John LePage and the Sleigh Bubble

In my previous posting I wrote about the appearance on B.W.A. Sleigh’s Albatross in Charlottetown and the honours that were heaped on Sleigh at the time for his enterprise. I have since learned that the event was captured in verse by the 19th century poet of the Island John LePage in an 18 stanza poem notable primarily for its use of exclamation points

Title page for The Island Minstrel 1860

Title page for The Island Minstrel 1860

John LePage (1812-1886) had a remarkable ability to write simple satirical verse on events and personalities of the day and memorialized many of the noteworthy events of the Island’s history.  His earliest poems were published in Island newspapers, especially the Islander beginning in the 1830s. He was soon much in demand as a writer of verse. Although best known for his wry poetical commentary on Island activities such as the workings of the Land Commission, his work also included poetry celebrating events in Island history including the loss of the steamer Fairy Queen and the arrival of the new Steam Navigation Company ship Princess of Wales.  He also composed odes to deceased friends and valentines for female acquaintances.  Other poems covered  wider and less parochial subjects such as the fate of Sir John Franklin and events in the America Civil war.

LePage came from Channel Island stock and trained as a teacher, eventually becoming third master of the Central Academy. When that position was abolished he worked  as a clerk and later as secretary for the Charlottetown Gas Light Company. He was author of a number of publications but is best know for two volumes of The Island Minstrel.

Seven of the eighteen stanzas of his poem “The Sleigh Bubble” follow. LePage seems to have captured the essence as well as the details of Sleigh’s short-lived period as darling of the Isle.  For best effect the stanzas should be read aloud in dramatic voice.

Well Captain Sleigh, the rich the rare
In every mouth was everywhere:
And, to be sure, how some did stare!
With mouths wide-gaping!
And others cut both earth and air
Bowing and scraping

Last Spring, the Strait he went across,
On to New York with little loss
Of time and got the Albatross
The Arrant Schemer!
She gave the whole affair its gloss –
That flashy steamer!

Return’d! The lion of the hour!
A large estate seem’d in his power –
Up to Morell he made a tour,
Angled and sported,
And scattered largess by the shower!
(So ’twas reported.)

Not yet Lieutenant-Colonel bruited, –
So high was Captain Sleigh reputed,
That a great dinner next was mooted.
Of choice description!
As his high dignity well suited,
A pound subscription!

T’were long to tell, for much was said
Of forfeits, fish and mutual trade
The Albatross each trip she made,
Might bring some notion
And steam of stock, for money paid,
Across the Ocean.

As hues of pure prismatic dye
Fade fast before the admiring eye;
As northern lights pass thro’ the sky,
Or scud, or smoke
This bubble big just flitted by,
And then it broke!

And left our Island Captain Sleigh,
Lieutenant Colonel yesterday: –
The “Albatross” would never pay
And no great wonder,
Sans eggs or geese she steamed away
With noise like thunder!


1 thought on “John LePage and the Sleigh Bubble

  1. Pingback: “such a duck of a boat” – An ode to the Princess | Sailstrait

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