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The Burning of the Steamer City of Montreal

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

A sad tale of the sea I will relate, which will your hearts appal
Concerning the burning of the steamship "City of Montreal,"
Which had on board two hundred and forty-nine souls in all,
But, alas! a fearful catastrophe did them befall.

The steamer left New York on the 6th August with a general cargo,
Bound for Queenstown and Liverpool also;
And all went well until Wednesday evening the 10th,
When in an instant an alarming fire was discovered at length.

And most of the passengers had gone to their berths for the night,
But when the big bell rang out, oh! what a pitiful sight;
To see mothers and their children crying, was most heartrending to behold,
As the blinding smoke began to ascend from the main hold.

And the smoke before long drifted down below,
Which almost choked the passengers, and filled their hearts with woe;
Then fathers and mothers rushed madly upon the deck,
While the crew were struggling manfully the fire to check.

Oh, it was a soul-harrowing and horrible sight,
To see the brave sailors trying hard with all their might;
Battling furiously with the merciless flames --
With a dozen of hose, but still the fire on them gains.

At length it became apparent the steamer couldn't be saved,
And the passengers were huddled together, and some of them madly raved;
And the family groups were most touching to see,
Especially husbands and wives embracing each other tenderly.

The mothers drew their little ones close to them,
Just like little lambs huddled together in a pen;
While the white foaming billows was towering mountains high,
And one and all on God for protection did cry.

And when the Captain saw the steamer he couldn't save,
He cried, come men, prepare the boats to be launched on the briny wave;
Be quick, and obey my orders, let each one bear a hand-
And steer the vessel direct for Newfoundland.

Then the men made ready the boats, which were eight on board,
Hurriedly and fearlessly with one accord;
And by eight o'clock on Thursday morning, everything was ready
For the passengers to leave the burning steamer that was rolling unsteady.

Then Captain Land on his officers loudly did call,
And the cheery manliness of him inspired confidence in all;
Then he ordered the men to lower the boats without delay,
So the boats were launched on the stormy sea without dismay.

Then women and children were first put into them,
Also a quantity of provisions, then followed the men;
And as soon as the boats were loaded they left the steamer's side,
To be tossed to and fro on the ocean wide.

And just as they left the burning ship, a barque hove in sight,
Which filled the poor creatures' hearts with delight;
And the barque was called the "Trebant," of Germany,
So they were all rescued and conveyed to their homes in safety.

But before they left the barque, they thanked God that did them save
From a cold and merciless watery grave;
Also the Captain received their thanks o'er and o'er,
Whilst the big waves around the barque did sullenly roar.

So good people I warn ye ail to be advised by me,
To remember and be prepared to meet God where'er ye may be;
For death claims his victims, both on sea and shore,
Therefore be prepared for that happy land where all troubles are o'er.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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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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    "The Burning of the Steamer City of Montreal" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 14 Jun 2021. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/41882/the-burning-of-the-steamer-city-of-montreal>.

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