‘The Overturning of the Baboo’ by Elaine O’Hagen

Like an old giant turning over in bed, heaving their aching carcass to find a more comfortable position, one that will bring comfort to aching bones, the groaning timbers of the Baboo echoed around the Canning graving dock. Slowly, but powerful as a Leviathan, the great ship rolled,
threatening to crush all who might get in her way. Shouts of fear as men jump clear of the glistening teak, felled in the forests of India and honed into the Baboo in the shipyards of Calcutta; seasoned by the seas and oceans of the world as of
she ferried migrant workers from Mauritius to India as indentured labour and immigrants from England to Australia. Baboo had heard their groans, absorbed them into her timbers. Likewise with the emigrants she’d carried away from England to Australia, hopeful to be fleeing the poverty and squalor of England for a better life in the “new world” but the dank, fetid air of their quarters below deck caused their health to fail and their despair sent groans to Baboo’s heart of teak. Those groans coagulated into one mighty roar as she heaved, rolled and overturned where she lay in the graving dock. No one remembered this having happened before, this gyration of a ship like Baboo safely
ensconced for repairs. The men working on her, hammering in rivets, crafting new timbers, reengineering her boilers. only knew they must get off, their lives might depend on it. Tom felt the terror around him as he made the leap dockside. He had been so relieved to be picked for this job, not only for the dignity of using his carpentry skills instead of just brute strength unloading the often dangerous cargoes some of the other men would have to do, though he did it gladly enough himself when that was all on offer; enduring fertiliser blowing In his eyes, breathing asbestos dust into his lungs, having to dodge heavy loads as they were swung from the holds, trying to knock him into the inky dock waters, or to render him senseless by catching him unawares around his head. Yes, had started off good day for him, Monday 22nd February 1841, the promise of the coins in his hand meant a good dinner for himself, his wife, Maggie, the four youngsters, for old Lizzie, Maggie’s mam, who lay now on makeshift bed in the living room, in three rooms in Springfield Street, incapacitated suddenly by something that had struck her down, a stroke they thought, they could only get her to take something. If he was crushed against the dock wall and killed, what would become of his family? Fear lent his feet wings and with a leap he landed in the stones of Canning dock, amongst the shuddering bodies of his workmates who had made it clear. The Baboo was eventually floated out of the dock. The job would be finished, and back in Springfield Street, Lizzie heaved herself over in bed and life went on.