James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

March 15

An International Episode

By Caroline Duer (1865–1956)

  • On March 15, 1889, a hurricane visited the harbor of Apia in the Samoan islands, destroying the American men-of-war Vandalia and Trenton, and two German men-of-war, with several merchant vessels.

  • WE were ordered to Samoa from the coast of Panama,

    And for two long months we sailed the unequal sea,

    Till we made the horseshoe harbor with its curving coral bar,

    Smelt the good green smell of grass and shrub and tree.

    We had barely room for swinging with the tide—

    There were many of us crowded in the bay:

    Three Germans, and the English ship, beside

    Our three—and from the Trenton where she lay,

    Through the sunset calms and after,

    We could hear the shrill, sweet laughter

    Of the children’s voices on the shore at play.

    We all knew a storm was coming, but, dear God! no man could dream

    Of the furious hell-horrors of that day:

    Through the roar of winds and waters we could hear wild voices scream—

    See the rocking masts reel by us through the spray.

    In the gale we drove and drifted helplessly,

    With our rudder gone, our engine-fires drowned,

    And none might hope another hour to see;

    For all the air was desperate with the sound

    Of the brave ships rent asunder—

    Of the shrieking souls sucked under,

    ’Neath the waves, where many a good man’s grave was found.

    About noon, upon our quarter, from the deeper gloom afar,

    Came the English man-of-war Calliope:

    “We have lost our anchors, comrades, and, though small the chances are,

    We must steer for safety and the open sea.”

    Then we climbed aloft to cheer her as she passed

    Through the tempest and the blackness and the foam:

    “Now, God speed you, though the shout should be our last,

    Through the channel where the maddened breakers comb,

    Through the wild sea’s hill and hollow,

    On the path we cannot follow,

    To your women and your children and your home.”

    Oh! remember it, good brothers. We two people speak one tongue,

    And your native land was mother to our land;

    But the head, perhaps, is hasty when the nation’s heart is young,

    And we prate of things we do not understand.

    But the day when we stood face to face with death,

    (Upon whose face few men may look and tell),

    As long as you could hear, or we had breath,

    Four hundred voices cheered you out of hell.

    By the will of that stern chorus,

    By the motherland which bore us,

    Judge if we do not love each other well.