Southern Cross

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A constellation in the form of a cross visible in the southern hemisphere. It is of no particular significance for navigation, as is, for example, the northern constellation of Ursa Minor which contains the Pole Star or Polaris. However, the last sight of it was a sign for the crews of the square-riggers which used South American ports during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to load nitrate, guano, or saltpetre that they were homeward bound. When a ship was loaded and ready to sail, the ship's carpenter made a large wooden cross to which were fixed red and white lights in the shape of the constellation. This was hoisted to the mainmast head and was greeted by the well-known shanty ‘Hurrah, my boys, we're homeward bound’. When the shanty was finished, the ship's bell in the next ship alongside was rung, and her crew cheered the departing vessel, and so in turn until all ships in harbour had cheered her.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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