J. A. Murphy
Ode to a Bytown Youth
Enshrined in the records of Canadian achievement a century ago, is the
fascinating and thrilling story of a daring feat performed at Brock's monument on
Queenston Heights by a young Bytonian -- Matthew Murphy, father of Mr. J.A. Murphy of 412
McLeod Street. Mr. Murphy has penned the following lines relating to the historic incident
but fuller details will be found in a story elsewhere on this page.
Well nigh a century ago,
Beside Niagara's river,
On Queenston Heights was struck a blow
Brock's monument to shiver.
A dastard alien's coward hand
Had piled within its bottle
A quarter hundred powder bags
The tower to o'ertopple.
When fired, the blast was strong enough
The wooden stair to shatter,
Mortar and stone proved all too tough,
For such a piffling matter.
As angry embryo nation rose
To right the wrong intended,
From town and country, copse and close,
Their various ways they wended.
Not trains nor aeroplanes, nor cars
Conveyed these sturdy yeomen.
None carried arms though some bore scars,
But all were worthy foemen.
They rode, they ran, they sailed, they swam
O'er trails through swamps, wet, dreary;
Berries and leaves their stomachs cram,
Footsore they were, and weary.
From nearby hills and dales they come,
From broad Ontario's beaches,
Where'er a spark or loyal flame
Gave urge to man the breaches.
Another such determined host
Not all our land could muster
They frightened rebels from our coast
And quelled the Yankee bluster.
To us who live, with swords sheathed,
On dainty foods a-plenty
Their sacrificial faith bequeathed
Strength, comfort and nepenthe.
To her who honored England's throne,
Who ruled, by faith in God alone,
Hearts purged from ancient leaven.
Three years had passed, her natal day
Sanctioned their thus assembling,
The Empire's call they must obey,
None fearing or dissembling.
The flag that braved a thousand years
The storm and stress of battle
Again should float, through blood and tears
O'er winds and waves' wild rattle.
But how ascend the monument
That oft so proudly bore it?
How scale those walls so rudely rent,
Until they first repair it?
The hour demanded utmost haste,
Strength, skill, and nerves like iron.
And who would dare their lives to waste,
And burst their birth's environ?
"Cast thyself down", the devil said,
"To earth from yonder pinnacle!"
But few were here who knew the ropes
From spanaker to binnacle.
Then forth stepped one, a jolly tar,
Who hailed from far-famed Bytown;
"Give me a thirty-fathom cord,
And I will make a try-down.
"I'll put the colors on the top,
Or die in the endeavor!"
To count the cost he did not stop -
'T'was "do it now or never!"
He quickly stripped off all his gear,
Save trousers and suspenders,
Tied twine to button, void of fear,
Then grasped the lightning fender.
The rod, by staples lightly held,
Sustained its ten-stone burden.
And soon beneath the parapet,
His vision was his guerdon.
A platform, eight feet wide, girt round,
Fifteen feet 'neath the summit;
Nigh thirty fathoms from the ground,
As measured by the plummet.
Leaving the wall, still on the rod.
Under this platform swinging,
With nothing 'twixt him and the sod -
There were no joy bells ringing.
Twenty-five thousand pairs of eyes
Watched one pair legs a-dangle.
His eyes look'd upward to the skies,
With never a downward angle.
At last above the rail he went,
Like sailor on the crow's nest;
His ardent spirit, nigh forespent,
Felt grateful for the floor's rest.
Then o'er the top he drew the twine,
With stronger cord combining,
On it the folded flag rose fine -
And bright the sun was shining!
Alas! The flagstaff wobbling leans -
Which taxed him to the limit;
By signs, with knife on string - such measures -
They sent up chips to shim it.
From twice twelve thousand throats the cry
Rang out as from an army,
"Fling out our banner! Raise it high!
And nothing e'er can harm ye!"
The task his ardor had begun
Seem'd done - but not yet finished;
Life still was sweet beneath the sun;
And now, with strength diminished,
He climbed the battlements and swung,
At arm's length, 'neath the coping.
Hand over hand, till ankles wrung,
Knees scraped, on rubble stopping.
The loosened staples, giving way,
His eyes with mortar sprinkled;
His tongue was parch'd, his face was gray,
His brow a wee bit wrinkled.
He told them, as he gained his breath,
Of soldiers deftly drilling.
Across the river, threatening death,
And plunder, rapine, killing.
However, though they strove to sow
In York, the seeds of treason,
No further did rebellion grow
'Gainst right and truth and reason.
Peace, strength and vision were restored,
When died the Family Compact,
And soon the vile, adventurous horde
Foreswore their devilish contract.
Our patriotic escapade
Gave Britain's door its hinges,
Made safe the avenues of trade,
From th' Great Lakes to the fringes.
Victoria, Winnipeg, Montreal,
Quebec and Halifax.
Swing through these gates, which ne'er shall fall,
While Britain wields the axe!
"What axe?" you cry: the battle axe
Of God's advancing kingdom.
This Britain holds, and nothing lacks,
To meet earth's wrangling ring-dom.
All ye who speak our mother tongue,
So much at ease in Zion,
Join with the race from which you sprang
Whose God you still rely on!
So shall there be one conquering host,
By men of vision led on.
When all the alien armies boast
Their strength at Armageddon.
Supplement to article by Ottawa Citizen columnist Earl G. Wilson, published in the Stories
of Earlier Days section of the Ottawa Citizen, dated Saturday, December 17,
1938. Click here to see the article.
Source: Michael Ross Murphy, May 1, 2002.