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Old Town pub poem brings back memories of maritime rescue 400 years ago

An historic pub in Hull’s Old Town has become a port of call for visitors from the UK and abroad as they explore the story of a 400-year-old relic of the city’s maritime heritage.

A framed poem and photograph on the wall of the Bonny Boat in Trinity House Lane tell the tale of an Inuit in distress who was rescued by a crew from Hull – in 1613!

As the poem recounts, “the poor wretch died” as the crew tried to revive him on their way home from Greenland. But his kayak and other equipment still hang in Trinity House, and the episode is one of the main attractions in a pub steeped in nautical tradition.

Linda Levantiz, licensee of the Bonny Boat, said: “A lot of people go straight over to the photograph and the poem when they come in the pub – especially tourists – and it has become more of a talking point this year with people realising it all happened 400 years ago.”

Captain Brian Mitchell, Master Warden at Trinity House, said a book about Trinity House, written by Captain Arthur Storey in 1967, told how the Inuit was taken aboard the Heartsease by Captain Andrew Barker.

The book reveals: “… it is twelve feet long with a bone framework covered with skin. In it was found a man from Greenland in an exhausted condition and although Captain Barker took him aboard he died three days later. In this canoe sits the effigy of the man wearing the original coat and hat, surrounded with his fishing gear.”

Captain Mitchell said: “The kayak is referred to as ‘the Canoe’ in Trinity House records, probably because the Inuit name for this type of craft had not been adopted at the time.

“It is suspended in a frame from the ceiling of a room in The House which is appropriately named ‘The Canoe Room,’ and considerable interest has been shown over the years by researchers into Inuit history from as far afield as North America.

“The Brethren of Trinity House consider it remarkable that the preservation of this lightweight craft has lasted for 400 years. The whole of the exterior, including the clothing, has a shiny appearance which indicates that the preservative consists of some sort of varnish and for hundreds of years staff have taken great care of its fragile construction.”

Dr Robb Robinson of the University of Hull’s Maritime Historical Studies Centre, refers to several voyages by Hull seafarers to Greenland in the early 17th century in his 2010 book Far Horizons: From Hull to the Ends of the Earth.

He records how Captain James Hall originally commanded the Heartsease in search of silver ore but was killed in an attack by Inuits who recognised him as having kidnapped four of their men during an expedition in 1605.

Dr Robinson wrote: “As he lay dying, Hall appointed Captain Andrew Barker of the Heartsease to take overall command.

“Andrew Barker was evidently a good choice; he was an experienced seaman, having been three times Warden of Hull Trinity House, and made the decision to return to England after the silversmith on board declared that the ore they found was worthless.”

Brian Collins, a civil servant who lives in West Hull, decided to research the story in 1986 when regulars in the Bonny Boat began discussing it over a pint or two with licensees Brian and Ann Gallagher. Their successor as landlord, Chris Doyle, had the verse copied onto parchment and framed with the photograph.

Mr Collins said: “It came from talking about how the pub got its name, and there was a suggestion that it was from the kayak. I had some time to spare on a day off so I researched the story at Hull Library.

“The frame used to hang above the fireplace and it is nice to see it is still there more than 27 years after I wrote the poem and 400 years after the events in Greenland. It fits very well with the pub’s collection of nautical memorabilia.”

But whether the pub did indeed take its name from the kayak remains something of a mystery, according to Linda. One theory was that Queen Victoria was heard to remark: “My, that’s a bonny boat,” when she saw the kayak, but the monarch did not visit Hull until 1854 and Linda’s records indicate the name was changed before 1841.

She said: “We know it was the Bank Hotel in 1825 and it later became the Bonny Boatsman. But by 1841, when it was sold at auction for £100, the pub was the Bonny Boat. So it seems we know more about events of 400 years ago than we do of the pub history less than 200 years ago, but I’m sure people will come in and tell us what they know about our history!”

Kathryn Shillito, HullBID City Centre Manager, said: “It is remarkable that such a fascinating story lies behind the poem and the photograph, and that the events to which they relate date back 400 years.

“Hull’s Old Town and its pubs really are steeped in history and relics such as this are an important part of the city’s appeal to visitors.”

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Business highlight

Old Town pub poem brings back memories of maritime rescue 400 years ago

An historic pub in Hull’s Old Town has become a port of call for visitors from the UK and abroad as they explore the story of a 400-year-old relic of the city’s maritime heritage.

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