Monday, December 19, 2022

A ghoulish tale, just for Christmas


Over the years, my library of lighthouse books has increased considerably, although I always try and borrow from libraries if I can, as I'm a miserable sort of a person who wouldn't spend Christmas. Also, the fact that if you buy something and its not relevant, you feel you've wasted money. But, as I say, my library is now well-stocked and all I now need to do is learn to read.
I'd been trying to get a hold of Born on the Edge of White Water by Leonard V Stocker (Pen Press Publications 2004) for a while now. The Stocker name is an old one in Irish lighthouses. Edward Stocker was at the Hook in 1830; his son, Henry Aquila Stocker, was PK on Tory when the Wasp foundered in 1884; another son Charles was on the Calf Rock in 1870 and so on, down through the generations, marrying other keepers' daughters etc. 
There were three Leonard Victor Stockers, all in three generations. Lenny snr (1869-1953) was born at Oyster Island; Lenny middle  (1897 - 1986) was born at Wicklow Head; and Lenny jnr (born 1944 and still going strong) was born at the Bailey. It is the latter who is the author of this book.

Leonard V Stocker snr (above) and middle (below)

Roughly a third of the book is devoted to Len jnr growing up on lighthouses and there are plenty of good anecdotes of his time at Black Head, Mine Head, Greenore and Arranmore Island. Be warned, there are also a goodly number of uncomfortable anecdotes too. The remainder of the book is devoted to his father's retirement to Dublin and running away from home to England.
There is one passage though that caught my eye. As some of you may know, I brought out a book earlier this year about fatalities at Irish lighthouses and warned that, because the Irish Lights archive is still out of bounds, the list may have been incomplete. This is a story that the author recalls his father (Lenny middle) telling.

“When I was a young keeper,” my father continued, “I was stationed on a barren rock lighthouse. It was about 1918, I think. There were three keepers on the rock station – the principal keeper, the assistant and a supernumerary keeper. As a supernumerary, and the new boy in my first year in the job, I was not yet in the confidence of the two older men, who had served more than thirty years each.

‘Besides the keepers, on this occasion, there were three painters. One of the painters I hadn’t seen for a few days but didn’t take that much notice. We were on our fifth week and seven days overdue for our relief. The weather was the worst that anybody could remember and I was bored and started to have a nose around the stores, when a large captain’s chest caught my eye. Though I’d been in that store many times before, I couldn’t for the life of me remember seeing the chest. I stared at it for ages, wondering what treasures it might contain until eventually my curiosity got the better of me. I lifted the lid and was struck dumb by the contents. Inside was a corpse with the whitest face I’d ever seen, snow white it was, like the walls of the lighthouse. Heavy air oozed from the corpse I had stirred, bringing to light some hideous crime that had for so long been hidden.

‘Convinced I’d discovered a murder from the past, I was out of there quicker than a robber’s dog and running blindly through the narrow passage before collapsing at the principal’s feet, still shaking with fright.

‘After a few minutes, I got my breath back and told him what I’d seen. He couldn’t restrain himself from laughing.

‘‘Calm down,’ he said. ‘It’s only Harry the painter. He died last week from a heart attack and we had to salt him down as we do with the fish to preserve the body until the weather improves and the relief boat can get here. We thought it better not to tell you after all them ghost stories and yarns we’ve been spinning.’”

Of course, since then, I have been trying to discover who the poor ex-painter was through the online civil record death certs. A big job but it can be narrowed down. First of all, he is somebody of adult working age, whose first name is Harry or Henry. Secondly, I reckon that 1918 should be about right. Lenny middle was born in 1897. If he joined Irish Lights at 21 and was a first year SAK, 1918 or 1919 would fit the bill. And thirdly, the barren rock station with terrible weather - Blackrock, Slyne Head, Tearaght, Bull Rock, Fastnet, Tuskar - with corresponding Registration Districts of Belmullet, Clifden, Dingle, Castletown, Schull and Wexford. 

But so far, nothing. I'll keep trying but if there are any former keepers who have heard that story before and have an inkling about where the incident took place, I'd be delighted to hear from them.


  1. Joan (nee Stocker)May 8, 2023 at 7:12 AM

    Hi Pete
    The author is actually Leonard Vincent Stocker not Leonard Victor as his father and grandfather were.
    Best wishes
    Joan (nee Stocker)

    1. Many thanks for the correction Joan and my apologies for the error. Pete

    2. It is always a possibility of the story of the dead painter is made up.

  2. Hi Pete
    Great blog post as always.
    The author is Leonard Vincent Stocker, not Victor Leonard as his father and grandfather were.
    I'm still hunting down my Stocker family and their lighthouses and every now find a new snippet of information.
    Best wishes
    Joan (nee Stocker)