Deutschland was a passenger steamship of the Norddeutscher Lloyd line, and built by Caird & Co. of Greenock in 1866.
At 05:00 on 6 December 1875 the ship ran aground in a blizzard onto Kentish Knock, a sandbar at the mouth of the Thames.
Most passengers died of exposure before the steam paddle tug Liverpool could help on 7 December. A total of 157 passengers and crew died.
Amongst the dead were five Franciscan nuns and their priest who had been leaving Germany due to harsh anti-Roman Catholic laws, the Falk Laws, which were part of Bismarck`s campaign against the Church.
The five nuns remained below deck because there was not enough room on the deck. Clasping hands, they were drowned together, their leader calling out loudly and often "O Christ, come quickly!" until they could breathe no more.
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89) was moved to write his lengthy poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland.
It not only depicts the dramatic events and heroic deeds but also tells of the poet's reconciling the terrible events with God's higher purpose.
In the week when the Polish pilgrims died on their pilgrimage, perhaps it is worth recalling the poem and its themes.
"Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
Drawn to the Life that died;
With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his Lovescape crucified
And seal of his seraph-arrival! and these thy daughters
And five-lived and leaved favour and pride,
Are sisterly sealed in wild waters,
To bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances...
The majesty ! what did she mean?
Breathe, arch and original Breath.
Is it love in her of the being as her lover had been?
Breathe, body of lovely Death.
They were else-minded then, altogether, the men
Woke thee with a we are perishing in the weather of Gennesareth
Or is it that she cried for the crown then,
The keener to come at the comfort for feeling the combating keen?"
"Jesu, heart's light,
Jesu, maid's son,
What was the feast followed the night
Thou hadst glory of this nun? "
Gerard Manley Hopkins and a Nun named Gertrude and
The Wreck of the Deutschland: An Essay and Commentary by John E. Keating