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A poem for the Mary Edson, 1863

Mary Edson photo

Model of the Mary Edson, by Werner Geyer, 2023 (ILC&LM Collection)

The following poem was written by William McComb (1793-1873) on 13 July 1863, the date that the Mary Edson departed Belfast for New York. The ship was sent by Lisburn-born American millionaire, A. T. Stewart (1803-76), and on the return leg to the USA transported over 130 emigrants, many from the Lisburn area. They had suffered from the so-called ‘cotton famine’, caused by the American Civil War which drastically reduced supplies of raw cotton on which their livelihood as weavers depended.

The author, McComb, was originally from Coleraine and the son of a linen manufacturer. During his apprenticeship with a Belfast draper around the 1810s, he began writing poetry and also became involved in the town’s growing evangelical community. For example, he founded one of Belfast’s earliest Sabbath or Sunday schools and published a large amount of religious literature.

McComb’s support for philanthropic initiatives no doubt drew him to the story of the Mary Edson. As the title suggests, he was inspired to write this poem upon learning of the presentation of a gold watch to the ship’s captain, Moses Nickerson. The poem was included in Hugh McCall’s account of the cotton famine, published in 1881.


On Hearing of the Presentation to Captain Nickerson, of the Mary Edson

Hail, Mary Edson! goodly ship, her captain and her store;

And hail the gentle breezes that brought her to our shore;

And hail the name of Stewart, one so worthy of Irish soil,

Who sent relief in time of need to Ulster’s sons of toil.


When civil war is laying waste the granaries of the West,

And reapers few to gather in the harvest’s rich bequest,

Oh! what a noble sacrifice — of generous deeds the Chief —

Amidst their threatened poverty, to give us such relief!


America, the land of Hope! — our grateful thanks are due

To thee, and to thy goodly ship, her captain, and her crew;

We send you back a living freight — our children go with thee —

God save both passengers and ship from perils of the sea.


Land, where our pilgrim fathers found a refuge and a home,

When persecution drove them hence, far, far away to roam!

Thou wast to them a shield and stay, and they were still to thee

True husbandmen, who planted deep old Liberty’s broad tree.


And may our sons and daughters dear who now to thee we send

Find in thy land an heritage — in every man a friend —

Bind in the brotherhood of life a strong and lasting tie,

And link the Old World with the New in peace and amity!


View our exhibition, The Mary Edson: from Lisburn to New York, 1863 (ends Spring 2024).

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