A barquentine making Maryport Harbour in a gale. The picture, painted by William Mitchel in 1899, shows a scene before 1882, when the lighthouse in the picture was replaced. Throughout the 18th and 19th century, Maryport and Whitehaven exported coal to virtually every port on the Irish coast. Consequently they became ports of escape for the Irish in times of trouble. People sometimes travelled in colliers ships as human ballast, for free, or for a small fee. Mitchel himself was an Irishman who settled in Cumberland, see below.
I recently got an email from the Ron Parkin who now owns the painting with some interesting information about the painter.
I have recently had the pleasure of finding your internet site which was very good and of much interest for me.
I am a Geordie from Gateshead and now a plastic Yorkshire man as we, my wife, family and I have lived in Littlecrakehall near Bedale for some years now.
‘Ref William Mitchell of Maryport.
Quite a character I understand, as he was originally from Ireland and set up home in Maryport , perhaps his parents bringing him to the UK, he worked on the railways for a long time and developed a skill as a painter, He completed paintings of Dogs for Gentry around the area and also painted portraits including John Peel, a picture which was used to make an engraving and then as advertising in the Workington brewery beer labels. He was noted as being married 3 times (the last marriage to an Italian lady) and had 11 children; so many paintings were completed using anything that came to hand and included table tops and drawer bottoms He made money to keep his taste for a pint going and having the sea at hand and the lake district at his back had plenty of painting subjects to chose from. I own now the Oil painting you quote in your web site and while it was in a distressed state (also painted on a drawer bottom) I’ve brought it back to a reasonable condition.’
Best Regards Ron Parkin (worked in William Press from 1977 and most fabrication shops on the Tyne Tees and Wear, Plus still working (73) in Italy in the steel game). – Sent from Milan.
The Maryport Mystery words and tune by Michael Burns
He‘d a lump in his throat and his coat on his arm
Setting out for the Cumberland pits.
Both his parents were gone, and John had the farm
He would try out his strength and his wits
With his neighbours’ ‘Farewell’ he made for Newry Town
Hoped his might fortune rise as all around went down
As they sailed from the land with a bob in his hand,
he vowed that he’d be back one day.
Well the crossing was rough on the Collier ’Brough’,
With the dirt and the stink and the cold
As he crouched on the deck with the spray on his neck
He heard cries from those down in the hold
There were sighs, prayers and sobs but they at last made land.
As they staggered ashore only the crew could stand
once his balance came back, with his stuff in a sack,
he walked into Maryport Town.
Well November passed bleakly, just jobs here and there
and he slept out in shippens and lofts.
As his thoughts turned to Camlough and friends on the land
And He vowed ‘make a change’, between coughs
but his spirits soon rose on seeing a friendly face
a niece of a neighbour from his native place
And her bond to the farmer was ending that May
They would strike out and find better days.
Well the crack started around there was work to be found
at the new iron works at Crookhall.
They were barrowing ore, there were Paddies galore,
And good money to earn in that town.
She was bound to the farmer until Whitsun time,
He was off to Crookhall and watch his fortune climb
As they parted that day they were both heard to say
‘till May at Shotley Bridge Fair’.
Well in Shotley Bridge town on that Monday in May
the pubs and the streets were all thronged,
there were fiddlers and pedlars of pastries and pies
there were conmen and those they had wronged
there were black country lasses and girls from South Wales
there were hinds from the countryside and fops in tails.
There were Irish colleens and a pickpocket team
But no one had word of her love.
He had never left Maryport, that winter day,
He’d been hit o’er the head with a stick.
He’d been thrown in the harbour, he was dead or he drowned
No one saw it, it happened that quick.
When they searched him they found a pipe and 1s and 2d
An address ‘Crookhall, Patrick Bloomer’, -no one knew.
As the verdict came in they had no name for him,
both victim and villain unknown.
copyright Michael Burns 2010
The song is based on the cutting below, reproduced courtesy of the British Library.
Here’s evidence that the Irish were in the consett area well before the disasterous famine of 1847 -
The Freeman’s Journal, Dublin Tuesday 2 Sept 1845
The Loyal National Repeal Association (Daniel O’Connell’s fund)
‘…. from Crookhall, Shotley Bridge, Northumberland (sic) £3 16 s per Mr. J Burke, who write that the 76 contributors are struggling for existence in the land of the Saxon – doomed to earn their bread in the bowels of the earth, where they seldom meet with anything but insult from their taskmasters: and they hope the time is not far distant when they can return to their native land, under the protection of a domestic parliament.’ (They went in for long sentences in those days!)