Octavius (ship)

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 United Kingdom
Name: Octavius
In service: Before 1761
Out of service: 1762
Fate: Trapped in sea ice, all hands lost, found derelict in 1775

The Octavius was an apocryphal 18th century ghost ship. According to lore, the three-masted schooner was found west of Greenland by the whaler Herald on 11 October 1775. Boarded as a derelict, the five-man boarding party found the entire crew of 28 below deck: dead, frozen, and almost perfectly preserved. The captain's body was supposedly still at the table in his cabin, pen in hand (exactly as in the Schooner Jenny legend) with the captain's log in front of him. In his cabin there were also the bodies of a woman, a boy covered with a blanket, and a sailor with a tinderbox. The boarding party took only the captain's log before leaving the vessel, because they were unwilling to search it. The last entry in the log was from 11 November 1762, which meant that the ship had been lost in the Arctic for 13 years. As the log was frozen, it slipped from the binding, leaving only the first and the last few pages in.

The story's supposed background is that the Octavius had left England for the Orient in 1761, and successfully arrived at its destination the following year. The captain gambled on a return through the treacherous and then little known Northwest Passage, with the unfortunate result of trapping the vessel in sea ice north of Alaska; thus, the Octavius had made the Northwest Passage posthumously. The ship was never seen again after its encounter with the Herald (being carried away by the streams and wind in the night after their encounter). The ship's last recorded position while the crew was still alive was 75°N 160°W / 75°N 160°W / 75; -160, about 250 miles north of Barrow, Alaska (named in 1825),[1] while the ship was discovered near Greenland.

Similar stories had previously appeared which shared some, but not all, of the elements of the "Octavius" story. In a 1905 version, traced by author David Meyer, the ship was named the Gloriana, and there was no mention of the Northwest Passage.[2] The earliest version of the story so far traced by Meyer appeared 13 December 1828 in a Philadelphia-based newspaper named The Ariel: A Literary and Critical Gazette. In that version, too, there was no mention of the Northwest Passage, and the derelict ship remained nameless. The period from 11 November 1762 until August 1775 is given as seventeen years.[3][4]

Uses in popular culture[edit]

  • This ship and its story is seemingly one of the inspirations for the setting events in Jacques Tardi's graphic novel, Le démon des glaces (The Demon of Ice), 1974.[5] Set in 1889, a passenger ship named L'Anjou is passing through the Barents Sea when it has a fatal encounter with another called The Iceland Loafer, which has somehow become frozen atop a huge iceberg. When the crew of L´Anjou board the Loafer they find its frozen captain in their cabin, mysteriously pointing to a certain point on a naval map (where they actually are). Immediately afterwards, their ship, L´Anjou is blown up leaving them stranded on the ghost ship.
  • The Octavius is featured in a naval mission in the video game Assassin's Creed III, where the main character, Connor Kenway, is searching for clues to the whereabouts of Captain Kidd's lost treasure.[6][7][8][9]
  • The heavy metal band Ghost Ship Octavius is supposedly named for the vessel.[10]


  1. ^ "Voyage of the frozen dead". The world's strangest mysteries. New York: Gallery Books. 1987. p. 321. ISBN 0-8317-9678-2.
  2. ^ Ghost Ship: A New Twist in the Octavius Legend? Posted on February 19, 2013 by David Meyer
  3. ^ Ghost Ship: Tracking down the Octavius Legend? Posted on February 20, 2013 by David Meyer
  4. ^ "The Dangers of Sailing in High Latitudes". The Ariel: A Literary Gazette. Volumes 1-2: 130.
  5. ^ de Kretser, Sherine (August 6, 2016). "Ghost ship". Nation. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  6. ^ "The Ghost Ship Mission". IGN. July 2, 2013. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  7. ^ Gomis, Carlos (December 13, 2013). "Guía Assassin's Creed III. Tesoro de Kidd". Vandal (in Spanish). Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  8. ^ Assassin's Creed III - Strategy Guide. Gamer Guides. October 28, 2015. p. 71. ISBN 9781621545316.
  9. ^ Bowden, Oliver (November 8, 2012). Assassin's Creed: Forsaken. Penguin UK. p. 496. ISBN 9780718193690.
  10. ^ "Ghost Ship Octavius". May 30, 2015. Retrieved January 27, 2019. Text "website " ignored (help); Text "Encyclopedia Metallum-The Metal Archives" ignored (help)


  • Spunyarn, Tom (1825), "The Ice Ship", The Cincinnati Literary Gazette (24), pp. 187–188 - the story is set in the Baltic, the ship is not named, and no journal is found.
  • "Arctic Expedition". Notes and Queries. 4th series. Volume II: 508. 28 November 1868. Retrieved 19 December 2017. - the ship is not named and there is no reference to the North-West Passage.
  • Raybin Emert, Phyllis. Mysteries of Ships and Planes. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., 1990. ISBN 0-8125-9427-4 (telling traditional story)
  • Ramsay, Raymond H. No longer on the Map. New York: The Viking Press, 1972 (the book tells it the way Vincent Gaddis does in Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea, Philadelphia 1965, pp. 105 – 108. R. H. Ramsay himself adds that he can't guarantee that the story is true, as it has appeared in many sensation-seeking publications, and he himself couldn't trace its origin.)

See also[edit]