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Greetings From Afar

The Search for the Mary Gloster

“I’ve paid for your sickest fancies; I’ve humoured your crackedest whim —

Dick, it’s your daddy, dying; you’ve got to listen to him!

Good for a fortnight, am I? The doctor told you? He lied.

I shall go under by morning, and — Put that nurse outside.

‘Never seen death yet, Dickie? Well, now is your time to learn,

And you’ll wish you held my record before it comes to your turn.

Not counting the Line and the Foundry, the yards and the village, too,

I’ve made myself and a million; but I’m damned if I made you.

Master at two-and-twenty, and married at twenty-three —

Ten thousand men on the pay-roll, and forty freighters at sea!

Fifty years between ’em, and every year of it fight,

And now I’m Sir Anthony Gloster, dying, a Baronite”

(Rudyard Kipling, “The Mary Gloster”, 1894)

As with many of Rudyard Kipling’s works, the story of the “Mary Gloster”, as related in the poems “McAndrew’s Hymn” and “The Mary Gloster” seems to be true. He has apparently changed only the names of the persons, companies and the ship involved, as many of the participants were still living at the time of original publication. Much speculation has arisen over the years as to the actual identity of “Sir Anthony Gloster”, and, of course, his late wife, as well as that of the characters referred to in these works as “MacAndrew” and the Gloster’s surviving son, “Richard”. Needless to say, these are ongoing mysteries, as the information apparently went to the grave with Mr. Kipling. The end of the story does not end, however, with the sinking of the “Mary Gloster” and the carrying out of “Sir Anthony’s final wishes.

Almost as soon as the last of these works appeared, in the fall of 1894, stories began to arise concerning the sighting of a “ghost ship” in the Maccassar Strait area, and along normal route that a ship of this time would have taken to reach that vicinity from England and Scotland’s Clydeside. The story goes that an old-fashioned sail-steam brig of mid 19th century vintage can often be seen passing in the night. It is a neat, trim ship, in good repair, and proceeding at a leisurely four to six knots, under a good head of steam. On deck, a man and woman are visible at the helm; the man dressed in the uniform of a Ships Officer of the same period as the vessel, and the woman in civilian attire of the same period. If hailed, the ship will respond, the Ship’s Officer responding through a large, brass “speaking horn” of the kind commonly used today by cheerleaders. The name of the ship is always indistinguishable, but a port of origin and a destination is given, as is common to maritime protocol, along with the number of hours out of port… The ports of origin and destination, either Java or The Port of London, are interchanged, depending upon the location and heading of the ship. The ship then continues on course until it is out of sight. It does not, however, according to modern accounts, show up on radar, and has no sonar signature. In short, by all means known to modern technology, it does not exist, except to those who physically see the ship. It is most commonly observed in the Maccassar Strait, and in the South Indian Ocean, near Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon).

Sighting what has become commonly known as the”Mary Gloster” is something of a boon, in that the ship seems to be a “Flying Dutchman” in reverse. Sighting little ship is considered to be an omen of general good luck, and an omen of something very fortunate to happen soon. For a newlywed couple, or a pair of soon-to-be-wed lovers to be among those fortunate enough to witness the vessel, it is a sign of a long, happy and prosperous marriage. For those who are single, it is considered a sign that they will soon find that Mr. or Miss “Right”. For ship’s crew, it is a sign of general good luck, a safe voyage, and a long and rewarding career.

Perhaps one day, the world will know the identity of the “Gloster Family” and “Fleet Engineer MacAndrew”. Maybe one day, some distant descendant will discover some yellowed document, some letter or other correspondence, that finally solves the mystery Until then, she will be, to those fortunate enough to site her, “Mary Gloster 19 hours out of Java, bound for the Port of London! And who hails her?” Until that time comes, if it does, she will always be, as Mr. Kipling so aptly called her “Sir Anthony Gloster’s carriage”

Perhaps but with the passage of time, the question of who these people — a man who could love his wife so much to literally span the world, even in death, to be at her side and a couple who’s love for each other was so strong that it literally rent the veil of death, itself actually were, is still a matter of speculation. As is the case with any “paranormally” related subject, it would most likely prove to be impossible to either “prove” or “disprove” the existence of the “Mary Gloster” as a “ghost ship”. Certainly, there have been sightings, and just as certainly, those sightings continue But it might not be “impossible” to prove who these people actually were

One prominent theory, in light of research, it makes a great deal of sense. It is more than likely that Rudyard Kipling either knew the people involved in this story personally or was otherwise socially associated with them in some way. This being the case, he made some “changes” which would “protect” the surviving family and friends from any scandal that might ensue from the full details, or a significant portion of them, being released to the public. Whoever this person, or these people, they were well enough known, at the time, that even with these changes, speculation was rife. It seems to be very much similar to the case of “who was Jack the Ripper”. There are almost certainly those who knew his identity, and most likely those who still know.

Now, this analogy can’t be taken too far. With the case of “Sir Anthony Gloster” it is most unlikely that the “cover” is that extensive. It certainly does not involve any government entities, or agencies, and could not possibly be “controversial’ after the passage of so much time — certainly not to the point that the discovery of Jack the Ripper’s identity would be. It is most unlikely that Kipling intended for this “secret” to be kept for, what amounts to “all eternity”. It is possible, extremely likely in fact, there were still living family members at the time of Kipling’s own death in the mid-1930’s. It is conceivable, given a mid-1850’s date of birth for “Richard Gloster”, he could. In fact, have been living, although a relatively old man, at the time of Kiplings death. This might well have been the case, as Kipling was roughly part of the same generation. Whether or not it was the character he identifies as “Richard Gloster” it seems apparent that had Kipling managed to out live whoever this person was, the facts of the story would have been made known.

Now, here is the reasoning for this theory. The account that Kipling gives of “Sir Anthony Gloster’s” final meeting with his son, actually

an account of the old man’s death, is both too detailed, and too “rough” to be pure fiction. Certainly, any good writer could invent the details that surroud such an event, and Rudyard Kipling was, without doubt, an excellent writer but… the way it is worded, the sometimes tiny and strategically placed aside comments —  constitute facts involved that are simply too overwhelming to be invented and the way the material is presented — in a first person narriative — indicates that Kipling received the information from someone who was present at the time… most likely the person that he identifies in the poem as “Richard Gloster” the sole surviving son. This  is especially compelling toward the end of the piece, where the old man, obviously dying is seemingly hallucinating. It just rings true, and the content would only be known to a person who was present.

The same applies to McAndrew, only to a lesser degree. Kipling was a journalist by profession, and the content of “McAndrew’s Hymn” seems, from the perspective of a journalist, to be composed from either an interview with this person, or from an interview with someone who knew the man intimately and over a very long period of time. While there is indeed an arguement to be made that McAndrew might just be a “stereotypical” dour, Scotts engineer (let’s face it, they even had one of them in “Star Trek”), the amount of detail, not technical detail, which is abundant, but personal detail, including descriptions of people and their conversations, is just too great to have been invented out of whole cloth.

It is possible, likely in fact, that Kipling wrote the poem “Mary Gloster” as a tribute although an anonymous one, to a friend. The earlier work, “McAndrew’s Hymn” which was at first intended to be merely a study of the unsung and unseen engineer, accidentally and unintentionally became an introductory piece to the later work. Given this, it is more than likely that somewhere, someone knows who these people were. It is not impossible that somewhere, there is a yellowing letter, manuscript or diary that shows the content of the interviews, at least with one of the people involved.

The identification of McAndrew first, and through his career, the identification of the “Glosters”, might also be a viable course for any research on this subject to take. The man was, according to Kipling, in the later stages of his career, Chief Engineer or Fleet Engineer of a major shipping line… granted “this is na th’ Cunnard”, but it was a major line, nevertheless. Note that his employer is identified by name as — “Sir Kennety” he is simply not identified by family name. This could well be the man’s actual name, or part of it, and in “Mary Gloster” McAndrew is said to be “Chief of the Maori Line”. Now, while it is not known, at this point, if there actually was an historical “Maori Line”… there is/was very possibly something extremely similar. There is also ample information, presented in both poems of this series, of the routes that McAndrew’s line followed. The character, in fact, speaks, in the present tense, among other things, of calling at Kergulen, and sailing in the South Atlantic. How many major shipping lines of this time followed these routes?

Now, what is actually known about these people, specifically “Sir Anthony”and “Mary Gloster”? Actually, from gleaning the combined text of the two poems, quite a lot.

1. Anthony Gloster was a member of the British Peerage — a Baronite, however he was born a commoner.

2. Anthony Gloster had, on at least one occasion had a formal dinner with either Prince Albert, the Prince Regent (Queen Victoria’s husband) or with Edward Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII).

3. Anthony Gloster had been prominently mentioned on several occasions quite prominently in London papers of the time. The line “not the least of our merchant princes” has the ring of truth to it, considering journalistic style of that period.

4. Anthony Gloster was a ship’s master at age 22, and married Mary Gloster at age 23.

5. Anthony and Mary Gloster had one surviving son, who, at the time of the story, is in his mid-to late thirties, by implication, over 35 years of age, yet not yet 40 years of age.

6. With the poem concerning the death of Sir Anthony having been written in late 1894, this would place Richard Glosters birth between 1855 and 1859, with the earlier date being the more probable of the two.

7. Mary Gloster died in childbirth, with Richard. This would place her date of death at the same time, between 1855 and 1859, again, with the earlier date being the more probable of the two.

8. Mary Gloster had given birth to several other children, before Richard, who did not survive infancy (common in those times). This would indicate that by the time of her death the Glosters had been married for at least five years. While the number of other births is not mentioned, it is mentioned that there were several and an

average of 18 months between births would be fairly common.

9. The ship, Mary Gloster, is described in such a way as to indicate that it was a sail/steam sloop or brig, which was capable of making headway under sail, should the steam engine fail. In the poem “McAndrew’s Hym”, reference is made to the maximum running steam pressure of 10 pounds per square inch, which indicates that the ship was in the “first generation” or very early “second generation” of seagoing steamships, most likely built between 1845, and 1860, with a date in the middle, around 1850 being most likely.

10. Since all of Mary Gloster’s children were born “at sea”, according to the poem, it is safe to assume that the ship was purchased, by the Glosters, either in the first year of their marriage, or early in the second year. “Marriageable” age, in England, at that time was commonly 16, but this was uncommon, the average tended to be around 18. Given this, and the assumed date of Richard’s birth, the following can be assumed.

a) The Glosters married in/about 1850.

b) The ship was purchased that year, or early the next.

c) This would give an approximate date of birth for Mary Gloster of 1832 to 1834, with the earlier date being most likely. This would have made her approximately 20 to 24 years of age at the time of her death. This is consistent with the statement of “how young we were” in the poem “Mary Gloster” and with the fact that she had had several earlier pregnancies. In a five to six year marriage, in this era, it is safe to assume three pregnancies, with the strong likelihood of Richard’s birth being the fourth.

d) Men were usually older than their brides in this period, by a factor of, generally speaking, two to five years, sometimes (although rarely) considerably more. This would place Sir Anthony’s date of birth somewhere in the mid 1820’s. This is consistent with his cause of death, a series of strokes. In 1893, he would have been in his mid-to-late sixties. Which was a common lifespan among people of his social class, at this time, and also consistent with the stated age of the surviving son, Richard.

1. Anthony Gloster was residing in London at the time of his death. While his address is not mentioned, the address of his son, Richard, is it is on the Cromwell Road, one of the more affluent sections of Victorian London.

2. The shipyard owned by Sir Anthony Gloster was located at Clydeside, in Scotland.

3. Sir Anthony’s company was involved in governmental contracts, notably for armor plate, most likely for warships.

4. Sir Anthony had a mistress, and the fact was well enough known for him to instruct his son to pay her off, and to warn her that “his lawyers would fight”.

5. Sir Anthony Gloster owned a vault or mausoleum, which remained unused, in Woking. This was, in all likelihood, eventually used by other members of the family.

6. Sir Anthony Gloster had a business partner, called McCullough, in the poem Mary Gloster, who died “in the fifties”.

7. The ship Mary Gloster was maintained on the company register until the time of Sir Anthony Gloster’s burial at sea, whereupon it was scuttled, with his body on board. Given the approximate death of Sir Anthony’s death, it would have disappeared from Admiralty or Maritime Registries in 1892 or early 1893.

8, Sir Anthony Gloseter was not dead at the time Kipling wrote “MacAndrew’s Hymn”. Both poems were written while he was living in the U.S.  in Vermont. Therefore it is likely that even though “The Mary Gloseter” was published before “MacAndrew’s Hymn” Kipling suspended work on the latter upon learning of “Sir Anthony”s death  and published it as an “afterword”.

Perhaps one day, the world will know the identity of the “Gloster Family” and “Fleet Engineer MacAndrew”. Maybe one day, some distant descendant will discover some yellowed document some letter or other correspondence, that finally solves the mystery Until then, the little ship that is arriagelly sighted in the remote passage of Maccassar Strait, will be, to those fortunate enough to site her, “Mary Gloster 19 hours out of Java, bound for the Port of Lodon! And who hails her?” Until that time comes, if it does, she will always be, as Mr. Kipling so aptly called her “Sir Anthony Gloster’s arriage”

For the heart it shall go with the treasure – go down to the sea in ships.

I’m sick of the hired women – I’ll kiss my girl on her lips!

I’ll be content with my fountain, I’ll drink from my own well,

And the wife of my youth shall charm me – an’ the rest can go to Hell!

(Dickie, ~he~ will, that’s certain.) I’ll lie in our standin’-bed,

An’ Mac’ll take her in ballast – an’ she trims best by the head. . . .

Down by the head an’ sinkin’, her fires are drawn and cold,

And the water’s splashin’ hollow on the skin of the empty hold –

Churning an’ choking and chuckling, quiet and scummy and dark –

Full to her lower hatches and risin’ steady. Hark!

That was the after-bulkhead. . . . She’s flooded from stem to stern. . .

Never seen death yet, Dickie? . . . Well, now is your time to learn!