THE WRECKING OF THE WATERLOO
She sailed her last in fortytwo, troop transport, the Waterloo Caulked and doubled in elm and deal, the whole boiling seemed quite sound Surgeon Kelsall doubts the crew: lazybacked master, chief mate new She sailed in June from London Town, two hundred felons ironbound Sudden winders harooshed the Equator, shot the squat tub’s seams with water All decks awash, hands rushed the pumps, sodden wretches scabbed by scurvy Master Ager gave the order: Fresh greens, fruit, meat, we must procure! At blust’ry Cape the Bay ship hove, the master feared Old Davy Riding anchor in Table Bay, ‘twas no safe haven to belay Gusting up a northerly gale, rods of rain bedevilled the darks Topgallant masts crashed away, highrunning seas smashed her stays The longboat lumbered with split spars, the mate’s lamps showed no spark August, night of twentyseven, bursts of thunder shook the cabins Both anchors lost, the vessel drifts, blue lights distress, muskets fired Abaft the mainmast, rockets burn, barrels tossed a hurricane Aghast, the crew are stricken mad, heave on pumps but deadly tired The bark was grinding ocean’s bed, driven on angry surf, staggered Wives fall huddling in the cuddy, babes flurry milk and oft do choke Knock off the irons! Kelsall magged – for old chums below still lagged The gunwales gaped, the cuddy wrecked, two mizzen masts splintered broke Up on deck the numbed naps hobbled, monkeyed rigging, jumped o’erboard Pinchguts scarce could swim or float in mountainous breakers toiling As lags swore and cascades poured, kinchen wept and tars roared Floundered she lay, broadside rolling, pounded in surf bubbling and boiling
The bulwarks from the hull asundering, the topsail yard smacked briny Across strewn spars, Kelsall clambered, o’er bobbing mainmast slung Dragged down by some dog drowning, sinking slow, fast repining Holy Mary, the devil’s bung! How that blessed barnacle clung! The Waterloo was breaking up, the surgeon lost all will and hope Stiff hands that gripped his gams fell limp, up he burst with arms aswishing Hapless jacks groped tackle and ropes, throngs ashore sobbed and moped Frantic few were wildly threshing, two hundred souls sent aperishing ‘Twas a clinker, William Gardner, grabbed the Surgeon by the collar Dead as mutton on mizzen shrouds, pulled him to the poop capsized Cradled his head, inspired some air, stayed till dead limbs regained power When the Surgeon opened his eyes . . . What the devil! What surprise! That very lag he’d placed in irons, for thieving rum his punishment earned Twixt storm’s teeth at break of day. Revoke that charge! Kelsall bade Yer saved me life, strikin’ them irons. If you’d forgot this morn . . . Egad, I freely tenders me own, good sir, to save a life as yourn!
Michael Small May 1021, 2004
She sailed her last in fortytwo, troop transport, the Waterloo Caulked and doubled in elm and deal, the whole boiling seemed quite sound Su...