The Passing of Captain Banks [poem by Grant Hervey]

[Editor: This poem by Grant Hervey was published in Australians Yet and Other Verses, 1913.]

The Passing of Captain Banks

[Captain James Banks, the “Old Man” of the Australasian mercantile marine, died last year, after fifty years’ service at sea.]

There’s an island north o’ Scotland where the storms cease not their roaring —
There’s a misty, salty island by the name of Ronaldshay ;
And to-night athwart the ocean goes a salty soul a-soaring
To its far-off Orkney birth-place, ’midst the breakers and the spray !
There’s a hill the North Sea hammers through the years with ceaseless thunder —
There’s a little Orkney cottage that looks out across the sea ;
And a soul has slipped its moorings from a harbour ’way down under,
And he drives a phantom steamer past the frowning Duncansby !

Jimmy Banks has got his papers, and has cleared the Heads for ever —
He has gone to join the sailors who are driving round the spheres ;
Jimmy Banks has closed his log-book, with its tally of endeavour —
Ay, the tally of the service of his storm-swept fifty years !
The engine -bells are ringing from the bridge of the Pilbarra,
But the man who used to jerk them steers another craft to-night ;
He is crossing Pentland Firth now he has left the turbid Yarra —
He was straight and stern and loyal — he was Scotch and he was white !

Far Stroma’s cliffs are dripping, and the mists hang o’er Pomona —
There’s a red light showing faintly nor’-nor’-east of John-o’-Groats ;
There’s a grey and misty mantle wrapped around the isle of Swona,
And the fisher-folk steer homeward in their plunder-bearing boats.
Lo ! a phantom craft swings past them, with her engines hushed and noiseless —
All majestical she passes through the silent fisher-ranks ;
For they gaze upon her dumbly, and are wonder-filled and voiceless —
On the steamer’s bridge all grimly stands the wraith of Jimmy Banks !

We knew him from the Leeuwin to the Gateway of Pandora,
He left his smoking cinders from Red Rocks to Bustard’s Head ;
Boss skipper from the Cairncross to the sullen Cape Koamora —
Punching all the storms that met him till they tumbled down half-dead !
We claim him as Australian, though a northern island bore him —
We claim him as a pattern for Australian sailor-men ;
For the stars were pals with Jimmy, and with steadfast eyes watched o’er him
When he swung around the Gabo with the old A.U.S.N. !

The Swain Reefs and the Pelsarts they saw him sweeping past them —
Sphinx Island heard him thunder up through the tropic night ;
Four Hummocks knew his smoke-wreaths behind his heels he cast them —
He took his ships out proudly, and brought them in all right.
Our heroes shall not vanish without song-consecration —
One sea-king Death has taken from out the fighting ranks ;
The sailors and ship-captains — they help to build the nation —
Hats off along the wharf there ! Good-bye to Jimmy Banks !

Grant Hervey. Australians Yet and Other Verses, Thomas C. Lothian, Melbourne, 1913, pages 41-44

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