A nineteenth-century rogue gallery of the sea inevitably includes also boarding house keeper (boarding masters) who were at the same time owners of pensions for sailors, to whom they provided lodging and boarding.
Most of them “encouraged” the sailor who had just landed with a pocket full of wages,lodging and feeding him in his propensity to drink with a lot of poor whiskey. After a couple of weeks of treatment the victim had run out of money and had to accept as soon as possible to embark again; at the time of signing the sailor received an advance equal to three months of pay in the form of promissory notes and our letch bought them at a discounted price, usually forty percent, with much of the amount provided in kind: it was the sailor in fact to have to buy the necessary personal gear for the job and obviously the master of boarding was in league with the supplier and the value of the goods had doubled. The sailor was so double-plucked, upon arrival and departure!
But the most notorious names such as Rapper Brown, Shanghai Brown, Jack Ratcliff or Jackie Brown were scoundrels who hired some thieves or whores to steal from sailors just landed, taking advantage of their drunkenness, after which their gang took sailors back on board unconscious and the boarding master pocketed their advance.
This fraudulent enlistment was called shanghaiing and was mainly practiced in the north-west of the United States. The men who ran this “men’s trade” were called “crimps” and had no qualms to drug the beer of the victim with laudanum.
The authorities on the other hand were willing to turn a blind eye, because the mercantile companies needed to have sailors always available for the hardest work (like the whaling ship) and the most unfavorable routes as those of the Arctic seas.
A jesting forebitter / capstan shanty about a famous boarding master of Liverpool, Stan Hugill says Padyy West (aka Paddy Doyle) was a “real live personage” in Great Howard Street.
Boarding houses are pensions for sailors, present in every large sea port. “They are held by boarding masters, of dubious reputation, which the sailors define as” recruiters “, who provide” indifferently lodging and boarding “. They often welcome sailors “on credit”. On the advance received by boarders at the time of enrollment, they recover for food and accommodation, and with the rest they provide them with poor quality clothing and equipment “. (Italo Ottonello)
Our Paddy to pocket a higher advance, he had invented an imaginative training school for sailors and transformed in a few days the novices in “able seamen”, so “Paddy Wester” is for a incapable sailor.
Ewan MacColl & A.L. Lloyd from Blow Boys Blow, 1957
A.L. Lloyd commented in the notes: “Mr West is a redoubtable figure in the folklore of the sea. He was a Liverpool boarding-house keeper in the latter days of sail, who provided ship captains with crews, as a side-line. He would guarantee that every man he supplied had crossed the Line and been round the Horn several times. In order to say so with a clear conscience, he gave greenhorns a curious course in seamanship, described in this jesting ballad. It was a great favourite with “Scouse” (Liverpool) sailors.
The sea literature of the nineteenth century is larded with tales of shanghaied seamen and corrupt boarding-house masters, who sent many a green hand to sea, swearing that they were experienced sailors. The most notorious was Paddy West, a Liverpool Irishman, who hat his fake seamen step across and old rope and walk around a cow’s horn so that he could claim that they had “crossed the line and rounded the horn.”
The tune is Tramps and Hawkers
Oh, as I was a-walkin’ down London Road (1),
I come to Paddy West’s house,
He gave me a feed of American hash and he called it Liverpool scouse.
He said, “There’s a ship that’s wantin’ hands,
and on her you quickly sign.
her mate is a bastard, the bosun’s worse, but she will suit you fine.”
Chorus (after each verse):
Take off your dungaree jackets (2)
and give yourselves a rest,
And we’ll think on them cold nor’westers that we had at Paddy West’s.
Well, when I’d had a feed, my boys,
the wind began to blow;
He sent me up in the attic,
the main-royal for to stow.
But when I got up in the attic,
no main-royal could I find,
So I turned around to the window
and I furled the window blind (3).
Now Paddy he piped all hands on deck, their stations for to man (4).
His wife stood in the doorway
with a bucket in her hand;
And Paddy sings out, “Now let ‘er rip (5)!” and she flung the water our way,
Sayin’, “Clew up (6) your fore t’gan’sl, boys, she’s takin’ in the spray!”
Now seein’ we’re off to the south’ard, boys, to Frisco we was bound,
Old Paddy he called for a length of rope and he laid it on the ground.
And we all stepped over and back again, and he says to me, “That’s fine,
Now when they ask if you’ve been to sea, you can say you’ve crossed the Line (7)”
“Now there’s only one thing for you to do, before you sail away,
That’s to step around the table,
where the bullock’s horn do lay.
And when they ask you, ‘Were you ever at sea?’,
you can say, ’Ten times ‘round the Horn (8).’
And Bejesus, you’re a sailor since
the day that you was born.”
Put on your dungaree jacket,
and walk out lookin’ your best,
And tell ‘em you’re an old sailor man that’s come from Paddy West’s.
1) London Road was a busy street full of shops, and an important commercial center in a densely populated neighborhood of Liverpool
2) dungaree (dungeon ) jumper, jacket= denim jacket
3) or rather the nineteenth-century equivalent of the blinds
4) man (v.) Old English mannian “to furnish (a fort, ship, etc.) with a company of men,” from man (n.). Meaning “to take up a designated position on a ship” is first recorded 1690s. Meaning “behave like a man, act with courage” is from c. 1400. To man (something) out is from 1660s. Related: Manned; manning. It was obviously the backyard where Paddy had a ship’s wheel rigged up
5) To let it go; to start it up. Often used as an imperative. “Her” is used in the same way that some ships and machines are referred to as female
6) to furl a sail by gathering its clews up to the yard by means of clew lines
7) the Equator line
8) Cape Horn is the extreme point of Africa feared by sailors because of the strong winds
Dan Miller (featured Louis Killen & Mick Moloney) from Irish Ballads & Songs of the Sea 1998, a similar text version but different melody