Centenary of R.M.S. Leinster Disaster

lenister_featuredImage

RMS Leinster was the greatest maritime disaster in Ireland. Sunk one month before the end of WW1 just outside of Dublin Bay.

One passenger was Francis Edward Higgerty. On his way from Canada to take up a commission in the British Army, he took the opportunity to visit the land of his ancestors. The visit cost him his life. Frank was a poet and wrote the following verse on October 8th 1918, two days before the Leinster was torpedoed. The poem was found on his body.

From Canada my homeland, to Ireland my Sireland,
from Ottawa to Dublin, some three thousand miles away.
The call of one’s relations, above the din and war of countries
conserves the one green spot in memory for ever and a day.
And when back o’er the sea I wander to the land that there lies yonder
I’ll bring tidings from dear old Ireland to the land I adore,
to Canada my homeland, from Erin my own Sireland,
stretch fond memories and emotions for ever and evermore.

Three 17 year olds Anthony Baker, Anthony Jones and Ralph Murray, students of the Irish School of Telegraphy in Cork were also lost on the Leinster. The body of Anthony Jones was recovered and buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Cork. The bodies of Anthony Baker and Ralph Murray were never recovered.

Les Morts; by Albert Murray (Father of Ralph)

They sleep in quiet waters where Kish towers,
‘mid sand and slender sea-grass soft and deep,
through all the sunlit and the moonlit hours
they sleep.

They are content, they murmur not, nor weep:
no rushing flotsam hastes to mock their powers;
they are content, and very deep
their sleep.

No tombs enclose them, and they need no flowers,
no mothers’ kisses make their fond hearts leap —
‘mid slender sea-grass, bending where Kish towers
they sleep.

Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!

USS_Maine

This is the USS Maine, the ship that started the Spanish American war.  She was in Havana harbour in Cuba in 1898 to “protect US interests” during the Cuban revolt against Spain.  She sank in mysterious circumstances on the night of 15th Feb.

Conspiracy theorists have suggested that the Maine was sunk by the US themselves as a pretext to start the war.

Whatever the reasons for the sinking, the war with Spain was given credence, not by the sinking, but by the treatment of the sinking in the press.  Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were engaged in a pitched battle for circulation in New York.  They invented the concept of “tabloid journalism” or as it was then called “yellow press”.  Yellow press journalism ignores principles such as good research and reasoned argument in favour of sensational headlines, graphic or shocking content and explicit photographs.  It is journalism aimed at selling papers.  It is also ironic that the doyen of tabloid journalism, Joseph Pulitzer, gave his name to the prize for excellence in Journalism.

Pulitzer and Hearst leaped on the Maine sinking and turned it into a national cause.

The USS Maine was not a great loss to the US navy.  Heralded as a great addition to the fleet when she was launched in 1889, she then wallowed in dock for three years awaiting delivery of armour plating.  A pre-dreadnought heavy cruiser, she is an example of clouded thinking in battleship design that became obsolete the day Dreadnought was launched in 1906.  In truth Maine was already obsolete by the time she was commissioned into the navy in 1895.

The Maine had two big gun turrets carrying four 10 inch guns.  The big gun turrets are housed in sponsons that jut out from the fore-starboard and aft-port quarters of the ship.  In the photo above you can see the starboard Turret.  With our knowledge of subsequent ship design we can see all sorts of problems with the big gun placement.

Firstly the guns cannot fully traverse.  The starboard gun can only fire effectively to starboard.  To fire to port required a deck cutout with very restricted lines of sight. The port side guns are even more restricted.  This means that in action at sea the four big guns can never effectively aim and fire at the same target.  Deck section cutaways were needed just to allow them to fire fore and aft.

Secondly, with the big guns mounted off the ships central axis the recoil from the fire has a destabilizing effect on the ship, making her rock.  Even in normal sailing conditions the low mounted – off centre sponsons took on water.  All in all she was a lemon.

In 1899 during the Battle of Manilla, the poem below was published.  It made Kipling a household name in the USA.  It was read in the Senate by Benjamin Tillman, who argued against the US annexation of the Philippines.

The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands; by Rudyard Kipling

Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild
Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man’s burden, In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit, And work another’s gain.

Take up the White Man’s burden, The savage wars of peace
Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man’s burden, No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper, The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter, The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living, And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man’s burden And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard
The cry of hosts ye humour (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:
“Why brought he us from bondage, Our loved Egyptian night?”

Take up the White Man’s burden, Ye dare not stoop to less
Nor call too loud on Freedom To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper, By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man’s burden, Have done with childish days
The lightly proferred laurel, The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood, through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom, The judgment of your peers!

Sunken Treasure

Shipwreck

Back in 1641 at a time when the English and the Spanish were getting along well a pair of English ships spent three years trading in the Caribbean.  The Galleons, Dover Merchant and Royal Merchant sailed back to Cadiz on their way home.  In the port of Cadiz there was a fire which damaged a Spanish vessel that was due to carry the payroll to the army in Flanders.  The English captain stepped in and offered to transport the gold and silver.

The two English ships were the worse for wear after a season at sea in the tropics.  There is no doubt that they were heavy with weed, and had bulging seams and rotten caulking.  Three years in the West Indies, under a punishing sun, can wreak havoc with planking and decking above the waterline.  They may also have been infested with ship-worm.  These days with modern steel ships, fibreglass and epoxy yachts we expect boats to be dry.  Leaks are something that must be fixed.  Traditional boat owners have a better sense of the realities of 17th century sailing.  Wooden boats must be filled with water on the inside if they are wintered on the dockside.  The timbers and caulking must be kept moist to prevent drying, which opens gaps in the seams.  I have sailed in a Galway hooker for the first outing of a season, to see cataracts of water cascade through the seams above the waterline as we heeled over in the wind.  Bailing and pumping out are part of the daily grind on a wooden ship.

Royal Merchant was leaking badly as they sailed through Biscay, being pumped out all the way.  Off Lands End the weather took a turn for the worse.  If your decks are leaking then rain and waves breaking on the deck add to your flooding woes.  The overworked pumps broke down and the leaking ship began to sink.  She went down off the Isles of Scilly, with the loss of 18 men.  The other 40 men managed to board the ships boats and were rescued by the Dover Merchant.

Royal Merchant was the most valuable ship ever to sink.  The salvage company that finds her stand to share in the region of one billion US dollars, once the legal teams figure out who owns the wreck.

Here is a poem about a sinking ship by Dora Sigerson Shorter.  Dora was one of the leading lights of the Irish literary revival and the explosion of Celtic Culture and 19th Century mysticism.  Given the context I think a closer reading may yield clues that it is not a Ship that is sinking, but something else.  But what?  Is this a poem in the vein of Yeats “September 1913” criticizing the bourgeoisie and the loss of direction in the struggle for Irish freedom?  Is it a paean for the stagnation of the art movement?  What is “the struggle” and who are “they” that shun it?  I would welcome your thoughts in the comments section.

The Sinking Ship; by Dora Sigerson Shorter

The ship is sinking, come ye one and all.
Stand fast and so this weakness overhaul,
Come ye strong hands and cheery voices call,
“Stand by!”

The ship is sinking in a summer sea,
Bless her but once for all she used to be,
Who rode the billows once so proud and free,
If you but loved a little, with a sigh,
“Stand by!”

Gone, all are gone, they neither hear or care,
The sun shines on and life is ever fair.
They shun the struggle, laughter lurks elsewhere.
The ship is sinking, passing echoes cry,
“Stand by!”

The little ships that pass her in the night,
Speed from the darkness in their eager fright.
From troubled dreams they take refuge in flight.
Why should they then, who know they too must die,
“Stand by”?

Then get you gone, desert the sinking ship,
O faithless friends, who on her pleasure-trip
Clung close with gentle words and smiling lip,
And still as ever on your own joys cry,
“Stand by!”

The ship is sinking, parting in a smile,
The sunset waters mark the last sad mile
In dimpling play and in a little while
The waters close, Death and his angels cry,
“Stand by!”