Journey Throughout The Empire - Part 1
Jack Growden (C) 2013
The year was 1896. Her Majesty Victoria had reigned for just shy of fifty-nine years. While she was surely looking over her world map dominated by warm pink, I had just signed my name at the bottom of my most recent manuscript. “James Patrick Middleton”. Slipping it with meticulous care into an envelope, I began to be encumbered by a horrid feeling which had become a far too familiar to me. It was the feeling that my latest piece of literature, to which I had spared the last six months of my life working on, was going to fail like the last dozen. Unfortunately I had the pitiful feeling that this work, like its countless predecessors would end up withering away at the back of my household bookshelf. What a waste…Engulfed with frustration, I stood up and walked across my cluttered study, staring at a piece of paper which had become an obsession of mine as of late. It read:
EXPLORE YOUR NATION’S GLORIOUS EMPIRE! JOURNEY TO VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA ABOARD THE MAITLAND.
LEAVING FROM SOUTHAMPTON, MARCH 31ST 1896.
Today was the twenty-seventh. I was locked in deep thought. My marriage was teetering on the edge of a cliff staring in collapse. My career as an author had failed, there was no point denying it. I hadn’t been out of Mother England in all my thirty-four years. All I was doing was gradually heading for my grave. I punched my desk with rage. It was so simple: I needed a change in my life. Either I headed for the filthy repugnant factories and sweatshops of London, or I headed to Southampton where a new start in life was tied up at the quay. I knew there was no comparison between the two.
By March the thirtieth I had reached Southampton, leaving my wife with an honest letter, enough sterling to keep her alive for a year and each and every one of my failed manuscripts which were paper relics of my miserable past. I was moving on, turning a page, and for the first time in about five years, I was excited…and most importantly I was happy. The feeling of joy and glee had long denied me. I barely slept that night. From the moment I settled in aboard the Maitland, I whipped out my fountain pen- the most prized of my possessions- and recorded my experiences in a literal style I hadn’t yet tried. My new life chapter had begun, and I was excited. Vancouver was mine to explore after ploughing across the “blissful seas of the Atlantic” and wondering about in Tenerife, Rio de Janiero and Lima! I neither thought about nor cared how long I would stay in British Columbia. I wasn’t even sure if I’d come back. I was convinced that it could be my last night in Mother England. Being a melancholy writer, usually an advent such as this would lead me to sentimental ponderings, but not this time. The motherland had been cruel to me; it had aged me and given me nary an opportunity in life. I pondered no regrets as I bid farewell to her that night.
I awoke the next morning at the fifth hour, immensely eager to get sailing. I was packed and dressed and on my way to the harbour by half past five. It took me a further half an hour to find the wharf. Nevertheless there she was, the Maitland, in all her glory. A magnificent passenger vessel she was, perhaps ninety feet in length, her timber varnished to absolute perfection. I had read about her in my desolate study in back home in East Sussex. She was a veteran of the Atlantic, transporting passengers from the motherland to Cape Colony in southern Africa – her regular route. However, her sister ship, Belle, had recently fallen victim to the violent swells of Cape Horn, the one region I wasn’t so keen to explore. As a consequence, the Maitland was recommissioned to the Southampton-Vancouver route. I had fallen in love with this ship the moment I first read about it, and hence for the next three hours, I wandered around the quay gazing at her from all different angles. Yes, one could consider me an oddball. I had always been like that.
At precisely the tenth hour of the thirty-first of March 1896, I left Great Britain, my wife and all my failures behind as the Maitland parted ways with the wharves of Southampton…My journey throughout the Empire had begun and so had the penning of my memoirs.
POEM BEGINS **********
From Southampton, the great English port,
Sailed a ship of the passenger sort,
To far-flung colonies of the empire,
On a wondrous journey that was set to transpire.
To Vancouver she was headed,
Within the passengers an excitement was embedded.
As they ploughed across the Atlantic
The sea whipped up its antic and
It swelled and it sprayed
In a violent tirade
That refused to cease
Until they encountered the peace
Of little Tenerife Bay.
What a simply delightfully stunning place,
The home of the prized Tenerife lace.
A true jewel of the once wide Spanish domain,
Which would be a joy to have under British reign.
The passengers desperately longed to stay,
But they were back on the water the very next day.
The seas that day rippled with grace,
As the Maitland surged on at a steady pace.
The wind collided gently with her sails,
In stark contrast to last week’s gales.
The crew powered on without relent,
Until a fortnight later, they were truly spent.
And it was a relief to see,
What turned out to be,
The many coves of Rio.
Rio! The home of escorts, coffee and cigars,
And the violent hovels that were its bars.
It was said a man could drop his standards like an old mole’s jaws,
The moment he hit this town’s shores.
The men certainly enjoyed their stop,
Judging by the endless stories they had to swap.
But it came time to leave and the men weren’t keen,
As ahead of the boat lay an ominous scene.
There was thunder, there was lightning, there was rain to be found,
Directly up ahead where the Maitland was bound.
So the capt’n soon decided,
To wait until it resided,
At little Buenos Aires.
However by the end of the Argentine week,
The skies still looked woefully bleak.
But they could wait no longer, it was time to keep sailing,
Be it in glorious sunshine or incessant hailing.
So the Maitland stumbled south clinging close to land,
With the captain wary of the dangers at hand.
Out the portholes and windows hung craning necks,
While the fervent crewmen scrambled across the decks.
A fitful frenzy was about to be born,
As the seas became wild around Cape Horn…
Within hours the Maitland was listing from side to side,
Now helpless, at the total mercy of the tide.
Even the capt’n lost all hope in the ruthless plight,
As the mountainous coast dwindled out of sight.
And in complete disarray,
She floated further away,
Into the icy depths of the night.
In those gaunt twelve hours all I could do was pray,
And curse at my curiosity which had led me astray.
As I gently sipped on a bottle of rum,
I pondered the reasons as to why I had come.
I had heard my friends’ optimistic opinions
Of our nation’s many vast dominions.
So I had set out on a journey to visit such lands,
Guided by the Maitland’s young and rugged deckhands.
But now I had given up, I was at the ocean’s mercy,
Writing a grim farewell to my brother, Percy.
I surrendered to my bed, engulfed with fear and sorrow,
All the while praying for there to be a tomorrow…
After an evening of chaotic hell,
The bedraggled captain appeared tolling a bell.
In an instant, out scurried the dishevelled crew,
Their number had decreased by just a few.
The Maitland had survived at a bare cost,
And powered north seizing latitudes lost.
The Pacific that day was at a pleasant peace,
And the travellers’ panic began to cease.
So it was with joy they made their way to the town,
That would keep them amused from sun-up til down.
The anchor was dropped,
And the nightmare had stopped,
As the Maitland tied up at Lima.
Lima! While the battered Maitland was being repaired,
There was nary a brothel being spared.
Just a number of days after losing all hope,
The passengers now took time to elope.
Wives at home were all but forgotten,
As the men’s behaviour turned badly rotten.
Left behind onboard were all their morals,
Which were totally neglected in drunken quarrels.
The culprit was a magnitude of Peruvian ales,
Which drove all the men off the rails.
But it was angry wave goodbye that ended their spree,
As the Maitland upped anchor and headed back out to sea.
Excited I was to say the least,
That the tumult of the last week had finally ceased.
Huge swells and rough seas I had been made to endure.
But compared to others, my troubles were certainly fewer.
All the other men were fervidly stressed,
After they’d smashed Lima’s brothels with reckless zest.
And now as the Maitland sailed past the Mexican coast,
The men on board felt little need to boast.
Before they reached Vancouver they had a dire mission.
To remove certain diary entries to annul suspicion.
Any mention of Lima, they were forced to erase,
As well as the women who made it such a “lovely” place.
Within days of anxious mental arrest,
They had succeeded; or at least tried their very best
By which time the destination was mere hours away.
When the passage to Vancouver came into view,
A great rush to the decks began to ensue.
As the Maitland entered the Juan de Fuca Strait
Nobody was listening to the barking first mate.
His orders were drowned by the murmurs of awe
And as hard as I tried, I could not find a flaw.
Colossal mountains capped in an alpine white.
A more amazing scene, I could not recite.
We sailed up a passage through a clump of isles
And now Vancouver was within twenty miles!
I paused, and remembered how far I’d travelled,
Preparing to farewell the ship where it’d all unraveled.
After suppressing a tear,
I stepped onto the pier.
And headed off on my new adventure…
With warm fur coating every inch of my skin,
I continued my search for an overnight inn.
When such a place became too hard to find,
I made a sudden and dramatic change of mind.
I borrowed a horse and headed to the north
My excitement brewing from the moment I set forth.
All around me were vast forests of maple trees
Whose pleasant scent made me sneeze.
I turned into the forest and nearly choked on my breath
As the sight that lay before me almost shocked me to death.
Half a mile ahead was the perfect place for a break:
A flat rock at the edge of a spectacular lake.
So I sat down to eat
And let the horse rest its feet.
Taking in the special view that lay in my wake.
Three hours it took me to eat my lunch,
After which I lumbered out of my languid hunch.
I climbed upon my patient steed
Which had waited rapturously during my scrumptious feed.
By dusk I had returned from the higher ground,
To the glorious settlement by the sound.
I chose to end the day in a cozy pub
Which appeared to be quite a popular hub.
I sat down to unwind, enjoying a quiet ale,
Eavesdropping upon quite an interesting tale.
The man who spoke represented Her Majesty the Queen.
And he recounted the places he’d recently been.
He boasted that he was off on a mighty new quest,
This time to the colonies across the Pacific, to the west!
He announced to the pub that he required some men,
Including one who was handy with paper and pen.
So I listened with intent,
Until I was fully in assent
That I would join this man on his voyage.
A week later I left at the hour six,
With a group of men who were an intriguing mix.
When the leader had announced this journey there was a rush to enlist.
And thus men from all walks of life were in our midst.
It would take a few months, but we’d eventually bond,
As together we’d venture across the oceans beyond.
When we reached the water I erupted with surprise and glee,
As the Maitland lay waiting for us by the quay.
I was delighted that we’d journey to the land of the White Cloud,
Aboard a vessel which would make any Englishman proud.
We departed British Columbia shy of half past nine,
Leaving behind the vast forests of maple and pine.
It had been a blissful stay
But we were on our way
To more wonderlands that lay abroad.
Miles upon miles across waters so deep,
Bored out of my mind, but I dared not sleep.
Just in case I missed something worthy of note.
Or an incident I could recall in an anecdote.
But there was nothing extraordinary; it was all the same.
And before Wellington many double-dozens of hours remained.
It was then I realised how the Empire was so vastly spread.
The sheer enormity of the distances strained my head.
It would rivet me when we’d pass some paradise isles,
But these only appeared every ream or so of miles…
We passed Hawaii, the Ellice Islands and New Hebrides as well.
And once we reached Fiji, my boredom began to quell.
So I picked up my pen
And started to write again
Until I reached the shores of New Zealand.
The Maitland found Wellington on Christmas Day,
Below overcast skies with a dash of grey.
From the quay to the town I took a classy tram,
Before indulging in a feast of local turkey and lamb.
It was then I first considered taking a look
At the island across the Strait that was named after Cook.
I knew my days here were numbered yet I couldn’t resist,
When I gazed in wonder to the south, through the mist.
I was aboard the ferry, crossing the strait within the hour
Bound to a place I knew would be quite the inverse of dour.
With twenty miles to Picton came passage flanked by coves.
Which brought the excited tourists onto the decks in droves.
Blissfully we meandered through the splendid maze,
That was the deepwater channel through a series of bays.
It was an exquisite view,
But I hadn’t a clue,
That I would see better in coming few days…
From Picton I journeyed swiftly to the south,
Most of the time boasting an open mouth.
Over rolling hills and beneath snow-capped peaks;
The sort of terrain every writer seeks.
In my carriage I described it on the mass of pages
On which I’d recorded my journey at all of its stages.
By late afternoon I’d reached Christchurch station,
And was on my merry way to a fabulous creation:
The Christchurch Cathedral in the splendid town square,
Which did well to evoke every writer’s flair.
And so write I did rather avid and frantic,
In a style not nostalgic but rather romantic.
Every word I spelt
Described just how I felt:
I had fallen in love with another dominion…
But just like in Canada I had to depart,
For another colony that would capture my heart.
As the Maitland set sail across the Tasman Sea,
A rather grim thought came across me:
Seven months had elapsed since I’d written back home,
Except once to Percy, when the Maitland was lost in icy foam…
However my journey had changed since that was written,
So I detailed everywhere I’d been since Britain.
From Tenerife to here, I described it all,
In my messy and excited lengthy scrawl.
As well as recount I tried to inspire
My brother to explore our mighty empire.
It took me a while
Though many a mile
Still lay between me and Port Phillip Bay.
Within a fortnight we had reached the furious Bass,
And encountered fiery swells and sprays “en masse”.
There were hazardous rocks and hostile reef
Which in the past had bought many vessels to grief…
There were birds too; the odd tern or gull,
Swooping around looking ever so dull…
Soon enough we entered the dreaded “Rip”
Which had become a graveyard for many a ship
As the channel itself was in need of a dredge
And the only help came from beyond the water’s edge:
Two lighthouses helped us limp through the mess,
Battered and beleaguered, but nevertheless.
After a tiring morn
Of being tossed like a pawn
My feet graced the solid ground of Victoria.
By now I had heard, for it was common news,
That club named Fitzroy was playing the “Blues”.
Hence I soon discovered that I was not alone
When crossing a bridge of freshly-cut stone.
As there were droves of pundits on their way to the ground,
A toothless few betting pockets of pound.
Through the crowded gates, they headed toward the fence
To watch each moment of the match which was intense.
Here I soon learnt to quell my colonial pride
As every pompous remark was met with a savage snide.
Nonetheless, I spent the following weeks relaxing,
For the past seven months had been quite taxing.
Thus I glumly confessed,
That to relish true rest
I would have to put the pen down for a while…
THE END OF PART 1
To be continued...
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