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Jol Byerley’s Oct 07 Letter from Antigua

For some considerable time, I have to admit, I believed in ghosts! Mind you, this was way back in the 1950s and I had little choice in the matter, as the “ghost story” stemmed from Jenny, the young Norfolk girl who had eloped with me to Scotland to become my wife. She had cheerfully given up life in England and had come out to the West Indies to run the beautiful old 72-ft schooner Mollihawk, which belonged to Commander Vernon Nicholson R.N.  He, with his wife and family, was now the “backbone” of chartering in these islands in the sun.

In those days chartering was a really great and exciting life.  With Warnford, Jonas, and Alpha, the Mollihawk’s Antiguan crew, we merrily dashed up and down the islands chartering to super people who seemed to have as much fun discovering the islands as I did.

Jenny gave birth to our daughter Cary Lee not too long after our arrival here in Antigua, and naturally chose to stay behind to look after our little pride and joy. Several other wives of the Nicholson charter skippers were to join her up in the partly ruined old building known as the Officers Quarters. Now, of course, it is re built and home to restaurants, art galleries and National Parks offices. Anyway, then, there was hardly any electricity or water and not surprisingly, no locks on the doors.

There were only about five or six yachts in the harbour and one night between charters, when I was still there, I have to admit that I was conscious of hearing strange, uneven footsteps on the stones of the verandah at the front and back of our creaky new home. This, of course, was where Nelson’s officers lived when he was captain of the frigate Boreas. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but naturally had to believe what Jenny was then to tell me about strange croaking noises and so on.

Then, on one occasion having sailed back into English Harbour, I was met on the dock by Jenny and some of the other wives who couldn’t wait to tell me that they were now regularly wakened from their sleep by such things as the clanking of chains and raucous whispering.  When I told Commander and Mrs. Nicholson about it, they smiled and in a quieter voice said, “Oh yes, me boy, the girls have told you about that, too, have they.”

Then one quiet night in the summer time (strange how we didn’t seem to have any hurricanes then,) the silence was interrupted by slurred male voices singing old sea shanties. This was at the time of a full moon and the nearly always-present trade winds were non existent. I crept out from my bed.  English Harbour looked like a fairy tale in the moonlight, but nowhere were there any signs of a party going on, so….I went back to sleep again. The next morning the wives met Jenny on the balcony and they had all heard the singing!

Now, think about this just for a moment. Where was this coming from? There were hardly any boats and, other than the Nicholson family who lived in the old Pay Office (where Cap Green’s Signal Locker is now days), there were absolutely no people.  Could these voices, footsteps, and the clanking of chains be emanating from the ghosts of some of Nelson’s crews?  Rather strangely, though, Jenny and the other wives took it all in their stride!

About a week later, round about two in the morning, the same thing happened again….and it was then I began to believe in ghosts…until, that is, in broad daylight I saw the herd of goats which lived just outside the Dockyard! Some had chains which they laboriously dragged behind them and they grunted to each other as they clattered up the steps to what had once been our balcony. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell Jenny and the others.  Would you?

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