Monday, March 01, 2010

The burning of the ship Kent

They say worse things happen at sea. Well 185 years ago today that was certainly true for those on board the East Indiaman Kent, whose loss was recorded in the picture above and a poem.

Alas the poem was written by William McGonagall, who has been called the worst poet in British history.

Anyway, here it is:

Good people of high and low degree,
I pray ye all to list to me,
And I'll relate a harrowing tale of the sea
Concerning the burning of the ship "Kent" in the Bay of Biscay,
Which is the most appalling tale of the present century.

She carried a crew, including officers, of 148 men,
And twenty lady passengers along with them;
Besides 344 men of the 31st Regiment,
And twenty officers with them, all seemingly content.

Also the soldiers' wives, which numbered forty-three,
And sixty-six children, a most beautiful sight to see;
And in the year of 1825, and on the 19th of February,
The ship "Kent" sailed from the Downs right speedily,
While the passengers' hearts felt light with glee.

And the beautiful ship proceeded on her way to Bengal,
While the passengers were cheerful one and all;
And the sun shone out in brilliant array,
And on the evening of the 28th they entered the Bay of Biscay.

But a gale from the south-west sprang up that night,
Which filled the passengers' hearts with fright;
And it continued to increase in violence as the night wore on,
Whilst the lady passengers looked very woe-begone.

Part of the cargo in the hold consisted of shot and shell,
And the vessel rolled heavily as the big billows rose and fell;
Then two sailors descended the forehold carrying a light,
To see if all below was safe and right.

And they discovered a spirit cask and the contents oozing rapidly,
And the man with the light stooped to examine it immediately;
And in doing so he dropped the lamp while in a state of amaze,
And, oh horror! in a minute the forehold was in a blaze.

It was two o'clock in the morning when the accident took place,
And, alas! horror and fear was depicted in each face;
And the sailors tried hard to extinguish the flame,
But, oh Heaven! all their exertions proved in vain.

The inflammable matter rendered their efforts of no avail,
And the brave sailors with over-exertion looked very pale;
And for hours in the darkness they tried to check the fire,
But the flames still mounted higher and higher.

But Captain Cobb resolved on a last desperate experiment,
Because he saw the ship was doomed, and he felt discontent;
Then he raised the alarm that the ship was on fire,
Then the passengers quickly from their beds did retire.

And women and children rushed to the deck in wild despair,
And, paralysed with terror, many women tore their hair;
And some prayed to God for help, and wildly did screech,
But, alas! poor souls, help was not within their reach.

Still the gale blew hard, and the waves ran mountains high,
While men, women, and children bitterly did cry
To God to save them from the merciless fire;
But the flames rose higher and higher.

And when the passengers had lost all hope, and in great dismay,
The look-out man shouted, "Ho! a sail coming this way";
Then every heart felt light and gay,
And signals of distress were hoisted without delay.

Then the vessel came to their rescue, commanded by Captain Cook,
And he gazed upon the burning ship with a pitiful look;
She proved to be the brig "Cambria," bound for Vera Cruz,
Then the captain cried, "Men, save all ye can, there's no time to lose."

Then the sailors of the "Cambria" wrought with might and main,
While the sea spray fell on them like heavy rain;
First the women and children were transferred from the "Kent"
By boats, ropes, and tackle without a single accident.

But, alas! the fire had reached the powder magazine,
Then followed an explosion, oh! what a fearful scene;
But the explosion was witnessed by Captain Babby of the ship "Caroline,"
Who most fortunately arrived in the nick of time.

And fourteen additional human beings were saved from the "Kent,"
And they thanked Captain Babby and God, who to them succour sent,
And had saved them from being burnt, and drowned in the briny deep;
And they felt so overjoyed that some of them did weep;
And in the first port in England they landed without delay,
And when their feet touched English soil their hearts felt gay

3 comments:

O Docker said...

I've always found McGonagall an inspiration.

My verse is no match for his, but he set standards I might one day attain.

ChrisP said...

It's said that you can tell a true poet if people can identify him from just one line of his work. On that test, McGonagall is a true poet.

JP said...

A "true poet" - well that's a polite way of describing him.

And he's managed to inspire O'Docker - that sounds like something we'd all like to read ;)