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Bill Bowls the Sailor

William Topaz McGonagall 1825 – 1902 (Greyfriars Parish, Edinburgh)

'Twas about the beginning of the present century,
Bill Bowls was pressed, and sent to sea;
And conveyed on board the Waterwitch without delay,
Scarce getting time to bid farewell to the villagers of Fairway ·

And once on board the "Waterwitch," he resolved to do his duty,
And God willing, he'd marry Nelly Blyth, the village beauty;
And he'd fight for Old England, like a jolly British tar,
But he'd think of Nelly Blyth during the war.

The poor fellow little imagined what he had to go through,
But in ail his trials at sea, he never did rue;
No; the brave tar became reconciled to his fate,
And he felt proud of his commander, Captain Ward the great.

And on board the "Waterwitch" was Tom Riggles, his old comrade,
And with such a one as Tom Riggles he seldom felt afraid,
Because the stories they told on board made the time fly away,
And made the hearts of their messmates feel light and gay.

'Twas on a sunny morning, and clear to the view,
Captain Ward the close attention of his men he drew:
Look ! he cried, there's two Frenchmen of war on our right,
Therefore, prepare my men immediately to commence the fight.

Then the "Waterwitch" was steered to the ship most near,
While every man resolved to sell his life most dear;
But the French commander, disinclined to commence the fight,
Ordered his men to put on a press of canvas and take to flight.

But Captain Ward quickly gave the order to fire,
Then Bill Bowls cried, Now we'll get fighting to our heart's desire!
And for an hour and more a running fight was maintained,
Until the two ships of the enemy near upon the "Waterwitch" gained.

Captain Ward walked the deck with a firm tread,
When a shot from the enemy pierced the ship's side above his head;
And with a splinter Bill Bowls was wounded on the left arm,
And he cried, Death to the frog-eaters! they have done me little harm.

Then Captain Ward cried, Fear not, we will win the day,
Now, courage my men, pour in broadsides without delay;
Then they sailed round the "St. Denis" and the "Gloire,"
And in at their cabin windows they poured a deadly fire.

The effect on the two ships was fearful to behold,
But still the Frenchmen stuck to their guns with courage, be it told;
And the crash and din of artillery was deafening to the ear,
And the cries of the wounded men on deck were pitiful to hear.

Then Captain Ward to his men did say,
We must board these French ships without dismay;
Then he seized his cutlass, ashe fearlessly spoke,
And jumped on board the "St. Denis" in the midst of the smoke.

Then Bill Bowls and Tom Riggles quickly followed him,
Then hand to hand the battle in earnest did begin;
And the men sprang upon their foes and beat them back,
And they hauled down their colours, and hoisted the Union Jack.

But the men on board the "St. Denis" fought desperately hard,
But, alas! as the "St Denis" was captured, a ball struck Captain Ward
Right on the forehead, and he fell dead with a groan,
And for the death of Captain Ward the sailors did cry and moan.

Then the first lieutenant, who was standing by,
Loudly to the men did cry:
Come men, and carry your noble commander to his cabin below,
But there is one consolation, we have beaten the foe.

And thus fell Captain Ward in the prime of his life,
And I hope he is now in the better land, free from strife:
But, alas! 'tis sad to think he was buried in the mighty deep,
Where too many of our brave seamen do silently sleep.

The "St. Denis" and the "Gloire" were towed to Gibraltar, the nearest port,
But by capturing of them, they felt but little sport,
Because, for the loss of Captain Ward, the men felt woebegone,
Because in bravery, they said, he was next to Admiral Nelson.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:27 min read

William Topaz McGonagall

William Topaz McGonagall (March 1825 – 29 September 1902) was an Irish weaver, poet and actor who lived in Scotland. He won notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of, or concern for, his peers' opinions of his work. He wrote about 200 poems, including "The Tay Bridge Disaster" and "The Famous Tay Whale", which are widely regarded as some of the worst in English literature. Groups throughout Scotland engaged him to make recitations from his work, and contemporary descriptions of these performances indicate that many listeners were appreciating McGonagall's skill as a comic music hall character. Collections of his verse remain popular, with several volumes available today. McGonagall has been lampooned as the worst poet in British history. The chief criticisms are that he was deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly. His only apparent understanding of poetry was his belief that it needed to rhyme. McGonagall's fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings are considered to generate in his work. Scholars argue that his inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most unintentionally amusing dramatic poetry in the English language. His work is in a long tradition of narrative ballads and verse written and published about great events and tragedies, and widely circulated among the local population as handbills. In an age before radio and television, their voice was one way of communicating important news to an avid public. more…

All William Topaz McGonagall poems | William Topaz McGonagall Books

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