Only a Navvy (1889)

South Australian Weekly Chronicle  Sat 16 Feb 1889,  p. 17.
[The incident recorded in the fellowing lines happened on the railway line between Glasgow and Paisley.]

Only a navvy ! only a hero—nay, two—
Men that stood ready, as men should, to dare and to do ;
Laurels in plenty there are for the crest and the plume,
Stroke of the sword, and the plunge in the thick battle gloom,
Red line of steel, and the rampart men make with the square,
Holding their own till the onset falls off in despair—
Smiles of fair women, and vivas of men, and delight,
Banners afloat in the city when men march from fight.
Tears and a glad happy memory kept at the heart
Long for the dead, who, in dying, accomplish their part.
Honor for these whom I tell of, then, shall there be none?
None for the act that could save—And the death duty done ?
Only two heroes who worked "on the line" in the north,
There where the fetters of iron bind Clyde into Forth,
For you see it fell on a day, so God willed, as they wrought
Hard by the rails, with a viaduct stretching below,
That a train came in sight, the express, and must go
Over the bridge which, you see, spanned the chasm below,
When—just as the navvies fell back for the thunder to pass—
One of them saw that a sleeper had started, alas !
Never a hope for the train, but a horrible doom,
All whom she carries must fall—with a rush to their tomb !
All whom she carries, light-hearted perchance in their mirth,
Full of the pleasures of life, of the projects of earth.
Nay, there was one saw the peril, and beckoned his mate—
Nephew it was—to the rescue, for speaking too late.
So fall in the forefront of death that was coming they ran,
And they stooped to their merciful work, man by man,
Righted the wrong in a moment, for short was the span,
Down came the train in a whirlwind of dust and of speed,
Clattered and past, on its way, o'er the chasm indeed.
Ay, but the men ; but the men who had saved, true slid good ?
Caught up—smitten down—crushed to death, with their blood
Red in a pool on the rails, where a moment they stood ;
Saved the express, yes, and martyr-like, perished to save,
Crowned with the crown of their manhood they lie in one grave.


Australian newspapers often carried songs and poetry from England, Ireland Scotland and Wales. The same happened with songs and tunes from the United States of America. This lyrical exchange rarely seems to have travelled the other way. Railway disaster reports from many countries were also re-published in Australia.

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