LADY OF AVANEL 1(The binnacle from the two-masted Brigantine “Lady of Avenel” 19th century he binnacle housed the ship’s compass. The base, in the shape of three dolphins, is believed to have come from a 17th century Dutch East Indiaman trading ship)


Brigantine – Poole Harbour. Note: Famous Poole Ship. Detail also in LARN & LSWC: p9-10.

Lady of Avanel – 1939

The ribs and keel of this once famous ship are just visible at low water, between the navigable channels in Holes Bay. Named after the heroine of Scott’s novel ‘The Abbot’, she was built as a schooner, and in her early years was engaged in the illegal slave trade. Later she ran the Azores fruit trade, and then Newfoundland cod. About 1880 she feel over bin dry dock, and in being repaired was rigged as a brigantine. During the Great War she carried Welsh coal, then an expedition to Spitzbergan, and for a while served as a boy’s training ship in Falmouth Harbour. When a Captain Dowman brought the Cutty Sark, he sold the LADY OF AVENEL in 1924. Her new owner renamed her ISLAND, and sent her off on another ARTIC expedition. Renamed VIRGO, then back to her old name, she was scuttled in Poole after 65 years service. Royal Marines blew up the wreck in 1979, but her figurehead is preserved in Germany, her compass binnacle being in Poole Maritime Museum.


WRITTEN and researched by local freelance historian David Mooney, with thanks to Poole Maritime Museum:

PROBABLY the most attractive sailing ship ever to grace Bridlington harbour was the Lady of Avenel. She was a common sight in the 1930s in our town.

She was built as a trading vessel by H. S. Trethowan, ship builders at Falmouth in 1874. Her length 99.2 feet: breadth 23 feet, 163 tons of wooden construction.

A brigantine, a class derived from the old Italian word for brigand, in modern parlance a two-masted ship with a square-rigged fore-mast and her main sail fore and haft rigged.

The Lady began her life delivering granite from Cornwall to all parts of the world and in 1904 she made her first visit to Bridlington carrying Scottish Balmoral granite to be used in the town’s cemetery as
rockery stone around the lodge.

The title Lady of Avenel was a strange name for a ship and came from one of Walter Scott’s novels where a lady pined away in her castle awaiting the return of her husband who was always away fighting and now her ghost haunts the estate still waiting

The legend of this lady is as old as time itself and is known throughout the English speaking world as a tutelary spirit of the ancient elements, a water nymph to tempt men to their deaths in a watery grave.

The Lady of Avenel is forever trapped waiting for her man to show up and takes other men’s souls to pass the time, hence the ship was a ‘ghost ship as soon as it was named

After a life of carrying granite her decks had a shiny lustre from the dust which only added to her ghostly legend. In 1925 she became a support vessel for a British Arctic expedition. Thanks to the invention of the echo sounder in 1912, the Arctic seabed could be recorded easier. On her return she was left abandoned at Leith in Scotland and left to rot.

Wilfred Dowman, a retired windjammer captain, who also owned ‘The Cutty Sark’ bought her and planned a re-fit. Leeds businessman, Mr FS Jackson also had his eye on the ship, there was some agreement to co-own the vessel, it was Jackson’s involvement that brought her to Bridlington.

A new crew was signed on to bring the old lady south and Ernest George Musselwhite became her boats’wain. George had been at sea since he was 12 in 1892, he had been round the world, three times around Cape Horn and his love was the towering masts, billowing canvas sails of the old sailing ships and he had lived in Bridlington!

The Lady arrived in our town and Mr Jackson made an inspection. Local man Alf Wright as hired and replaced all the oak panelling in the ship’s dining area, but he later confessed that he had felt a woman’s presence as he worked and heard a voice.

The ship, now with its Bridlington crew, head to Looe in Cornwall, its county of origin for the major re-fit. On that first night the watchman, Tom Hutchinson lit the oil lamps, they suddenly dimmed and he too heard a woman’s voice cursing him. He refused to go on board alone ever again, all adding to the ship’s reputation. After the refurbished ship once again entered Bridlington harbour the crew planned a party on board to celebrate. The local men went ashore to see their families leaving the ship’s cook in the galley.

The cook was alone and he heard the light footsteps of a woman up on deck, on investigation he found no one there but a woman’s voice entered his ears and terrified he came on to the south pier and waited for the crew’s return. George Musselwhite’s family had now lived at 12 Ferndale Terrace for many months and he was looking forward to a long sea voyage after some sea trials on the Yorkshire coast. In his spare time he had made many beautiful models of ships and he now planned to make a model of the Lady of Avenel, before she left Bridlington, for his wife.

The voyage was to head south and then up through the Irish sea, then across to the Baltic.

On the very day he started the model he was taken ill with bronchitis and took to his bed, but pneumonia developed and he was admitted to the town’s Lloyd Hospital, where he died on Thursday morning May 3, 1934, aged only 54.

The whole harbour and the crew of the Lady; attended his burial, “the old sailor was home from the sea”. He still rests in the town’s cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Had the so called curse of the ship’s ghost claimed its first victim?

The saddened crew began the long voyage to the Baltic without further incidents.

In 1936 Wilfred Dowman, the owner died and the Lady tied up at Bridlington and the crew were paid off. Amy Johnson, the famous pilot, had a tour of the ship, would she buy it the town wondered?

An unknown wealthy lady did in fact buy the ship and a local crew taken on, she took part in a coronation review for George VI in 1937. The same year, the famous American film star/singer, Frances Day hired the Lady from Bridlington to sail over to Deauville, France, with a Bridlington crew, for a holiday.

“A woman on board and a woman owner, what will happen next?” said the ship’s cook, but the trip was a success, then the ship was in all the newspapers, was her future now brighter? She had left our town never to return and was then berthed off Southampton, the crew were signed off.

Many items of any value were removed, including her figurehead. The owner then moved her to Poole in Dorset, the Lady of Avenel would never sail again. What a sad end to the 63 year old ship. She spent a further two years sitting in Poole and slowly sank waterlogged and settled down in the mud. Her ship’s binnacle and compass went to the local Maritime Museum, where they are still on display today.

The anonymous wealthy owner had a son who had planned to row the Atlantic and she hired a Mr Hughes to train him. His payment was to be the Lady. The rowing trip was short lived but Mr Hughes was given the old ship anyway. In 1939 the clouds of war threatened and Mr Hughes joined the Royal Navy and saw service abroad, leaving the old ship behind to her fate. The Poole harbour authority now regarded the ship as a danger to shipping, the owner couldn’t be contacted, so they towed her out and set fire to her, soon the 65-year-old Lady of Avenel was only a memory. The figurehead ended up being owned by the Marconi Company and now resides in a collection in Germany, the Lady of Avenel was now a genuine ‘ghost ship’

Poole Maritime Museum

Day of Loss: 0

Month of Loss: 0

Year of Loss: 1939



Approximate Depth: