“Why on earth was that ship allowed to overturn in the graving dock? We are the second largest port in the country, yet we can’t even keep a ship upright!” scowled Joseph Shepherd, the manager sent to deal with the rising chaos on the dockside. “If this disaster reaches the press, I’m more worried about Canning’s reputation than this damn ship!”
The ship in question was the teak vessel which now lay helplessly on her port side, with her tar sealed joins shining in the sunlight. The ship’s name, ‘BABOO’, was displayed in bold white capitals on the ship’s bow, but Baboo’s figure head now appeared to be perched precariously there, with no water to support her if she fell in.
The dock was overlooked by the Custom House, a grand neo-classical building which housed the offices required to run Liverpool’s port smoothly. The House’s staff now began emerging to join the curious crowds gathered on the dockside .
Debates immediately began to arise among the spectators as to who was to blame for the disaster .
‘It’ll be the Irish immigrants – the dock is full of them. I bet they were working on this ship,” said John Jones, a young sailor.
The numbers of Irish immigrants escaping their country’s potato famine had recently peaked in the city, as the booming port and new docks there offered great job opportunities. This led to resentment from some locals, even those like John who had already found employment on the docks.
Thomas Cameron, one of the managers of Custom House, had a less political criticism . His analytical job required glasses to be permanently perched at the end of his nose, and he wore them now as he spoke to the colleagues beside him on the dockside.
“The fact they changed that ship’s name from ‘ACORN’ to ‘BABOO’ wouldn’t have given her much luck in life”, he said. “An acorn symbolises growth and prosperity. A ‘Baboo’ is the Hindu word for ‘Mr’. Why would anyone call a ship that?”
“It could have been worse . At least they didn’t call it ‘Mrs’ – the sailors definitely wouldn’t have had a minute’s peace then!” a Liverpool docker shouted in a cheeky response, which resulted in laughter amongst the crowd.
Then the waiting ended, as Joseph Shepherd re-appeared, accompanied by forty dockers, ready to take control of the ship .
The dockers divided into groups, attaching multiple lengths of strong ropes to four key points on the port and starboard sides of the ship . Their strength and expertise was evident as the ship was rapidly secured enough for the challenge of being pulled to an upright position.
The crowd became silent , as Joseph walked to the dockside at the bow of the ship and called,
‘Pay attention lads. If I shout “Heave”… put your back into it! I want the crew to pull fast and hard ! Ready, steady…. heave!’
To the crowd’s surprise, the dockers’ ropes seemed to almost have magical powers, as the overturned ship finally began to move ……