.jump-link{ display:none }

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Sepia Saturday - Ships, Signs & Shanties.

Sepia Saturday gives bloggers an opportunity to share their family history through photographs

This week's prompt of a ship launch invites us to consider not only ships, but new beginnings.  However I am focussing instead on the past and connections (very loose) with the sea, plus memories of poems and sea shanties from school days.  

A traditional view of the River Tyne ( taken from South Shields
looking across to the Norwegian ferry at North Shields.
Family connections with the sea rest with my husband's family who across generations moved from Leith (Edinburgh's seaport), to South Shields on Tyneside and Portsmouth in the south coast of England. 

The occupations of the Donaldson's and their extended family (White and Moffet)  ranged from merchant and master mariner to  seaman, caulker, roper, ship's carpenter and river policeman.  

At Tyne & Wear Archives  I discovered the ships that GGG grandfather Robert Donaldson and GG grandfather Matthew White  sailed on around Europe - many of which came to a sad end - though not under their captaincy.  I also became acquainted with the names of different sailing vessels - barque or barc, brig, sloop, smack and snow   - an illustration of the diverse routes that family history can take you and a source of previous blog postings.

Across the Atlantic sailing ships were my focus on these two lovely signs. in New England.   
In Newport, Rhode Island

Edgartown on the island of Martha's Vineyard off Cape Cod were harmonious and the population grew from 19,00 in 1850 to in to 4, 067 in 2010. 
By the 19th century Edgartown was one of the main whaling ports on the American Atlantic coast. Scrimshaw is the craft of decorating or carving whale bone or ivory, done by sailors as a recreational  activity.   

Maintaining the link with whales, Edgartown was used as the main location for shooting the  town of Amity in Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster "Jaws".  
Talking of sailing ships brought to mind two of my favourite poems remembered from school days.  Do children learn poetry any more at school?  Writer John Masefield (1878-1967)  went to sea at age fifteen on a large sailing ship, then worked for a time in New York City before returning to England in 1897. His experiences aboard the ship provided him the raw material that made him famous as a sea poet. 
The poems are just made to be read out aloud, with   the use of alliteration,  colourful imagery, and evocative language. 
Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack
Butting through the Channel in the mmad March days
With a cargo of Tyne coal
 Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
I remember in the school choir, singing a choral versions of  the poem, which I have never heard since.  We particularly enjoyed the last verse where we had to spit out to ennunciate the  staccato words "Dirty British coaster with a salt caked smoke stack" - try it!

sailing ship photo: A ship sailing IMG0.jpg


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

 Did you sing sea shanties at school?  In my primary school days,  every Wednesday afternoon we gathered in the hall for community singing and I learnt such patriotic songs as   Hearts of Oak, and Rule Britannia which we sung with great gusto.  Sea shanties were among our favourites  as we swung from side to side to sing "What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor?"    Another favourite was the one below  - especially the chorus lines at the end of each verse.

 T''was a Friday morn when we set sail
And we were not far from the land
When our captain, he spied a fishy mermaid
With a comb and a glass in her hand
Oh the ocean waves do roll
And the stormy winds do blow
And we poor sailors are skipping at the top
While the landlubbers lie down below, below, below
While the landlubbers lie down below

Finally to my very tenuous sea connection - taking part in a student production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore".  In the first photo, I am second from the right with the pink parasol.  

Launch yourself  HERE  to discover other launch tales from fellow Sepians.


  1. I had forgotten that Sea Fever poem that we recited at school. Thanks for reviving some memories for me.

  2. An interesting take on the theme. I love how everyone is different. You did jog my memory too. I remember learning 'Sea Fever" at school and singing sea shantis


Thank you for your comment which will appear on screen after moderation.