Poet McGonagall on the Atlantic

Many of our readers will no doubt be interested in hearing that the Dundee celebrity, William McGonagall, has safely reached New York. On the voyage, in accordance with a promise made to Mr Chas. Scrymgeour, McGonagall kept a diary. This unique production of the poet’s genius is now lying before us, and a few extracts will interest our readers.

Thursday Morning.— Left Glasgow about 12 o’clock ; snow falling heavily ; all on board well.

And the vessel smoothly doth glide
Along the beautiful River Clyde,
And on its bonnie banks I would like to reside.

Weighed anchor at half-past eight o’clock. Left the Tail of the Bank in sight of Greenock. Wind blowing fiercely; snow falling. Went on deck, and was like to be blown overboard with the heavy gale. Slept but little on Thursday night with the cold. Plenty good meat; porridge and sugar and butter, also bread, butter, and coffee for breakfast at 9 o’clock. Dinner at 1 o’clock — Broth, potatoes, and beef, and plenty of it. Supper at 6 o’clock — Tea, good bread and butter galore. Half-past 11 o’clock —

Snow still falling,
And the weather most appalling;
While the gallant vessel holds on her way,
And the hearts of the passengers feels quite gay,
And the foghorn it doth bray.

Poets are not usually gourmets, but our friend William is well known as a good trencherman, and takes care to record tbe bill of fare for most of the meals he had on board the Circassian.

1 o’clock, good dinner of potatoes and soup and salt fish, which I have made a good meal of. Thank God for his mercies towards me and all on board.

After dinner I went to my bunk to have a sleep,
While the Circassian ploughs on through the mighty deep;
But I cannot sleep for tbe roaring tide
Dashing against the good ship’s side.

And as I lie awake I think of my native land,
With its mountains and rivulets so grand;
And I inwardly exclaim farewell! farewell! Caledonia to thee,
Especially my dear relations I leave far behind in bonnie Dundee.

For now I am sailing on tbe briny sea,
But I will put my trust in God,
And he will protect me with his rod.

Past 3 o’clock, and I am quite delighted with the sweet strains of the fiddle and the accordian, and the heart stirring slogan of the pibroch,

And as its thrilling notes strikes my ear,
It makes me think of old Scotland and my friends most dear.

Quarter.past 4— Snow ceased, and the atmosphere looks clear, and the sea is calm and every one seems gay, while the beautiful ship holds on her way.

5 o’clock— Now passing by the nor’-east coast of Ireland, rugged aud rocky in its aspect, and dangerous to the poor mariner in a stormy night; but there is a light near by

To show the mariner light
On a dark stormy night.

And the hills along the Irish Coast are clad with snow, and stately mansions are there to be seen which might please the Queen Victoria. Anchored 5 o’clock off Moville, Loch Foil, took on board 100 and 55 passengers, which, including all, makes about 1000 souls. I went to bed about 7 o’clock. but slept little, owing to tbe roar of the mighty deep, wliich kept me from balm sleep.

Saturday morning, 11 o’clock.— Sun shining bright, but a heavy swell at sea.

Ship rolling from side to side,
But she sails swiftly on with wind and tide,

while many of the passengers are suffering from sea sickness, but I am little the worse, thank God. 2 o’clock. — Went on deck after my dinner. Sun shining bright in the heavens,

A gale of wind, but my heart feels light,
To see the ship ploughing through the dark blue sea — a magnificent sight —
But alas! Many of the passengers are vomiting just now,
While the cold sweat hangs on their brow.

Retire from the deck and goes down to the steerage to my bunk to sleep,
While the big waves dashed against the bull’s-eye glass,
And wearily the time did pass.

Sunday.— Breakfasted at 9 o’olock. Plenty of Irish stew and good bread, butter, and coffee.

While the ship sails on right gaily with fair wind and tide,
Measuring the briny Atlantic in all her pride.

10 o’clock.— Passengers praising God by singing hymns; all on board quite happy, myself included.

The sun shines bright, and tbe atmosphere is clear,
While we are leaving Scotland far behind, and friends we love most dear,
That we may never see again— at least some for many a year.

Just partaken of a good dinner — plum duff, beef, potatoes, and broth. All on board highly pleased with the food, and pronounced by all to be very good.

From the sublimity of the poet to the necessities of his appetite! What a descent!

Partaken of a good supper— bread, butter, and tea,
That I have seldom met with the like of in Dundee.

All is well on board. I am going to bed shortly.

March 14, 1 o’clock.— Dinner over, of which I have partaken abundantly— broth, beef, and potatoes. Favourable weather, thank God. All on board quite happy — men, women, and children. Goes to my bed, gets seasick, and many more.

1 o’clock.— Dinner over, ship rolling fearfully, and the sea spray washing the deck, and a big wave occasionally. No passengers on deck. The wind favourable, but cold. Sails all set. 6 o’clock.— After supper; but I took no breakfast. Thank God, I am much better now.

The sun is shining bright,
And the March wind cold doth blow,
While the gallant ship onward doth go.
And I sit here alone,
Thinking of my friends at home,
While the ship scuds on o’er the blue Atlantic wide,
But I hope God will for me and my family provide.

I am going to bed shortly.

Doubtless the great poet, reciter, and tragedian had been anxiously watching and waiting for an opportunity to exhibit his talents to the company on board the Circassia. That opportunity at last arrived.

March 17th. St Patrick’s Day.— A fine, sunny morning. Wind blowing hard. I am well, thank God. There was a concert last night, and several ladies and gentlemen took part in it, in the Second Cabin, on behalf of the Mariners Society fund, myself included, in my Highland costume. I recited my “Bannockburn,” and sang the “Rattling Boy from Dublin,” and received great applause. There was only 15s realised. A poor audience. And of course I got nothing.

Friday morning, March 18.— I am well, thank God. Very stormy during last night. There was a concert in the Steerage — gratis — and I recited “Bannockburn,” “Tel-El-Kebir,” “Tay Bridge Poem,” and sang “The Rattling Boy from Dublin” and received tremendous applause. Breakfast is over, and the wind is favourable. 1 o’clock. Dinner over. Soup, potatoes, and salt fish. Weather still favourable. “All’s well.”

Last night. as on my pallet of straw I lay,
I thought of the Law Hill and the silvery Tay,
Likewise the beautiful Hill o’ Balgay,
Where many happy days I spent.
But now I feel rather discontent,
And, while rocking to and fro,
I let fall a silent tear
When I think of Paton’s Lane
And my family most dear,
And what is the reason of my being here?
I answer, “Harsh treatment has banished me from my family and home,
And now I am left to mourn alone.

Supper over. I am going to bed.

22nd March.— Arrived safe in New York, 12 o’clock noon. All is well so far, and I expect to get an engagement shortly. This is an authentic account.

Let us charitably hope poor McGonagall will not be disappointed.

Dundee Courier, 8th April 1887

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