His voice is a sing song, swelling
and falling like the interminable waves.
No pretty ditty this but a chanting dirge,
mournful request — ‘though will God
exist where we are going, if we ever
get there? Something’s taking the children
off one-by-one —in my arms my first babe
squirms, barely eight-months old.
The crew don’t like women coming above,
tell us ‘out of harm’s way’, but I wager
the captain wants us hid for quite another
reason. Today we all stand on deck
to witness the tilt of a rough wooden board,
the fate of its piteous bundle.
The women groan — a guttural sound!
on seeing it consigned to the depths.
We will never grow used to it. When I look
to my man his stare is dark glass, a mirror
to the sea. I know he has flown, escaped
as he does to that so-called new home promised
by Wakefield’s deed. Every part of me trembles
— it was madness to listen! — for long moments
I hate him.
Notes: The Berar ship left London for New Zealand in 1874 and arrived in Wellington 96 days later in 1875. During the passage there was an outbreak of Scarlet Fever, causing 21 deaths, mainly children. On arrival surviving passengers were quarantined on Matiu (Somes) Island before being allowed onto the mainland.