Roma Writer's Group

The Works of Lee Goleby

Ships

Harold was playing happily with his English second cousins. He thought they still spoke strangely, even though they'd been in Queensland four whole months now. His aunts and uncles and their grown-up cousins were sitting drinking tea and chatting away. They were all waiting for Harold's father to come back, but he seemed to be taking an awfully long time.

Cousin Emma was saying to Uncle Frederick, "It's amazing to consider that just last year we were in England when you told us that Polly was expecting. We could never have anticipated that we would be in Australia to welcome the new baby."

Harold looked up at the adults with a slight twinge of envy. It seemed as if everyone around him had been on an ocean voyage, and he was the only one who had not - not once in his whole seven years. Harold's mind went back a year to when he had seen his Uncle Frederick off on the ship to England. It had been an event to remember. Many of the family were there to see them off, and wish them Bon Voyage. That was when Harold's fascination with ships had begun.

It was a topic that the older family members found entertaining as well. Their conversation quickly became firmly centred around stories of ships. Harold wandered away from the group of children, and established himself in a place on the floor close to where the adults were talking.

He listened to Uncle Frederick as he described his faint memories of the Great Victoria on which he had come to Australia as a boy. He spoke of the crowded conditions, the awful food, the disease, and the mischief some of the children had got up to on board. He and Aunt Ellen went on to compare that ship to the luxury vessels on which they had voyaged to and from England last year.

David and Emma spoke then of their own journey on the Perthshire a few months before, and Harold's head almost burst with the images that their reminiscences conjured up.

Almost as an apology, David confessed, "Frederick, were you aware that we almost didn't come to Queensland? If you hadn't convinced us of the wonderful opportunities awaiting us here, we very well may have travelled in another direction entirely. There was a ship we had almost decided to buy passage on, and it would have taken us to start a new life in the Americas. We heard about the launching of the hull in Belfast in May last year."

"They say a hundred thousand people went to watch. The hull was huge - probably the biggest ever built. They used twenty-two tons of soap, grease and oil to slide her into the water. She had a rudder as big as an elm tree, and propellers as big as windmills. They were going to provide her with every possible luxury, although of course, we would never have been able to afford to travel first class. Right now, that ship is steaming its way to New York with many passengers eager to begin a new life in a new land.

Harold listened, and again his heart leapt within him. Such a ship fired his imagination. His eyes widened as he tried to see what the passengers on that ship would be seeing and doing today.

Just at that moment, Harold's father, Walter, finally made his entrance, looking tired but happy. Everyone stopped talking, and turned to listen to what he had to say.

"It's a boy!" came the announcement, and the voices resumed once more, questions and congratulations coming thick and fast. Walter held up his hand, smiled wearily, and spoke again.

"Polly and the baby are fine. We are calling him Lionel George." Walter looked across at his Cousin David, and chided him gently, "You and your family are no longer the newest Golebys in Australia. Baby Lionel now takes that honour."

The adults laughed, but Harold was exasperated. Beyond a slight feeling of relief that he had another brother rather than a sister, he was peeved that his father had come in just at that point in the conversation. Harold reached up to Cousin David's sleeve, and tugged insistently. "The ship - the big ship - what was it called?"

David looked down, his attention briefly recalled to the conversation that had just been discarded. "Why, they were planning on calling it the Titanic. Just think - we could have been on it right now, heading for America."

Historical basis for this fictitious narrative:

Harold was my grandfather. I don't know if he had an interest in ships per se, but I do remember seeing model ships he had built in bottles.

My great uncle, Lionel George Goleby, was born to Walter and Polly on 15 April 1912, the day the Titanic went down. This year he celebrated his 89th birthday. (Postscript: Lionel died 16 May 2001 a couple of weeks after I wrote this story)

Walter's brother, Frederick, had visited England in 1911. While there, he had found his cousin, David William Goleby, struggling to make a living from the land in a time of depression. He had convinced the family to come to Australia, and had sponsored their voyage. David and Emma, and their three sons had arrived in Queensland 16 Dec 1911 on the S.S. Perthshire.

I doubt that David William had ever considered moving to America, but the congruence of events was too tempting to ignore.

[graphic to be added]


Frederick and Ellen Goleby (centre) on their way to England in 1911.
Family members gather to see them off.
Walter is, I think, the person at the far left of the photo.