In the 19th century it was quite normal for a writer or a poet to be commissioned to write a piece of literature or a poem to commemorate disastrous events when lives were lost. Such was the case in 1880 when nineteen men (including nine Downies men) lost their lives in the Late Gale in April of that year. The following poem was written by a Mr Charles Horne, who also happened to write pieces called “Ferry Boat Calamity” and “Tay Bridge Disaster” – I think we can see from this what his specialised subject matter was.
There is a document of this poem that looks very similar to an official certificate and at the head of this document it states: - In Memory of the Fishing Boat Disaster and of the Fishermen who lost their lives, by a sudden and severe storm on the 21st Day of April, 1880. While many boats left the villages between Aberdeen and Stonehaven four were capsized, and nineteen brave men perished in midst of a stormy sea.
Personally, I find this sentiment a little on the twee side although I admit that my view is taken from a modern perspective and our ways and means of dealing with tragedy are very different today from what they were back in the 19th century. I can only assume that these poems and articles offered something in the way of comfort and closure to the friends and relatives of people who were lost in such circumstances and resulted in the event being recorded as a poignant reminder for future generations.
Whatever our views are today, this poem does cover an actual event and is one of the few surviving narratives of that fateful day in 1880 when a number of local fishers lost their lives.
‘Twas early morn, the sky serene,
No swell upon the deep;
When many fishers left their home,
Where wife and children sleep.
Their faithful boats and fishing gear,
All ready for the toil;
When merry hearts that know no fear,
The early hours beguile.
With sails outspread the boats skip on,
And glide across the sea;
To where the fishers cast their line,
Where fish are wont to be.
They toil upon the ocean’s breast,
To win the family bread;
When landsmen quietly sleep and rest,
Securely on their bed.
The fishing ground they scare had won,
When wind and tempest roar;
With prudent care the boats they turn,
And hasten to the shore.
The sea, though calm, is angry now,
In fury throws the wave;
The boats are tossed, while hard they row,
Their very life to save.
Boat after boat has gained the shore,
And safely harbours there;
While grateful hearts return their thanks,
In deep and silent prayer.
But all who left, that early morn
Will never reach the shore;
In waters wild they struggl’d hard,
But sank to rise no more.
Four boats upset, in angry sea,
And tossed upon the wave;
Their crews, though bold and gallant be,
Lie in a watery grave.
No more, at home, their voice is heard-
No more their face is seen-
No more we’ll meet them in their walk,
Where often they have been.
The wife and mother sits in grief,
And sheds a mournful tear;
No earthly bliss can bring relief,
Or back a husband dear.
Their children, too, are fatherless,
And lost their earthly guide;
But He who pleads the widow’s cause,
Will her and them provide.
Take comfort, then, ye friends that weep,
And lean upon the Lord;
The widow’s stay, the orphan’s friend,
Are promised in his word.
For soon this world will pass away,
As it is truly said-
When death shall yield his power and sway,
The sea give up her dead.