The “Cataraqui” [poem, 26 November 1845]

[Editor: A poem published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 November 1845.]

The “Cataraqui.”

“The Cataraqui, emigrant ship, was totally wrecked on King’s Island, on the morning of the 4th of August, 1845, when four hundred and fourteen persons met a watery grave.”

By S. P. Hill.

T’was a night of stern horror — the Storm-king was shrieking —
And the white frothy sea in commotion ran high:
Loud roar’d the huge tempest, in thunder tones speaking, —
All warring tumultuous — earth, ocean, and sky.

On that night the pale water-fiends danced with delight
Clapp’d their hands and amidst the wild waves loudly cried;
And their screams o’er the tempest rang clear through the night —
Like the death-wail of virtue when purity died.

On, on through that fierce scene swift rush’d the tall barque —
As madness broke loose, she came staggering on;
And the foam on her lightning-track glared midst the dark,
To light the stern spirits whose work had begun.

But where are the doom’d — the young, innocent, gay, —
O’er whose hearts no cold blasts of calamity blew;
Whose life by its morning had pictured a day,
Bright, golden, and sunny — have they perish’d too?

They are gone — they are gone — and the white waves now sleep,
And calmly lament the wild work they have done;
For innocence lieth inhum’d in the deep,
And its day-star has set — with its course scarce begun.

Even now far away can my fancy behold them —
A father, a mother, and children, stood there;
Not a tear dimm’d the father’s eye — who shall condemn him?
His agonized spirit was crush’d by despair.

How stern was the calmness that sat on his brow!
How deep was the feeling that glazed his fine eye!
No answer escapes him — his lips are seal’d now —
Though his children cling round him, and “Father!” they cry.

And she, the fond mother, stood a pillar of grief,
To her bosom she press’d the last pledge of her love.
Oh! a tear — but one tear — would have yielded relief —
As a thunder-drop lightens the black sky above.

And the tempests still roar — and the wild billows hiss —
And the lightning plays furious and fast round them all:
And the thunder booms onward — oh! what night is this!
Earth and hell are now spreading their funeral pall.

Yet stands that lone sire — though around groans despair —
Though his children are weeping — they scarce know for why;
His faith is unshaken, and death he can dare;—
But ’tis horror to watch his young budding hopes die.

Yet louder still louder the storm rolls around —
All frantic and madly the ship rushes by —
When, hark! God of mercy! that terrible sound —
The storm stands abash’d, so piteous the cry.

Then shriek upon shriek rent apart the wild air —
The mother and child, oh! how fondly they clung.
And above the rude wind might be heard the faint prayer —
The death-speaking wail of both aged and young.

The angels had watch’d the doom’d barque on her way;
Had heard the child’s prayer as it mounted on high:
Had watch’d her speed on — to destruction a prey —
Like a fiery thunderbolt flung from the sky.

They had heard that loud wail — the dark death cry — the shriek —
When the ship madly struck on the rough, rugged, shore,
Like an avalanche hurl’d from the Alps highest peak:
They had heard — they had wept — what could they do more?

So they went down to death — there was no arm to save —
No friendly heart where they could pillow their head;
Ye that pass that sad spot drop a tear on their grave,
And breathe one deep sigh o’er their watery bed.

Then their spirits shall guide you across your wild way —
Shall warn you of danger, when danger scowls near;
And, oh! think of their fate when to Heaven ye pray —
Then your prayers for its guidance must needs be sincere.

The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 26 November 1845, p. 2

Editor’s notes:
inhume = to inter, bury; entomb

Old spelling in the original text:
lieth (lie)

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