot, with a beard and was well-liked. Just like Tom. We're not suggesting Tom is the immortal Captain, but nobody's seen them together...