Treasure Island

Greg Davidson

(1954 / Sydney, Australia)

# A Reminiscence of the Portrush Lifeboat Disaster [1889]


Portrush - the summer health resort of every class and nation,
When rich and poor leave inland homes for seaside recreation;
The broad Atlantic laves thy shores, where vessels tempest tost
Seek refuge in the Skerries Road, upon thy northern coast.
On first November, eighty nine, as fierce a storm did blow,
The crested waves ran mountain high, their spray like flakes of snow,
The schooner which had anchor'd there, whose anchorage gave way,
Was seen adrifting thro' the storm on to Portballintrae.

When she show'd signals of distress, the cry at once was rais'd,
Out with the lifeboat, man her quick, that perill'd lives be saved.
The boat was plac'd upon the car, which willing hands then drew,
When it was found one wanting still to complete the crew.
The forward stept Chief Officer of the Coastguard service here,
And took his place among the crew, a willing volunteer;
He was a temperance advocate of honour and renown,
Esteem'd for his philosophy by rich and poor through town.

The boat is launched, safe though the surf the oars are put in motion,
And from the land she seems a speck upon the troubled ocean;
Seaworthy craft she labours hard, her crew scarce pull together
Still bounding forward o'er the waves they brave the sea and weather.
The mist arises overhead, the wreck supposed appears,
And under sail round Causeway Head the crew allay their fears;
The gallant lifeboat onward goes, and anxious lookers on,
Who saw her rise on crested wave, then sink, would shout 'she's gone.'

She could not to Portrush return, a head wind strong that way,
The crew resolved to go ahead and reach Portballintrae.
Now come the sad part of my rhythm, the mind with sorrow fills,
The lifeboat rolls and out is thrown Galbraith Hamilton Grills.
That man who volunteer'd to go, his fellow-man to save
Is by the up-turn'd boat submerg'd and meets a watery grave.
Another furious wave rolls on, and strikes the Lifeboat's side,
When James McAlister succumbs beneath the ocean tide.


Old Neptune wields his trident still, and roars for further prey,
And William McNiel is lifeless brought to shore at Ballintrae.
Oh! Sad, heartrendering t'was to see men that eventful morn
Go forth on works of mercy bent to lov'd ones ne'er return.
I will not eulogise the dead, their past life scrutinize,
But firmly trust through Jesus' blood they've gained the heavenly prize.
‘Tis not for mortal man to know the souls finite estate,
Or why those three from out the crew met an untimely fate.

To God alone this secret is known, Whom storm and seas obey,
When can but hope their spirits rest in realms of endless day.
Those members of the Lifeboat crew, whose lives the Lord has spared,
And who with the departed ones the ocean's perils shar'd,
I would exhort henceforth sober lives and steady -
The warning voice speaks the trumpet-tongued, 'Be ye also ready.'
May all who read and all who hear this sad and mournful tale
Seek pardon, peace through Christ alone, Whose aid will never fail.

Before I lay my pen aside and close my mournful theme,
I fain would here panegyrize heroic deeds of fame.
From the Causeway Hotel were seen on that eventful day
The rolling boat and struggling crew down near Portballintrae.
Available aid was summoned whose courage did not fail,
And foremost of the rescuers was William Acheson Trail;
Discerning a man entangled by cordage in the sea
He dashed into the seething foam and set the captive free.


In Ballywillan Old Churchyard they near each other lie,
Who dead, yet speak with warning voice alike to you and I,
'We've suddenly been called to walk o'er death's dark shadowy road;
Life is uncertain, while there's time prepare to meet thy God.


C. THORN
Springhill, Portrush, November,1889.

Submitted: Sunday, May 20, 2012
Edited: Thursday, February 07, 2013

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Poet's Notes about The Poem

I submit this poem, copied from a rapidly aging piece of newsprint, to honour my Great Great Grandfather, mentioned in the verse. It is also my hope that if the Lifeboat station at Portrush (which I believe still operates) does not have a copy then some kind reader closer to that place can pass it on.

I will add that all my other postings here are written by me.

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