How Were an Icebound Ship’s Passengers Mysteriously Saved?

A merchant ship sailing through fog.

A mysterious occurrence allowed a merchant ship sailing from London to Canada to come to the aid of another vessel in distress. (Image: digitalstormcinema via Envato Elements)

This is the story of how an icebound ship’s passengers were rescued because of the vision a merchant ship’s first mate had.

One day in 1828, onboard a merchant ship traveling between Liverpool, England, and Canada, Robert Bruce, the first mate, saw a man he did not know sitting in the captain’s cabin writing on a slate. The man turned and stared at him with a wooden, immobile, serious expression. This alarmed Bruce. He rushed to the deck and went to report what he had seen to the captain.

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The captain said: “You must be going mad, Mr. Bruce — a stranger? We’ve been out for nearly six weeks! Go down and see who it is.”

Bruce said: “I never believed in ghosts, but, to be perfectly honest, sir, I wouldn’t like to go and see it alone.” So the captain and the first mate went together to the captain’s cabin and found it empty. However, when they examined the slate, they found written on it “heading northwest.”

The captain said sternly: “Sir, you’re teasing me, aren’t you?” Bruce swore that he was telling the truth. The captain sat at his desk for a few minutes contemplating, then he turned the slate over and asked Bruce to write “heading northwest” on the back. The handwriting on both sides of the slate was completely different. He was satisfied. He then called the second mate and the other crew members in turn and asked them to write the words.

A chalkboard with the word 'heading northwest' written on it.
The captain had every crew member write on the slate to find a match for the handwriting. (Image: via Pixabay)

Using this method, he checked the entire crew. None of them had handwriting that even remotely resembled the one on the slate. They then searched the whole ship thoroughly, from bow to stern, and found no sign of any stowaways. The captain finally asked: “Mr. Bruce, how on earth do you make sense of all this?” Bruce said: “I can’t say, sir. I saw the man writing, and you saw his writing, and there must be something suspicious in it.”

The icebound ship’s passengers are saved

As the wind was blowing well, a detour to the northwest would only take a few more hours, so the captain ordered a turn to the northwest. After sailing for about three hours, the lookout reported an iceberg ahead and a ship near it. As they sailed closer, the captain looked through his binoculars and saw the ship with a large number of people on board. It was in fact a ship in distress, firmly frozen in the ice. He sent some small boats to rescue the survivors.

When a third lifeboat returned with its passengers boarding the larger ship, Bruce was surprised to find that among them was the man he had seen in the captain’s cabin a few hours earlier!

Among the icebound ship's passengers was a familiar face.
When a third lifeboat returned, the first mate was surprised to recognize one of the passengers. (Image: stevanovicigor via Envato Elements)

When the first mate had recognized the new passenger, the captain said: “Honestly, Bruce, this is getting really bizarre. Let’s go and see this man.”

At the captain’s request, the man wrote the words “heading northwest” on the blank side of the board. When the board was turned over, he was as surprised as anyone to find the exact same words and the exact same handwriting on the other side. He turned the board over and over: “I only wrote on one side, who wrote on the other?”

He couldn’t remember the scene that had shocked Bruce at all. However, he remembered one thing that might be relevant. He had fallen soundly asleep at noon that day, extremely exhausted. He woke up and declared that they would certainly be saved because he had dreamed that he had boarded a ship that had come to rescue them. 

The captain of the ship in distress confirmed his story. The captain said: “He told us about the appearance and equipment of the boat. To our amazement, your ship appeared exactly as he described.”

This story was published in 1860 in Footfalls On The Boundary Of Another World, by Robert Dale Owen, Philadelphia, Lippincott 1860, and was written by Robert Bruce’s good friend Captain J.S. Clarke of the schooner Julia Hallock. Clarke described Bruce as “one of the most sincere and straightforward men he had ever met in his life.”

The story is unusual in that the spirit not only leaves the body and manifests itself, but also travels to a distant ship and leaves a message in recognizable handwriting with an accurate message. And the slate on the ship and the handwriting on it are difficult to deny as “hard evidence.”

Translation by Eva and edited by Helen 

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