The Ketch Ceres

In a previous post on For love of a boat, I said that I am happy to post the image of a boat and let it speak for itself.

The vessels themselves are inherently beautiful for many reasons and it’s up to the viewer what they make of what they see.

But what of those ships and boats that predate photography? (The very first photograph? 1825).


I have written posts on the Ceres before – among others here, here and here.

She was built in 1811 in Salcombe and went down off Baggy Point, Barnstaple Bay in 1936.

There are many black and white photographs from the 1920s and 30s but none I know of from before.

So I am delighted that John Franklin has taken me out of my photography/images mode and reintroduced me to C.Fox Smith’s poem.


John writes, “I have been mindful of this poem for more than 20 years now and it never fails to move me.”

“Ceres came to mind as I lay in a bed in Barnstaple Hospital where my ‘Bones’ were being repaired about three years ago. I knew she lay out there somewhere in Barnstaple Bay. In sight of Appledore.”

“I often quote from the poem; ‘… a time it comes to ships and men …’ when I’m feeling philosophical.”

In Barnstaple Hospital, John would have been within 10 nautical miles of where she lies.

Speaking as a grandson of Captain Petherick, I know my mother, grandfather and great grandfather would have appreciated your thoughts. Thank you, John.

(Oh, and I can’t resist another photograph).


Waiting for the tide – Bude, Cornwall


The Ketch Ceres

A century and a quarter full of change and change had passed
Since they built her down in Devon, where they mostly built to last,
And sent her out to earn her keep, at risk of wave and war,
And dodge the nimble privateer along the Biscay shore.

And war went out, and peace came in, and time it went and came,
And brought new changes every year, but to her it brought the same
The privateers they vanished, and the Indiamen likewise,
And the first steam kettle trailed her smoke across the affronted skies,

The tea fleet and the wool fleet, in their turn they had their day,
She marked them in their beauty as she plied upon her way,
Their canvas piled like summer clouds… like summer clouds they passed,
But she was built in Devon – and they build ‘em there to last.

She loaded nuts and oranges, she carried coal and props,
And bricks and hay and china clay and barley-malt and hops,
She traded north to Derry and she traded south to Spain,
And east about to Wells and Lynn and back to Bude again.

She knew the rips and overfalls from London to the Lizard,
And once she nearly left her bones off Padstow in a blizzard,
And when winter fogs were thickest she mostly smelt her way
By the old familiar sea marks into Bude and Watchet Bay.

And peace went out and war came in, and forth she went once more,
To dodge the nimble submarines along the English shore,
And war went out and peace came in, and still she held together,
Spite of floating mine and tinfish and the good old English weather,

She loaded salt and timber, and she carried slate from Wales.
Cement and corn and cattle cake and paying stones and nails
She worked her way to Liverpool and down the coast for cloam,
Across the way to Swansea Bay and then with slag for home.

But a time it comes to ships and men, when sailing days are past,
Even such as hail from Devon, where they mostly build to last.
And her seams began to open and the Severn tide came through,
And the water kept on gaining spite of all they could do,

They did their best to beach her, but they couldn’t do no more,
And foundered at the finish in site of Appledore,
And her bones’ll never flicker blue on any longshore fire,
For she’ll lie there and she’ll moulder as any old ship might desire,
And hear the vessels passing by, and dream about the past,
And the great old times in Devon, where they built her once to last.

C.Fox Smith. “Blue Peter” February 1937

3 thoughts on “The Ketch Ceres

  1. WOW! That is a great picture. Cameras of that era had a small number of elements in the lens and sharp focusing on teh subject. The plates had a low dynamic range. They could only reproduce a small number of shades of gray and this is why, if you get the exposure right, you get images of such high contrast.

    You might also be interested in the pictures from Shackleton’s first mission, The dynamic range might be low but let me tell you, they convey the hostility of the antartic in all its glory 🙂

    I am off to the sound! 😀 😀

  2. Many thanks Bill.
    I will visit your blog often and read this poem even though I have the original copy I bought at the lovely little museum at Bude in about 1978.

    I even take it along with me on other holidays too for a quick read.
    My life to date has been a bit like a ship’s; “full of sunny days and rainy days”. A quick read of something uplifting is always welcomed.

    Kind Regards

  3. Here is another old ketch in the background, together with other old boats.
    Sea view - Fowey 1946

    I would dearly love some information about this picture.

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