The Word on the Street
home | background | illustrations | distribution | highlights | search & browse | resources | contact us

Broadside ballad entitled 'The Wreck of the "Berlin"' or 'The Fatal Hook of Holland'


Verse 1 begins: 'Dark is the night, a hurricane blows, / And the waves like mountains loom, / As bravely the stately "Berlin" goes'. This ballad should be sung to the air, 'The Miner's Dream of Home'. It was published by the 'Poet's Box' of 181 Overgate, Dundee. It would have cost a penny to buy or a penny-and-half by post.

The steam-ship the 'Berlin' was built in 1894 by the Earles Shipping and Engineering Company of Hull. It was commissioned and operated by the Great Eastern Railway Company who sailed it between Harwich and the Hook of Holland. This poem refers to its tragic sinking on the 21st February 1907, with a loss of over a hundred lives. Captain Sperling was on duty that night and although a mixture of passengers and crew were lost, most of the crew hailed from the Harwich area.
The Dundee Poets? Box was in operation from about 1880 to 1945, though it is possible that some material was printed as early as the 1850s. Most of the time it had premises at various addresses in Overgate. In 1885 the proprietor J.G. Scott (at 182 Overgate) had published a catalogue of 2,000 titles consisting of included humorous recitations, dialogues, temperance songs, medleys, parodies, love songs, Jacobite songs. Another proprietor in the 1880s was William Shepherd, but little is known about him. Poets? Box was particularly busy on market days and feeing days when country folk were in town in large numbers. Macartney specialised in local songs and bothy ballads. Many Irish songs were published by the Poets? Box ? many Irishmen worked seasonally harvesting potatoes and also in the jute mills. In 1906 John Lowden Macartney took over as proprietor of the Poet?s Box, initially working from 181 Overgate and later from no.203 and 207.

It is not clear what the connection between the different Poet?s Boxes were. They almost certainly sold each other?s sheets. It is known that John Sanderson in Edinburgh often wrote to the Leitches in Glasgow for songs and that later his brother Charles obtained copies of songs from the Dundee Poet?s Box. There was also a Poet?s Box in Belfast from 1846 to 1856 at the address of the printer James Moore, and one at Paisley in the early 1850s, owned by William Anderson.

Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.

previous pageprevious          
Probable period of publication: 1880-1900   shelfmark: RB.m.143(112)
Broadside ballad entitled 'The Wreck of the
View larger image

NLS home page   |   Digital gallery   |   Credits

National Library of Scotland © 2004

National Library of Scotland