John Hughson SA1974.06.9
The steam Pacific, of Liverpool, 14 yrs old, 880 tons with a crew of 28, left Norway for bound for Hull, carrying timber. She lost the her propellor fan during a heavy SSW gale in lat. 66 N, about 80 miles off the coast of Norway. The crew jettisoned her deck cargo and rigged a jury mast to carry some sail, but on February 7th 1871 during a hurricane from the SSW, she struck on the small isle of East Linga which lies about 3.5km. off the east coast of Whalsay. She almost immediately broke in two and, as this bald and sad account tells us, just two men were saved, namely Daniel Coleman and Edward Johnson. The cargo of deal timber is reported to have eventually floated ashore on a number of neighbouring isles including Yell, Fetlar and Unst. Parts of the wreck still lie in Gun Geo on East Linga. Johnny mentioned the name of another of the numerous vessels wrecked on Whalsay’s shores – this was the Nordstjernen (North Star) heading for Denmark from Hull, but which beached at Isbister with a cargo of coal on April 6th 1880 after its sails had split.
We have added and inset some extra verses not sung by John but which were noted down by one of our contributors, Betty Poleson in her own manuscript notebook collection of sixty songs. The direct and detailed telling of the story suggests that the song might have been composed by a Whalsay person but Andy Sandison informs us that it was made by Sinclair Irvine whose home was in Lunnasting nearby on mainland Shetland. He was a ship’s carpenter but was also reputed to be quite a song maker: his song appears nowhere in print. Andy mentioned that more information about Sinclair Irvine can be found in the Shetland Archives Ref. D.9/113b/19.
Roud no. 25908.
Come all ye landsmen and seamen all and listen now to me;
I’ll tell you of a very sad story that happened on the sea.
The Pacific was a steamship and built of iron strong,
Unto the port of Liverpool this vessel did belong.
She had been a voyage to Norroway and was returning home
And on the rocks of a Shetland Isle she met her fatal doom.
[‘Twas in the month of February A heavy gale did blow
The Pacific having lost her fan Went tossing to and fro
Alas for them poor sailors What comfort could they find
When their ship just like a helpless log Drove straight before the wind
It was on a Tuesday afternoon She bore down on the land
That every soul onboard they knew That night their ship would strand.]
They tried to launch the longboat, but before they got it done
A heavy billow broke on board and dashed her on a stone.
They tried to launch the lifeboat; they were a stout brave crew,
But a heavy billow broke on board and parted her in two.
While two upon her foredeck by chance did reach the shore
And twenty-six on her main deck they sank to rise no more.
[Such pity struck these two men To see their shipmates drown
But on the isle their lot was hard No people could be found.]
They heist the flag upon the isle, which the Whalsa men did spy,
But they could not get to their relief the sea did run so high.
The fishermen of Whalsa they were so bold and brave
That they were willing to risk their lives, these poor men’s lives to save.
They double-manned the six-oared boat to try for their relief
But the sea was liking too fond of them they had to return with grief.
[On Friday it did blow a gale To them they could not get
But Saturday was more moderate To them they did succeed.]
They had to live in fishermen’s huts, seaweed had been their food
And also limpets and fish rigs they were both forced to eat. [fish bones]