I stood atop the hills above the old Ship inn at Satlburn-on-the-Sea in Teeside, looking out into the rolling waves and my thoughts wandered as I thought “It is easy to see why the bay had once been a smuggler’s hideaway, the hills around are steep and anyone trying to catch you would be easily out run.”
I was watching the bay with its shallow beach strewn with pebbles; when I noticed what I thought was the sea mist rolling in but this was different to the usual sea mists; this mist had a denser consistency than normal mists you get on the coasts.
I had decided to go and investigate, when I felt a hand on my shoulder, “Tha don’t want to go down there laddy!”
I turned to face an old man with a grizzled face; he wore a sailor’s cap and an old ragged and threadbare rope knit sweater; the same type sailors use at sea for as long as jumpers have been knit, “What do you mean?” I gingerly asked.
“You think, yon mist is from the sea, well if you look and listen, you will find out.”
“I did wonder why the mist is denser and thicker than any mist I had encountered before.”
I did as my friend asked and listened to the sounds reaching us; the main sound was what at first sounded like a roaring tide but having been told to listen, I opened my mind, “Am I right, that sounded like cannon fire?”
“Tha’s right there young man; I will tell you the story later.”
I watched as the two ships came around the headland, one flew a strange flag and the other flew the flag of the excise men of the King. The King’s ship came around the headland with cannons firing and forced the other vessel further into the shallows; knowing how treacherous the beach is; I waited and then I heard the sound every seaman hates, no matter which country of flag you sail under; the sounds of your ship running aground, the timbers tearing apart as waters flooded the lower decks.
For a short time I viewed the incident unfolding before me, as I gazed at the ship I assumed was a smuggler’s vessel, five men came running ashore, wading through the waters. The only reason for them to be be run aground is their ship was smuggling, as the occurrence moved on the King’s ship sent two longboats ashore to chase down the men.
The men stumbled up the pebbly beach, their feet slipping on the wet rocks; as they stumbled they were met by a hail of musket fire from the excisemen; in a short time all five lay dead on the rock strewn beach, their blood rippling to and fro in the foamy waters staining the rocks red.
“We finally got you, Will Harrison,” the captain of the guard called.
The soldiers were met by a volley of pistol fire from the inn as they returned to their longboats; the ensuing fire fight lasted only a few minutes, the men inside were not going to expose themselves to musket fire and the soldiers could not possibly take the inn without a siege as ‘The Ship’ backed on to the steep cliffs behind and the men inside had a clear field of fire. Any form of assault other than a siege would be futile.
“That was the end of the incident, young sir,” the seaman said.
“How do you know this story so well?” I queried.
“I ran the inn for the next forty years and my ghost is still here.”
“So you are…”
“Yes. None other than John Andrew, ‘Big Jack’, ‘King of the smugglers’ and he most feared smuggler in the area.”
A week later, I looked out across the bay as I never tire of watching the sea and all her ways, the sea is in my blood and I saw what I thought may be the sea mist rolling in, “Not again,” I muttered as I viewed the mist, the mist appeared to thickening into the same grey, cloying fog which hid the ghosts of the past last week, as they had chased the smugglers ashore, “It can’t be happening again,” I muttered.
“Aye laddy, the fogs do come in bursts,” I heard a voice behind me reply, “we call them 'Smuggling fogs,' they cling to the shoreline and only a seaman from the area or someone desperate, would try to get to land in these conditions.”
Out of the shadowy mist I could make out the shape of a vessel approaching the headland, “If I am not wrong, isn’t that the Prospero heading ashore.”
“No, lad, you are right she is coming ashore.”
“I read her story and she was lost at sea in a storm which only John Andrew survived.”
“The story as told by John Andrew to hide the truth.”
“What did happen?”
My friend and I gazed into the mists as the Prospero sailed closer inland, still wide of the headland and in full sail, then there was a terrible wrenching sound as she hit the hidden rocks and keeled over, the men trying to get to the boats were overshadowed by a tall figure with a ragged beard and long coat. In one hand he held a cutlass and in the other he held grappling hook, the sort used to grab ropes as you board a ship. 'Mad Jack’ made an impressive figure as he stood on the gunnels and shouted to the crew, “Any man that follows me will be killed.”
The crew of the Prospero had sailed the seas and knew this to be no idle threat as they stayed still, even though they out numbered him. They had seen him take four or five men down at a time in a fight and were not keen to risk their lives.
‘Mad Jack’ leapt for the only boat and made for land; guns fired on the ship and a crewman fell to the floor, from our distant position it was hard to see exactly who had been shot, my friend turned to me and said “The dead man is Patrick Forrester, one time friend of John Andrew’s.”
Mason Friggett, the Prospero's mate called out, “We can’t get you today but mark my words, Andrew we will return to claim what is ours.”
“John Andrew; may you and you your family be cursed by the Ship Inn and may your spirits never leave the house,” Richard Jacklin, the coxswain yelled at the back of the rowing boat.
With the mist clearing, I could just make out the shapes of men climbing the rocks on the headland and coming around the point, the misty shrouds now moved towards the inn and engulfed the bay.
“What is happening now?” I asked.
“History is folding and you are getting a chance to see the real John Andrew.”
“Andrew, we want our share,” called one voice.
Another yelled, “If you don’t give us our share, we’ll take the money by force this time.”
A voice from the inn yelled, “Simon Miggins, you always were a hothead, you can't get me.”
“This time John Andrew, we came prepared for your treachery.”
“Jacklin, I might have known, you would be here; I never did trust you.”
The next instant we heard an unearthly roar as the Prospero let off a broadside. The four cannons fired and although landing short of the target the cannonballs had the desired effect of unsettling Andrew for a short while but adding to the mists with a powdery haze that hid the men as they crawled up the pebbled beach. The windows were rocked and cracked by the shockwaves as the men opened fire at the front, where Andrew held his ground; firing at will but with deadly accuracy, one shot caught Andrew in the shoulder and forced him to drop his pistol as he spun to the floor.
“Right, get him,” shouted Jacklin.
The crew rushed forward and dragged the bleeding and severely wounded Andrew from the house.
“Where's our share of all the loot, Andrew?” asked Miggins, “we took the risks and did the fighting, all you did was plan the attacks and come in at the end to gain the victory and take our money.”
“Captain’s privileges Mr. Miggins and now everything is tied in to the house now, you can't get it,” Andrew laughed.
“Right men, we can’t have the money he owes, so we’ll take it out of him,” called Friggett, “rope him up and we’ll take him to the Prospero.”
Jacklin remembered the strength of his former captain and set to beating him about the body and arms to weaken him before he made sure Andrew was semi-conscious as the crew tied him up and dragged him to the boat, heading out to sea and the Prospero.
The boat made oars for the ship, bobbing up and down in the surf despite the extra weight of the struggling John Andrew, even from this distance we were able to hear the curses as he drew nearer the Prospero and his fate, as the men neared the ship Friggett yelled out, “Okay me hearties, lets keel haul him!”
A small thin boy stepped forward; no older than fifteen but two years on the seas had aged him beyond his years, one length of rope was handed to young boy and he dived deep under her bows, rising on the other side with a smile, “Tis a fine swimmer you are Paul Marler,” said Miggins as the boy climbed the ropes to get aboard again, carrying the rope in one hand.
The flailing figure of Andrew was beaten more as the crew tied both arms to the ends of the rope and then they pushed Andrew to the gunnels and pushed their injured former captain overboard.
“Heave to lads,” called Miggins. “We don’t want us to be outdone by him dying on us.”
The laughter from the crew which I heard was like an evil wind going over bones of the long dead. I watched in horror at this cruel punishment; which involves the man been dragged under the keel of the ship, barely able to breathe. Andrew seemed to be breathing despite the gunshot wounds and the keel-hauling. I think the crew were counting on his immense strength to get him through as part of the punishment. Barely breathing, he was dragged out the last time and untied then sent ashore in his boat; when it reached the beach the boat hit the pebbles, and tipped him onto the beach. The battered and beaten John Andrew crawled up the pebbles to his inn, leaving behind a trail of blood which covered the rocky slopes, when he got to the front door he hauled himself up and took a breath, then watched as his former crew made sail again.
My friend continued to tell me what was happening on board as we viewed her sail out of sight, “Right lads, set her sails for the seas, we have had our day,” Friggett called.
The Prospero rounded the headland and vanished from sight, I turned to query what had gone on and all I saw was a whiff of pipe smoke as the old sailor disappeared.
Seeing my puzzlement, one gent said, “You were talking to Paul Marler.”
I asked, “What did become of the Prospero, after she left her that day?”
“We never found out as there are no family names in the area of the crew members and no records of the ship at all, she could have changed names, been involved in a fight and lost with all hands or gone down in a storm; we will never know.”
“Is the curse true?”
“There are records as late as 2009 of a presence in the inn, one is of a young girl and the other is of a pirate in search of his daughter. Records show that Andrew had a daughter and she died of diphtheria, aged 4. I leave the judgement to you, my friend.”
My story may be fiction based on fact but John Andrew did live and had a daughter die at the inn of diphtheria, here is a link to a recent investigation.