Culture and heritage

Maritime heritage

Dunbar poem c1886

Loss of the Dunbar

From reliable information received.

Nobby's Lighthouse, Jan 5, 1886


Dear Sir,

I have received your poem on the loss of the Dunbar, and I am certain that it is the best account I have seen in print.  You have made a slight error - instead of starboard it ought to be port; however, it is quite correct so far as the wreck is concerned.  I am very grateful to you for your beautifully written poem, and I shall prize it as long as I live.  I am going down to Newcastle to have it framed.  The dream mentioned in the poem I never heard of before.  Mr Siddons, the light-house keeper, told me he had a dog began barking about midnight, and that was shortly after we struck.

I am, yours truly, James Johnson
Sole Survivor of the "Dunbar".

'Twas in eighteen fifty-seven,
Thursday - date I forget,
But the sad view of the wreckage
Lives in my mem'ry yet.

I have viewed the scene from the cliffs,
And have glanced along the shore;
I have seen the terrible spot -
The Dunbar was no more.

The weather was wet and stormy -
Seas running wild and high;
The good ship was too close to shore;
'Twas sad she kept so nigh.

Old Botany had been sighted
A few short hours before,
And right ahead to the south light
The vessel thus sail'd o'er.

Thus did the good captain steer her,
Until the dim south light,
Like a gloomy glow-worm golden,
Shone in that dark wet night.

Alas! The sound of breakers came
From the steep wall-like shore;
The captain then these words gave forth -
"Port helm !" or all is o'er!

The command too late was given,
For close under the cliff
The rugged rocks they pierced her sides,
As though she were a skiff.

The passengers had gone to sleep,
With dreams of the next morn -
Of anchoring in Port Jackson,
Released from all the storm.

While on a sea she struck a rock,
Which bought her bow to shore;
The breakers were upon her now -
Hark! How the billows roar.

The old boatswain and young Johnson,
Who in that fatal wreck,
Were by luck on watch together,
Ran fast along the deck,

Until they came on to the bow,
The nearest place from shore;
A heavy sea then washed her decks
And whirl'd them o'er and o'er.

But struggling on a crest of wave
Young Johnson looked around;
As he was washed into a cave,
The boatswain thus was drowned.

The treacherous undercurrent
Carried him back to sea -
His grave was found beneath the wave
Johnson was safe and free.

The "Dunbar" was now in pieces
Scattered upon the waves;
And all the rest, except Johnson,
Were finding fast their graves.

Far out of the night came darkness,
Made darker by the rain;
There was neither moon nor starlight;
To reach the shore was in vain.

And then arose the piteous cries,
Which died away so fast
Heard mingling with the roaring foam
And shrill sound of the blast.

A strange dream was dreamt on the cliff
By signal-master's wife -
Twas on the night of this sad wreck
She dreamt of loss of life.

Her dream was that a frightful wreck
Lay at their cliff-bound home;
And one man only had been washed
Free from the billows' foam.

It was close on to twelve - midnight,
The good watch dog on shore
Did stretch his chain and bark and howl
For those who were no more.

The faithful dog continued on
His barking through the night;
And in the morning the dream proved
To be exactly right.

The morning light began to break,
A heavy sea still on,
Wild waves were dashing on the shore;
The good old ship had gone.

Into the Gap were being washed
The bodies of the dead -
A sight most harrowing to all
Who viewed it, overhead.

A woman cast up at this place,
An infant at her breast,
Departed to that calm country
Where all must sometime rest.

The infant in her arms was fast
Fixed by the grasp of death;
The white waves seem'd to sigh just then
We've robbed them of their breath.

The motherly love was in her
(in spite of raging sea)
Till they were wash'd up at the gap -
Last of their destiny.

Thus ends this sad tale of the wreck
Of the fine ship "Dunbar".
The electric light now flashes
Its bright beams, seen afar.

No longer dread ye mariners
A rough dark night o'erhead,
For this fine bright electric flash
Will banish all your dread.

It shows you the right course to take,
To lead you o'er the foam -
To enter the splendid harbour
So very widely known.


Page last updated: 31 August 2012