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The disappearance of Captain Gray

Painting of Captain John Gray

25 November marks the anniversary of the ss Great Britain’s most-loved, Captain John Gray’s mysterious disappearance.


Captain of the ship for 18 years, John Gray was an imposing 17-stone Shetlander who guided the ship and its crew firmly and fairly.

His popularity with passengers is shown through many letters, diaries and passenger testimonials expressing affection for him.

Over 140 years ago, passengers on board the ss Great Britain awoke to a day filled with upset. On the evening of the 25th November, the Captain retired to his cabin complaining of stomach pains and was never to be seen again. One officer said he had seen Captain Gray writing a letter the night before, which was nowhere to be found. It was also reported that a window at the stern of the ship was found open, although it had been fastened shut the night before.

Most distressing of all, the ss Great Britain docked back in to Liverpool on Christmas day 1872 with his wife and daughters all eagerly awaiting his return. Of course in those days there was no way of communicating to the family in advance about Captain Gray’s tragic disappearance, so you can imagine the heartache felt when the ship docked without him. To this day no one knows what happened to Captain Gray on that night, but it seems only appropriate that we take time to remember him on the anniversary of his tragic disappearance.