Fairview Historical Society Articles Archives
Tales, Ghostly Pirates and Buried Treasure on Historical Islands in the Bedford Basin!
Submitted by: Devonna Edwards
Stevens Island also called Navy Island, Miller Island and Glassey Island.
The island is located on the eastern side of the Bedford Basin on the Dartmouth side, near the Dartmouth Yacht Club and is approximately four acres in size.
The first inhabitants of the Island were the Mi’Kmaq and the nearby cove known as Wrights Cove formerly known as Stevens Cove. In 1759 the island was originally owned by Thomas Stevens, an early settler. Stevens gave Stevens Island to his friend, Robert Millne. On May 31, 1800 Millne and his wife Margaret conveyed the island to Edward, Duke of Kent for L75. A grant in 1858 allotted Stevens Island and 100 feet around the island to be given to the War Department.
On July 6, 1861, the HM Steamer, Firebrand sailed into Halifax Harbour from Cartagena, via Port Royal, with Yellow Fever on board. The HMS Pyramus was converted into a temporary hospital anchored at the dockyard and the sick were transferred to this vessel, while convalescents were housed in the dockyard and on Steven’s Island, where it was hoped that the fresh air there would help to restore their health. A large number of Haligonians were infected during the latter part of 1861, as a result of four ships of the British West India Squadron arriving in Halifax. They had a total of 265 ill people aboard who were sick with symptoms of ‘yellow fever’. Navy Island was used as an infectious disease hospital.
Prior to 1866 the island was leased by the military authorities to the admiralty for a rifle range. Boat loads of sailors sailed back and forth from the island every day to practice but it became too dangerous for people living on the shore, so they moved the rifle range in 1866 to a safe location in Bedford.
In 1894 a group of Halifax young men formed a club called the ‘S. F. Club’ (semper fidelis) meaning “always faithful” and held their outings on Stevens Island. They built a small club house on the island but when their member numbers expanded they purchased property in Stevens Cove, next to the island.
In August 1897 a tragic accident happened off Stevens Island. A party of some twenty young men were going to a camp on Stevens Island and when their boat was 150 yards from the island a twenty-two year old man named Albert Ruggles fell into the water and sank. Robert Hermann jumped into the water but he was unable to save him.
In 1913 the island was owned by John Glassey, of Halifax and he built a bungalow on the island.
Years ago the island was a popular spot to dig clams, have clam bakes, and picnics and it also became a favourite place for the youths of Halifax to row their boats there and have parties. Before the island became private property many people built camps there without getting the permission of the naval authorities.
Stevens Island (Navy Island) is best known for its tales of treasure and the ghostly pirates who guard it. Pirates, buccaneers and other seamen of various European nations; especially the French for three centuries sought its shelter. The ruins of an old wooden defense tower occupied the south point and the remains of an ancient Indian burial ground could still be seen for many years, on the rising slope in the centre of the island. In July 1825 a young midshipman took a dinghy and sailed from his ship to Navy Island. He sailed to the north beach of the island, but before he docked he fell into a deep sleep and when he awoke the dinghy had drifted to the south point of the island shore and became grounded on the beach. He was cold and damp and engulfed in fog, but decided to explore the island and began walking in the direction of the ruins of the old defence post. He was amazed when he reached the ruins to find a fire burning in a corner and a seaman warming himself by the blaze. The midshipman hid himself from site as the elderly seaman looked very strange; he had a ghostly hollow face and was dressed very oddly. His legs were clothed in enormously wide trousers, descending to the knee, where they met long sealskin boots. A pea-jacket with exaggerated cuffs almost as large as the breeches covered his chest and around his waist a monstrous belt, with a large buckle, on which was supported by two wide-mouthed pistols and a curved dagger. A long queue (a braid of hair) descended half way down his back. When he moved past the fire the flames could be seen through his body and the midshipman knew that he was seeing a ghost of bygone days. Meanwhile, the splash of oars indicated the approach of a boat and a number of rough-looking figures clambered up the knoll from the boat, bearing with them a small keg. Gathering around the fire, they silently surrounded their ghostly man. This was no doubt the very spot where the treasure was hidden, protected by such evil presence that made honourable seaman shudder. From what he could understand the pirates were discussing changing of the guard to watch over the treasure for the next century. While he stood there in terror, the leader gave orders of which the seaman could not understand and next thing he knew, the rest of the pirates turned towards the shore and rowed away.
The midshipman came out of hiding and headed for his boat but he stumbled over the bank and landed on the beach below hitting his head as he fell. When he awoke he was aboard the captain’s gig, (boat) with his crew rowing towards the Flagship. His long absence prompted the officers to send out a search party for him. After telling his story some believed him but others thought it was the use of liquor by the midshipman that caused him to imagine the whole tale. Fact or fiction, who knows for sure! “Believe It or Not!”
Photo of Map of Navy Island with the two pirates
Photo of Map of Navy Island, Bills Island and Sheppards Island in 2017
Bills Island also known as Williams Island and Hind Island.
The island is a very small piece of land located on the Dartmouth side of Bedford Basin near Navy Island and the Dartmouth Yacht Club. Today the island appears to just house a few trees and rocks, but I’m sure it is home to many different kinds of birds.
Sheppard’s Island also known as Myer Island.
The island is also located on the Dartmouth side of the Bedford Basin near Bill’s, and Navy Island. Sheppard’s Island is brimming with evergreen forest and has an area of approximately 1.8 acres. A huge development complex is now located near Sheppard’s Island and the Dartmouth Yacht Club.