On the 27th October, 1878, Mr Edward Enderby stepped into a railway carriage at Victoria Station, London, and travelled down to Gravesend, en route for New Zealand. He boarded the steamer Malacca, anchored in the Thames, and after settling himself into his cabin went for a walk on the deck. Up by the ship's bows he came across enough livestock to fill a small farm; in those days, the usual companions on such a long sea voyage.
A score of bullocks were tethered in stalls on either side of the deck. A flock of fifty sheep were nibbling at a feed of hay. A tethered dairy cow gazed mournfully at the visitor; she would be expected to provide fresh milk for the next six weeks or so. And there was a large hutch, in which scores of fowls, ducks and turkeys, were making the best of the narrow world, in which they would have such a short time to live.
As Mr Enderby walked past them, they were arguing in a chorus of hisses, clucks and quacks; and they were still fighting over the choicest nesting sites when the Malacca, carrying Mr Enderby and the barnyard, passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, and entered the Mediterranean, heading for the Suez Canal.
When the ship was two days out of sight of land, a number of storks flew overhead, travelling from winter in Europe to the warmth of Africa. They were flying one behind the other, and had already been a long time on the wing. The last bird was lagging far behind; in fact he was so tired he could hardly stay in the air. As the passengers watched, he sank lower and lower, his wings flailing ineffectually, till his feet touched the rigging of the ship, and he flopped and slid onto the deck.
A sailor ran and picked up the exhausted stork. For a moment he
stood undecided, then he carried the bird over to the large
hutch, and put it in with the fowls, the ducks and the turkeys.
It lay quietly on the straw, and the little group of
spectators, Mr Enderby among them, broke up and drifted away.
It would soon be time for lunch.
Quacking, clucking and gobbling, the farmyard birds crowded round the foreigner.
"What do you suppose it could be?" said the chickens.
"Whatever it is, it don't belong here", declared a duck.
Puffing himself out, an officious turkey-cock demanded information. The stork gathered himself together, and told them who he was. How every year he flew hundreds of miles to his home in Africa. He told them about the heat of the sun, and the pyramids he'd seen, and the ostriches, running across the desert like wild horses.
"He's barmy", said the ducks. "Birds running like wild horses, indeed!" And they made rude noises through their beaks.
"Look at his own legs", said a turkey, "Thin as straws. What did they cost a yard?" She gobbled loudly at her own joke. But the stork remained silent. He was thinking of the sun and the pyramids, and the birds and the animals of his African home.
"You may as well laugh", cried a hen, "for that remark was rather witty. But perhaps it was above you. Oh, isn't he a dolt! What fun we'll have with him."
And they did . . . for two days.
Then the sailor returned, and released the stork. The bird was rested now, and as Mr Enderby watched, he spread his wings and rose from the deck of the ship, heading south to the shores of Africa. And behind him the hens cackled, the ducks quacked, and the turkey-cock turned quite scarlet in the head.
"It almost seems as though they're glad to see that beautiful bird go", thought Mr Enderby. "As if it wasn't one of their own kind. Just as well that we humans can see that one bird is like another. I suppose in God's eyes they're all equal too; just like they say everybody is, in the Colonies."
© Colin Gibson