Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Notes On The Flying Dutchman And Punishment Ships.

( Originally Published 1917 )

This Breton legend of deathless punishment was collected by Elvire de Cerny in 1859 from an aged sailor and reported in the Revue des traditions populaires (XV, p. 96). It belongs to the class of Flying Dutchman legends and contains many details of striking interest. Though at first glance it seems over lurid in action, it must be remembered that the authentic history of the sea raiders of the Barbary States and of the Spanish Main furnishes many an example of fiendishness equal to that of the story.

Dahul seems to have an Arabic name, as we find the passive participle of the Arabic root dhahala, "to forget," is dhahul which readily becomes dahul or "the forgotten one." Indeed, the story itself illuminates this name in saying that when the trumpet of the angel shall announce the end of the world Dahul still shall wander. He is the forgotten of God. His vessel again points to a South Mediterranean origin and word and rig are Arabic. Surcouf, mentioned by the narrator, was the notorious master of the French privateer Clarisse which preyed upon English and American commerce at the end of the eighteenth century. The crucifixion of the Christian priest shows Dahul to be non-Christian, as does the incident of the child, since it was a common belief among early Christians that non-Christians, especially Moors and Jews, cooked and ate Christian children.

Pirates from the southern shores of the Mediterranean preyed for decades on the merchantmen of Europe and even captured small ships of war. Their long slender feluccas under oars and sail were faster than anything afloat and lay closer to the wind than any square-rigger. Their reckless courage and bloodthirst made them the terrors of the seas. We observe also that the punishment of the crew is in keeping with the character of the story and of the storyteller. It is not any of the classic or theological punishments but simply endless and useless work. The fires accompanying the brig are in this case probably drawn from medieval devil-lore as the fires accompanying the ship in the early versions of the legend are not to be confused with hell fires.

The curse upon Dahul to receive all of the drowned of the world harks back to early Christian beliefs into which we will look in connection with other phases of the doctrine of the soul. The story is the greatest of soul mysteries, the most tragic story of the sea, mother of tragedies. Music, painting and literature have been enriched by its inspiration, and so long as the sea remains untamed, the idea of the wandering soul, shut forever within ghostly bulwarks, beating in vain toward friendly ports and pounding for centuries through the wrack of ocean must stir profoundly the imagination of man.

The essential elements of the story, as of all legends of the Flying Dutchman type, are the phantom ship and the deathless punishment. The legends of deathless punishment at sea have their counterparts on shore in those of the Wandering Jew Cartaphilus, of Al Sameri, maker of the Golden Calf who still wanders in a desolate isle in the Red Sea, of Ahasuerus and of Judas who floats forever upon a rock in mid-ocean. Cartaphilus met the Saviour as he came from the judgment hall of Pontius Pilate and when Jesus stopped to rest on his doorstep drove him on. To Cartaphilus the Christ said : "I am going fast Cartaphilus, but tarry thou till I come again." Since that day, like Ahasuerus the cobbler, he has roamed the world over awaiting in deathless life the fulfilment of his curse.

The earliest mention of the Wandering Jew is found in chronicles of the Abbey of St. Aldens, as copied by Matthew of Paris. We find there the story as recounted by a certain bishop of Armenia who visited England in 1228, and who said that Cartaphilus was afterward baptized by Ananias who was called Joseph ; that he spent most of his time among the prelates of the church, and was a man of holy conversation, "as one who is well practiced in sorrow and the fear of God, always looking forward with dread to the coming of Jesus Christ lest at the last judgment he should find him in anger, whom, when on his way to death he had provoked to just vengeance." He is heard of again in 1505 as a weaver in Bohemia; in 1547 in Hamburg; in 1575 in Madrid; and in 1604 in Paris. From this time on he was seen at various places upon the continent. S. Baring-Gould in his essay on medieval myths says :

"It has been suggested by some that the Jew Ahasuerus is an impersonation of that race which wanders, Cain-like, over the earth with the brand of a brother's blood upon it, and one which is not to pass away till all be fulfilled, not to be reconciled to its angered God till the times of the Gentiles are accomplished. And yet, probable as this supposition may seem at first sight, it is not to be harmonized with some of the leading features of the story. The shoemaker becomes a penitent and earnest Christian while the Jewish nation has still the veil upon its heart; the wretched wanderer eschews money, and the avarice of the Israelite is proverbial."

A learned Romanist, Rev. Father Alexius Lèpicier, in his interesting study of the origin and nature of indulgences says of the story of Cartaphilus: "Fleury in recording this fable (which is clearly the origin of the Wandering Jew) says that one knows not what to wonder at most, the audacity of the knights in relating it or the simplicity of the monks in believing it. Now, the same thing as it appears to us may be said about the obstinate denial of indulgences as about the belief in the story of this unindulgenced Jew. One really cannot say which is more astonishing, the boldness of those who undertake to deny the reality of indulgences in the face of so much evidence from scripture and tradition, or the simplicity of those who believe the calumniators." (Indulgences, p. 493.)

The suggestion sheds a bright light upon the story, and is a vivid illustration of the interdependence of religion and tradition. We have here an ancient story, doubtless elaborated with the very object of impressing upon the laity the terrors of impiety and "unindulgence" which is now cited by the churchmen as evidence from tradition to establish the right of indulgences.

Closely allied are the stories of the wild huntsman, who swore he would hunt the red deer forever, of the Malay hunter and his dogs (Skeat, Malay Magic, 113), and of the man in the moon who foolishly gathered fagots on the Lord's Day. The wild huntsman is feared as the spirit of storm by the peasant of the continent, as a messenger of death as ominous as the Dutch captain or Dahul, and the analogy between the wild hunt and the endless voyage is strikingly illustrated in the Cornish tale in which a phantom ship passes over the chimneys of a wizard wrecker while a tempest breaks upon his cabin and his condemned soul is borne away upon the phantom ship. (Bottrell, Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall.) In another version of the Cornish legend the wizard is summoned by a voice from out of the cloud ship, "The hour is come, where is the man?" Here we have evidently the fulfilment of a medieval devil-pact, the tragic climax of despair, when the short-lived power of the mortal is over and the fiend comes on stormy cloud, fiery steed, or spectral lugger to claim his prize.

We know that the theories of evolution and of physical recapitulation are as true in the world of folk-tale incidents as of life-cells. We know that the story as we have it is but part of a long tapestry, and that whatever the pattern and however fanciful the details, they must run upon the warp which stretches back to the loom of primitive fancy. Whatever the design, it must be in terms of the warp distance laid down on the first loom-stick. What then is the origin and history of this story of Dahul? Let us first look at the variants of the legend. Perhaps the first authentic story of a seaman condemned to wander comes from the North Sea, always the home of hardy and fearless sailors. It is thus recorded by Thorpe :

"At the old castle of Falkenberg in the province of Limburg, a specter walks at night, and a voice from the ruins is heard to cry, `Murder ! murder!' And it cries toward the north, and the south, and the east, and the west, and before the cries there go two small flames, which accompany him whithersoever he turns. And the voice has cried for six hundred years, and so long also have the two flames wandered. Six hundred years ago, the beautiful castle stood in its full glory, and was inhabited by two brothers of the noble race of Falkenberg. Their names were Waleran and Reginald, and they both loved Alexia the daughter of the Count of Cleres." The suit of Waleran was favored by the Count and Countess, and he gained the bride. Reginald, vowing vengeance, concealed himself in the nuptial chamber, and slew both bride and groom. The latter, however in his dying struggles, imprinted on his murderer's face the form of his bloody hand.

"There dwelt a holy hermit in the forest and to him went the conscience-stricken murderer for consolation, confessing his sin, and showing his face with the print of the bloody hand. The hermit dared not absolve him of so foul a crime, but told him, after a night's vigil, that he must journey toward the north until he should find no more land, and then a sign would be given him." The murderer started on his wandering journey, accompanied by a white form on the right hand, and a black one on the left. "Thus then he had journeyed for many a day, and many a week, and many a month, when one morning he found no more earth beneath his feet and saw the wide ocean before him. At the same moment a boat approached the shore, and a man that was in it made a sign to him and said,' `We expected thee.' Then Reginald knew that this was the sign, and stepped into the boat still attended by the two forms, and they rowed to a large ship with all the sails set, and when they were in the ship the boatman disappeared and the ship sailed away. Reginald; with his two attendants, descended into a room below where stood a table and chairs. Each of the two forms then taking a seat at the table, the black one drew forth a pair of dice, and they began playing for the soul of Reginald. Six hundred years has that ship been sailing without either helm or helmsman, and so long have the two been playing for Reginald's soul. Their game will last till the last day. Mariners that sail in the North Sea often meet with the infernal vessel."

This story is told by many of the early Dutch mythographers and contains all the elments of the developed legend. The accompanying fires are not to be classed with those of Dahul's ship but are probably symbolic. Evidence of this is to be found in the Fridthjof Saga, where Stote, the Viking, punished by the gods, is described as fire-girdled in a spectral ship in a cavern by the sea.

"Wide as a temple dome or a lordly palace deep buried
Down in the green grass and turf lay a sepulcher rounded,
Light gleamed out therefrom, through a chink in the ponderous portal
Of State with helm and anchor and masts, and high by the pillar
Sat there a terrible form who was clad in a fiery mantle,
Mutely glaring sat he and scrubbed his blood-spotted weapon,
Vainly, the stains remained, all the wealth he had stolen
Around in the grave was heaped, the ring on his arm he was wearing."

Stote is not the prototype of Dahul but a sepulchral ghost or tomb spectre, the fire is Loki and the cave his home, the tomb. It is in the story of Captain Vanderdecken, however, that we find the best-known form of the legend. It is thus told by French sailors of the eighteenth century (Jal, Scènes de la vie maritime) :

"There was formerly a ship's captain who believed neither in saints, nor God, nor anything else. 'Twas a Dutchman, I know not from what city. He sailed one day to go south. All went well as far as the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope, but there he got a hard blow. The ship was in great danger. Every one said to the captain, `Captain, put in shore, or we are all lost.' The captain laughed at the fears of his crew and his passengers; he sang, the rascal, songs horrible enough to call down a hundred times the thunderbolts on his masts. Then as the captain scoffed at the tempest, a cloud opened and a huge figure descended upon the poop. 'Twas the Everlasting Father. Every one was afraid; the captain continued to smoke his pipe ; he did not even raise his cap when the figure addressed him. `Captain,' it said, `You are out of your head.' `And you are an uncivil fellow,' said the captain, `I don't ask anything from you ; get out or I'll blow your brains out.' The venerable person replied nothing, but shrugged his shoulders. Then the captain seized one of his pistols, cocked it, and aimed it at the cloud-figure. The shot, instead of wounding the white-bearded form, pierced the captain's hand ; that worried him a little, you may believe. He jumped up to hit the old man a blow in the face with his fist, but his arm dropped paralyzed with palsy. The tall figure then said: `You are accursed, Heaven sentences you to sail forever, without being able to put into port or harbor. You shall have neither beer not tobacco, you shall drink gall at all times, you shall chew red-hot iron for your quid, your boy shall have a horned fore-head, a tiger's jaw, and a skin rougher than a sea-dog's. You shall eternally watch, and shall not sleep when sleepy, because when you close your eyes a long sword shall pierce your body. And since you love to torment sailors, you shall persecute them, for you shall be the evil one of the sea ; you shall wander ceaselessly throughout all latitudes ; you shall have neither rest not fine weather ; you shall have the tempest for a breeze; the sight of your ship which shall hover about to the end of time, will bring misfortune to those who see it. 'I defy you!' was the sole reply of the captain. The Holy Father disappeared, and the captain found himself alone on the deck, with the ship's boy, disfigured as predicted. The crew had disappeared with the figure in the cloud.

"Since then the Voltigeur sails about in heavy weather, and his whole pleasure is in doing ill to poor sailors. 'Tis he who sends them white squalls, who wrecks ships or leads them on false courses. There are those who say that the Flying Dutchman often has the audacity to visit passing ships ; then there is war in the caboose, wine sours, and all food becomes beans. Often he sends letters on board ships he meets, and if the captain read them, he is lost ; he becomes a madman and his ship dances in the air, and finishes by turning over while pitching violently. The Voltigeur paints himself as he will, and changes six times a day, so as not to be recognized. He has sometimes the appearance of a heavy Dutch camel, who can hardly bluff his heavy quarters into the wind. At others, he becomes a corvette, and scours the sea as a light corsair. I know others whom he had sought to attract by alarm guns ; but he did not succeed in deceiving them, because they were forewarned. His crew are accursed as well as he, for 'tis a gang of hardened sinners. All sailor shirkers, rogues dying under the cat, and cowards, are on board his ship. Look out for squalls, my lads, and if you don't do your duty, you will find yourselves on board the Dutchman, and there is work, believe me. It is always `tack ship,' because it is necessary to be everywhere at the same time. No pastime there, but hunger, thirst and fatigue, every one trembling, indeed, for if one should complain, there are officers who have whips ending in lashes as sharp as a razor which would cut a man in two as my knife can cut a lump of butter. And this lash will last through all eternity."

An English version fixes the time of her sailing as 1750 and gives assurance that Vanderdecken was always kind to his men. It recounts the attempts of the unwieldy bluff-bowed hulk to get around the stormy cape. Here, after tossing for weeks against head winds she was hailed with the inquiry whether she would not put in at Table Bay. Then the fiery Vanderdecken replied, "May I be eternally damned if I do, though I should beat about here until the day of Judgment." (Log Book, 129.)

Another English version has it that the Dutchman was a trader with a rich cargo on whose ship a plague fell as a divine punishment for piracy and murder, and that since that day no port has received her pest-ridden hull, and that seamen sighting her are doomed. (Melusine, II, 159.)

A form of the story with a flavor of devil-contract about it has been current in Germany. According to this the unfortunate man was a Dutch master of the seventeenth century by the name of Bernard Fokke, who had wonderful popularity with his owners by reason of the unheard-of shortness of his trips to the far east. It was reported that he often sailed from Batavia to Holland in ninety days. This was evidently in spite of wind and wave and the captain was declared to be in league with the devil. He was pictured as a huge, violent and powerful man who cased his masts with iron and who swore like a pagan, and when his ship failed to return after a voyage about the cape, it was confidently believed that the devil had taken him according to agreement and condemned him to wander forever about the cape. He and three of his men are still seen by Indiamen. They are aged men with long white beards. When they are hailed the ship disappears. (Ausland, 1841, No. 237). Her pilot is no better than her captain. Wind-bound in the Straits of Malacca, he was forced to tack, and in his impatience swore that the devil might take him to hoist Krakatoa out of the way of ships so that the channel might be possible. So to-day when the wind is right you may hear him at the northeastern extremity of Krakatoa working and singing at his capstan like a sailor. (Melusine, Oct. 5, 1884.)

It is said that when the English occupied Java in 1811, they destroyed a statue to Fokke overlooking the Batavia roads. Scotch sailors believed that Jawkins, a successful smuggler, paid one-sixth of his cargo to the devil. (Scott, Guy Mannering.)

German sailors tell fantastic stories of the Death Ship with skeleton crew condemned to serve a century in each grade. A skeleton mate holds the hour glass before them and death-heads grin from the sails. Sometimes she is commanded by Captain Requiem and her name reads "Libera Nos." The Navire Libera Nos will cruise until a Christian crew shall have said mass on board for the redemption of her crew. (Schmidt, Seemanns-Sagen; Balleydier, Vieillées du Presbytère.)

French sailors tell of a ship built by the devil on board which he gathered the souls of sinners. This ship was burned by St. Elmo who was enraged at the ghoulish glee of Satan. When the sea is phosphorescent this ship is burning again.

"At St. Gildas in Brittany, sailors who live near the sea some-times are waked by three knocks on the door. Then they are importuned to get up and go to the shore where they find lying black vessels which sink into the water up to the gunwales. As soon as they enter into them a great white sail hoists itself on the mast and the boat leaves the shore as by the ebb and flow. They are said to carry the souls of the damned until the day of judgment." (E. Souvestre, Les derniers Bretons.)

One of the most interesting of all this group of stories is that of the haunted ships of the Solway. We may note here the introduction of a magic incident quite unusual in the story.

It is said that two Danish pirates had a compact with the devil by which they were empowered to work their will upon the deep and by which, after they had long reveled in violence and crime, they came to be fated to perish in the Solway. One clear star-bright night their ships sailed into the harbor, the deck of one crowded with revelers, the other bearing one spectral figure. A boat approached the crowded ship to join the sailor revels, when suddenly both ships sank. There they still lie with all sail set, and once a man was seen to dig a brass slipper out of the sand of the nearby shore, throw it in the water in which it became a boat and in it put off to the wrecks. Striking them with his oar they both rose to the surface with all sail set. Their lights were lit, and with every sheet straining they were seen by the village folk to stand out directly over the Castletown shoals. On the anniversary of the wreck they are said to return and sink again and appear at other times before gales. Whoever touches the sunken ships will be drawn down to them, and no sailor or fisherman would tempt fate by venturing near them as they sail out of the harbor. (Cunningham, Traditional Tales of the English and Scottish Peasantry, p. 338.)

Even more dreadful is the spectral ship seen in the same waters which is said to doom to wreck and disaster the ship which it approaches. It is the ghostly carrier of a bridal party wrecked maliciously. (Ibid., 228.) Here we come upon a phase of the widespread belief that no spirit which has been freed by violent death can be at rest. Soldiers in ghostly armor tread many a battlefield. Haunted houses echo with the footfalls of the murdered masters, and here on the spectral ship of the Solway, the sailor and his bride await the ebbing of the last tide. (Compare "The Spectre of the Dan-no-oura Roads" by Naryoshi Songery in Ann. Pop. Trad., 1887.)

Another form of the legend however, as encountered off the eastern coast of South America is even nearer in essential details to the story of Dahul. Here we find that the dog's bad name sticks to him, and a Spaniard in Spanish American waters tells of the evil deeds of a notorious Dutchman. Such was the price of the hardihood of the brave seamen who first dared trade around the world. The story runs as follows:

"As we were under sail from the Plata river toward Spain, I heard one night the cry, `A sail!' I was at the time on the upper deck, but I saw nothing. The man who had the watch seemed very much terrified. After some persuasion, he recounted to me the reasons for his alarm. He had seen, while watching aloft, a black frigate, sailing so nearby that he could distinguish the figure-head on the prow, which represented a skeleton with a spear in its hand. He also saw the crew on the deck, who, like the image, were clothed only in skin and bone. Their eyes lay deep and fixed in their sockets, as in a corpse. Nevertheless, these phantoms handled the sails, which were so light and thin that he saw the stars shine through with an uncertain light. The blocks and ropes made no noise, and all was silent as the grave, except that, at intervals, the word 'Water!' was pronounced by a weak voice. All this my man saw by a weak uncertain light that shone from the ship itself. But as he cried, `A sail!' the ship suddenly sank, and he saw nothing but the sea and the stars. As we were having an apparently lucky voyage, I recounted the story in the mess and laughed at it, as over a vagary of the diseased imagination of the sailor, who sank momentarily into such despondency that he soon died. How great was my astonishment, when one of my hearers cried out, with sudden pallor, `So thou art revenged, Sandovalle!' After some importunity he explained himself in the following words: `It is now forty years since my father, Don Lopez d'Aranda, died, sorrowing for his son, Don Sandovalle, who, as he himself wrote, had embarked for Spain with his Peruvian wealth and his lovely bride, Lorenza. But as my father slept one night, he had the following dream.—It seemed to him that he saw Sandovalle with a deep wound in his head, while, pale and disfigured, he pointed to a young woman who was bound to the mast of a black ship, looking to heaven as she begged assistance from above, and staring at the bleeding wound of Sandovalle, or turning her eyes toward a breaker of water standing near her, but beyond her reach, as she begged the men about her for a drop to drink. Denied this boon, she called down in a firm voice a curse on the head of a certain Everts. Everts appears to have been the captain. At this instant, the ship sank out of sight, and my father heard a voice that said, `Sandovalle and Lorenza, ye shall be avenged.' So ended the Spaniard, who did not doubt that the vision seen by the sailor was Everts's ship, condemned evermore to scour the seas. No one has ever heard more of the ship in which the young nobleman sailed, and about the same time much was read concerning a notorious Hollandish sea-rover, who haunted the seas between La Plata river and the Cape of Good Hope."

Off the coast of Brittany, the punishment ship is a giant craft manned by men and dogs. The men are reprobates guilty of horrible crimes, and the dogs are demons set to guard and torture them. Until the day of judgment this monster ship will drift at the mercy of the winds. She wanders from sea to sea without ever anchoring or turning her prow into a harbor. Should a sailor allow her to fall aboard him, his fate is sealed. But it is easy to avoid her as the orders of her mates shouted through vast conch shells may be heard for leagues. Then the devout skipper appeals to St. Anne d'Auray and repeats the Ave Maria, against which the wiles of the devil are as empty threats. (Melusine, Sept. 1884.)

This is but a floating hell, just such a ship as the fevered brain of some brutal mate's victim might build above the damp forecastle bunk of the shanghaied outward bounder. She is death-ship, devil-ship and Flying Dutchman at once, and the description of her dog guardians is of particular significance. Dogs were the warders of hell in Vedic as in Greek mythology (cf. Cerberus and the Sarameyas, Syama and Cerbura) and dogs accompany the wild hunts-man and Charon. Among Icelandic fishermen, it is unlucky to have a dog near boats or nets (Powell, Icelandic Legends). Hunt tells of storms foretold on the coast of Cornwall by a spectral dog, and it is said that Satan raised a storm at Bongay, England, in 1597, coming out of the waves in the form of a dog (Bassett, Legends and Traditions of the Sea, p. 90). To mention the name of a dog will bring on a storm, say Scotch fishermen, and the dog when he howls foretells the tempest. "The wind will come from the direction in which a dog points his nose when he howls." He is connnected with the wild hunt in nearly all folklore as a psychopomp, or soul-bearer, and is generally diabolical. On board a ship, however, he is not usually disliked, probably by reason of his usefulness on watch in port. The dog, however, is not a natural figure on ship-board, and when he is found in such a story as that just cited off the coast of Brittany, the prototype is undoubtedly Cerberus or similar demons in canine form. Of the appearance of the dog with the wild huntsman or in the spectral canoe of Sebastian Lacelle (Hamlin, "La Chasse Galerie," in Legends of le Detroit), we should perhaps find explanation in the comradeship of the primitive man with his dog out of which grew the custom of the sacrifice of the dog with his dead master and the belief that the faithful soul of the dog would share the fate of his condemned master. Thus in the wild hunt of the Malay' we find that the two dogs with which the hunter set out on the quest of the pregnant male deer still accompany him in his endless search, and the faithful hound of the Indian hunter still barks from the canoe of the spectral voyager.

American and English sailors, though without the picturesque imagery of the Latin mind, are for this very reason to be given credence when they do tell a tale of supernatural sights. Though all sailors are ready to rig their "yarn tackle" when occasion offers, American and English sailors have more education and less superstition, more fear of ridicule and less ready fancy than their Gallic mates, and moreover have an independent and controversial cast of mind which will seldom permit them to give out the fancy of another as the truth. If they tell a story that is all "spun yarn" they put it in the best material at their command and ask no corroboration. When we find officers, supercargo and crew reporting a spectral ship we may be sure the story is worthy of inspection. The diary of the two sons of Edward Prince of Wales in the "Bacchante" in 1881 contains the following entry:

"At 4 A. M the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. A strange, red light, as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the masts, spars and sails of a brig two-hundred yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up. The lookout man on the forecastle reported her as close on the port bow, where also the officer of the watch from the bridge clearly saw her, as did also the quarter-deck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the forecastle; but on arriving there no vestige nor any sign whatever of any material ship was to be seen either near or right away to the horizon, the night being clear and the sea calm. Thirteen persons al-together saw her, but whether it was Van Diemen or the Flying Dutchman, or who, she must remain unknown. The Tourmaline and Cleopatra, who were sailing on our starboard bow, flashed to ask whether we had seen the strange red light."

Another English log entry made in 1835 by Mr. R. M. Martin runs as follows :

"We had been in `dirty weather' as the sailors say, for several days, and to beguile the afternoon, I commenced after-dinner narratives to the French officers and passengers (who were strangers to the eastern seas) current about the Flying Dutchman. The wind which had been freshening during the evening, now blew a stiff gale, and we proceeded on deck to see the crew make our bark all snug for the night. The clouds, dark and heavy, coursed with rapidity across the bright moon, whose lustre is so peculiar in the south-ern hemisphere, and we sould see a distance of from eight to ten miles on the horizon. Suddenly the second officer, a fine Marseilles sailor, who had been among the foremost in the cabin in laughing at and ridiculing the story of the Flying Dutchman ascended the weather rigging, exclaiming, `Voila de volant Hollandais!' The captain sent for his night glass and soon observed, `It is very strange, but there is a ship bearing down on us with all sail set, while we dare scarcely show a pocket-handkerchief to the breeze.' In a few minutes the stranger was visible to all on deck, her rig plainly discernible, and people on her poop ; she seemed to near us with the rapidity of lightning, and apparently wished to pass under our quarter for the purpose of speaking. The captain, a resolute Bordeaux mariner, said it was quite incomprehensible and sent for the trumpet to hail an answer, when in an instant, and while we were all on the qui vive, the stranger totally disappeared, and was seen no more."

Fishermen and others have often reported a phantom ship off the harbor of San Francisco. She is said to be the ghost of the old clipper Tennessee which on dark rainy nights, outside the heads; the pilots occasionally speak but never board, and which is the phantom terror of the experienced navigators of this coast. She has been seen dozens of times, the sailors aver, from decks and from Telegraph Hill. She is always running for port with all can-vas crowded on, but she never gets further in than Lime Point. There she disappears, only to reappear far outside the whistling buoy prepared for another attempt to enter the port, which, as a punishment to the shade of the captain, she will never reach.

Another story told in the dark sailor taverns of "Frisco" has a richness of setting and a glory of dramatic action which are unequaled in all the splendid tales of the sea. In the forward mess the wanderer passes as the "doomed dago of the Linshotens." Here is the story as told by the master of a down east clipper.

"I had to beat down from Woosung to the Saddles, and keep Rube McCaslin, the oldest Shanghai pilot, aboard. He told me a yarn about a Portuguese pirate who used to voyage the coast in 1500. After a descent in Samonoseki, when he and his crew committed many atrocities, he killed a Daimio, and carried away his daughter, and the pirate and his dreaded craft mysteriously disappeared and never a trace of him was found, either on the adjacent coast or by the fleet of Japanese war-junks which were seeking to effect his capture.

"'Then arose,' said old Rube, `the superstition of the doomed Dago, which is connected with the very strait through which you will pass to get out into the broad Pacific. I give it to you for what it is worth. I've piloted vessels through those seas nigh on to thirty years, and have had versions of it one way and another often enough. The land that you will pass closest to going through the Linshotens is a fire mountain. It's going' almost all the time, but the story says that sometimes there's more than ordinary spouting of red-hot stuff. If this happens to be at night, the mountain belches up, and the red-hot ashes hang on it for a moment just like a great fiery umbrella. Then they will drop hissing into the sea, and every-thing will be dark.

" `After this, there'll loom up to windward, and right out against the thickest darkness, the shadowy form of an old sixteenth-century galleon. She'll come tearing along with every sail set, faster than one of your eighteen-knot tea-clippers, and what's most curious, there'll be a dead calm just at this time, and the sails of the sight-seer will flap against the mast. The phantom will pass within hailing distance and you can see on her deck the dead dagos standing around while a set figure stands at the rudder, grasping the form of a Japanese girl.

" `The whole thing whizzes by and makes for the strait. When it gets there—who-oop !—up goes the great fire umbrella out of the mountain again, and rains down over the phantom, apparently licking her up in one burst of conflagration. Then it's pitch dark again and the performance is over.'"

Here again as in the case of Dahul and Sandovalle, punishment has been meted out to the brutal pirate and murderer. This, if the pilot is to be believed, is one of the earliest of the Flying Dutchman, and we may well hope from the evidence which we have of the deeds of the Portuguese and Spanish sea ruffians of the sixteenth century that some of them still suffer for their villainy. This idea of fit punishment for brutality is contained in the chantey printed in the Book-man (June, 1904), purporting to date from the early nineteenth century. Here a drunken captain kills his cabin boy, and as punishment the ship will cruise forever with the corpse of the murdered boy following in its wake.

"Make sail ! make sail ! Ah, woe is me !
Leave quick this horrid sight !
But the body rolls in the counter's lee
In a sheen of phosphor light.

"And so for a day, a month, a year—
And so for the years to come,
Shall the perjured captain gaze in fear
On the bloody work of rum."

In our own waters within the bailiwick of the late burgomaster of New Amsterdam, there is still a wandering Dutchman whom the splendid Hudson River packets and the fast yachts of the American Rhine never disturbed, but who has not been sighted since the invasion of the gasoline launch. Irving writes of him:

"This ship is of round Dutch build, that might be the Flying Dutchman or Hendrick Hudson's Halfmoon, which ran aground there seeking the northwest passage to China." He says this ship is seen all along the river from Tadpaan Zee to Hoboken. The ship is under command of the Heer of the Dunderburg.

He recounts another story of skipper Daniel Ouslesticker of Fish Hill, who, in a squall, saw a figure astride his bowsprit, which was exorcised by Domine Van Greson of Esopus, who sang the legend of St. Nicholas. He says that since that time all vessels passing the spot lower their peaks out of tribute. (Bracebridge Hall, 289.)

Clark Russell in his Voyage to the Cape thus describes the wanderer :

"She was painted yellow, of yellow were the dim churchyard lines that I marked her hull was coated with. She was low in the bows with a great spring aft, crowned by a kind of double poop, one above another, and what I could see of the stern was almost pear-shape, supposing the fruit inverted with the stalk sliced off. She had three masts each with a large protected circular top, resembling turrets, sails of the texture of cobwebs hung from her squareyards."

Of interest in connection with this legend is the widespread belief among sailors that seabirds are wandering souls of evil doers condemned to continual movement. (Revue des traditions populaires, XV, 603.)

"At sea at night little birds give plaintive cries. Superstitious sailors call them âmes des maîtres, believing they bear the souls of the masters of lost ships crying out until their bodies shall be carried to earth for Christian burial" (Ibid., 163). The poet Masefield makes use of this superstition in Sea-Change :

" `Goneys an' gullies an' all o' the birds o' the sea,
They ain't no birds, not really,' said Bill the Dane.
`Not mollies, nor gullies, nor goneys at all,' said he, `
'But simply the sperrits of mariners livin' again.

"'Them birds goin' fishin' is nothin' but souls o' the drowned,
Souls o' the drowned an' the kicked as are never no more;
An' that there haughty old albatross cruisin' around,
Belike he's Admiral Nelson or Admiral Noah.'"

At the entrance of the Golden Horn on the Bosporus, one sees a sort of gray gull skimming along the waves and never seeming to light. Sailors call them âmes en peine and believe them to be the souls of cruel captains who are condemned to wander thus until the end of the world. (Rene Stiebel, Ibid., VIII, 311.) We are re-minded that most of these beliefs are the offspring of the primitive mind which looks upon death as a state brought about by wizards who have expelled the soul. In Zulu and South African belief these wizards or hill live in rivers and have the power to steal men's souls and leave their bodies to wander forever. Mac Donald, in his Religion and Myth, says :

"A sleeper must not be rudely or hurriedly awakened lest his soul like Baal of old should be on a journey and have no time to return to reenter the body. In that case the man might not die, but he would cease to be human and go to wander forever in the forest like those corpses raised by witchcraft, and who are doomed to an eternal wandering in mist and rain."

A condemned sailor of Flanders wanders without any ship. His soul is contained in a mysterious fiery globe which rises in the evening from the Escaut river near Kieldrecht in Eastern Flanders. The apparition always goes in the direction of the village of Verrebroect. (A. Harou, in Revue des traditions populaires, XI, 575.)

Worthy of note also is the legend of the captain who in the form of a dag is chained to his sunken ship off Fresnaye on the coast of France. This curious punishment was inflicted by fairies after the devil had promised the captain immortality. Note here the devil-pact, the conflict of good and evil spirits and the deathless life. ("Le bateau sous la mer," Rev. tr. pop., XV, 139; cf. "Le château sous la mer," ibid., XV, 173 ; Rhys, Celtic Folk Lore, II, 402.)

Having surveyed the field of parallel and related legends we may now ask, what is the solution of this tragic enigma and what lies back of the modern legend? As usual in the study of folk tales, we find in the language even of the modern story, the key to its history. Vanderdecken is a Dutchman, and his name may be literally translated "of the cloak," (Dutch, dek, deken, a cloak; dekken, to cover). No cloak appears in the legend and it is not a sea garment, but let us inquire about the wild huntsman who shares the fate of Vanderdecken. He is known in Germany and Denmark as Hackelberg or Hackelbârend, which literally means cloak-bearer. Both Hackelbârend and Vanderdecken are storm spirits and bring wreck and disaster. The Teutonic storm god is Odin or Wotan (vada, to go violently, to rush). He is the spirit of the wind that raged upon the cold northern seas and through the marks and forests of heathen Germany. About him is the cloak of cloud that hides his terrible face. He is the cloak-bearer, the war-god seeking for souls whom he leads to Valhalla. Later he is the demon of the destructive tempest, the encourager of strife, the forerunner of death. Christianity cut down his sacred grove. Forest dwellers and the lonely villagers drew together and shut out their old gods with heavy walls. The old Teutonic gods might wander in the outlands and through the drear and vision-haunted forest, but they were no longer divine. The cross was raised above the hammer. Odin was driven forth wild and dreadful, no longer God, but devil, no longer the leader of souls to Valhalla, but to Hel ; thenceforth he was the god of the heathen, the dwellers of the haunted Teutonic heath. Henceforth he was the demon of the air, the forerunner of tempest and destruction.

The Eddas and the Imrama, or oversea voyages of the Irish, contain no comparable legend. The story of Falkenburg remained the only prototype up to the time of circumnavigation when the legend attained full development, and curiously enough dropped the local type and the name of Falkenburg and returned to the early cloak-bearer of the north.

The Dutch were foremost of sailors to push into unknown seas and about the stormy Cape Horn. There they met baffling winds, the dread spectre of the cape, and all the uncanny appearances which have ever made this gateway to the east feared by sailors. Small wonder it is that they should set the slumbering psychopomp of the north to guard the spectral cape. Objectively, the legend might well have arisen out of many of the uncommon sights of the sea. Mirages, derelicts, abandoned ships and mist shapes assume spectral form in the eyes of the anxious lookout, and the many and appalling disasters of the sea readily lead the mariner to foreshadow evil from all uncommon happenings.

Literature and drama have found in the luckless captain a favorite theme. Marryat in his penny-dreadful tells the most fantastic stories of the wanderer. Cooper in Red Rover and Russell in The Death Ship and A Voyage to the Cape, have given nautical setting to the tragedy ; and in Germany, Hoffman, Zedlitz, Hauff, Nothvogel, Konigsmunde and Otto have made use of the theme. It is among the poets however that we find the chief chroniclers of the Dutchman. Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" has fascinated many with his gray beard and glittering eye. Longfellow in his "Phantom Ship" and "Ballad of Carmilhan" sings of

"A ship of the dead that sails the sea
And is called the Carmilhan,
A ghostly ship with a ghostly crew,
In tempests she appears,
And before the gale or against the gale
She sails without a rag of sail,
Without a helmsman steers."

Celia Thaxter in "The Cruise of the Mystery" tells of a condemned slaver. Leyden, a Scotch poet, draws a strong picture. John Boyle O'Reilly, Bret Harte, Campbell, Scott and Hood have given variants of the story in literary form. Whittier found here the material for his "Wreck of the Schooner Breeze," his "Salem Spectre Ship," his "Dead Ship of Harpswell." Best known perhaps is Wagner's music drama. Here the story finds its most magnificent setting. Departing from the rude sailor legend with its flavor of medieval theology, Wagner engrafts upon it the splendid chivalric theme of the redeeming power of love. So tenacious was that early concept of the sea of death and darkness that we find in all the variants of the legend hardly a mention of the possibility of salvation. No favoring wind blows upon the Dutchman, no messenger receives the letters from the hands of those pathetic figures. His ship is the hieroglyph of despair. Nothing relieves the utter hopelessness of his fate. Its roots go far back into the day of the spiteful and malignant gods. The sea and the desert, fire and death know no relenting. The pagan bitterness of the legend is masked by the art of the dramatist who raises in Senta the image of a new force in the world, the power of love. As Christianity with its doctrine of love and redemption opened to the pagan world the way to hope and rest, so Senta is the harbor light to the wanderer of the seas of despair. She is the triumph of the new faith. Ohne Ziel, ohne Rast, ohne Ruh, is resolved into the harmony of peace.

Home | More Articles | Email: