The Lady and the Asp

The old man sits at his desk, frowning in concentration. The candlelight throws shadows into into his wrinkled skin, giving him a statuesque appearance. At last, he sighs, relaxes his face, and dips his pen into the inkwell. For better or worse it is a story that should be told.

In 1850 I was newly promoted Commander in Her Majesties Royal Navy and instructed to oversee the refitting of The Asp, a three masted paddle schooner until now in the service of the royal mail as a mail packet. Now she was to be my first command, a survey vessel, 112 Tonnes and carrying over a hundred men. The carpenters arrived at the drydock early that day, I was excited to see them commence work but kept a calm demeanour as was befitting my station. The carpenters were all a crew of local men, who spent their lives working the ships of Pembrooke drydock. It is said they knew each ship as intimately as their own children.

A few hours after work had started, I stood marvelling and the speed and efficiency of workers. The lead shipwright approached me to sign some dockets for proof of wages or some such which I duly signed on behalf of the admiralty. The man’s features seemed to soften, “May I offer you some free advice” he asked, never one to dismiss such an offer I nodded curious as to what he may have to say, “request another duty, or another ship, have The Asp Scuttled somewhere far off, she will bring you nothing but bad luck, its well known that she is haunted”. I laughed at this, it certainly was not what I was expecting, neither the warning nor that the meticulous craftsman had such a superstitious mind. Genuine concern seemed to radiate from the man, who to this day I would not call a fool nor a coward. I smiled to ease him and told him “I never was one to let ghosts get in the way of a job”. To which he shrugged and walked off.

The refitting took several weeks, access to good timber was challenged by the December freeze that year. But eventually we were up and on our way. Myself, and a junior officer being the only men of rank on the Asp at the time, we had a minimal crew and my personal steward. The plan to sail down the coast to pick up our enlisted crew. On that first night we were at anchor some way off the coast, we had eaten and Mr McFarlane, a young leftenant at the time, joined me in my cabin to read to me from one of the many books I kept with me for long duties. Barely had the man started when a tremendous clamouring was heard from the cabin next to mine. Such a tremendous noise that it was impossible for the reading to continue, McFarlane leant into the corridor and shouted for the steward to ease his racket, for we were certain the only person who could have reason to be in this section of the ship was my personal steward. Immediately the noise ceased and the leftenant resumed his reading, but then again, the banging and clattering resumed. Bristling the young officer excused himself and entered the cabin next to my town, the noise ceased. The man returned in a miasma of confusion, he claimed to have searched the cabin entirely and there was no one there and no obvious source of the immense noise we had both heard. There was also no way for a person to leave unnoticed as this deck was simply made of two cabins, the captains and the lady’s, a small corridor connecting the two and in the centre of the corridor in plain sight was the companion ladder up onto the main deck. Remembering the warning of the shipwright I laughed and said it must be the ghost. Macfarlane laughed nervously however we were neither in the mood for further reading and he retired to his cabin. The banging continued intermittently throughout the night but beyond curiosity did not bother me overly. I did not then believe in ghosts, still now I do not, in my long service at sea there was never a problem my wits and experience could not resolve. I have no way to explain the noises of that night or the events that followed.

The clamour from the empty lady’s cabin continued throughout the next few years. It had become familiar, “the ghost”, only known to McFarlane and myself became almost a mascot. However, on returning late to the ship one night I started down the companion ladder and heard movement from deck below me, I whispered to the leftenant “ho! I think we have our ghost trapped, follow me down and stand by the ladder, offer no escape”. We made our way onto the deck and in darkness I moved into my cabin, lifting my sword from its placement on the wall, moving back to the ladder I handed the sword to my officer and instructed him to cut down anyone who may try to escape, I would access any consequences of that order. Stepping back into my cabin I light the lantern and began my search, finding nothing I moved to the adjoining cabin and did the same, I swear I searched every inch of that deck and there was no sign of any intruder. Dismissing the sounds I had heard as an excess of wine at dinner I reclaimed my sword and dismissed McFarlane.

That night I was called from my cabin by the chief of the watch. The lookout man swore he saw an apparition, a translucent, well dressed lady step onto the paddle deck and point to the sky. So shaken was the man that he asked to be relieved of his duty. The terror radiating from the man dismissed any thoughts I would otherwise have had about the man’s credibility and trying to escape his duty. I stayed with the lookout that night until sun rose. However, the lady made no further appearances. Over the next five years however she appeared frequently, always the same, stepping to the paddle deck and pointing to heaven before disappearing. Her appearance was to different men independently of each other.

Tales of the ghost maiden of the asp soon spread and I was flooded by requested from men to be discharged from service and leave the ship. Some whose request I granted was because their fear had left them in such a state, they were physically unable to be of service. Others I denied and advised they should fear the consequences of desertion far more than a spirit who was likely nothing more than gossip and imagination.

One night however I awoke feeling a hand placed upon my leg. Not moving until I had determined myself to action, I lunged to seize the arm only to grasp thin air. Disturbed I eventually settled back to sleep only to awake again with the very definite feeling of hands at my throat. I leapt up but again there was no sign of anyone in my cabin.

As stories of the Lady spread and increased, I was approached by a priest from Pembrooke who asked to see what he could uncover on the ship. Hoping this would put an end to the rumours and get my crew back to work I agreed. The man lowered himself down the companion ladder and returned sometime later looking unrecognisable and shaken. He explained that The Asp was previously a mail carrier, a fact I knew to be true, and that on one trip, whilst carrying passengers the cabins were being prepared after all had disembarked and the stewardess found a body in the lady’s cabin, laying on the bed with her throat cut. The murderer was never found and now the spirit of the lady sought to reveal her murderer. I had started to find my scepticism tiring; I did not believe in such things, but the evidence was increasing. I thanked the priest who promptly left the ship. The next few days were plagued with desertions however found a generous increase food and ale rations but an end to that.

Shortly after we were docked again in Pembrooke. At some time, close to midnight the lookout on the Asp saw the lady, she left the ship and headed to the port. She was next seen by a watchman who, shaken by the translucent form made his musket ready and shouted, “who goes there”, the apparition seemingly unaware of him passed through the barrel of the musket and carried on up the path. The watchman who found his nerve at breaking point dropped his musket and ran. She then passed a watchman at the entrance to the city who, fired his musket and found the ball passed through the apparition, the man, finding his courage followed the lady in her journey to the city cemetery where he was joined by the Sergeant of the Watch. She walked to a particular grave, pointed to heaven as on the deck of the Asp and smiling she disappeared.

That was the last sighting of the Lady as far as I am aware. I have no more answers today than I had then and no idea what resolution she found in Pembrooke that night. As I understand it the priest who joined my on the Asp has continued some investigation. I know this memoir will have me marked as insane, and perhaps I am but on my honour the words are the truth as I know it.

I found this story in a newspaper from 1869. Having done some research, I found dozens of primary sources recording the Lady of The Asp, from these I have tried to piece together a narrative. There are two items which seem consistent with the bulk of the accounts. If anyone knows this story or has any more detail, please share what you know in the comments.

Royal Navy record for George Alldridge.

Printed accoun in the Hampshire Chronicle from the Hampshire Archieves.

First Written: 26/03/2021
Released for Members: 01/04/2021
Released for Public: 07/04/2021

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