By Seán Patrick Adams
Note: Bold text in [brackets] is extra text not contained in the oral version.
It was a sailing ship, bound for Australia; the passengers going to settle the large island continent in the southern seas. I, my name is Tim O'Hanlon, had signed on as an able-bodied seaman at Southhampton, England (the port which has four tides). Everything looked fine. The sun was shining; a nice breeze ruffled the waters. It was June, 1856. I watched along with the ship's carpenter as the cargo was hoisted on board by the huge cranes on dock-side. Gulls shrieked overhead; babies, as babies do, cried and laughed. Soon everyone was on board; the anchor winched. The captain waved to the cheering, some crying, throng who had jammed the wharves. He retired to his cabin. The sails expertly set to catch the prevailing winds. We were Australia bound (or so I thought).

The "Mary Lou" was now approaching the coast of France, the sun getting warmer. A stiff breeze whipping the sails carried us across the Mediterranean to the South Atlantic Canary Islands. An able-bodies seaman's life, I found out, wasn't easy. We took on fresh fruit to ward off the threat of scurvy and, of course, fresh water. I had never saw people before with skins and eyes a different colour than mine, and indeed neither had most of the passengers. [I was sixteen and in spite of the hard physical work, I loved the babel of the traders' voices as they protested the deals being negotiated by the officer, who I later found out assisted the first mate in the provisioning of the ship.

There was a fetid odour coming from the quarters of the steerage passengers below. Some were suffering from that awful affliction: sea-sickness. Still, other hearty souls managed to get on the main deck carrying or hauling soiled clothing, the young mathers nagging reluctant husbands (egged on, of course, by their mothers) to construct clothes lines. Soon, with wan smiles, the necessary chores were being performed. The warm sun and fresh breeze helped. Ten and twelve year old boys and girls were cajoled by an old crow into accepting the whole operation as a game, which she supervised, of course. Clothes tied in bundles like the apple dumplings my mother used to make, I thought, were tossed into the ship's wake, held together by wool garnered from the backs of sheep bred on the hills of Donegal and Connemara. The bundles were later retrieved and hung out to dry.]

From somewhere penny whistles were produced. Old songs were sung; I must admit it, I loved it. Jake McCabe, the ship's carpenter, ignored the festivities. He glanced at the sky. "Jake, Jake, look", I cried, "a dolphin, a dolphin". There it was, fins slicing the water. I had never saw a dolphin before. How was I to know? "Bloody shark, if you ask me", Jake muttered.

We crossed the imaginary line that night. I remember it well; it was a Wednesday night and I had served my time on watch. The sky was clear. The Southern Cross was there. Australia bound, happily I climbed into my hammock, lulled to sleep by a dream of a new start in a new world. I dreamt of Connemara and Donegal; some of the old Gaelic haunted my dreams. The gentle lull of the hammock was bouncing me not quietly, but urgently. Some instinct awoke in me. The wind had changed to a banshee call.

Suddenly everything was in disarray. "All hands on deck, all hands on deck", I heard the wind chant. Uneasily, I glanced around. Only a bad dream Tim, I re-assured myself. The next morning, King Neptune appeared on board, trident and all.

Jake McCabe and I watched as the dug-out canoes, out riggers lashed together to combat any kind of seas. "Fiji Islands", Jake muttered in an explanatory tone. Jake either muttered or growled. Again we were taking on fresh water, coconuts, mangoes, fruit which I had never seen before. [An old man,] even to a sixteen year old sailor (I now considered myself one), realized here was a veteran of the sea. He looked at Jake; I noticed how their eyes locked. "Sail Sasagossa, Yake", the grizzled fijian queried in a sing song twang. Jake quietly nodded."Him", he pointed at me, "nice fella". Jake nodded. Transactions, as usual, concluded. Again, sails were set.

It wasn't a bad dream this time: Friday the thirteenth, April, 1857. A howling, whistling wind shook the ship like a piper's lament. The wind sang its deadly tune. I heard a crash, then the captain's roar, "Every man on deck". The port side was going. "Every man on deck". To this day I don't know how I was on the main deck. Pandemonium reigned supreme. Jake McCabe was there. "Skipper", Jake said in a quiet voice. I realized he was addressing the captain. "Can't be saved skipper, can't be saved."

The captain was trying to organize the launching of the life-boats. I wiped my brow of perspiration. The ship's carpenter was yelling. Even in the din and clamour of the howling gale and screams of despair, his message registered. "Jump matey, jump." I did. I jumped into the boiling sea. One huge wave miraculously picked me up and took me away from the sinking ship. Swimming was useless in such a watery cauldron. I looked instinctively as the wave took me into the trough, back towards where the ship had been. A little piece of white was disappearing, visible even in the inky blackness. The top sail was gone. I saw the "Mary Lou" take herself and all on board to a watery grave. They say in such moments, your life unfolds before your eyes. Mine did. I remembered some of the old salt's dictum. "Never learn to swim Tim, it is useless in the middle of the ocean. Just prolongs the agony, it does. Better to go fast". I threw one hand up in despair. "God help me", I yelled. I now knew these were shark infested waters. I resigned myself to the sailors' fate.

I felt warm. It was pleasant. A pleasant warmth. I heard birds. I cautiously opened one eye. I was on a sandy beach, my arm clutching a piece of flotsam. I couldn't believe that I was alive. My throat was parched. Obviously, I has swallowed quite a lot of sea water. But I was alive! I was alive! I was also very hungry. I glanced around at my surroundings. A fringe palmed island. Slowly, the horrors of the sinking of the "Mary Lou" came back to me. I raised my hand to wipe a piece of hair from my eye. It was stiff. I remembered the blood. The sea water and the hot sun had caked the wound in a panacea of dried salt. I had no idea how long I had been washed ashore on the sandy beach. I was alive, but how to survive?

I decided to try and walk a little along the beach. Maybe someone had made it, with God's help, to this piece of terra firma. I was weak, but the sun felt good. I looked at the sky; the sun hadn't reached its zenith yet. Tropics can get very hot, I thought. Again I was filled with despair at my fate. Marooned on an island. Better if I had followed the sailors' dictum and drowned. Suddenly I saw it, a sea chest, half afloat. Eagerly, with new hope, I ran to retrieve it. It was the ships pursurer's chest. The hasp on the lock had been broken open by the rocks, I surmised. The lid, it struck me, seemed like a frustrated sail trying to escape from the rocks and get back to sea. Later I thought I must have been half-delerious. Bags of golden Guineas. Some diamonds from the more affluent of the ships passengers. Even golden wedding bands from the poor passengers who literally had taken their lives in their own hands in an endeavour to find a better life in a new world. I searched the treasure trove. No where could I find anything useful to help me survive on this island. Two sea birds were screeching. One was perched on a black rock; the other kept swooping down, trying to pull something from the water. Then I realized it wasn’t a rock. I half stumbled in a zig-zag course towards the black object. It was Jake’s sea chest. One sea bird had spotted the little brass plate on the lid of Jake’s sea chest.One rivet had come loose and the sun on the bright plate was moving back and forth as a lure for the bird and surely for me. However, the lid wasn’t open. I checked the hinges. Jake had the hinges on the inside of the lid.

I went back to the treasure chest. I kicked at it in frustration. My Irish mother who had scraped a hard living working in linen mills, doing laundry, baking her own bread, cooking hearty stews and broths. Wholesome, yes. She managed, along with my father, to teach us how to read and write. There were always books around. My grandfather, I knew from word of mouth so to speak, had been one of the best ship’s carpenters in Belfast. So, incidentally, had been my other grandfather. I, as a young lad, had heard tales of the sea in my mother’s womb I suppose. Living in Ireland, the sea carried to a seven year old boy a sense of romance. “The Wind Was Always Howling”. “The Rain Was Always Pounding” These songs were always there. I found out kicking a gold and diamond laden chest that Will Shakespeare was correct: “All that glitters is not gold. How often have you heard that told?”. Oliver Goldsmith, the other great Irish poet. “The Deserted Village”. “And oft the wonder grew, that one small head could carry all he knew”. The old village school teacher. With a sardonic grin on my lips, I collapsed.

It was the waulets that awoke me. A warm rain. I looked at the sky: azure blue, no clouds, stars, a moon hung suspended in the sky. I was perplexed. Rain. No clouds. I found a little pool. A rivulet was quietly gurgling its way to the sea. I gulped some water. Fresh water. Revived and determined, I was going to open Jake’s chest. The moon gave me light; all the light I needed. There was Jake’s chest. How am I going to open it? “Patience is a virtue”. Another old adage taunted me. Stubborn as always, I found a sharp, hard rock and a flat smooth one. How long is this going to take? “You have lots of time” I laughed insanely. I chipped, hacked and cursed at Jake’s lock. Always I went back to the rivulet; I hadn’t eaten, but the water was there. I realized I had to keep out of the sun so I sheltered under the palm tree. Finally, hunger-driven, I delivered one final blow and the lid sprang open. I lay down. Then I heard it, I saw it, a fish jumping! “Jake’s chest” I muttered .

With hand shaking and eyes searching, I found some twine and glory be - fish hooks! There was also a bible, but I must admit I ignored it. I remembered the brass plate still half-on, still half-off. I found one of Jake’s little trowels. I got to the palm tree. Soon I had unearthed a worm. A coconut obligingly dropped on my head. It woke me up.The fish were also very obliging. They jumped at the old coloured string which Jake had faithfully carried wherever he sailed. Soon, babbling away to myself, I dangled the coloured ribbon with the brass plate as a lure. I now had six sea trout. Back to Jake’s bonanza. Someone once told me that a woman can carry everything she needs in her purse. Not being a woman, I wouldn’t know. About a ship’s carpenter I do know. They carry everything. Flints - yes Jake had flints; a hatchet - yes a hatchet. Soon I had a little fire going. A paring knife to fillet the fish. “Cut the head off, cut the tail off, Tim O’Hanlon’s eating fish” I sang.

It was getting hotter, but with these tools I knew I could survive. The chest of gold I spat upon, I really did. Soon, with a little effort, being now more hopeful, I took stock of my situation. I had water, fish, coconuts. I heard a rustle as a wild pig darted past. And now meat I thought significantly. I knew I was recovering. I had learned in Ireland how to snare hares. I fashioned a fairly good snare. Then I followed a little path barely discernible. Small game had made it. I found as I climbed up the hill away from the beach hidden in the foliage was a bird’s nest.
Circling overhead the owner of the eggs was shrieking, “keep away, keep away”.
I glanced at the nest and noticed seven eggs. “I’ll just take three” I yelled back at the mama bird. My diet was improving. I snared the pig of course. Pigs get a bad name; they are a very clean animal. They may rut in mud (their way to keep clean I suppose) Still, one can never accuse them of being so stupid as to eat gold.

With Jake’s tools I constructed a make-shift shelter.I would, when the wind whistled sitting around my little fire, think of my friends and how they would commiserate about my demise. “Tim was every inch a sailor” the wind seemed to intone in their voices. “Perished at sea when the Mary Lou sank”. With the shirt which I had worn when I was washed upon that island beach, tattered rag really (I had long since woven a weird looking grass garment), I made a flag of distress. I cut out the words “Save Our Souls” S.O.S. I hoisted it on the palm tree closest to the water’s edge. Sometimes it would snap briskly; other times it would hang listlessly according to the wind, like my spirits it seemed. The treasure chest ( more as a method to avoid boredom) I had pulled ashore and half buried it on a little hillock. I still considered it useless, as indeed it was in my circumstances. Perhaps I thought when I have perished on my island kingdom. in later years someone may unearth it and find it more beneficial than I had.

I don’t know how long I spent on the island. I gave up my primitive calendar; why keep track of time I thought. One day (I was fishing - Jake’s ribbon and brass plate lure still had stood the test of time) I looked up and there on the horizon was a four rigged windjammer. “My God”, I prayed, “will they spot my S.O.S.?” My heart was pounding. Two rowboats were heading towards the island. The sea was unbelievably calm. The boats were beached and out of one of them stepped the image of Jake McCabe. “How you doing matey” he said grinning, “lost at sea again are you now?” He glanced nonchalantly at the little hammock and the half-buried chest of baubles. Jake McCabe had come from the west coast of Ireland, I had known that. I was joyous, shocked, exhilarated, all kinds of feelings hurtling through my brain at this rescue Still, the likeness was evident; even in my state of mind, I guessed that this was his son. “Is your name McCabe?”, I queried.
The huge red-haired sailor, his blue eyes filled with surprise at my question, glanced at the other sailor and said “You’re right it is”. “How did you know?”
“I sailed on the Mary Lou with Jake and you are the spitting image of him”, I replied.
“The Mary Lou, you are a survivor of the Mary Lou!”,the other sailor gasped, “That was five years ago!”
“I am that. The only survivor”, I confirmed. “I wondered if anyone would ever see my S.O.S.”
“What S.O.S.? Jake asked, for it indeed was Jake’s son.
It was my turn to be surprised. I pointed skywards to the improvised distress flag. “You didn’t see it?”
“No” the other sailor nodded towards the oaken casks in the row boats. “We came on shore hoping to take on fresh water.”
I burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter, “Fresh water, fresh water! Well it seems you’re in luck and I’m in luck. Come on I’ll show you where to find you lots of that”.

We carried the empty casks up the hill whilst I related my experiences on the island. The casks, filled with water, were rolled down the hill. We rowed back to the ship. It was engaged in the tea trade with China. I was taken on board. A few more trips were made by Jake and his shipmate back to the island until they brought back enough water to replenish the ship’s dwindling stock. And, of course, they brought back the two sea chests. Jake was enthralled by his father’s carpenter’s chest. The rest of the crew, including the captain, were more interested in the purser’s chest. “What a fortune!” was the general consensus. They had all the tools they needed on the ship.
“That”, I stated emphatically, “That was my treasure on the island, the ship’s carpenter’s chest.” The captain ordered a cask of rum to be opened. The sea was still calm. A few banjos, tin whistles, Jake had a fine voice. Finally we set sail when the wind picked up.

As we later approached Southampton, where this tale began, the news of my rescue had been semaphored. A welcoming crowd greeted us. The China clipper’s safe return, as was the custom, had been reported to Lloyd’s of London, the famous ship’s insurer. I found myself something of a celebrity and soon my fortunes changed for the better. Lloyd’s decided I deserved a reward. Newspapers around the world vied for the right to publish my story. Naturally, I took the best offer.

My parents were overjoyed at my safe return. “My prayers were answered!” my mother exclaimed .
“So were mine Ma”, I said smilingly.
I purchased a little farm. I wasn’t much of a farmer, but my father, who had hailed from the north west of Ireland (Donegal to be exact), never felt comfortable with city life and did most of the farming. I promised my mother I would never again go to sea. Anyhow, that was no longer necessary. I later married a red-head, of course. My grandchildren love to hear my tales of the sea.
“Would you whist with them sea stories”, my daughter would chide. “You’ll have them running off to sea like you did”.
“Easier to go to sea now, daughter”, I would answer, “With all the new fangled equipment they have on board. In my day, it was iron men and nowadays its iron ships and wooden men”. I ducked the wet dishrag she tossed. I went to bed leaving her laughing with her mother.