James Berry – To Travel This Ship


The arrival of the SS Empire Windrush in June 1948 at Tilbury Dock marked the beginning of post-war mass migration. The ship made an 8,000 mile journey from the Caribbean to London with 492 passengers on board from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands.

James Berry, OBE, who died in June 2017 was a Jamaican poet who settled in Britain in 1948, in the first post-war wave of Jamaican emigration, later becoming one of the first Black writers in Britain to achieve wider recognition. In his poem To Travel This Ship he recreates the journey aboard the SS Empire Windrush.

To Travel this Ship
To travel this ship, man
I gladly strip mi name
of a one-cow, two-goat an a boar pig
an sell the land piece mi father lef
to be on this ship and to be a debtor.
Man, jus fa diffrun days
I woulda sell, borrow or thief
jus fa diffrun sunrise an sundown
in annodda place wid odda ways.
To travel this ship, man
I woulda hurt, I woulda cheat or lie,
I strip mi yard, mi friend and cousin-them To get this yah ship ride.
Man – I woulda sell mi modda Jus hopin to buy her back.
Down in dat hole I was
I see this lickle luck, man,
I see this lickle light.
Man, Jamaica is a place
Where generations them start out Havin notn, earnin notn,
And – dead – leavin notn.
I did wake up every mornin and find notn change.
Children them shame to go to school barefoot.
Only a penny to buy lunch.
Man, I have follow this lickle light for change.
I a-follow it, man!


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