Joan Rosselló i Crespí

Joan Rosselló i Crespí


"There is a calm in the bay of Alcudia. Fishermen's boats line the shore with their triangular sails blown by the breeze. The day is clear and the water sparkles with its silvery reflections under an intense sun. A few hours pass. Then suddenly, something most unexpected interrupts that dormant monotony. It is the British squadron. Warships with their steel geometries advance in an orderly line and with a movement that is heavy and slow. Bit by bit they anchor inside the roadstead, avoiding the reefs with great skill. Then they come to a sudden stop, as if they have hit the seabed. The bay, thought of as so large, seems to recognise that it is disproportionate in containing this gathering of floating titans with their metal casings, their tall chimneys, their towering masts.

"My friend the doctor, who is accompanying me - he is a professor of rhetoric, an archaeologist, a bibliophile, popularly known as Papirus by his students - says that they seem to be like a group of mobile and stern islands, detached from the British soil to which our future is linked. Their powerful electric reflectors illuminate the entire coast from the early hours of the evening. The people from the garden houses, curious but delighted, watch them from their terraces. I think that some single girls will be smiling dreamily, while from the decks of the ships can be seen the movement of crews. They come and go, up and down, lighting the masts. There is no shortage of peasant farmers who sell the blond sailors the produce of the land.

"The next morning, very early, the chimneys of the ships smoke, and soon the battleships, the cruisers, the frigates, preceded by the destroyers and the torpedo boats move in silence, heading for the Formentor peninsula, happily navigating the uniformly blue waters of the bay and scattering white smoke that dissipates little by little. Soon, the bay is nostalgically empty, with an echo of inexplicable sadness and the sounds of some fishing boats.

"And so it is that with each coming of the squadron, the British do not seem to be a foreign people ... ."

The author of the above is Joan Rosselló i Crespí, who was born in Alaro in 1854. He was a writer who figured among the classic Majorcan authors of the nineteenth century. He studied law in Barcelona and Madrid and practised in Palma. He settled at the Sa Fortesa estate in Alaro, where he devoted himself to writing. His works appeared in newspapers and magazines. His themes included peasant customs, legends, childhood memories, the landscape. In his novel En Rupit, he examines the struggle for life both in the countryside and in the city. He also translated works by the likes of Goethe, Ibsen, Maupassant, Turgenev and Chekhov.

His description of the British squadron would seem to be of the visit in April 1897. The squadron was formed by the Majestic flagship of Lord Walter Kerr; the battleships Magnificent, Repulse, Resolution, Royal Sovereign and Empress of India; the cruisers Blenheim, Charibdes, Hermione. In all, the fleet displaced a total of 107,820 tonnes. The Majestic and the Magnificent were armoured ships with nickel steel plates and a main armament of four guns, which would undoubtedly have aroused great curiosity and admiration. They had a speed of seventeen knots and 2,000 horsepower. The silhouette, with a straight bow, two chimneys and and two masts with turrets, was the subject for amateur photographers. They had been launched at Chatham in the 1890s and their effectiveness was to be proved, above all, during the First World War. In those years, other battleships of the same class would appear, the shipyards at Pembroke, Portsmouth, Cammell Laird (Birkenhead) having been commissioned by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, in order to give the United Kingdom the most modern fleet of the time.


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