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Cawarra Poem and Songs

The poem "Loss of Cawarra" was found among the possessions of F V Hedges, the sole survivor of the Cawarra.  It is not known who composed it but Mr Hedges had written this out in long hand had used similar platitudes in some of his letters.

Loss of Cawarra

So for northern cities steering,

Proudly speeds “Cawarra” fair.

Snowy foam around her splashing

Pennon streaming free in air.


On the ocean winds are sleeping;

Hush’d the waves - the billows roar;

Scarce a sea gull flaps his pennon

Scarce a cloud is seen to lower.


But though whispering winds are balmy

And the stars are bright o’er head

Those who now below rest calmly

Soon will number with the dead.


For all treach’ous was that stillness

Dangers lurked within that cloud

Which are midnight burst in fury

Scatt’ring wide its death bolts round.


Wild & wilder raged the tempest

Blacker grew the clouds of night

Rose to mountain waves all furious

Foaming lashing in their might.


Long the good ship steamed it bravely

Bravely grappled with her foe

But in vain there was no mercy

None to succour human woe.


Now the last dread hour approaches

Bravely speeds the barth no-more.

With fires quenched & funnel falling

Wild she breaks upon the shore.


Hundreds on that shore stood gaping

Towards the wreck with faces pale

Hearts that would have died to save them

Died to stay the infants wail.


But though hundreds would have ventured

None was there to take command,

Too late he came the doomed to rescue

Only one shall reach the land.


Now at length they launch the lifeboat;

But some hearts are rank at core

Soon their courage ‘gan to fail them;

Cravens! now they head to shore.


Meanwhile spoke the kindly Captain

“Quiet my lads the lifeboats here”

E’en as he spoke down went the main mast

Bearing him to fate so drear.


On the deck now clung in terror

Husbands, fathers, mothers, child

Bride & bridegroom pledged to sever

Not, till death should them divide.


A moment more & all are gone:-

Not a vestige of them left;

Madly the ruthless sea clashed o’er

Gave no token where they slept.


Nobly too their fate they suffered;

Trusting firmly in their God;

Silently, without a murmur

Meekly bowed they to his rod.


Farewell brothers! Long your mem’ry

Green shall grow in loving hearts;

Round the fire at eve they’ll whisper

Loving well till life departs.


And ye sad ones, wildly weeping;

Know your loved ones are not lost;

Only gone before; therefore waiting

There to welcome you at last.


Patient then & prayerful be ye;

Deaf ear turneth He to move

Daily while on earth ye sojourn

Strive to say “Thy will be done”.


The Perilous Gate - Words to a song from a CD of songs produced by Miguel Heatwole
Words anonymous -
Ref: http://www.users.bigpond.com/mheatwole/
When Phyl Lobl found the original 19th century poem describing these shipwrecks she abridged and set it to music. The author had altered some dates to accommodate rhyme and metre, but the essential drama of the story with its themes of courage and regret are unaffected.

A tale I’ll tell of a perilous gate upon the Eastern coast
Of many shipwrecks and ruins this narrow gate can boast
Beneath Newcastle harbour waves
Lie rotting hulks and sailors graves
Hero’s tombs are hidden caves
Below the Nobby’s post

Yes sir, a pretty entrance but were I homebound sail
I’d rather stand far out to sea when it blows a stiffish gale
Blowing from the south or east
Each huge wave a crest of yeast
Is charging like a wounded beast
And mounts the rolling rail

On the sixth day of November in 1858
The Eleanor Lancaster was caught
Entering that perilous gate
We watched those huddled in the top
With nothing but a slender prop
Which at each blow we thought would drop
As all the timbers failed

An awful sea was running and not in all that crew
Was one who thought boats could be brought
Those boiling breakers through
Then a little fair man
Pushed and panted as he ran
And urged us all the waves to scan
And to our mates be true!

“Come lads” he shouted shrill and clear
“Who’ll venture it with me?
Each minute lost a life may cost in such a tumbling sea
With four good men I’ll wager
We’ll bring them all to shore
Come who will try?” Three answered “I”
And I sir made up four

It was a roughish kind of trip
But Chatfield steered us well
I see him there with his fairish hair facing what befell
And when we’d brought them all to shore
He shook us by the hand once more
I’ve met no braver men before
The truth to you I’ll tell

For ten more years the oyster bank
Was beaconed by a spar
That stood in witness to the storm that sank the Lancaster
Five fathoms deep her rotting shell
A prayer the slender mast did tell
A brave deed done so nobly well
A good ten years before

Then toward the close of winter
Hard blowin’ all the night
The great sea horses tearing high
Raced madly past the bight
Many a man came down to see
If inbound craft there chanced to be
Sailors’ wives watched anxiously
Out on the surging flood

Cawarra was comin’ in I knew her bow so well
We watched her as she struggled on
And battled with the swell
We watched her through the mounting blast
And hoped that once the Nobby’s past
The harbour she might make at last
None but the gods could tell

She tried to turn again to sea
When a snow white whiff of steam
Told us that her fires were out
And she drifted on her beam
Her boilers by the waves were quenched
Her engines by the waves were drenched
Watchers hearts were sorely wrenched
And hope a fading dream

No boats set out to rescue those
Still clinging to the wreck
‘Though one was there with his fairish hair,
He now stood on that deck
His beacon pointing to the sky
Urged us not to let him die
But his same noble feat to try
No man would risk his neck

Many’s the time at midnight
I’ve heard the tempest roar
I’ve lain awake and wished that I
Could have the chance once more
To be the one to leave the crowd
To call his name out clear and loud
And free from Neptune’s salty shroud
Bring him back to shore

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