National Poetry Day

This poem is in a scrapbook compiled by the Shetland antiquarian and collector E.S. Reid Tait. There are lots of these scrapbooks in the archives and they are packed with newspaper cuttings and magazines articles about Shetland. ‘A Voyage in the Mexican Prince’ is in one of the books dedicated to poetry. We don’t know who wrote it, but, as every other poem in the scrapbook has something to do with Shetland, we can probably assume it’s by a Shetlander. Whoever he was, he seems to have known his way around a ship.

A Voyage in the 'Mexican Prince'

As long as I remember, – and I’m sure I won’t forget –
The twenty-eighth day of December I went to seek a ship,
I heard about an Oil-tank lying up at Smith’s pontoon,
She was wanting sailors, and would sign on very soon.

When I came on board the ship, the mate was there alone,
I asked if he had got his hands; he said he had got none,
So there and then he took my name, and asked me if I knew
Any steady chap that I could trust, I might send him over too.

By-and-by we did sign on, and we went straight to sea,
But we saw the job that we had struck before we left the quay,
Laurie Harrison was boatswain, Sinclair was our mate,
“Pinrice” was our captain, going growling round the deck.

Five-thirty every morning on deck he used to come,
Shouting out for Mr. Stanbury to get the hose along,
Then the orders were given to get the hose screwed on,
Start the donkey, man the brooms, and get the bridge washed down.

By six o’clock it must be done, and all things put away.
For I have got a week’s work to be done this very day,
Sometimes we get away and dodge, but seldom it will do,
For the second mate is on our tracks, the mate and skipper too.

Away aft in the galley, the Devil’s brother he does stand,
His face and hands have not been washed since we left the land,
For grub, she is the worst we have struck or ever hope to do,
But when we do get back again we will eat to equal two.

Our sugar had run short once before our store day,
I went to the steward to try if he would give a bit away,
“Good God!” he cried, “your sugar’s done, well, that’s all fine,
Remember there is a store day on board of the ‘Prince Line.’”

For steering, she is a daisy, she is the worst we ever knew,
To leeward she will go off a point, to leeward she’ll go two,
So the sooner we get back again, the better it will be,
And never more on the roaming main in a “Prince Liner” for me.

The Mexican Prince was built on the Tyne in 1893. She was owned by the Prince Line from 1901-1917, so that gives us some idea when the poem was written. ‘Smith’s pontoon’, the place where the poet signs on for the voyage, was in North Shields, a port Shetlanders knew well. The ship and its crew don’t sound all that great (are those another two Shetlanders in the third stanza?), but the poet could obviously look back at the trip with a humorous eye.

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