St Mary's Bay [Poem]


By A.D. Russell

St. Mary's Bay is fair by day,
St. Mary's Bay is bright;
Tranquil and deep, the blessed sleep
Which broods o'er it by night;
And well it is our Lady's grace
Defends the charmed spot;
For, in the middle of the night,
Passes the Phantom Boat.

The Phantom Boat, the Phantom Boat !
Who wakes may hear it pass
Sleep sound, sleep Safe, by Mary's grace
Sleep sound and let it pass.

Was that the howl of a dog, or an owl
A-hoot in the Ceiba tree?
What means that note on the night afloat,
As of laughter wild and free
Voices of women and of men,
And the splash of oars between;
Jesus, Maria, guard us then,
'Tis sure no earthly din.

A laugh, a scream! and 'tis gone like a dream;
The splash of oars is o'er;
The pirate rude, and his demon's brood.
Melt into space once more.
Saint Mary holds her Virgin sway.
O'er land and sea and air;
No harm can break their quiet sleep.
Who rest beneath her care.


"Every night? I can't vouch for that," said the Count.
"But one night I stayed here, years ago, it certainly did pass."

We had come "down the islands" Why? Well, as
Scribbler would say, why indeed? Port of Spain is an ideal
tropical city. Also the Queen's Park Hotel, situated on the
spacious Savannah, with Government House and its ornamental
grounds right opposite, was delightful to stay in. Everybody,
however, kept saying: "Go down the islands. You won't
know real Trinidad life till you go down the islands!" So
we went down the islands, and landed on St. Mary's Bay;
and the Count, who was staying at Copper Hole, came to call.

He it was who told us about the ghost. Or, to be more
precise, the Phantom Boat, which passes there nightly.

"The Johnny Walkers were here at the time," he explained.
"No, not the Johnny Walkers you mean. Another family
altogether. Bridge went on till all hours, and it was close on
midnight when my wife and I got to bed. She was busy with
her chapelet. But, of a sudden, "Felix," she said, "did you
hear that boat passing?"

"Do you know, once she mentioned it, I did hear whatever
it was. Plash, plash, plash, at widish intervals, but quite
distinct. Then a sound like voices, vague and only faintly
audible; but, of a sudden, Sainte Vierge Marie" — and the
Count, like a pious aristocrat, crossed himself — "a scream
that made your blood run chill ! I heard quite as much as
I wanted that night, I assure you!"

It seemed for the moment as though life "down the
islands" were going to be something else than we were looking
for. Under cross-examination, however, the Count modified
the horrific element.

The scream? Yes, certainly he and his wife had both
heard it. But there had been laughter too. More laughter
than screaming.

"We thought perhaps it was people from some of the
other Bays."

("Bay" in their Creole parlance means a house on one of
these islets. Naturally they select a bay suitable for bathing,
when they want to build).

"But no; they were all people we knew, and could not
reasonably suspect of running a spree at that hour of the night.
I would have stayed on, but my wife would not hear of it.
We made an excuse and left the next morning."

p. 8

"Whose boat is it?" piped the Child.
"Blackbeard's," replied the Count conclusively.
"Who is Blackbeard?"

Ma chere, you have never read 'Tom Cringle's Log' or
'The Master of Ballantrae' Otherwise you would know that
'Blackbeard' was a noted pirate. He visited Trinidad in 1716,
and pillaged a ship loaded with cocoa in the harbour. Merely
that, I believe, so far as facts go. But legends—oh, galore!

"Why does he come to Saint Mary's Bay?"

"After buried treasure, I suppose. Isn't that the regular
thing in the story books?"

"Yes, yes, of course. I ought to have guessed it. He wants
to come on shore, but that lovely statue of Saint Mary in front
prevents his landing."

"Right, right, my child. — A cocktail? No thank you. —
Good gracious, you have got hold of Henry!"

The dusky one-eyed compounder of inebriants grinned all
over. He was evidently a celebrity—like Blackbeard.

"There's the man to give you stories of ghosts and
soucouyens. Well, chin-chin."

"What is a soucouyen?" queried the Child.

"My dear it is late, and the remous is just beginning."

"What is the remous?"

The Count made a dash for his hat, and ran down the
gravel path. "An revoir," he called out, getting into his boat.
"Henry will enlighten you on local topics."

Whether or not the Phantom Boat passed that night, this
deponent is unable to say. The Magnate had the Manager of
his Oil Company bawling at him all night, about derricks and
sumps and seeps and financial matters. Blackbeard and ship-
mates would nave wanted powerful megaphones to get a

Next morning, at early coffee, however. Scribbler was to
the fore with his inevitable "legend." A short one, for a
mercy. He afterwards got somebody — the Child, I suspect — to
set it to music. Nobody, thank goodness, seemed to care to
sing it. Not on account of the music, I assured the Child.
She made some unintelligible remark, and left the room.

p. 9

Legends of the Bocas, Trinidad. By A.D. Russell, London: Cecil Palmer, 1922. p.7
"Patria est communis omnium parens" - Our native land is the common parent of us all. Keep it beautiful, make it even more so.

Blessed is all of creation
Blessed be my beautiful people
Blessed be the day of our awakening
Blessed is my country
Blessed are her patient hills.

Mweh ka allay!