Tribute poem

Please note that this gallery is closed from 22 October 2014. The Empress of Ireland display will move to the Life at Sea gallery|from 15 November 2014.

printed poem

Included in the display is an image of a seven-versed tribute by Liverpool poet James Ernest Bygroves, known as ‘The Docker’, which was distributed following the disaster.

Accession number DX 839

National Museums Liverpool has tried to trace the copyright if this image.

The poem reads: 

In Memoriam - "Empress of Ireland"

Far from the mother country, away from our sea-girt shore,
Across the blue Atlantic, where the waves roil in and roar,
Where fleets have sailed which bore our flag, as duty bade them go,
And where the mountains and the vales are oftimes decked with snow;
Where the waters of St. Lawrence meet the wild Atlantic wave,
Where the cannibal in days gone by danced o’er the white man’s grave.
Close by that shore there is a tomb – not built with earthly hand –
A sepulchre of nature – not built of rock and sand.

One thousand souls lay resting there, beneath the bright blue sky;
No shrouds their forms encircle, as in the deep they lie;
No one heard the passing bell, no one heard their prayers,
No one nursed them in their sleep, the agony was theirs.
In the quiet of the night, they laid them down to sleep,
No mourners stood around their grave, no friends were there to weep;
They passed from life to death when their Master called them home,
They rest in peace together, far away across the foam.

They left the port of Montreal, in a fine and stately ship,
The “Empress of Ireland”, to make their homeward trip,
With Captain Kendall in command of both passengers and crew,
One of those stately palaces, that plough the waters blue.
She left the port of Montreal, and slowly steamed away
Down the great St. Lawrence river, on the twenty-ninth of May;
She steamed along through rapids till at Quebec she lay,
Then all being well she left for home towards the close of day.

Once again ahead she steamed, the sight was really grand,
On either side till close of day, they kept in sight of land,
At midnight’s hour, near Father Point, the pilot bade farewell,
Wished them Godspeed and left – but – the story’s sad to tell:
And in the darkness of the night away again she steamed,
Her red and green and bright mastheads, through the darkness gleamed,
’Till the mists grew dense and “half speed” rang, to the men on watch below,
Yet darker, blacker, grew the mists and the telegraph rang “slow.”

But blacker, denser, grew the mists, as the long, long night passed by;
The lookouts all on duty with keen and anxious eye,
When the “Storstad” loomed upon them, before the break of dawn;
Too late the save the “Empress” upon that fatal morn.
“Stand by your boats and lifebelts on!” the orders then rang out,
And men who knew what duty meant, rushed here and there about;
But some were sleeping in their beds – of danger had no fear –
Perhaps dreaming of the homeland and those they loved so dear.

All shouts were unavailing, the “Storstad” kept on her way,
And crashed into the “Empress” – no time now for delay.
“Out boats and do the best you can!” – they were in a sorry plight;
Many a hero fought with death – it was a dreadful sight.
The time was short to plan or scheme, we know each did his best,
Although one thousand souls or more went to their fatal rest,
And deeds were done on that dark morn of which we’ll never hear,
And many a last farewell was given, and many a parting tear.

Let us pray for those they left behind to fight their way through life,
For many a husband has gone to rest and many a loving wife,
And many an orphan is left alone to toil for daily bread,
And many a mother is lonely, because her son’s amongst the dead.
May the Father of us all keep them in His loving care,
Let us help them all we can and try their grief to share,
Whether father, mother, daughter, husband, wife or loving son,
And pray with them though sad their lot – “Thy will be done.”

33, Clevedon Street, Liverpool
J. E. B., The Docker