Orm Foxlee, 91, remembered tales of the ghost of Armit Island told around the campfire in the 1960s.
Orm Foxlee, 91, remembered tales of the ghost of Armit Island told around the campfire in the 1960s. Claudia Alp

MYTH OR LEGEND: The phantom sailor of Armit Island

IT WAS described by those who saw it as a man with a pigtail and weather beaten features, his head bound with a large kerchief.

His attire was like that of a seafarer - a short jacket with large buttons and full three-quarter-length trousers.

But to most he was only known as the phantom sailor - the ghost of Armit Island.

According to a story from an early edition of the Sunday Mail, tales of the phantom first surfaced about 1891.

A man named Heron had built a hut on Armit Island where he intended to plant an orchard.

He was known for his hobby of collecting unusual plants after their seeds travelled thousands of miles on the ocean, only to be tossed onto Whitsunday islands to take root.

But it was from Heron that stories of the apparition came to light.

A yachtsman who had anchored at the island paid Heron a visit and, impressed by the solitude, asked the hermit if he found living by himself lonely.

Heron told the man a sailor kept him company, but would say no more on the subject.

Some time later, a man called Captain Gorringe broke through Heron's reserve.

After camping on the island for a week, Heron told Gorringe how he had risen, disturbed by something one night.

He walked out of his hut and as he did so, he heard a shrill cry of "unmistakable agony" from scrub on the slopes of the island.

Soon after Heron said he saw the figure of a sailor come from the scrub, pass through the stunted oaks, and walk to the water's edge.

Heron said he cried out to the figure but received no answer and was astonished when it passed into the water and did not reappear.

He told Gorringe he believed it was the ghost of some unlucky member of the crew of a very early ship who had met his end on Armit.

Many times a similar cry of agony shrilled on the late night air, and, as he watched, the sailor came down through the trees and disappeared in the sea.

Gorringe claimed Heron was an intelligent man and incapable of being the victim of hallucination.

Armit Island, located slightly north-west of Airlie Beach. The phantom sailor was said to appear on the west side of the island.
Armit Island, located slightly north-west of Airlie Beach. The phantom sailor was said to appear on the west side of the island.

Proserpine man Orm Foxlee, 91, recalled a childhood friend, Lloyd Perske, who told the tale as they were camped on Armit Island in the 1960s with their sons.

"We used to take a tribe of kids with us and go camping on all the beaches around the islands. Armit Island was one of the favourite camps with the kids," Mr Foxlee said.

"The kids tended to wander off a bit at night. So we used to build a big campfire on the beach to try to get the kids to go to bed and Lloyd told the story about the Portuguese sailor who had been shipwrecked on the island.

"It was all done to try to control the kids and keep them safe. That was the idea."

Mr Foxlee thought Lloyd had made up the story at the time.

"I'd never heard the story before Lloyd. I never asked him. It was just one of the things we did," he said.

However, two other sightings were reported, one in 1908 and the other in the 1930s.

A man by the name of Charles Anderson claimed to have seen the phantom sailor in 1908 when he anchored off Armit Island.

He happened to glance towards the beach and, as he did so, saw the figure "floating" to the water.

"It was a misty-looking figure. There was something about it which immediately convinced me that it was not the figure of a living man," Mr Anderson said at the time.

"It did not walk so much as float, inches above the sand. The phantom came and went so quickly that I did not have time to examine it properly, but my impression was that the sailor clothes on the ghostly figure were those of the seventeenth century."

Author Sir Frank Reid was the third to confirm the apparition about 1938 while on a fishing trip with a party of Bowen fishermen.

At about 10.30pm, a loud cry rang through the air which he described as a "shriek of horror".

After the initial shock, most of the fisherman went to sleep.

Mr Reid was sitting against a tree when he saw a shadowy figure emerge from the oak trees.

He described the face as that of a man of 35-40 years, with eyes that stared straight ahead and never glanced in the direction of the camping party.

Mr. Reid said he could not remember seeing the feet or the lower half of the figure, but his impressions of the upper half were "most distinct".

Whether myth or legend, the tale of the ghost of Armit Island has travelled for many years.

Could the phantom sailor still be haunting the island or has he finally met his peace?

Only time will tell.