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Poetry on Board: The Goat of the Sea

Passenger notes in steerage


Passenger diaries allow us to have a glimpse into what life was really like travelling on board the SS Great Britain, with some excellent insights in the form of sketches, lengthy accounts, notes and poetry.

On several voyages, passengers produced a ship’s newspaper, as many found that it afforded some excitement to pass the time. Many poems were published anonymously in a feature known as 'Poet's Corner' and could be original compositions, adaptations of other poems, or copies of famous poems.

Conditions on board the SS Great Britain were tough, and morale amongst the passengers was not always high. John Henry Chatterton, a steerage passenger, reports on a rather negative poem written by another passenger during Voyage 11 from Melbourne to Liverpool:
"In the afternoon the following poetical effusion appeared in the main gangway. It soon got torn down by the Officers of the ship.

---- the Great Britain

That comfortless ship

Its passengers bitter

More every trip.


That ship of starvation

With owners so stingy

A disgrace to the Nation

Both dirty, and dingy.


When the ocean she passes

A bird of ill luck,

With her meals of molasses

And oatmeal and muck.


With her biscuits no butter,

No sugar. Bad tea.

Her passengers mutter,

The Goat of the sea.


How detested our doom,

How accursed our lot

To be forced to crawl home

In an old iron pot."

To discover more about the people of the SS Great Britain, including fascinating accounts from diaries, visit our Global Stories database.