1804 Poem, James Orr, 'The Passengers'

Author: James Orr

Date: 1804

Source: Poem: ‘The Passengers’, from Poems, on Various Subjects, by James Orr (Belfast: Printed by Smyth & Lyons, 1804).

Comments: James Orr (1770-1816), a weaver from Ballycarry in East Antrim, is sometimes regarded as the best Ulster-Scots ‘rhyming weaver’ of his generation. A close friend and associate of Samuel Thomson, he penned over 150 poems in his lifetime and became firmly established as the Bard of the common people. An account of his life and poetry can be found in the ‘Introduction’ to The Country Rhymes of James Orr by Philip Robinson (Belfast, 1992).

Doc. ref. no.: USLS/TB/Poetry/1800-1899/009


Down where yon anch’ring vessel spreads the sail,

That idly waiting, flaps with ev’ry gale;

Downward they move, a melancholy band,

Pass from the shore, and darken all the strand.


How calm an’ cozie is the wight,

Frae cares an’ conflicts clear ay,

Whase settled headpiece never made,

His heels or han’s be weary!

Perplex’d is he whase anxious schemes

Pursue applause, or siller,

Success nor sates, nor failure tames;

Bandied frae post to pillar

Is he, ilk day.

As we were, Comrades, at the time

We mov’t frae Ballycarry,

To wan’er thro’ the woody clime

Burgoyne gied oure to harrie:

Wi’ frien’s consent we prie’t a gill,

An’ monie a house did call at,

Shook han’s, an’ smil’t; tho’ ilk fareweel

Strak, like a weighty mallet,

Our hearts, that day.

On shore, while ship-mates halt, tho’ thrang’t,

Wi’ lasses hearts to barter;

Nybers, an’ frien’s, in boatfu’s pang’t,

Approach our larboard quarter;

Syne speel the side, an’ down the hatch

To rest, an’ crack, an’ gaze on

The boles o’ births, that monie a wratch

Maun squeeze in, for a season,

By night, an’ day.

“This is my locker, yon’ers Jock’s,

“In that auld creel, sea-store is,

“Thir births beside us are the Lockes,[1]

“My uncle’s there before us;

“Here hang my tins an’ vitriol jug,

“Nae thief’s at han’ to meddle ’em” —

“L--d, man, I’m glad ye’re a’ sae snug;

“But och! ’tis owre like Bedlam

Wi’ a’ this day.

“All boats ashore!” the mate cries stern,

Wi’ oaths wad fear a saunt ay:

“Now Gude be wi’ ye, Brice, my bairn” —

“An’ Gude be wi’ ye, Auntie.”

What keep-sakes, an’ what news are sent!

What smacks, an’ what embraces!

The hurryin’ sailors sleely sklent

Droll leuks at lang wry faces,

Fu’ pale that day.

While “Yo heave O!” wi’ monie a yell

The birkies weigh the anchor;

Ilk mammies pet conceits itsel’

The makin’ o’ a Banker;

They’ll soon, tho’, wiss to lieve at hame,

An’ dee no worth a totam,

Whan brustin’ breast, an’ whamlin’ wame,

Mak’ some wise men o’ Gotham

Cry halt! this day.

Some frae the stern, wi’ thoughts o’ grief

Leuk back, their hearts to Airlan’;

Some mettle’t bucks, to work ay brief,

At en’s o’ rapes are harlin’;

Some haud aback frae dangers brow

Their toddlin’ o’er, no cautious;

An’ some, wi’ monie a twine an’ throe,

Do something wad be nauceous

To name, this day.

Meanwhile, below, some count their beads,

While prudes, auld-light sit cantin’;

Some mak’ their beds; some haud their heads,

An’ cry wi’ spite, a’ pantin’! —

“Ye brought us here, ye luckless cauf!

(“Aye did he; whisht my darlin’!)

L--d sen’ me hame! wi’ poke an’ staff,

“I’d beg my bread thro’ Airlan’,

My lane, that day.”

In twathree days the maist cam’ to,

Few heads were sair or dizzy;

An’ chiel’s wha scarce a turn cud do,

Begoud to be less lazy:

At night (to tell amang oursel’s)

They crap, wi’ fandness fidgin’,

To court - or maybe something else,

Gif folk becam’ obligin’,

Atween an’ day.

Roun’ the cambouse what motley ban’s

At breakfast-time cam’ swarmin’!

Tin, tankards, kettles, pots, an’ pans,

The braid flat fire was warmin’:

The guid auld rule, “first come first ser’t,”

Was urg’t by men o’ mettle;

An’ ay whan callens grew mislear’t,

The arm o’ flesh boost settle

Th’ affray, that day.

A bonie sight I vow it was,

To see on some lown e’nin’,

Th’ immense, smooth, smilin’ sea o’ glass,

Whare porpoises were stenin’:

To see at night the surface fine

That Cynthia made her path on;

An’ snove, an’ snore thro’ waves o’ brine,

That sparkle’t like a heath on

A bleaze some day.

But now a gale besets our bark,

Frae gulph to gulph we’re tumble’t;

Kists, kits, an’ fam’lies, i’ the dark,

Wi’ ae side-jerk are jumble’t:

Some stauchrin’ thro’ a pitch lays laigh —

Some, drouket, ban the breaker;

While surge, on surge, sae skelps her - Hegh!

Twa three like that will wreck her

A while ere day.

Win’s, wives, an’ weans, rampage an’ rave,

Three score at ance are speakin’;

While blacks wha a’ before them drave,

Lye cheepin’ like a chicken —

“What gart us play? or bouse like beasts?

“Or box in fairs wi’ venom?”

Hear how the captain laughs an’ jests,

An’ bit a bord between him

An’ death, this day.

’Tis calm again. While rightin’ things,

The heads o’ births are bizziet,

The seaman chews his quid, an’ sings,

An’ peys his frien’s a visit —

“Eh! dem my eyes! how is’t, goodman?

“Got clear of Davy’s locker?

“Lend me a facer till we lan’,

“Till blind as Newgate’s knocker

We’ll swig, that day.”

Here, gash guidmen, wi’ nightcaps on,

At ance baith pray an’ watch;

An’, there, for light, sits monie a loun

At Cartes beneath the hatch;

Here, some sing sangs, or stories tell,

To ithers bizzy knittin’;

An’, there some readin’ to themsels,

Nod owre asleep, while sittin’

Twa fold that day.

Now Newfoun’lan’s becalmin’ banks

Our ship supinely lies on;

An’ monie a ane his lang line fanks,

Whase heuk some captive dies on:

An’ now, disguis’t, a fore-mast-man

Shaves dry, the churls unwillin’

To pay the poll-tax on deman’ —

A pint, or else a shillin’

A piece, that day.[2]

Aince mair luck lea’s us (plain ’tis now

A murd’rer in some mess is)

An English frigate heaves in view,

I’ll bail her board, an’ press us:

Taupies beneath their wives wha stole,

Or ’mang auld sails lay flat ay,

Like whitrats peepin’ frae their hole,

Cried, “is she British, wat ye,

Or French, this day?”

’Twas but a brig frae Baltimore,

To Larne wi’ lintseed steerin’;

Twa days ago she left the shore,

Let’s watch for lan’ appearin’:

Spies frae the shrouds, like laigh dark clouds,

Descried domes, mountains, bushes;

The Exiles griev’t - the sharpers thiev’t —

While cronies bous’t like fishes,

Conven’t, that day.

Whan glidin’ up the Delaware,

We cam’ forenent Newcastle,

Gypes co’ert the wharf to gove, an’ stare,

While out, in boats, we bustle:

Creatures wha ne’er had seen a black,

Fu’ scar’t took to their shankies;

Sae, wi’ our best rags on our back,

We mixt amang the Yankies,

An’ skail’t, that day.

[1] A family who sailed for America in 1798.

[2] It has been a long established custom for the seamen, on reaching the banks of Newfoundland, to exact a shilling, or a shilling’s worth of liquor, from every passenger; and to shave, without soap, those who refuse to contribute their quota.


The Ulster-Scots Academy has been an integral part of the Ulster-Scots Language Society since 1993. The name "Ulster-Scots Academy" is registered to the USLS with the Intellectual Property Office.

Ulster Scots Academy


A new edition of Michael Montgomery’s From Ulster to America: The Scotch-Irish Heritage of American English recounts the lasting impact that at least 150,000 settlers from Ulster in the 18th century made on the development of the English language of the United States. This new edition published by the Ulster-Scots Language Society documents over 500 ‘shared’ vocabulary items which are authenticated by quotations from both sides of the Atlantic. A searchable online version of this dictionary is now also available here.


The Ulster-Scots Academy is currently working on the digitisation of Dr Philip Robinson's seminal Ulster-Scots Grammar and the English/Ulster-Scots part (with circa 10,000 entries) of a two-way historical dictionary of Ulster-Scots. These projects are planned to be completed and available on the site in 2016.



This site is being developed on a purely voluntary basis by the Ulster-Scots Language Society at no cost to the taxpayer. USLS volunteers have been involved in preserving and promoting Ulster-Scots for more than 20 years. All donations, however small, will be most gratefully received and contribute towards the expansion of the project. Thank you!

This site is being developed by the Ulster-Scots Language Society (Charity No. XN89678) without external financial assistance. USLS volunteers have been involved in preserving and promoting Ulster-Scots for more than 20 years. All donations, however small, will be most gratefully received and contribute towards the expansion of the project. Thank you!

(Friends of the Ulster-Scots Academy group)