So, the vaunted ET fails to elicit any information on the strange case of the Wizard of the North. It therefore falls to me, unworthy custodian though I be, to expound as best I can on the matter. Fitting it is that this be the time of year for tales of the supernatural ....
I'm minded of a Liverpool bosun I sailed with on the west African coast – aha! Jim-lad – and who had done time on the north Atlantic with Cunard. He would be my primary source but remember I'm having to rely on half-remembered conversations in other times and places. During my own sojourn on those waters I also seem to recall the odd passing mention of the legend.
The way I think I heard it, it went something like this :
The vessel was the Queen Mary and the time the early 1950s. Apparently there was a painting routine for funnels and accessible superstructure set up westbound to satisfy the New York superintendentcy. On the passage in question the painting had been satisfactorily completed on the understanding that she routinely went x-side-to. However, to the Chief Officer's consternation radioed advice came that she was going y-side-to. And it was now too late to retrieve the situation.
Throughout the last night at sea the lightning flashed and the thunder crashed. On docking morning it was found that the contingent asymetric painting deficit had been mysteriously made up, apparently overnight! According to the deck crowd such a serendipitous intervention could only be attributed to a phantom entity – the Wizard of the North.
That is the gist of the story as I think I heard it. But what can be the true origin of this bizarre legend?
At this distance I can only conjecture that it might have had a disappointingly prosaic origin in an old-fashioned overtime dispute! The deck crew were in fact turned out in full strength to make up in short order (by floodlight presumably) what would otherwise be several days' work. I doubt there was any electric storm that night.
Probably due to an oversight in the deck office the augmented painting gang was simply not credited with the commensurate overtime payment. The upshot of all this would have been that on arrival back in Southampton they would have paid off 'in dispute'; no doubt facetiously and vociferously proclaiming to all within earshot that the Queen Mary had been touched up overnight by – you've guessed it – the Wizard of the North. And all within earshot noised it abroad throughout the taverns and alehouses of the town. Howsoever the dispute may have been resolved, the aforesaid Wizard of the North thereby passed into western ocean legend.
As to why that particular appellation was chosen and as to whether the Wizard was a recognised ethereal entity before this dispute I'm not able to say. The 'north' in this context would refer to, and is an abbreviation for, the north Atlantic. Why the more alliteratively mellifluous 'wizard of the western' was not aspired to – 'western ocean' being the seafarers' preferred appellation for the north Atlantic – might be a matter for passing regret; but then BOT pay-offs were not normally known to be triggers of prosodic excellence.
The true answer may thus lie on some dusty shelf at the Registry of Shipping and Seamen.
Whatever may have take place, time is passing and perhaps this post, inadequate though it be, might go some way toward retrieving the Wizard of the North from those mists of obscurity into which he has evidently slipped
I'm grossly over-extended here and I now fully expect some lurking Cunard veteran to crawl out of the woodwork and knock everything I've just said into a cocked hat.
Now.... For those of you who might be homing in on the Ambrose, should you catch a whiff of 'cunard red' on the crisp night air, reflect that it just might be the Wizard poised on the ether, paint roller primed and presented, waiting.... ever waiting.... for the right set of funnels to haul up from the east. And, if you get the chance, you might tell him he's needed in Long Beach!
''The Wizard of the North''is an expression I've never heard of but I suspect just a figment of one's imagination and quite clearly, just another Old Salty Yarn for those landlubbers willing to soak it up like a sponge. There are indeed some wonderful and weird ideas about ''scoots'' across the pond thats for sure!
However, it's all good fun and long may it last!
For those of you that may be interested, when I served on both ''Queen'' Liners in the early 50's, on each arrival in Southampton, shoreside painting gangs would paint say, the starboard hull. During this time, all port side lifeboats would be lowered to the water and tested. Two weeks later when the ship arrived back in Southampton , the process would be repeated but this time the port hull would be painted and all starboard boats lowered to the water and tested. Funnels and masts would not be painted every voyage but during heavy weather crossings, ''sooji'' gangs would clean off the hard baked salt on the funnels along with fresh water hoses after arrival. To my knowledge on these vessels, funnels and masts were never touched whilst at sea probably due to the fact of one or two thousand passengers strolling around the decks from time to time. There were enough claims every voyage in the Pursers office regarding smut from the funnels ruining fur coats and items of clothing etc. without the crew dropping paint all over the place from aloft. Having said that, painting went on endlessly during voyages , usually crews accommodation and areas not used by passengers , this being the cheapest way from the company's point of view of ''keeping her sealed'' against the elements.
''Wizard of The North?'' Save it for the next time you have a beer !
All the best,
Poking round the Internet, I found that the term "Wizard of the North" has been applied to a number of people. There was the author, Sir Walter Scott, when he published anonymously in his early years. There were two notable magicians, John Henry Anderson (1814-1874) and Dr Walford Bodie (1869-1939).
The one that has folk-lore connections is a man whose name is modernised as Michael Scott (c1175-c1230). He was a very talented multi-lingual Scottish scholar, who achieved much fame overseas.
After his death, many stories of magic were attached to his name. He was supposedly in league with the devil and could travel at an incredible speed on his familiar, a huge horse. He is said to have seriously rearranged parts of the Scottish landscape.
Maybe this legend lingers on somewhere.
Thanks to David Haisman for another interesting post from someone who's 'been there, done that'.
I did of course have difficulty with the idea of an extensive painting programme on fast transatlantic passage, particularly in view of the fickle weather conditions obtaining.
"Wizard of the North" seems to have been a portmanteau term passed down through the centuries (which seems also to distance it from my assumption that in the present case the 'north' refers to the north Atlantic). If the latest 'incumbent' (Bodie) lasted until 1939, would that mean the term would linger in the human psyche up until the 1950s? His predecessor Anderson demonstrated a 'magic bottle' able to dispense a multiplicity of alcoholic beverages in quantity; an ability guaranteed to endear him to not a few seafarers.
Anyway, short of further input we've probably taken this topic as far as is practicable and in some small way may have added to the sum total of recorded seagoing social experience!