(by Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian)
This month I wrote a story about poetry in our collection for both our blog and our Park website. While researching, I came across a delightful find, HDC 35 (SAFR 17607), The Captain Thompson Poems and Illustrations Collection. After seeing his charming drawings, I wanted to learn more about him so I went to the collection files. It turns out, there’s a bit of a mystery surrounding the documents. As far as I can tell, the images and poems were sent to us unsolicited. The name of the donor was not Thompson and apparently they sent the work with no background information. In the file, there are numerous envelopes we sent to the donors asking for more information which were sent back to us marked “return to sender: not at this address”.
There is a letter in the collection (see below; it’s highly amusing), that may or may not be in the same handwriting as the poems (some letters look similar, some very different, but the letter looks to have been quickly jotted down and perhaps not as much care taken as with the poems.) The letter is signed by an Alec Macson, Moeson or something like that who purports to be club secretary. The other gentlemen who signed the letter are sometimes mentioned in the poems. There is no Captain Thompson mentioned in either the letters or the poems.
The ship the author mentions, is “The good ship Kay” or simply “K”. I checked the American Bureau of Shipping and Lloyd’s registers in the years around 1914- there are no listing for a ship that begins with K having either a Thompson or a Riess (the man often referred to in the drawings) as a master.
I checked the California Digital Newspaper Collection for a “Captain Riess” with no luck. There were too many Captain Thompsons to be sure. None of the articles about the various Captain Thompson mentioned poetry or illustrations.
I have a feeling though the poet is British, due to some of the language in the poems. For instance, sailors are “crossed and crabbed” He also mentions Lobscouse, which is a typical sailor stew common on British ships. Lastly, the uniforms look distinctly British. Perhaps the stripes are just meant to be blue shading?
Here are some of the poems and the letter. If you recognize the style at all or the names and can tell us anything about this clever and talented author, please let us know.