Liverpool in 2008: commemorating an amazing adventure.
A bright hard sunlight lit the Liver building in Liverpool on Saturday. It was weirdly hot, people had pulled out their summer clothes to give them one last airing, and the Albert Docks were thronging with people.
I went to the quayside and looked at the Mersey and tried to imagine how it must have been in 1865 - dirtier, probably - in one version of my book (there have been so many) there was this describing the short trip out onto the Mersey for a group of Welsh colonists bound for Patagonia on a ship called the Mimosa...
Silas listens to the oars plopping into the water again and again - each stroke is taking them away from everything he knows. Soon they will have gone too far to come back: he remembers his mother clutching at him, making him promise that he will write, his sister kissing him hard on the cheek. Already it seems a different world, and yet they are just across the river, one stretch of land and then another, not very far.I think that particular passage has been edited out of my novel now. Ah, I have written so many words, and have got rid of so many too, and now I am beginning to edit again. The final one, I hope.
‘Look, Dadda!’ All at once the ship is looming large and close beside them. wood scrapes against wood, and the ship is like a wall, the only escape up a ladder, one after the other, passing children, bags over onto the deck, until they are all aboard and the deck sways beneath their feet and the boat moves away back to shore. They look at each other and smile. The air is clearer here, cooler and fresher.
‘It’s starting,’ Jacob says, hugging himself, ‘our great adventure.'
I had come to Liverpool to visit the Merseyside Maritime Museum. More people migrated from Liverpool than from any other port in the world. From here they went to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and of course the United States. There is a marvellous permanent exhibition on this, including a place that (I think) rocks like the deck of the ship. When I was researching my novel I came here a few times. I imagined myself being in the hold of the Mimosa, recently converted for its passengers from its usual cargo of tea.
The event I had come to see was on the top floor. Here I found a room crowded with people speaking Welsh - members of the Liverpool Welsh Society. At least some of these people are the descendants of the people that were responsible for organising the migration of the Patagonian colonists and raising money and interest. There were several speakers: the head curator of the Museum, Dr Alan Scarth; the writer Susan Wilkinson; the model-maker, Tony Fancy;
the archivist, Bruno Derrick, and another writer, Elvey McDonald.
Elvey has written this book on the emigration, 'Yr Hirdaith' which I had hoped my father would translate for me, because it is in Welsh (but sadly he has never felt well enough to get round to it). I am assured it is excellent, which makes it even more aggravating that I have never been able to read it.
Then, at last, came the moment we had been waiting for: the unveiling of this accurate model of the Mimosa by Mrs Elan Jones (pictured here together with the chairman of the Merseyside Welsh Heritage Society, Dr D Ben Rees, and Tony Fancy).
Elvey McDonald, like Elan Jones, was born in Patagonia and now lives on the West coast of Wales. I like this picture of two of his grandchildren looking at the model.
And, talking of books, here is Susan Wilkinson, who is related to the Irish doctor who accompanied the colonists to Patagonia. There is an interview with Susan and a short review of the book here.
The day finished well: Susan and I went to a cafe and had a very long chat about Patagonia, research and writing, which I enjoyed very much indeed.