Sonnet Suggested by Mr Wall’s Painting of the Falls of Niagara By Samuel Ferguson

Niagara Falls as Seen From Below, 1833
Painted by Wall, Engraved by Archer.

Oft have I stood in fancy on the shore
‡‡‡‡Of Niagara, and with moistened eye
‡‡‡‡Peered through imaginary mists to spy
The wall of waters and the boiling floor —
But never hath it been my chance before
‡‡‡‡To see in work of hand or fantasy,
‡‡‡‡Old Ocean tumbling thus from middle sky. —
Hark ! heard ye not the solid thunderous roar ?
Even while I gaze, methinks the scene grows dark,
‡‡‡‡Save where yon light flashed past the blasted pine ;
It nears, it kindles — ’tis a blazing bark —
‡‡‡‡Lo ! o’er the Horse-shoe’s foamy-crested line,
Sped like a shot-star to destruction’s mark,
‡‡‡‡Down to perdition flames the Caroline !

Dublin, April, 1838

Source: Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine, vol 43, issue 271. May 1838.  Found in: Alison Chapman (ed.) and the DVPP team, Digital Victorian Periodical Poetry: Periodicals, Digital Victorian Periodical Poetry Project

An engraving of the painting, Niagara Falls as Seen From Below, that inspired Ferguson to write this sonnet was found in John Howard Hinton (ed.).  The History and Topography of the United States of North America: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, vol. 2.  New & Improved Edition.  Boston: Samuel Walker, 1834. It is not known if this was where Ferguson saw the painting.

The burning Steamer Caroline went over the Horseshoe Falls on the night of December 29, 1837. Read about the burning of the Caroline at the Niagara Falls Museums website

The Burning of the Caroline by Susanna Moodie


Burning steamer Caroline going over the Falls of Niagara. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

A sound is on the midnight deep—
‡‡The voice of waters vast;
And onward, with resistless sweep,
‡‡The torrent rushes past—
In frantic chase, wave after wave,
The crowding surges press, and rave
‡‡Their mingled might to cast
Adown Niagara‘s giant steep;
The fretted billows foaming leap
‡‡With wild tumultuous roar;
The clashing din ascends on high,
In deaf’ning thunders to the sky,
‡‡And shakes the rocky shore.

Hark! what strange sounds arise—
‡‡‘Tis not stern Nature’s voice—
In mingled chorus to the skies!
‡‡The waters in their depth rejoice.
Hark! on the midnight air
‡‡A frantic cry uprose;
The yell of fierce despair,
‡‡The shout of mortal foes;
And mark yon sudden glare,
‡‡Whose red, portentous gleam
‡‡Flashes on rock and stream
With strange, unearthly light;
‡‡What passing meteor’s beam
Lays bare the brow of night?

From yonder murky shore
‡‡What demon vessel glides,
‡‡Stemming the unstemm’d tides,
Where maddening breakers roar
‡‡In hostile surges round her path,
Or hiss, recoiling from her prow,
‡‡That reeling, staggers to their wrath;
While distant shores return the glow
‡‡That brightens from her burning frame,
And all above—around—below—
‡‡Is wrapt in ruddy flame?

Sail on!—sail on!—No mortal hand
‡‡Directs that vessel’s blazing course;
The vengeance of an injured land
‡‡Impels her with resistless force
‘Midst breaking wave and fiery gleam,
‡‡O’er-canopied with clouds of smoke;
Midway she stems the raging stream,
‡‡And feels the rapids’ thundering stroke;
Now buried deep, now whirl’d on high,
‡‡She struggles with her awful doom,—
With frantic speed now hurries by
‡‡To find a watery tomb.

Lo, poised upon the topmost surge,
‡‡She shudders o’er the dark abyss;
The foaming waters round her hiss
‡‡And hoarse waves ring her funeral dirge;
The chafing billows round her close;
‡‡But ere her burning planks are riven,
Shoots up one ruddy spout of fire,—
‡‡Her last farewell to earth and heaven.
Down, down to endless night she goes!
‡‡So may the traitor’s hope expire,
So perish all our country’s foes!

Destruction’s blazing star
‡‡Has vanish’d from our sight;
The thunderbolt of war
‡‡Is quench’d in endless night;
Nor sight, nor sound of fear
Startles the listening ear;
‡‡Naught but the torrent’s roar,
The dull, deep, heavy sound,
From out the dark profound,
‡‡Echoes from shore to shore.
Where late the cry of blood
‡‡Rang on the midnight air,
The mournful lapsing of the flood,
The wild winds in the lonely wood,
‡‡Claim sole dominion there.

To thee, high-hearted Drew!
‡‡And thy victorious band
Of heroes tried and true
A nation’s thanks are due.
‡‡Defender of an injured land!
Well hast thou taught the dastard foe
‡‡That British honour never yields
To democratic influence, low,
‡‡The glory of a thousand fields.

Justice to traitors, long delay’d,
‡‡This night was boldly dealt by thee;
The debt of vengeance thou hast paid,
‡‡And may the deed immortal be.
Thy outraged country shall bestow
‡‡A lasting monument of fame,
The highest meed of praise below—
‡‡A British patriot’s deathless name!

Source: Susanna Moodie. Roughing it in the Bush; or, Life in Canada. vol. II. London: Richard Bentley, 1852.

The burning Steamer Caroline went over the Horseshoe Falls on the night of December 29, 1837. Read about the burning of the Caroline at the Niagara Falls Museums website

A Ballad of the Caroline by Anonymous

steamer caroline  

steamer caroline
Artist’s sketch of the Steamer Caroline on Fire at the Brink of the Horseshoe Falls. Image Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

Sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy  

When first Mackenzie’s rebel band
Was beat at Gallows Hill, sir,
To Buffalo they did retreat
And said we used him ill, sir.


Yankee-doodle, boys, huzzah,
Down, outside, and up the middle;
Yankee-doodle, boys, huzzah,
Trumpet, drum and fiddle.

The Buffalonians sympathized
And kicked up such a roar, sir,
And kicked up such a windy noise
It reached the British shore, sir.

steamer caroline
The Steamer Caroline Precipitated Over the Falls of Niagara. Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

The steamer, bound for Navy Isle,
Left Buffalo one morning
For to assist Mackenzie’s band,
Britannia’s thunder scorning.

But when the lion shook his mane,
And looked a little grim, sir,
He said ’twas not a Texas game
That they could play with him, sir.

A party left the British shore,
Led on by gallant Drew, sir,
To set the Caroline on fire,
And beat her pirate crew, sir.

The Yankees say they did invent
The steamboat first of all, sir;
But Britons taught their Yankee boats
To navigate the Falls, sir.

The spirit of our Wolfe and Brock
Doth still around us hover,
And still we stand on Queenston’s rock
To drive the Yankees over.

No slave shall ever breathe our air,
No tyrant’s laws shall bind us,
So keep your Yankee mob at home
For Britons still you’ll find us.

Source: Kevin McCabe, ed. The Poetry of Old Niagara. St. Catharines, Ont. : Blarney Stone Books, 1999.

Originally published: Jubilee History of Thorold, Township and Town, Thorold, 1897-8

The burning Steamer Caroline went over the Horseshoe Falls on the night of December 29, 1837. Read about the burning of the Caroline at the Niagara Falls Museums website