Several months ago, one of my fellow Island Storytellers, Sue Bailey, introduced me to story of the Eurydice, a ghost ship rumoured to sail across Sandown Bay, forever trying to make her way home to Portsmouth after foundering off Dunnose Point on the Isle of Wight with the loss of over three hundered lives in the last quarter of the 19th century.

I’ve since co-opted the story, trying to weave a narrative that tells the stories as a pair, starting with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice then echoing back with the loss of HMS Eurydice when the sailors thought they were surely in sight of home. If you aren’t familiar with the mythological tale, here’s a quick summary:

Orpheus, son of Apollo, married the nymph Eurydice, but shortly after her wedding Eurydice stepped on a scorpion, was stung, and died. Orpheus was persuaded to try and rescue her from the underworld, and with his lyre in hand, he set out. Charming Charon, the boatman, and Cerberus, the fearsome hell hound, and then even Hades and Persephone with the majesty of his playing, Orpheus was allowed to take Eurydice back to the land of the living, on one condition: that he did not look back until both he and Eurydice, who was to follow behind him, both made it out of the underworld.

All went well until the last few steps, when hearing what he thought was a stumble — or had he been tricked and was Eurydice being dragged back? — he turned… and the bargain was broken: Eurydice was lost forever.

To try to add some background the the tale of H.M.S. Eurydice so that I could better tell the tale as a story, I left Wikipedia behind and headed in to the digital newspaper archives, and in particular, the British Newspaper Archive, looking for the first draft of the history of her sinking. (I have not so far looked at the Times, which despite beign the organ of record is not indexed by the Birtish Library operated, but still subscription based, British Newspaper Archive.)

Along the way, I also discovered various other tales that, whilst not directly relevant to the story I particularly wanted to tell, do add some local colour and context to the story. They also provide a jumping off point for other tellings and research into other tales about life and incidents on the Wight that are likely to have been generally known on the Island in the period 1875 and 1885.

This collection represents a gathering together of various elements of that first draft, pulled together from newspaper articles that reported the story as it was first told. The tale itself extends beyond the original loss of the Eurydice to include her recovery (and which also makes me wonder: what did Orpheus do a the point he lost his beloved Eurydice back to the underworld?).

The found text for each of the articles included here was typically a machine generated OCR (optical character recognition) produced text, but the quality often left a lot to be desired. I have attempted to correct the texts by referencing original scanned newpaper images, but undoubtedly many errors remain. However, as an electronic text, this collection is easily updated; so as and when I come across transcription errors, as I, or others, undoubtedly will, I will attempt to correct them.

–Tony Hirst, Isle of Wight, 2022

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