“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

A Bit of Poetry and the old Pagoda Anchorage

Posted: December 31st, 2009 | 1 Comment »

Digging around a bit on the old Pagoda Anchorage – a site up the Min River from Foochow (Fuzhou) that was for a time an important treaty port with a rather lonely British consulate where at least one British diplomat lost his mind completely and had to be shipped home. Li Hongzhang of the Self-Strengthening Movement built a shipyard there in the 1860s that was trashed in the 1880s by the French. However, the Pagoda Anchorage (now Mawei) was for a time an important customs point linked to the tea shipments from Foochow. As Foochow decreased in importance as a transhipment centre so Pagoda Anchorage slowly died – a case of one port catching a cold and the other a nasty dose of the flu.

Still Pagoda Anchorage had once been crowded with European tea clippers and one poet, Cicely Fox Smith (1882-1954), thought it worthy of a couple of verses. Cicely (pronounced “sigh-sli” as in precisely) was pretty popular in the 1920s (this poem from a collection published in 1924) and often wrote on maritime and nautical themes and was particularly popular with children (what would now be called ‘young adults’ I guess). She was a bit of a girl by all accounts – crewing on ships, sailing to America to hang out with cowboys (though this may all be an example of an early PR campaign and she may never have left the safety of England. As far as I know she never actually visited Pagoda Anchorage but based her poem on the sorts of pictures of the place typified by the one below.

Anyway, here is By The Old Pagoda Anchorage from her 1924 (but referring back to the 1870s or thereabouts) collection The Return of the Cutty Sark (an East Indiaman tea clipper herself of course):

By the old Pagoda Anchorage they lay full fifteen strong,

And their spars were like a forest, and their names were like a song

Fiery Cross and Falcon there

Lay with Spindrift, doomed and fair,

And Sir Lancelot of a hundred famous fights with wind and wave,

Belted Will and Hallowe’en

With Leander there were seen,

And Ariel and Titania and Robin Hood the brave…

Thyatira of the lovely name and proud Thermopylae,

By the old Pagoda Anchorage when clippers sailed the sea –

Racing home to London River –

Carry on for London River –

Crack her on for London River with her chests of China tea!

By the old Pagoda Anchorage (it’s many a year ago!)

A sight it was to see them with their decks like drifted snow,

And their brasses winking bright,

And the gleaming gold and white

Of the carven kings and maidens on each slim and soaring bow,

And the high and slender spars

Humming shanties to the stars,

And the hulls whose speed and staunchness are a dead man’s secret now, –

The ships so brave and beautiful that never more shall be,

By the old Pagoda Anchorage when clippers sailed the sea –

Racing home to London River –

Crack her on for London River –

Carry on for London River with her chests of China tea!

On the River Min

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One Comment on “A Bit of Poetry and the old Pagoda Anchorage”

  1. 1 Chris Summers said at 3:33 am on August 2nd, 2020:

    My grandmother and her siblings were all born on Pagoda Anchorage. Her father, Samuel Lewis Shaw was the harbor master and he built a large house next door to the pagoda. My father used to race up to the top, much to his mother’s concern. Dad went back while on a visit to China in the 1980’s and the old home is still there but is now a public school as it was quite large.

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