Thursday 8 August 2013

All at Sea in a Wash-Tub by Karen Maitland

Some snippets of history are so delightful that while you suspect they may have grown a little in the telling, you really want them to be true. This event is said to have taken place in Barton-Upon-Humber, a peaceful market town that faces Hull across the treacherous estuary of the river Humber. Barton is in Lincolnshire and Hull in Yorkshire and the two counties are historic rivals.

In 1779, a rider galloped through the town of Barton to the Waterside Inn. As he leapt from his sweating horse, the poor creature collapsed dying. The stranger ran into the inn and asked to speak to the ferrymen. He was told that, being low tide, there would be no ferry leaving Barton for hours. The stranger insisted that the ferrymen be sent for, but the locals didn’t bother, knowing it was a waste of time.

The stranger, becoming ever more agitated, looked for the ferrymen himself and demanded to be rowed across to Hull at once, but they merely laughed. Exasperated, the stranger drew a pistol and threatened to shoot them if they didn’t find some way of getting him across the river. The ferrymen at once stopped laughing and one of then, seeing his wife scrubbing her washing, hastily tipped the linens out of her tub and rolled the wash-tub to the shore. They all climbed in and the ferrymen sculled it out to their hoy (small rowing boat) anchored in the river. With the gun still held to their heads, the ferrymen rowed across to Hull. It was said to be the fasted they’d ever rowed.

 Once ashore the stranger, spotted a farmer ploughing and demanded his plough horse at gun-point. The man galloped off on the startled beast to a crossing point on the river Hull, where he made the final crossing to the Citadel. There he delivered his message.

He revealed he had been sent by King George III to warn the Governor that John Paul Jones, the most feared pirate in England (or brave American Revolutionary War hero, depending on which side of the pond you come from) was sailing towards Hull, having already looted the Earl of Selkirk’s castle for whom he’d once worked. Off Flamborough Head, Paul Jones had engaged and beaten his Majesty’s ships, The Countess of Scarborough and the Serapis, and was, it seemed, about to attack the port of Hull.

The citadel was completely unprepared for an attack. It didn’t even have the powder ready to load the cannons. But thanks to the messenger, the news arrived just in time to save Hull from the ravages of the ruthless pirate. So Lincolnshire folk now claim they saved Yorkshire, and all with the aid of humble wash-tub. Sadly there is no record of what the ferryman’s wife said to him on his return after having her washing ruined! But I think I can guess.
Photo shows Paul Jones's exhumed corpse. John Paul Jones died peacefully in France in 1792, aged 45. His body was rediscovered in 1905 and eventually exhummed and returned to the US. In 1913 it was laid to rest in a marble sarcophagus, modelled on the tomb of Napoleon, in the chapel crypt of Annapolis Naval Academy


Petrea Burchard said...

A wild and strange story! And your illustrations are, er, amazing.

p.d.r. lindsay the author said...

Loved it, but is it true!

Penny Dolan said...

Such a great story, Karen! No way they could get completely across, but maybe the washtub did get them to their ferry boat. (Oh! Is that where the "Ahoy" cry comes from, I wonder?)

Theresa Breslin said...

Even the name John Paul Jones sounds storybookish wildly romantic!

Annis said...

The disconcertingly well preserved John Paul looks as if he managed to have the last laugh!