Poems from the coast | Edward Bransfield by Daniel Wade

In his series of maritime inspired poems by the talented Dublin poet Daniel Wade, the story of Edward Bransfield, a Cork-born sailing master who first sighted the Antarctic mainland on January 30th, 1820.

Edward Bransfield


He was still in his prime


and serving as pilot on board

a whaling brig called the Williams.


He’d pace the deck long after the others


had turned in for the night, as if engaging

in some private communion


with the sea-air and the damp, untouched

blackness through which his vessel ghosted.


His crewmates let him be when he did this,


knowing full well his leader’s need

for solitude.


They didn’t know where exactly they were going,

or what miracles they might discover.


They weren’t even sure what their captain hoped to achieve.


Naval registers and ledgers

identified him as British,


and confirmed that in his years of service


during both mercantile and military voyages

he’d held the rank of midshipman and master’s mate,


after starting as an able seaman

and working his way up to a second master:


a man well-versed in seaborne hierarchies.


He carried his spyglass and compass

with him at all times,


even when visibility was greatly diminished


fore-and-aft and the ship was forced

to drop anchor amid the ice.


He only slept when absolutely necessary,

two to three hours at most,

preferring the cold to the lamplit warmth


of his cabin, as if familiarising himself

with the hostile conditions and terrain


he was charged with surveying.


He found himself more compelled

by the silence that immediately follows


the end of an especially tender piece of music.


His medals hung quietly in a cabinet.

The ensign lost its splendour.


Ship’s grog tasted like scrub-water.


He was a native of Cork,

a reliable navigator and helmsman


in a Navy that boasted of ruling the waves.


He rarely dwelled on his previous voyages,

and had quite forgotten the names


of each and every ship he’d served on.


He did not plan on retiring from the sea

for at least another decade,


and on the 30th of January Anno Domini

1820, Edward Bransfield


first sighted the Antarctic continent.

About Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade is a poet and playwright from Dublin, Ireland. He is a graduate of Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology where he studied English and Journalism.

Check out his website danielwadeauthor.com for more.


About the Author

Ann Robinson
Has a passion for coastal heritage and maritime history. Loves sharing the best of the Irish coast online. Contact me ann@coastmonkey.ie or follow me on Twitter @AnnRobinson22