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William Falconer

William Falconer

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William Falconer was a Scottish
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...


Falconer was the son of a barber in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

, where he was born, became a sailor, and was thus thoroughly competent to describe the management of the storm-tossed vessel, the career and fate of which are described in his poem, The Shipwreck (1762), a work of genuine, though unequal, talent. The efforts which Falconer made to improve the poem in the subsequent edition which followed the first were not entirely successful. The work gained for him the patronage of the Duke of York, through whose influence he obtained the position of purser
The purser joined the warrant officer ranks of the Royal Navy in the early fourteenth century and existed as a Naval rank until 1852. The development of the warrant officer system began in 1040 when five English ports began furnishing warships to King Edward the Confessor in exchange for certain...

 on various warships.

Falconer was one of the three survivors of a trading ship on voyage from Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 to Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

 and in 1751 he wrote and published a poem on the death of Frederick, Prince of Wales
Frederick, Prince of Wales
Frederick, Prince of Wales was a member of the House of Hanover and therefore of the Hanoverian and later British Royal Family, the eldest son of George II and father of George III, as well as the great-grandfather of Queen Victoria...

. He had also contributed poems to the Gentleman's Magazine. The poem The Shipwreck was dedicated to the then rear-admiral Duke of York
Duke of York
The Duke of York is a title of nobility in the British peerage. Since the 15th century, it has, when granted, usually been given to the second son of the British monarch. The title has been created a remarkable eleven times, eight as "Duke of York" and three as the double-barreled "Duke of York and...

 where the poem states:
From regions where Peruvian billows roar,
To the bleak coasts of savage Labrador
Labrador is the distinct, northerly region of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It comprises the mainland portion of the province, separated from the island of Newfoundland by the Strait of Belle Isle...


Falconer was a midshipman
A midshipman is an officer cadet, or a commissioned officer of the lowest rank, in the Royal Navy, United States Navy, and many Commonwealth navies. Commonwealth countries which use the rank include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Kenya...

 on the Royal George for a short period of time and then in 1763 became purser
The purser joined the warrant officer ranks of the Royal Navy in the early fourteenth century and existed as a Naval rank until 1852. The development of the warrant officer system began in 1040 when five English ports began furnishing warships to King Edward the Confessor in exchange for certain...

 of the frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

 Glory aboard which he wrote the political satire Demagogue. In 1767 he was purser of the Swiftsure
Lightship #83, now called Swiftsure, is a lightvessel launched in Camden, New Jersey, USA in 1904 and now moored in Seattle, Washington. She steamed around the tip of South America to her first station at Blunts Reef in California, where she saved 150 people when their ship ran aground in dense fog...

. In 1769 he published The Universal Marine Dictionary. Falconer was purser on the frigate Aurora
Aurora (ship)
SY Aurora was a steam yacht built by Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd. shipbuilders in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1876, for the Dundee Seal and Whale Fishing Company. Her primary use was whaling in the northern seas, and she was built sturdily enough to withstand the heavy weather and ice that would be...

when it was lost after rounding the Cape of Good Hope on a voyage when it left from London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 on September 20, 1769.

Falconer's poems were used by Patrick O'Brian
Patrick O'Brian
Patrick O'Brian, CBE , born Richard Patrick Russ, was an English novelist and translator, best known for his Aubrey–Maturin series of novels set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and centred on the friendship of English Naval Captain Jack Aubrey and the Irish–Catalan physician Stephen...

 in his Aubrey-Maturin series. One of his lesser characters is a nautical poet but his poems are Falconer's.

The lines
With living colours give my verse to glow:
The sad memorial of a tale of woe!

(from The Shipwreck, Canto I) were used as a motto for Tafereel van de overwintering der Hollanders op Nova Zembla in de jaren 1596 en 1597 (1820) by the Dutch poet Hendrik Tollens
Hendrik Tollens
Henricus Franciscus Caroluszoon Tollens was a Dutch poet best known for Wien Neêrlands Bloed, the national anthem of the Netherlands between 1815 and 1932....


External links

  • Biography
  • William Falconer's Dictionary of the Marine (National Library of Australia
    National Library of Australia
    The National Library of Australia is the largest reference library of Australia, responsible under the terms of the National Library Act for "maintaining and developing a national collection of library material, including a comprehensive collection of library material relating to Australia and the...