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The Collision in the English Channel

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

'Twas on a Sunday morning, and in the year of 1888,
The steamer "Saxmundham," laden with coal and coke for freight,
Was run into amidships by the Norwegian barque "Nor,"
And sunk in the English Channel, while the storm fiend did roar.

She left Newcastle on Friday, in November, about two o'clock,
And proceeded well on her way until she received a shock;
And the effects of the collision were so serious within,
That, within twenty minutes afterwards, with water she was full to the brim.

The effects of the collision were so serious the water cduldn't be staunched,
So immediately the "Saxmundham's" jolly-boat was launched;
While the brave crew were busy, and loudly did clatter,
Because, at this time, the stem of the steamer was under water.

Then the bold crew launched the lifeboat, without dismay,
While their hearts did throb, but not a word did they say;
They they tried to launch the port lifeboat, but in that they failed,
Owing to the heavy sea, so their sad fate they bewailed.

Then into the jolly-boat and lifeboat jumped fifteen men in all,
And immediately the steamer foundered, which did their hearts appal,
As the good ship sank beneath the briny wave,
But they thanked God fervently that did them save.

Oh! it was a miracle how any of them were saved,
But it was by the aid of God, and how the crew behaved;
Because God helps those that help themselves,
And those that don't try to do so are silly elves.

So the two boats cruised about for some time,
Before it was decided to pull for St. Catherine;
And while cruising about they must have been ill,
But they succeeded in picking up an engineer and fireman, also Captain Milne.

And at daybreak on Sunday morning the men in the lifeboat
Were picked up by the schooner "Waterbird" as towards her they did float,
And landed at Weymouth, and made all right
By the authorities, who felt for them in their sad plight.

But regarding the barque "Nor," to her I must return,
And, no doubt, for the drowned men, many will mourn;
Because the crew's sufferings must have been great,
Which, certainly, is soul-harrowing to relate.

The ill-fated barque was abandoned in a sinking state,
But all her crew were saved, which I'm happy to relate;
They were rescued by the steamer "Hagbrook" in the afternoon,
When after taking to their boats, and brought to Portland very soon.

The barque "Nor" was bound from New York to Stettin,
And when she struck the "Saxmundham," oh! what terrible din!
Because the merciless water did rush in,
Then the ship carpenters to patch the breach did begin.

But, alas! all their efforts proved in vain,
For still the water did on them gain;
Still they resolved to save her whatever did betide,
But, alas! the ill-fated "Nor" sank beneath the tide.

But thanks be to God, the major part of the men have been saved,
And all honour to both crews that so manfully behaved;
And may God protect the mariner by night and by day
When on the briny deep, far, far away!

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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…

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