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Title: The League of Ancient Mariners
Author: John Arthur Barry
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1302431.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: May 2013
Date most recently updated: May 2013

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Title: The League of Ancient Mariners
Author: John Arthur Barry




Published in the Australian Town and Country Journal
Wednesday, February 14, 1906


"I remember when I was in 'Frisco, in 1866, mate o' the old--"

"Last time I saw her was in the south-east trades. We were bound to--"

"Forty-five years at sea is about a fair thing for--"

Such were the snatches of conversation one heard at the unique
gathering of the League of Ancient Mariners, which recently assembled
on board the good ship Commodore on the occasion of what it was hoped
would prove an annual outing. Some forty odd seafarers accepted the
invitation, the great majority of them well on in years--grey, grizzled,
and white of hair and head; cheeks tanned by the wind and sea in every
quarter of the globe; eyes still keen and weatherly, and hearts still
young with the youth and vigour of the great ocean they had used so
long. Some among them had turned to dry land for a living, and were now
professional men, men of affairs, prominent citizens brought together
by the fellow-feeling that never dies in the souls of those who have
once known the sea life--its hardships, its miseries, its perils--and its
rare pleasures.

Others there were present still connected with salt water in some
fashion or other; but for the most part the "Ancient Mariners" had
ceased from earning a livelihood on that "rolling deep," a home upon
which, as these years close up in quick succession, when the
"grasshopper shall be a burden," is not, despite the dictum of all the
poets that ever sung of the sea, one of the most comfortable. There can
be no possible mistake made when addressing anybody on the Commodore;
they are "captains all." Cheerful and breezy captains, too; mainly of
the old school, men who have served under canvas long before turning
their thoughts to steam, and some who have never been shipmates with
anything in the shape of engines and propellers. And from more than one
quarter is heard a lament that the days of the speedy clippers are
numbered with the past. At Watson's Bay lunch is served, and a few
toasts are honoured--"The King," "Absent Friends," "Sweethearts and
Wives." There are, too, a few speeches made, brief and to the point,
each one a capital model for politicians to emulate in those respects.
Captains Green and Pearse are highly commended for their happy notion
in thus making such a pleasant meeting possible; and then the
Commodore, turning on her tail, steers for the open sea.

It may be pure imagination, but when clear of the Heads, all the
"Ancient Mariners," appear to gain in vitality and energy, to walk the
deck with a firmer step, to cast a keener eye to windward, to, in fine,
assimilate to themselves some of that strong and subtle essence of the
sea which at one time was their normal atmosphere. A few of the
brethren put out lines, and a few of them also, to their own patent
astonishment, pulled fish up attached thereto. But their companions for
the most part contented themselves with applauding the successful
sportsmen and proffering advice. Reminiscences, as might be imagined,
were plentiful; talk there was of bygone ships and of the bygone men
who sailed them, the like of whom these latter days never saw, and
never would see. Talk of quick passages, and of abnormally slow ones;
of the modern sailor-man and the passing to extinction of the
old-fashioned type--every finger a marlinspike, every hair of his head a
ropeyarn, and his blood Stockholm tar. There were men afloat that day
who could, an' they had chosen, have told yarns that would have made
the romances of Russell and of Conrad pale their ineffectual fires for
force and vigour. But they didn't choose, worth mentioning. Their
speech was more inclined towards the eminent absurdity of carrying
lower mast and a topmast in one; of how poor Jack Webster, master
mariner, lost his "ticket" through no fault of his own, but by the
neglect of his second, mate, who was a worthless Dutchman. Also of
(tell it not in Gath) the price of suburban allotments in various

The names of many of these brethren of the deep sea, were they
published, would, without doubt, stir a responsive echo in thousands of
hearts throughout Australia. Prosperous settlers, merchants, men in
every walk of life, would recognise one or other of the "Ancient
Mariners" as the shipmaster, who commanded the vessel which brought
them to the new country, where they were to make a home for themselves
and their children's children. Among the company on the Commodore were
Nestors of the sea, who had traded to Sydney when it was comparatively
only a small settlement, and when its shipping was altogether
insignificant--men like those who could tell you what Port Jackson
looked like a good deal over half a century ago. And how, as they sat
and placidly watched the long wash of the Pacific breakers whitening
the bases of the great cliffs of the land which they had chosen as
their resting place--the land to the building up of whose present
prosperity and welfare they had contributed in no little
measure--doubtless thoughts of those rugged and turbulent early days
passed athwart their minds.

But the sun is getting low, the most persistent of the "Ancient
Mariners" has lost his line and sinker. Many of us are not as young as
we were, and being "farmers all" as well as "captains all" it is deemed
advisable to steer for home. The Bay is called at again, en route,
another speech or two made, "Auld Lang Syne" is sung with an earnest
vigour that leaves nothing to be desired; except, perhaps, a propensity
to scamp the high notes--and the first gathering of the League of
Ancient Mariners is over until, as Captain Pearse's resolution, put and
carried unanimously, has it, "'the nearest Saturday to St. Valentine's
Day in each year." And so, home and to rest, for to many of that goodly
company of sea-worn men,

Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar.


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