“Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish Galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes and cinnamon and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rail, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware and cheap tin trays.”


Follow the Cargoes Trail at Mermaid Quay to explore the past

John Masefield’s famous poem, Cargoes, is an evocative tribute to the golden years of the great docks such as Cardiff.

At Mermaid Quay you can see the poem brought to life.

100 years ago, Cardiff was one of the greatest ports in the world. It handled a greater tonnage of coal than any other, as well as huge quantities of steel and tinplate. On the eve of the First World War, Cardiff’s coal exports peaked at over 10 million tonnes.

As well as coal and steel, Cardiff welcomed precious cargoes from the four corners of the globe – the likes of which are all captured in the words of John Masefield’s poem.

During its construction, Mermaid Quay joined forces with CBAT (the Arts & Regeneration Agency) to commission artist Brian Fell to create a permanent display celebrating Masefield’s work.

A total of 21 sculptures represent various parts of the poem. The sculptures are arranged in three groups, each group depicting one of the three different kinds of ship featured in the poem together with its cargoes.

See if you can find them all.

And, close to the entrance to Cadwaladers pier, you will find the poem itself – cast in metal and bolted to the floor.

About Brian Fell

Brian Fell is a Derbyshire based artist with a strong background in public works.

He has worked on several high-profile commissions for the Tern Project in Morecambe and Trafford Park Development Corporation in Manchester. He was also responsible for the Merchant Seaman’s War Memorial next to the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay.

For more information, see

If you are interested in art, check out our art trail activity sheets for students HERE.