Crea sito

Admiral Benbow ballads

Leggi in italiano

The heroic exploits of Admiral John Benbow (1653-1702) are sung in some contemporary ballads dating back to the days of the Spanish Civil War. He was called “the Brother Tar” because he started his military carrier from below, as a simple sailor; thanks to his ingenuity, the courage and help of his mentor Admiral Arthur Herbert, Count of Torrington.
His activity, except for a parenthesis in which he gave himself to the merchant navy (1686-1689), was dedicated to the Royal Navy. He left the army the degree of master, after being brought before the court martial because of a dispute against an officer, it should be noted that the code of conduct between the officers was very rigid (and even today with military degrees there is little to joke) and after having brought his public apology to Captain Booth of the Adventure and repaid the fine with three months of work without pay, Benbow decided to resign. The following year he became the owner of the frigate Benbow roamed the Mediterranean and the English Channel hunting for pirates, earning the reputation of a skilled and ruthless captain. Returning to the navy in 1689 with the rank of third lieutenant on the Elizabeth, after four months he obtained the rank of commander of the York and he distinguished himself in the naval actions along the French coasts; he was then sent to the West Indies to eradicate piracy and in 1701 he was appointed vice-admiral. It is said that King William had offered the command to several gentlemen who refused (because of the climate) and so he exclaimed “I understand, we will spare the gentlemen and we will send to the Antilles the honest Benbow”


In the early English Navy there was a system of voluntary training: a captain used to take care of young boy and instruct them as long as they were unable to pass the aptitude test. However, there remained a dividing line between the tarpaulin officer, without a high social status and the gentleman officer, the privileged aspirant. In fact, the gentlemen obtained their license of ensign more for relationships of kinships that for merits, so that in 1677 it was introduced an entrance examination that had to precede a compulsory three-year training. But in 1730 they preferred to return to the old system of voluntary training.


His last action, off the coast of Cape Santa Marta , was against Admiral Jean Du Casse and his fleet: from 19 to 25 August 1702; Benbow had seven ships at his command but his captains proved unwilling to obey orders: only on the afternoon of the first day a fight was waged and only the flagship and the Ruby under captain George Walton chased French ships with the intent to give battle, while the other english ships were kept out. The Ruby was put out of action on the 22nd and at this point the Falmouth in command of Samuel Vincent decided to line up with Benbow, but it was seriously damaged and forced to retreat, the same Benbow besieged by the French ships and subjected to a cannon shot had a mangled leg and he was brought below deck, where a war council was held with his officers who had all gathered together on board the flagship.
To see the war action in detail see

from Master and Commander

Benbow was determined to pursuit of battle, but his captains, believing they had no chance of victory, recommended him merely of pursuing the French ships: Benbow, convinced that a mutiny was being carried out against him, gave the order to return in Jamaica and sent his commanders beheind the court martial on charges of insubordination; Captain Richard Kirby and Captain Cooper Wade were found guilty and shot. Despite the amputation of his leg Benbow died two months after the battle and was buried in Kingston.


The melody is equally popular and it is shared with the Captain Kidd ballad giving life to a melodic family used for various songs.
Among the songs of the sea in the series Sea Shanty Edition for the fourth episode of the video game Assassin’s Creed that include some ballads about the brave captains, to celebrate the victories or heroic deeds that led them to death.
The version in Assassin’s Creed from the text transcribed by Cecil Sharp on the song of Captain Lewis of Minehead (1906) the strophes, however, are halved (I, II, VI)

Come all you seamen bold
and draw near, and draw near
Come all you seamen bold and draw near
It’s of an Admiral’s fame Brave Benbow (1) was his name
How he sailed up on the main (2)
you shall hear, you shall hear
Brave Benbow he set sail
For to fight, for to fight
Brave Benbow he set sail
For to fight
Brave Benbow he set sail in a keen and pleasant gale
But his captains they turn’d tail in a fright (3), in a fright
Says Kirby unto Wade (4), “We will run, we will run.”
Says Kirby unto Wade, “We will run. For I value no disgrace
nor the losing of my place
But the enemy I won’t face
Nor his guns, nor his guns.”
The Ruby (5) and Benbow fought the French, fought the French,
The Ruby and Benbow Fought the French.
They fought them up and down
‘Til the blood came trickling down
‘Til the blood came trickling down Where they lay, where they lay.
Brave Benbow lost his legs
By chain shot, by chain shot,
Brave Benbow lost his legs
By chain shot.
Brave Benbow lost his legs
And all on his stumps he begs
“Fight on, my English lads
‘Tis our lot, ‘tis our lot.”
The surgeon dress’d his wounds Benbow cried, Benbow cried
The surgeon dress’d his wounds Benbow cried
“Let a cradle now in haste on the quarterdeck (6) be placed
That the enemy I may face
‘Til I die, ‘Til I die
Mary Evans Picture Library : J R Skelton in Lang, “Outposts of Empire” 1910

1) Benbow made his career in the ranks of the Royal Navy in the late 1600s until he became Vice-Admiral
2) the West Indian Sea
3) in a fright: panicked
4) the captains who left the battle were tried and sentenced to death by desertion
5) the Ruby supported the attack of the flagship Breda against the French vessels
6) Benbow despite the injured leg (which will be amputated) wants to continue to give orders on the bridge and so requires a cradle to be able to remain seated and stretch the leg crushed, provisionally bandaged by the doctor


Paul Clayton, from “Whaling and sailing songs from the days of Moby Dick” 1954

It was often at Marais
Calling Benbow by his name
He fought on the raging main
You must know
Oh, the ship rocks up and down
And the shots are flying round
The enemy tumbling down
There they lay, there they lay
‘Twas Reuben (1) and Benbow
Fought the French, fought the French
‘Twas Reuben and Benbow
Fought the French,
Down on his old stump he fell
And so loudly he did call
Fight ye on, me English lads
‘Tis my lot, ’tis my lot
When the doctor dressed his wound
Benbow cried, Benbow cried
When the doctor dressed his wound
Benbow cried,
Let a bed be fetched in haste
On the quarterdeck be placed
That the enemy I might face
‘Til I die, ’til I die
On Tuesday morning last
Benbow died, Benbow died
On Tuesday morning last
Benbow died
What a shocking sight to see
When Benbow was carried away
He was carried to Kingston church (2)
There he lay, there he lay

1) the Ruby supported the attack of the flagship Breda against the French vessels
2) he was buried in the Parish Church of Kingston (Jamaica)


Entitled “Benbow, the Brother Tar’s song” the ballad was written by William Chappel in his “Old English Popular Music”.
“The tune is a variant of Love Will Find Out the Way, first published in 1651. Originally, it circulated in the world of fashion, but after 1680 it seems to have passed almost exclusively into the keeping of agricultural workers. Chappell collected it from hop-pickers in the mid nineteenth century, and Lucy Broadwood found it in Sussex in 1898.” (from here)
The action is very inaccurate (see above)
June Tabor & Martin Simpson from A cut above, 1982

We sailed from Virginia
and thence to Fayall
Where we watered our shipping
and then we weighed all.
Full in view on the seas, boys,
seven sails we did espy;
We mannéd our capstans
and weighed speedily.
Now the first we come up with was a brigantine sloop (1)
And we asked if the others was as big as they looked;
Ah, but turning to windward,
as near as we could lie
We saw there were ten (2) men of war cruising by.
We drew up our squadron in very nice line
And boldly we fought them for full four hours time;
But the day being spent, boys, and the night a-coming on
We left them alone till the early next morn.
Now the very next morning the engagement proved hot
And brave Admiral Benbow received a chain shot;
And as he was wounded to his merry men he did say,
“Take me up in your arms, boys, and carry me away!”
Now the guns they did rattle and the bullets did fly,
But brave Admiral Benbow for help would not cry;
“Take me down to the cockpit, there is ease for my smarts,
If my merry men see me, it would sure break their hearts.”
Now, the very next morning by break of the day
They hoisted their topsails and so bore away;
We bore to Port Royal where the people flocked much
To see Admiral Benbow carried to Kingston Church (3).
Come all you brave fellows, wherever you’ve been,
Let us drink to the health of our King and our Queen,
And another good health to the girls that we know,
And a third in remembrance (4) of great Admiral Benbow.

1) the French fleet under the command of Admiral Du Casse was escorting a convoy of troops, the flagship Breda captured the Anne, originally an English ship captured by the French
2) they were actually only 5
3) Benbow was buried in the Parish Church of Kingston (Jamaica)
4) in his honor Robert Louis Stevenson in his book “Treasure Island” inserts an “Admiral Benbow Inn” at the beginning of the story


Pubblicato da Cattia Salto

folklorista delle Terre Celtiche

Lascia un commento

Il tuo indirizzo email non sarà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *

Questo sito usa Akismet per ridurre lo spam. Scopri come i tuoi dati vengono elaborati.