Serendipity II

1287 – St. Lucia’s flood: The Zuiderzee sea wall in the ...

When is a disaster not a disaster?  When you are on the silver lining side of the cloud!

Back in 1287 Amsterdam was a backwater fishing village on the wrong end of the large freshwater lake called the Zuiderzee.  The prosperous towns in the Netherlands lay on the river Vlie where the lake discharged into the North Sea.  Out there they could trade with the Germans, the Danes, the English, the French, the Norwegians and the Swedes.

On the night of St Lucia Day a North Sea depression set up a storm surge on top of a high tide.  On the 14th of December 1287 the sea smashed through the dunes and the boulder clay, obliterating the river Vlie and the towns on its banks.  The sea then surged into the lake and converted it to a salt water lagoon.  Some 50,000 to 80,000 Dutch and Germans died in the floods.

Backwater Amsterdam woke up to find itself positioned perfectly on a huge natural harbour with access to the North Sea.  By 1303 the village on the Amstel river had become a City.  It is today the most populous City in the Netherlands.

The Flying Dutchman (First Verse); by John Boyle O’Reilly

Long time ago, from Amsterdam a vessel sailed away,
as fair a ship as ever flung aside the laughing spray.
Upon the shore were tearful eyes, and scarfs were in the air,
as to her, o’er the Zuyder Zee, went fond adieu and prayer;
and brave hearts, yearning shoreward from the outwardgoing ship,
felt lingering kisses clinging still to tear-wet cheek and lip.
She steered for some far eastern clime, and, as she skimmed the seas,
each taper mast was bending like a rod before the breeze.

Away on a Pelican, home on a Hind.

Golden Hinde (replica), ship of Sir Francis Drake ...

After an abortive November departure for the Pacific Sir Francis Drake left Plymouth aboard  the Pelican on December 13th, 1577.  He was to return three years later on the same ship, now renamed “The Golden Hind” sailing into history as the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.

He carried a drum emblazoned with his coat of arms on the circumnavigation and on his other adventures as Captain, Privateer, Pirate, Explorer and Admiral of Queen Elizabeth’s fleet.  Legend holds that he sent the drum home to his family seat and asked that it be held there against the day England was again in danger.  In which case the drum should be beaten to summon past heroes to the defence of the realm.  A replica of the drum is on display at Buckland Abbey in Devon.

 

Drake’s Drum; by Sir Henry Newbolt

Drake he’s in his hammock an’ a thousand miles away,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?)
slung atween the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay,
an’ dreamin’ arl the time O’ Plymouth Hoe.
Yarnder lumes the Island, yarnder lie the ships,
wi’ sailor lads a-dancing’ heel-an’-toe,
an’ the shore-lights flashin’, an’ the night-tide dashin’,
he sees et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago.

Drake he was a Devon man, an’ ruled the Devon seas,
(Capten, art tha’ sleepin’ there below?)
roving’ tho’ his death fell, he went wi’ heart at ease,
a’ dreamin’ arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
“Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore,
strike et when your powder’s runnin’ low;
if the Dons sight Devon, I’ll quit the port o’ Heaven,
an’ drum them up the Channel as we drumm’d them long ago.”

Drake he’s in his hammock till the great Armadas come,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?)
slung atween the round shot, listenin’ for the drum,
an’ dreamin arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
Call him on the deep sea, call him up the Sound,
call him when ye sail to meet the foe;
where the old trade’s plyin’ an’ the old flag flyin’
they shall find him ware an’ wakin’, as they found him long ago!

The White Terror

Guernica

The White Terror was the murder, killing & assassination of left wing forces during and after the Spanish Civil War by the Nationalists of the right under their Caudillo General Francisco Franco Bahamonde.  It is estimated that between 100,000 and 200,000 republican supporters were killed by assassination and in concentration camps during the Civil War and in the decade after the war.

A “Red Terror” of assassinations of Nationalist supporters was instigated on the Republican side.  The reds managed about 50,000 which is below half of the most conservative White Terror number.  In addition the “Red Terror” involved insider assassinations as the Communists eliminated competiton from Anarchists, Democrats and Union Leaders who did not fancy the creation of a Stalinist Spain.

Commonly remembered simply as Franco, the Dictator of Spain was born on this day, Dec 4th, 1892.  A career military man he came from a Naval family in El Ferrol but elected to join the army.  Serving in the Rif wars in Morocco he rose rapidly in the ranks and at age 33 was the youngest General in Europe.

He led the Spanish troops who brutally suppressed the Anarchist mine workers strike in Asturias, an event which polarised left and right and may have led to the civil war.

When the Civil War commenced with a military coup by a group of generals Franco was the junior of the junta.  He famously negotiated with Hitler to have the Luftwaffe airlift his Army of Africa to the Spanish Mainland.  All his rivals met with “unfortunate accidents” leaving Franco as Caudillo – the Spanish version of Il Duce or Der Führer.  From October 1936 to November 1975 he was dictator of a repressive conservative Catholic Spain.  He was buried on his death with full honors in the mausoleum at the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caídos) the only person interred there who did not die in the civil war.

After a long and drawn out legal process to prevent the veneration of his dictatorship his remains were removed from the mausoleum in October of this year.

Aprende un llanto que limpie el tierra, aprende un llanto que me limpie de tierra.

 

Gacela De La Muerte Oscura; Federico García Lorca

Quiero dormir el sueño de las manzanas,
alejarme del tumulto de los cementerios.
Quiero dormir el sueño de aquel niño
que quería cortarse el corazón en alta mar.

No quiero que me repitan
que los muertos no pierden la sangre;
que la boca podrida sigue pidiendo agua.

No quiero enterarme
de los martirios que da la hierba,
ni de la luna con boca de serpiente
que trabaja antes del amanecer.

Quiero dormir un rato,
un rato, un minuto, un siglo;
pero que todos sepan que no he muerto;
que hay un establo de oro en mis labios;
que soy el pequeño amigo del viento Oeste;
que soy la sombra inmensa de mis lágrimas.

Cúbreme por la aurora con un velo,
porque me arrojará puñados de hormigas,
y moja con agua dura mis zapatos
para que resbale la pinza de su alacrán.

Porque quiero dormir el sueño de las manzanas
para aprender un llanto que me limpie de tierra;
porque quiero vivir con aquel niño oscuro
que quería cortarse el corazón en alta mar.

Bunga Bunga

The Dreadnought Hoax was a very embarrasing prank played on the Royal Navy in 1910 by  the Bloombury Set.  Led by the Irish Born prankster; Horace de Vere Cole, born in Ballincollig, Co. Cork.

Cole reprised an earlier prank, where he led a delegation of the Royal Family of Zanibar on a tour of Cambridge in 1905, greatly upsetting the Mayor who hosted a reception for them.

For the Dreadnought they pretended to be the Abyssinian Royals, with Virginia Wolfe sporting a beard and blackface as one of the delegates (far left in photo).  Today we look a the photo above and marvel that they pulled it off with such poor disguises and obvious stage makeup, but the world was a smaller place in those days.

The visit was a diplomatic farce in any case.  The Royal Navy had no Abyssinian flag on board so they flew the flag of Zanzibar and played the Zanzibar national anthem.

As the delegation wandered about the Royal Navy ship they called out “Bunga-bunga” to marvel at the various wonders.  The phrase was taken up by the press and used as a catch all for the embarassment of the royal navy.

A hit song in the music halls that year was:

When I went on board a Dreadnought ship
I looked like a costermonger;
They said I was an Abyssinian prince
‘Cos I shouted ‘Bunga Bunga!

Gilbert not Sullivan

Related image

Anyone who has trod the boards to belt out a musical theatre number has heard, and possibly appeared in a Gilbert & Sullivan Light Opera.  A staple of the amateur dramatic circuit for decades if not centuries.

William Shenwenck Gilbert had a number of careers in his life.  As a child in Italy he was (according to his own account) kidnapped and ransomed back to his family by Neapolitan bandits, a plot point that frequently found its way into his librettos.

He intended to become an artillery officer, but missed out because the Crimean War ended too early for him.  He became a Civil Service Clerk and hated the job.  When he inherited an income from his aged aunt (the plot points keep mounting) he opted to become a barrister.  He attributed his lack of success at the bar to his inability to find the ugly daughter of a successful senior counsel to marry.

He turned his natural wit into a career writing humorous cartoons, sketches and verse for FUN magazine under the nom de plume of BAB.  A successful playwright in his own right it was his collaboration with Arthur Sullivan that ensured his enduring reputation.

Happy birthday Mr Gilbert, born November 18th 1836 and who died, in the style of a musical theatre twist of a heart attack, while saving the live of a young lady he was teaching to swim.

 

The Yarn Of The Nancy Bell; by William Schwenck Gilbert

’twas on the shores that round our coast
from Deal to Ramsgate span,
that I found alone on a piece of stone
an elderly naval man.

His hair was weedy, his beard was long,
and weedy and long was he,
and I heard this wight on the shore recite,
in a singular minor key:

“Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
and the mate of the NANCY brig,
and a bo’sun tight, and a midshipmite,
and the crew of the captain’s gig.”

And he shook his fists and he tore his hair,
’til I really felt afraid,
for I couldn’t help thinking the man had been drinking,
and so I simply said:

“Oh, elderly man, it’s little I know
of the duties of men of the sea,
and I’ll eat my hand if I understand
however you can be

at once a cook, and a captain bold,
and the mate of the NANCY brig,
and a bo’sun tight, and a midshipmite,
and the crew of the captain’s gig.”

Then he gave a hitch to his trousers, which
is a trick all seamen larn,
and having got rid of a thumping quid,
he spun this painful yarn:

“’twas in the good ship NANCY BELL
that we sailed to the Indian Sea,
and there on a reef we come to grief,
which has often occurred to me.

and pretty nigh all the crew was drowned
(there was seventy-seven o’ soul),
and only ten of the NANCY’S men
said ‘Here!’ to the muster-roll.

There was me and the cook and the captain bold,
and the mate of the NANCY brig,
and the bo’sun tight, and a midshipmite,
and the crew of the captain’s gig.

For a month we’d neither vittles nor drink,
’til a-hungry we did feel,
so we drawed a lot, and, accordin’ shot
the captain for our meal.

The next lot fell to the NANCY’S mate,
and a delicate dish he made;
then our appetite with the midshipmite
we seven survivors stayed.

And then we murdered the bo’sun tight,
and he much resembled pig;
then we vittled free, did the cook and me,
on the crew of the captain’s gig.

Then only the cook and me was left,
and the delicate question, ‘Which
of us two goes to the kettle?’ arose,
and we argued it out as such.

For I loved that cook as a brother, I did,
And the cook he worshipped me;
but we’d both be blowed if we’d either be stowed
in the other chap’s hold, you see.

‘I’ll be eat if you dines off me,’ says Tom;
‘Yes, that,’ says I, ‘you’ll be, –
I’m boiled if I die, my friend,’ quoth I;
and ‘Exactly so,’ quoth he.

Says he, ‘Dear James, to murder me
were a foolish thing to do,
for don’t you see that you can’t cook me,
while I can – and will – cook you!’

So he boils the water, and takes the salt
and the pepper in portions true
(which he never forgot), and some chopped shalot,
and some sage and parsley too.

‘Come here,’ says he, with a proper pride,
which his smiling features tell,
”twill soothing be if I let you see
how extremely nice you’ll smell.’

And he stirred it round and round and round,
and he sniffed at the foaming froth;
when I ups with his heels, and smothers his squeals
in the scum of the boiling broth.

And I eat that cook in a week or less,
and – as I eating be
the last of his chops, why, I almost drops,
for a vessel in sight I see!

And I never larf, and I never smile,
and I never lark nor play,
but sit and croak, and a single joke
I have – which is to say:

‘Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
and the mate of the NANCY brig,
and a bo’sun tight, and a midshipmite,
and the crew of the captain’s gig!'”

The glory days of sail.

Great Tea race

Ariel leading Taeping, Great Tea Race, 1866 by Jack Spurling

Here on Mindship we celebrate the authors of the great boys adventure books, especially those of the sea like Treasure Island and Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, who’s birthday it is today, born Nov 13th 1850.

In the year of his birth the French launched Napoléon, the first purpose built steam powered battleship.  It was also the period when the extreme clippers were built.  This was at the peak of sailship design, when the sailing ships gave up cargo space for speed.  The beautiful, sleek and lighting fast greyhounds of the sea were born.

In the burgeoning era of steam the day of the huge East-Indiaman was over.  Steam ships could fill giant holds with cargo and plod their way over the ocean regardless of wind speed and direction.  The opening of the Suez canal in 1869 changed the world of shipping.  The final clippers were built around the time of Stevensons death at the young age of 44, in 1894.

Stevenson grew up the son of a lighthouse designer, so the sea was never far away.  The pinacle of the Clipper Era was the Great Tea Race of 1866, when Stevenson was 16 years old, a highly impressionable time in life.  In that year three ships left China on the same tide and arrived in London on the same tide 99 days and 14,000 miles later.  Taeping won the race by 28 minutes from Ariel by virtue of the depth of her dock entrance on the rising tide.  Serica finished 1 hour and 15 minutes behind Ariel.  The next two ships came in 28 hours later (Fiery Cross) and another day later Taitsing arrived.  To this day the walls of our houses are decorated by these fantastical ships.

Here is a poem by Stevenson in the spirit of a sea shanty, and in the spirit of those songs the name of the poem is the first line.

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
over the sea to Skye.

Mull was astern, Rum on the port,
Eigg on the starboard bow;
glory of youth glowed in his soul;
where is that glory now?

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
over the sea to Skye.

Give me again all that was there,
give me the sun that shone!
Give me the eyes, give me the soul,
give me the lad that’s gone!

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
over the sea to Skye.

Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
mountains of rain and sun,
all that was good, all that was fair,
all that was me is gone.

……………………………………………Robert Louis Stevenson

Seige of Smerwick

Smerwick

WALTER RALEIGH DID NOT MASSACRE 600 IRISH AT SMERWICK

These days, with talks of Brexit and Irish Borders and that thorny “Irish Question” that never goes away there are many British (but mostly English) people who struggle to understand all the fuss.  Why can’t it all just be neatly packaged and go away?

So much history.  Scratch any corner of the Emerald Isle and you will open a bloody scab.  Like the one at Smerwick in Dingle.  Back in 1580 Walter Raleigh, him of the cloak in the puddle, found himself in County Kerry under the orders of Grey de Wilton, Elizabeth’s Lord Deputy of Ireland.  They were putting down the ill fated Second Desmond Rebellion.  The pope had sent a force of 600 Spanish and Italian mercenaries to assist the Irish in their rebellion against the protestants.  They were even joined by some English catholics.

These were not nice mercenaries fighting for the rights of the poor Irish Catholics.  They were rabid beasts.  When they landed in Kerry they engaged in a campaign of rapine and pillage on the English planters, on the local people, even attacking the families of Spanish Merchants who lived in the area at the time.

Grey bottled the main army on a poorly fortified headland at Dún an Óir, an ancient Iron Age ringfort.  He had his guns on the landward side and six navy ships at his disposal in the bay.  The Spaniards and Italians didn’t have a chance.  The English negotiated a surrender under terms.  Once the Papal troops laid down their arms they were summarily executed.  With the exception of a few officers the men were massacred under the orders of Grey.

The event might have remained in obscurity, a brutal but forgotten sideshow, if not for English politics.  Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth Raleigh fell out of favour at court.  He was imprisoned by James I and tried.  One of the many accusations thrown at him was the Smerwick Massacre, an event at which he was not present.  Later papers suggest that he found Grey overly heavy handed and Grey left him behind in the race to Dingle.

But Smerwick was levelled at Raleigh in the court papers and he was ultimately found guilty.   So if you go to Ireland today and ask about Smerwick the story you are likely to hear is that this is where Walter Raleigh perfidiously executed 600 brave Irish rebels after they surrendered.  They will tell you he did it himself and enjoyed it.  History is a funny old game.  The massacre at Smerwick took place on November 10th, 1580.

 

Ocean’s Love to Ireland ; by Seamus Heaney

I

Speaking broad Devonshire,
Raleigh has backed the maid to a tree
as Ireland is backed to England

and drives inland
till all her strands are breathless:
‘ Sweesir, Swatter! Sweesir, Swatter! ‘

He is water, he is ocean, lifting
her farthingale like a scarf of weed lifting
in the front of a wave.

II

Yet his superb crest inclines to Cynthia
even while it runs its bent
in the rivers of Lee and Blackwater.

Those are the splashy spots where he would lay
his cape before her. In London, his name
will rise on water and on these dark seepings:

Smerwick sowed with the mouthing corpses
of six hundred papists, ‘as gallant and good
personages as ever where beheld’.

III

The ruined maid complains in Irish,
Ocean has scattered her dream of fleets,
the Spanish prince has spilled his gold

and failed her. Iambic drums
of English beat the woods where her poets
sink like Onan. Rush-light, mushroom-flesh,

she fades from their somnolent clasp
into ringlet-breath and dew,
the ground possessed and repossessed.