I've been thinking about my ancestry...

The Wreck Of The Hesperus

I remember my mother using the phrase, The Wreck of the Hesperus, to describe "a really big mess." She would say: "This house/room looks like the wreck of the Hesperus!"

In talking with her recently, I asked her if she knew the history of the expression. She replied that she did not - but that she clearly remembered her mother and her grandmother using it and many other colloquialisms just like it.

She also told me that my grandmother's grandmother immigrated for Scotland and here is where I discovered an interesting tidbit about my ancestry. When I researched the phrase, I discovered that it is the title of well-known ballad by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow written in the 1800's.

It is a story about the tragic consequences of a proud sea captain's arrogance during an ill-fated voyage one winter. The captain brings his daughter along aboard ship for company. However, the voyage becomes a disaster when the captain ignores the advice of an experienced seaman who fears a hurricane is approaching. The seaman implores the captain to put the ship into port but the captain refuses.

When the hurricane arrives, the captain ties his daughter to the mast to prevent her from being washed overboard during the storm. The girl cries out to her dying father and even prays to Christ to calm the seas but there is no salvation because the foolish pride of the father has sealed their fate. The ship crashes into a reef and sinks.

The next morning, a horrified fisherman discovers the daughter's body, still tied to the mast, drifting in the surf. The poem then ends with a prayer asking Christ to save us all from succumbing to a similar fate - the kind of pride that leads to destruction.

In further researching the title phrase, I discovered that this expression is used more prominently in the UK where it means a "disheveled appearance" or an "untidy room." Hence, the connection to my Scottish ancestors who used the expression and passed it down through the generations to me!

By the way, ironically, Hesperus means "evening star." How sad that something so lovely should be remembered instead for its macabre connection to a tragedy.