Enthusiasms No 52
A collection of shorter pieces on subjects of
interest, outrage or enthusiasm ...
It should be said that no ballads have been located in connection with any of those ships named above.
It is a slightly different story with Amphitrite which, carrying a cargo of female convicts destined for New South Wales, was wrecked in 1833 off the coast of France before the voyage had properly begun. Amphitrite, after a Greek goddess, was already a familiar name; for us, perhaps most often, in the song concerning a 'gallant frigate' off the coast of Chile; and sailing in various other manifestations both in the British Royal navy and mercantile marine and in other countries such as America - and too many times to be listed here.
Balladry about Amphitrite, though, is not extensive and consists of the same text from Fordyce, Forth of Pocklington, Talbot in Cambridge and Such (Fordyce, Forth and Such all called the piece Loss of the Amphitrite; Talbot merely The Amphitrite); with some catalogue references, Fordyce and Such again, for instance, that do not extend the compass of printers; plus a prose account located in the National Library of Scotland.
The NLS piece, printed by Menzies in Edinburgh5, allows us a glimpse of actuality, being based on a report in the Observer newspaper and corresponding to known facts as far as has been ascertained.6 In it we learn that the ship sailed from Woolwich on 25th August 1833 and was carried by a gale that began on the 29th off Dungeness across to Boulogne where the captain, named Hunter, first set his mainsail and topsails in hope of drawing off sandbanks and, this having failed, dropped anchor in order to turn the ship with the next tide. Evidently Hunter refused help from shore and, along with the surgeon, named Forrester, kept the female convicts battened down for fear that they might escape.
Generally, there was no great effort amongst the French spectators to effect a rescue until one man, Pierre Henin, swam out to Amphitrite with a line. This, too, was refused by the Captain. Meanwhile, the convicts had broken the hatches and were on deck, the crew itself having taken to the rigging. Just after seven in the evening the ship broke in two and sank, there being but three survivors, Owen, Towsey and Rice - on whose testimony some of the details were assembled for the newspaper report. All told 133 people perished, consisting of 108 female convicts, some children and the crew.
We take Fordyce as our ballad cue. Interestingly, on the printing in the Bodleian Allegro archive a date of 1840 is given7 but the British Book Trade gives a date of 1834 for the address - at Dean Street, Newcastle - on copy although exactly when Fordyce began operating there is not clear. Thus, it looks as if the Fordyce piece would have been issued almost - perhaps even exactly - contemporaneously with the event: at least as 'news'.
At any rate, we find a conventional ballad opening - and an awkward rhyme:
Come list, you gallant Englishmen, who ramble at your ease,The day and month are given - August 25th - and the point of embarkation at Woolwich but not the year (it appears in a footnote: was this a printer's trick to encourage sale after the event?). The viewpoint is as of someone saved from the wreck who indicated how, as the vessel sailed, he - an assumption but likely in view of identity of the known survivors - and the others were 'griev'd full sore', crying, and bidding adieu, 'poor girls'. The ship sailed away 'without delay' and arrived off Dungeness and then, after four days, Boulogne, 'when great was our distress'; for the captain found that the ship was 'near aground'. The captain let go the anchor and then called for the mainsail and topsails to be set (a contradictory move - it must be imaginary - that exposes the printer as a landsman seeking commercial gain and garbling actuality) …
While I unfold the horrors and the dangers of the seas;
It's of the ship, the Amphitrite, with a hundred and eight females,
And children, crew, and cargo, bound all for New South Wales.
The raging sea ran mountains high, the tempest did unite,And then 'At three o'clock in the afternoon' the ship did, indeed, run aground on a sandbank (it was suggested in the NLS piece that the Captain did this deliberately in hope to get out of the tempest and be drawn off later). The end seemed near and 'We on our bended knees did fall' … 'bitter cries could reach the skies'. The ship 'she gave a dreadful roll, and soon went out of sight'. Then,
Poor souls in vain did shriek with pain, on board the Amphitrite.
Great blessings unto the French, who tried us all to save,All were lost save 'two poor lads and me' who survived, initially, by clinging to a spar although one of the survivors, exhausted, died during the night - not true, as we have seen. The ending is in the form of an appeal to God to 'grant relief to end the grief of those distracted quite' who lamented 'for those no more on board the Amphitrite'.
The captain he was obstinate to brave the stormy wave;
But he went down along the rest, all in the briny sea,
The rocks beneath the pathless deep his pillow for to be.
Clearly, the full facts of the case were not within the printer's purlieu and, instead, phrases familiar from other shipwreck ballads - shorthand, as it were - 'briny sea', 'dreadful roll' 'mountains high' and so on … act as replacement. In this respect, whilst there is no absolute consistency, characteristic phrases such as 'watery grave', 'mountains high', 'sweet and pleasant gale'; 'briny sea'; and thunder that 'roll'd' and lightning that 'flash'd' are liberally sprinkled through shipwreck text whatever the particular circumstances.8
John Forth's Pocklington issue parallels that of Fordyce in all but small orthographic detail and not much of that.9 Such follows Fordyce quite closely - like Forth introducing only the one or two orthographic changes.10 Talbot, though, in Cambridge, altered several phrases (as well as adding his own title). His second line is 'While I unfold concerning the dangers of the seas', the number of females is given in figure form as '108'; apostrophes in Fordyce are cancelled 'sailed', for example, and 'grieved'…all this, principally, in the first part of the ballad, conforming more closely towards the end: nothing, then, untoward and without changing the course of the narrative or the essential imagery.11
Such definitely printed after the event (on copy the Bodleian actually gives his dates as 1863-1885) and it is likely that John Forth did so too since one recalls that it was his father, William, who printed up until 1844 in Bridlington and John, in Pocklington, is not on record before that time. Henry Talbot had just started printing (1832) from an address in Sussex Street, Cambridge12 although there is nothing on any of his extant ballads that would give us a clue to precise dating. The change in title may just suggest that Talbot came to the piece as it already existed, or why would Forth and Such have adopted the Fordyce pattern, rather than that from Talbot? Fordyce's details for the piece we know and he may well have been the progenitor of the piece. At least in this instance, there is no sign of either Catnach or Pitts and any claim for Fordyce allows credit for first appearance outside the capital (subject, always, to further enquiry, of course).
We can but add that, apart from being issued, apparently, at both conveniently historical and unhistorical times, the particular piece upholds convention as we are coming to expect with most pieces connected to transportation; and, in similar ways, to other shipwreck ballads. That is to say: the mode of presentation and, in particular, phraseology are characteristic of much balladry that takes as subject-matter verifiable events but adheres to well-worn epithets of description not necessarily commensurate with actuality and designed, it seems, to elicit response from a public whose collective mind, it seems, ran to acceptance of the same generality - to familiar theme, archetype and imagery.
Roly Brown - 26.8.06
Oradour sur Vayres, France
2. See, for transportation, MT articles 176 (Transports), 178 (Botany Bay) and 181 (Van Diemen's Land); and Enthusiasms 49, 50 and 51 for glosses on articles.
3. Charles Bateson's The Convict Ships (Glasgow, Brown Son and Ferguson, 1985 edn.) is our best guide and references to ships named here can be found on pp.124-131 (Guardian), 248-252 (Neva), 252-261 (George Third) 261-264 (Hine).
4. Charles Bateson, op cit, gives a measured account of events on pp. 126-131. Robert Hughes gives his version in The Fatal Shore (London, Harvill Press, 1998 p/b edn.), pp.135-137, noting that the voyage was 'the worst in the whole history of penal transportation'.
5. The NLS piece may be found on the web in The Word on the Street (http:/www.nls.uk/broadsides/broadside.cfm/id/1465/criteria/Female).
6. Charles Bateson's account of the loss of Amphitrite bears out the details in the NLS piece, op cit, pp.246-248.
7. See Bodleian Allegro archive as Johnson Ballads 1947.
8. Phrases quoted in text come from a random selection of pieces in the following order: 'watery grave' or 'graves' from Loss of the 'Ville de Havre', Melancholy Loss of the Ship 'Tagus', Loss of the Ship Francis Spede, Wreck of the Northfleet and Copy of verses on the wreck of the 'Mary Anne'; 'mountains high' from Loss of the Ship Francis Spede, its companion piece The Loss of the Francis Spaight and The wreck of the Steam-Ship Cambria; 'sweet and pleasant gale' from the same three ballads and Wreck of the Ship Washington (and 'pleasant gale' from Copy of verses on the wreck of the 'Mary Anne'); 'briny sea' from Melancholy Loss of the Ship 'Tagus'; thunder that 'roll"d' and lightning that 'flash'd' from Loss of the Betsey and Copy of verses on the wreck Of The 'Mary Anne' Similarly, calls on God's mercy often occur - Ville de Havre, Tagus, Spede and in Copy of Verses on the Wreck of the Atlantic all to be found, amongst many others, in the Bodleian Allegro archive. The writer of the NLS piece discussed above, incidentally, also used the phrase 'mountains high' in describing the sea.
9. See Bodleian Allegro archive as Firth c. 13(277).
10. See Bodleian Allegro archive as Firth c. 11(78).
11. See Madden Reel 86, Number 71.
12. Detail of printing dates is either surmised from copy or as given in the British Book Trade Index and, for Forth, correspondence with Steve Gardham (Hull).
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