Wednesday, February 29, 2012

THE GREAT POTATO SCANDAL

Mr Tichbon was a second-class passenger in the ship Euterpe on the voyage of 1879. He was a leading light at Sunday prayers. But Mr Tichbon fell from grace.

The Euterpe Times #10 reported that there had been "great excitement during the past week by a discovery that the passengers in the 2nd Cabin had by some mysterious means become possessed of a quantity of real potatoes." A lively contribution in verse also appeared, called "The Great Potatoe Tragedy (Comedy) in Five Acts & Epilogue" and beginning


"Like Oliver Twist who asked for some more
The "Seconds" had harboured a wish
To eat fresh potatoes and not the preserved
And on Monday collared a dish."

It seems that the fellows from the second cabin, led by Mr Tichbon, saw that a case of real potatoes had broken open and spilled its contents, so they scooped up several and melted away before anyone noticed. They prepared a potful of spuds and sent it to the galley for boiling. The cook, however, was suspicious: how, he asked, did they get these potatoes? Mr Tichbon made matters worse – he offered the cook half a crown to look the other way. The cook refused and told the steward, and

"The Steward said, Keep them mind, don't give them up
I'll go and speak to the Captain
The Cook smole a smile as he locked up the dish
The Seconds were spudless again."

The captain was a genial man and thought that since real potatoes were on the list of provisions that passengers were in fact entitled to, he would let them have their treat.

"The Captain discussed it & said "It looks bad"
They're either hungry or greedy
I'm sure they'd not trouble to collar the stuff
Unless their affairs were needy."

The cook took to scrutinising all dishes carefully, so next time Tichbon and co conceived a bold and cunning plan. They put the rest of the stolen potatoes in a deep dish, covered them with meat, and put pastry over the top before sending the dish to the galley. They got away with it because

"Said the cook to his mate "It's hardly worth while
To examine the dishes today
With the row yesterday they're just now afraid
To try to delude me this way."

Four cartoons were posted on deck poking fun at poor Mr Tichbon: In #1 he was stealing the potatoes and taking them to the galley. In #2 the cook was asking questions and he was offering the cook a bribe. #3 was a trial by jury. In #4 pious Mr Tichbon was at Sunday prayers.

And it seems that even in 1879 people were worrying about the Russians. The last verse summed up:

"No question at home, not even the Eastern
Has caused more heated discussions
About the potatoes there's been so much talk
As probable war with the Russians."

Photo: Second class cabin courtesy (c) Mike Wood Photography

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