The world famous Ghost Ship

During the second World War an Australian Naval vessel managed to send one last desperate message to the outside world before ship and crew disappeared forever, a terrifying message of only two words... "Flying Dutchman!"

The legend of the Flying Dutchman is one of the oldest Ghost Ship myths. The story stems from 17th century nautical folklore of a Man o' war class ship that has been cursed and can never make port doomed to sail the seas forever. To witness the ship is a portent of death for ship and crew. 


The Flying Dutchman


The oldest written account is linked with Australia from George Barrington’s A Voyage to Botany Bay (1795) (also known as A Voyage to New South Wales).

“I had often heard of the superstition of sailors respecting apparitions, but had never given much credit to the report; it seems that some years since a Dutch man-of-war was lost off the Cape of Good Hope, and every soul on board perished; her consort weathered the gale, and arrived soon after at the Cape. Having refitted, and returning to Europe, they were assailed by a violent tempest nearly in the same latitude. In the night watch some of the people saw, or imagined they saw, a vessel standing for them under a press of sail, as though she would run them down: one in particular affirmed it was the ship that had foundered in the former gale, and that it must certainly be her, or the apparition of her; but on its clearing up, the object, a dark thick cloud, disappeared. Nothing could do away the idea of this phenomenon on the minds of the sailors; and, on their relating the circumstances when they arrived in port, the story spread like wild-fire, and the supposed phantom was called the Flying Dutchman. From the Dutch the English seamen got the infatuation, and there are very few India men, but what has some one on board, who pretends to have seen the apparition.”

In 1880 another account in Australian waters this time coming from the future king of the United Kingdom George V when on a three year voyage with his brother Prince Albert Victor of Wales and their tutor Dalton aboard the HMS Inconstant. The future king and his brother had been transferred to the HMS Inconstant after the rudder of their original ship the Bacchante was being repaired. The Dutchman was sighted on a voyage off the coast of Australia between Melbourne and Sydney, Dalton records;

“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 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up on the port bow, where also the officer of the watch from the bridge clearly saw her, as did the quarterdeck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the forecastle; but on arriving there was 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 altogether saw her ... At 10.45 a.m. the ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the Flying Dutchman fell from the foretopmast crosstrees on to the topgallant forecastle and was smashed to atoms.”

The most accepted theory of where the myth of the Flying Dutchman originates is that of Captain Hendrick Vanderdecken and his ship, who set sail in 1680 from Amsterdam to Batavia, a port in Dutch East India. Vanderdecken's ship encountered a severe storm as it was rounding the Cape of Good Hope. 

Vanderdecken ignored the dangers of the storm - thought by the crew to be a warning from God - and pressed on. Battered by the tempest, the ship foundered, sending all aboard to their deaths. As punishment, they say, Vanderdecken and his ship were doomed to ply the waters of the oceans.

The first version of the legend as a story was printed, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine for May 1821which puts the scene as the Cape of Good Hope. This story introduces the name Captain Hendrick Vanderdecken for the captain and the motifs (elaborated by later writers) of letters addressed to people long dead being offered to other ships for delivery, but if accepted will bring misfortune; and the captain having sworn to round the Cape of Good Hope though it should take until the day of judgment.

“She was an Amsterdam vessel and sailed from port seventy years ago. Her master's name was Van der Decken. He was a staunch seaman, and would have his own way in spite of the devil. For all that, never a sailor under him had reason to complain; though how it is on board with them nobody knows. The story is this: that in doubling the Cape they were a long day trying to weather the Table Bay. However, the wind headed them, and went against them more and more, and Van der Decken walked the deck, swearing at the wind. Just after sunset a vessel spoke him, asking him if he did not mean to go into the bay that night. Van der Decken replied: "May I be eternally damned if I do, though I should beat about here till the Day of Judgment. And to be sure, he never did go into that bay, for it is believed that he continues to beat about in these seas still, and will do so long enough. This vessel is never seen but with foul weather along with her”

Another theory is that of 17th century Dutch captain Bernard Fokke is the model for the captain of the ghost ship. Fokke was renowned for the speed of his trips from the Netherlands to Java and was suspected of being in league with the Devil.

Other legends suggest that the Dutchman was a pirate ship

"originally a vessel loaded with great wealth, on board of which some horrid act of murder and piracy had been committed".


“The crew of this vessel are supposed to have been guilty of some dreadful crime, in the infancy of navigation; and to have been stricken with pestilence ... and are ordained still to traverse the ocean on which they perished, till the period of their penance expire.”

The Flying Dutchman continues to be witnessed to this day however the last recorded sighting was in 1942 off the coast of Cape Town. Four witnesses saw the Dutchman sail into Table Bay... and disappear.