The Coasts of High Barbary

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The George Aloe and the Sweepstake o (The Coasts of) High Barbary is considered both a sea shanty and a ballad (Child ballad # 285) and certainly its original version is very old and probably from the 16th century. So ‘in the seventeenth-century comedy “The Two Noble Kinsmen” we read: “The George Alow came from the south, From the coast of Barbary-a; And there he met with brave gallants of war, By one, by two, by three-a. Well hail’d, well hail’d, you jolly gallants! And whither now are you bound-a? O let me have your company”



The Muslim pirates of the African coasts came from what the Europeans called Barbary or Algeria Tunisia, Libya, Morocco (and more precisely the city-states of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, but also the ports of Salé and Tetuan).
The most correct definition is barbarian pirates because they attacked only the ships of Christian Europe (also doing raids in the Christian countries of the Atlantic coast and the Mediterranean to get slaves or to get the best redemptions). The term included Arabs, Berbers, Turks as well as European renegades.
In the affair there were also for good measure the Christian corsairs, which carried out the same raids along the coasts of Barbary (mainly the orders of chivalry of the Knights of Malta and the Knights of St. Stephen, but obviously in these cases it was a matter of “crusade” and not piracy !!

Although pirate activities were endemic in the Mediterranean Sea, the period of maximum activity of the barbarian pirates was the first half of the 1600s.

FIRST VERSION: a forebitter

Stan Hugill in his bible “Shanties From The Seven Seas” shows two melodies: one more ancient when the song was a forebitter and a faster one as a capstan chantey.
The oldest version of the ballad tells of two merchant ships The George Aloe, and The Sweepstake with George Aloe who avenges the sinking of the second ship using the same “courtesy” to the crew of the French pirate ship who had thrown into the sea the Sweepstake crew.
Pete Seeger

Joseph Arthur from  Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, ANTI- 2006 (biography and records here) rock version

There were two lofty ships
From old England came
Blow high, blow low
And so sail we
One was the Prince of Luther
The other Prince of Wales
All a-cruisin’ down the coast
Of High Barbary
“Aloft there, aloft there”
Our jolly bosun cried
“Look ahead, look astern,
Look to weather an’ a-lee”
“There’s naught upon the stern, sir
There’s naught upon our lee
But there’s a lofty ship to wind’ard
An’ she’s sailin’ fast and free”
“Oh hail her, oh hail her”
Our gallant captain cried
“Are you a man-o-war
Or a privateer?” cried he
“Oh, I’m not a man-o-war
Nor privateer,” said he
“But I am salt sea pirate
All a-looking for me fee”
For Broadside, for broadside
A long time we lay
‘Til at last the Prince of Luther
Shot the pirate’s mast away
“Oh quarter, oh quarter”
Those pirates they did cry
But the quarter that we gave them
Was we sank ‘em in the sea

SECOND VERSION: a sea shanty

The ballad resumed popularity in the years between 1795 and 1815 in conjunction with the attacks of Barbary pirates to American ships.

Tom Kines from “Songs from Shakespeare´s Plays and Songs of His Time”,1960
a version of how it was sung in the Elizabethan era

Quadriga Consort from Ships Ahoy 2013

Assassin’s Creed Black Flag  sea shanty version

The Shanty Crew

“Look ahead, look-astern
Look the weather in the lee!”
Blow high! Blow low!
And so sailed we.

“I see a wreck to windward,
And a lofty ship to lee!
A-sailing down along
The coast of High Barbary”
“O, are you a pirate
Or a man o’ war?” cried we.
“O no! I’m not a pirate
But a man-o-war,” cried he.
“We’ll back up our topsails
And heave vessel to.
For we have got some letters
To be carried home by you”.
For broadside, for broadside
They fought all on the main;
Until at last the frigate
Shot the pirate’s mast away.
“For quarter, for quarter”,
the saucy pirates cried
But the quarter that we showed them
was to sink them in the tide
With cutlass and gun,
O we fought for hours three;
The ship it was their coffin
And their grave it was the sea
But O! ‘Twas a cruel sight,
and grieved us, full sore,
To see them all a drownin’
as they tried to swim to shore


South Australia sea shanty

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Under the heading Codefish shanty we have two versions, one of Cape Cod and the other of South Australia: the titles are “Cape Cod girls” and “Rolling King” or “Bound for South Australia” (or simply “South Australia”).
Which of the two versions was born before is not certain, we can only detect a great variety of texts and also the combination with different melodies. At the beginning probably a “going-away song”, one of those songs that the sailors sang only for special occasions ie when they were on the route of the return journey.


“As an original worksong it was sung in a variety of trades, including being used by the wool and later the wheat traders who worked the clipper ships between Australian ports and London. In adapted form, it is now a very popular song among folk music performers that is recorded by many artists and is present in many of today’s song books.In the days of sail, South Australia was a familiar going-away song, sung as the men trudged round the capstan to heave up the heavy anchor. Some say the song originated on wool-clippers, others say it was first heard on the emigrant ships. There is no special evidence to support either belief; it was sung just as readily aboard Western Ocean ships as in those of the Australian run. Laura Smith, a remarkable Victorian Lady, obtained a 14-stanza version of South Australia from a coloured seaman in the Sailors’ Home at Newcastle-on-Tyne, in the early 1880’s. The song’s first appearance in print was in Miss Smith’s Music of the Waters. Later, it was often used as a forebitter, sung off-watch, merely for fun, with any instrumentalist joining in. It is recorded in this latter-day form. The present version was learnt from an old sailing-ship sailor, Ted Howard of Barry, in South Wales. Ted told how he and a number of shellbacks were gathered round the bed of a former shipmate. The dying man remarked: “Blimey, I think I’m slipping my cable. Strike up South Australia, lads, and let me go happy.” (A.L. Lloyd in Across the Western Plains from here)

This kind of songs were a mixture of improvised verses and a series of typical verses, but generally the refrain of the chorus was standardized and univocal (even for the obvious reason that it had to be sung by sailors coming from all the countries).
The length of the song depended on the type of work to be done and could reach several strophes. The song then took on its own life as a popular song in the folk repertoire.
The first appearance in collections on sea shanties dates back to 1881.

The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem 1962 the version that has been the model in the folk environment

Let’s see them in a pirate version in the TV adaptation of the “Treasure Island”

Johnny Collins, from “Shanties & Songs of the Sea” 1996

The Pogues

Gaelic Storm from Herding Cats (1999) they recall the version of the Pogues. It is interesting to compare the same group that has also tried with the arrangement of  Cape Code Girls.

In South Australia(1) I was born!
Heave away! Haul away!
South Australia round Cape Horn(2)!
We’re bound for South Australia!
Heave away, you rolling king(3),
Heave away! Haul away!
All the way you’ll hear me sing
We’re bound for South Australia!

As I walked out one morning fair,
It’s there I met Miss Nancy Blair.
I shook her up, I shook her down,
I shook her round and round the town.
There ain’t but one thing grieves my mind,
It’s to leave Miss Nancy Blair behind.
And as you wallop round Cape Horn,
You’ll wish to God you’d never been born!
I wish I was on Australia’s strand
With a bottle of whiskey in my hand

1) Land of gentlemen and not deportees, the state is considered a “province” of Great Britain
2) the ships at the time of sailing followed the oceanic routes, that is those of winds and currents: so to go to Australia starting from America it was necessary to dub Africa, but what a trip!!

3) Another reasonable explanation  fromMudcat “The chanteyman seems to be calling the sailors rolling kings rather that refering to any piece of equipment. And given that “rolling” seems to be a common metaphor for “sailing” (cf. Rolling down to old Maui, Roll the woodpile down, Roll the old chariot along, etc.) I would guess that he is calling them “sailing kings” i.e. great sailors. There are a number of chanteys which have lines expressing the idea of “What a great crew we are.” and I think this falls into that category.” (here)
Moreover every sailor fantasized about the meaning of the word, for example Russel Slye writes ” When I was in Perth (about 1970) I met an old sailor in a bar. I found he had sailed on the Moshulu (4 masted barque moored in Philly now) during the grain trade. I asked him about Rolling Kings. His reply (abridged): “We went ashore in India and other places, and heard about a wheel-rolling-king who was a big boss of everything. Well, when the crew was working hauling, those who wasn’t pulling too hard were called rolling kings because they was acting high and mighty.” So, it is a derogatory term for slackers. (from here).
And yet without going to bother ghostly Kings (in the wake of the medieval myth of King John and the fountain of eternal youth) the word could very well be a corruption of “rollikins” an old English term for “drunk”.
Among the many hilarious hypotheses this (for mockery) of Charley Noble: it could be a reference to Elvis Prisley!

There is also a MORRIS DANCE version confirming the popularity of the song

Codefish Cape Cod Girls


Cape Cod Girls

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Under the heading Codefish shanty we have two versions, one of Cape Cod and the other of South Australia: the titles are “Cape Cod girls” and “Rolling King” or “Bound for South Australia” (or simply “South Australia”).
Which of the two versions was born before is not certain, we can only detect a great variety of texts and also the combination with different melodies.

At the beginning probably a “going-away song”, one of those songs that the sailors sang only for special occasions ie when they were on the route of the return journey.


cape-cod-girlThe most demented version and therefore by “pirate song” that goes for the most in the Renaissance Fairs is that which comes from the peninsula of Cape Cod (State of Massachusetts).
Cape Cod was the first landing of the Mayflower – the first ship that carried the English “pilgrims” on the land overseas, the “New England”.
The activity was based on fishing for fish (especially cod) and whaling.

The climate is mild thanks to the Atlantic currents: there it is summer (warm-cool) or winter (cold-mild) and summer lasts until early December, it is the so-called Indian Summer, always due in the presence of the Atlantic Ocean, which slowly spreads the heat forfeited during the summer.

Yarmouth Shantymen

The Crew of the Mimi 1984

Baby Gramps in “Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys“, ANTI- 2006. The particular voice as Popeye is  a vocal style: “The style is called “vocal fry”.  It has been variously employed for effect by heavy metal artists among others.  The techniques used to achieve it are akin to those used by Central Asian throat-singers and Tibetan monks, though of a lesser order.  Its appropriateness for the singing of pirate songs will be a subject for lively debate” (Tipi Dan)

Gaelic Storm from The Boathouse, 2013

Cape Cod(1) girls
ain’t got no combs,
Heave away, haul away!
They comb their hair
with a codfish bone(2),
And we’re bound away for Australia(3)!
So heave her up, me bully bully boys,
Heave away, haul away!
Heave her up,
why don’t you make some noise?

And we’re bound away for Australia!

Cape Cod boys
ain’t got no sleds,
They ride down hills
on a codfish head.
Cape Cod mothers
don’t bake no pies,
They feed their children
codfish eyes.
Cape Cod cats
ain’t got no tails,
They got blown off
in northeast gales.

Other lines variously combined in which the cod are mentioned in all the sauces !!

Cape Cod girls
don’t wear no frills
They’re plain and skinny
like a codfish gills.
Cape Cod doctors
ain’t got no pills,
They give their patients
codfish gills.
Cape Cod folks
don’t have no ills
Them Cape Cod doctors
feed them codfish pills
Cape Cod dogs
ain’t got no bite,
They lost it barking
at the Cape Cod light.
Yankee girls
don’t sleep on beds,
They go to sleep on codfish heads.
Cape Cod girls
have got big feet,
Codfish roes is nice an’ sweet.
Cape Cod girls
they are so fine,
They know how to bait a codfish line.

1) the port par excellence of Cape Cod and of the fishermen of Massachusetts is the port of Provincetown
2) think about the sirens who are notoriously on the beach or a rock to comb their long hair while singing
3) the ships at the time of sailing followed the oceanic routes, that is those of winds and currents: so to go to Australia starting from America it was necessary to dub Africa, but what a trip!!


“South Australia” version


“Fire Down Below” the last shanty

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“Fire Down Below” in addition to being the title of a film and a rock song is above all a sea shanty) according to Stan Hugill “the laswt shanty”. Given the theme it was often used as pump chanty but also as capstan chanty.


The authors of the project “Short Sharps Shanties” write: There was a broadside called Fire! Fire! Fire! – printed by the Glasgow Poet’s Box on the 23rd Nov. 1867.  Versions were also printed by Fortey of London and Sanderson of Edinburgh at about the same time. The chorus is obviously related to, if not the origin of, the shanty:Fire! fire! fire!, Now I’s bound to go;
Can’t you give us a bucket of water,
Dere’s a fire down below.
The text is in a faux-Negro patois and describes Aunt Sally nearly dying in a house-fire.  There was also a parody, printed by Such of London at about the same time, where the text is concerned with a country boy’s encounter with a city girl and the more familiar ‘fire down below’ caused by venereal disease.
Fire! fire! fire!, Fire down below;
Let us hope that we shall never see,
A fire down below.
Perhaps surprisingly, neither theme seems to recur in any of the collected versions of the shanty although plenty of contemporary shanty-singers adopt a nudge-nudge-wink-wink view of the chorus. Tozer and Sharp give it as a pumping shanty, Hugill cites it as a favourite for the purpose, and Colcord says that “Almost any of the capstan shanties could be used on the pump-brakes, but a few were kept [as this one is], by the force of convention, for no other use.”
Hugill comments that, of his five versions, Short’s version has “a not so musical pattern. This form has become popular with radio shanty-singers.”  All verses except the last come from Short although, inexplicably, he only gave Sharp the ‘fire in the galley’ verse on the day and subsequently sent him, by post, the other four verses. (tratto da qui)

Jackie Oates from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor Vol 1 (su Spotify)

Fire, fire, fire down below,
It’s Fetch a bucket of water girls
There’s fire down below.
Fire in the galley, fire down below.
It’s fetch a bucket of water girls,
There’s fire down below.
fire, fire..
Fire in the bottom fire in the main
It’s fetch a bucket of water girls,
And put it out again.
fire, fire..
As I walked out one morning
all in the month of June
I overheard an irish girl
sing this old song
fire, fire..
Fire in the lifeboat,
fire in the gig(6),
Fire in the pig-stye roasting of the pig.
fire, fire..
Fire up aloft boy  and fire down below,
It’s fetch a bucket of water girls,
There’s fire down below.

Shanty Gruppe Breitling
from Haul the Bowline 2013 

Fire in the galley, fire in the house,
Fire in the beef kid(1), scorching the scouse(2).
Fire, fire, fire down below,
Fetch a bucket of water boys
Fire down below.
Fire in the forepeak(3) fire in the main(4)
fire in the windlass(5) fire in the chain.
Fire in the lifeboat, fire in the gig(6),
Fire in the pig-stye roasting the pig.
Fire on the orlop(7) (cabine) fire in the hold.
Fire in the strong room melting the gold.
Fire round the capstan(5), fire on the mast,
Fire on the main deck, burning it fast.
Fire on .. 

1) Beefkid = small wooden tub in which beef salt is served.
2) It is a traditional dish of Liverpool, that is a meat stew with potatoes, onions, carrots. It is a popular dish of poor cooking. Scouse is also the typical accent of Liverpool (of the popular classes) with clear Celtic influences, the origin of the accent is derived most likely from the English pronunciation by Irish immigrants arrived in Liverpool to look for work. In the 1841 census a quarter of the inhabitants of Liverpool were born in Ireland and again from the census at the beginning of the twenty-first century it was found that 60% of Liverpudlians originated in Ireland.
3) forepeak= the interior part of a vessel that is furthest forward; the part of a ship’s interior in the angle of the bow
4) main= ocean
5) windlass and capstan they are two different “machines” which, however, perform the same function, that of lifting weights by the use of a rope or chain.
6) gig= A light rowboat, powerboat or sailboat, often used as a fast launch for the captain or for a lighthouse keeper. The gig was always designed for speed, and was not used as a working boat.
7) orlop = the name of a lower deck.


This version comes from the Caribbean fishermen from the Isle of Nevis (reported by Roger Abrahams in “Deep the Water, Shallow the Shore”)
Hulton Clint


A decadent version that with the “fire in the lower parts” alludes to the disruptive sexuality of a young girl!

Nick Cave from Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys  ANTI 2006.

She was the parson’s daughter
With her red and rosy cheeks
(Way, hey, hee, hi, ho!)
She went to church on Sunday
And sang the anthem sweet
(‘Cause there’s fire down below)
The parson was a misery
So scraggy and so thin
“Look here, you motherfuckers
If you lead a life of sin.
He took his text from Malachi(1)
And pulled a weary face
Well, I fucked off for Africa
And there, I feel(2) from grace.
The parson’s little daughter
Was as sweet as sugar-candy
I said to her, “us sailors
Would make lovers neat and handy”.
She says to me, “you sailors
Are a bunch of fucking liars
And all of you are bound to hell
To feed the fucking fires”.
Well, there’s fire down below, my lad
So we must do what we oughta
‘Cause the fire is not half as hot
As the parson’s little daughter.
Yes, there’s fire (fire)
Down (down)
Below (below)

1) Malachi was an Old Testament Prophet who lived in the fifth century a. C.
2) found written both as a feel and as a fell


A fierce song for halyard: Bully in the Alley

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“Bully in the Alley” is a halyard shanty with origins referable to the black slaves involved in loading and unloading cotton bales in the ports (cotton screwing).
The bully here is a boozing sailor left in an alley by his still “sober” companions, who will move on to pick him up when returning to the ship.

Shinbone Alley is an alley in New York but also in Bermuda, but metaphorically speaking it is found in every “sailor town”. More generally it is an exotic indication for the Caribbean, the alley of a legendary “pirates den” , where every occasion is good for a fist fight! (first meaning for bully). Or it is the alley of an equally generic port city of the continent full of pubs and cheerful ladies, where if you get drunk, you end up waking up “enlisted” on a warship or a merchant ship (second meaning for bully). So our victim in love with Sally instead of marrying her, he goes to sea!
And finally a last interpretation: a “very good”, or “first rate” sailor (the rooster of the henhouse!)
According to Stan Hugill “Bully in the Alley” has become a seafaring expression to indicate a “stubborn” ship that wants to go in its direction in spite of the helmsman’s intention
This song is nowadays among the most popular “pirate songs”!
Take a look to these bully boys!

Assassin’s creed IV black flag

Help me, Bob(1),
I’m bully in the alley,
Way, hey, bully in the alley!
Help me, Bob, I’m bully in the alley, Bully down in “shinbone al“!
Sally(2) is the girl that I love dearly,
Way, hey, bully in the alley!
Sally is the girl that I spliced dearly(3),
Bully down in “shinbone al
For seven long years I courted little Sally,
But all she did was dilly and dally(4).
I ever get back, I’ll marry little Sally,
Have six kids and live in Shin-bone Alley.

1)  God
2) Sally (or Sal) is the generic name of the girls of the Caribbean seas and of South America
3) also written as “Spliced nearly” means “almost married”, and yet the meaning lends itself to sexual allusions
4) to wastetime, especially by being slow, or by not being able to make a decision


Text version identical to the previous one but with an additional stanza before the last closing that says:
I’ll leave Sal and I’ll become a sailor,
I’ll leave Sal and ship aboard a whaler.

Three Pruned Men from Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys  ANTI 2006.

Text version identical to the previous one but with a closing stanza that says:
Sally got down and dirty last night,
Sally got down and she spliced(5),
The sailors left last night,
The sailors got a ball of wax(6),

5) in slang to splice it means having sex (uniting parts of the body in sexual activity) but also uniting with marriage
6) It is an idiom that means the totality of something; a hypothesis on the origin of the term: This is a form of initiation of freemasons. The freemasons took it from the scarab beetle, which is said to roll a ball of earth, which is a microcosm of the universe. I believe it is thought to spring from the ancient mysteries of Egypt. There was much amateur Egyptology during the 19th and early 20th century. The ball of wax has transcendental meaning. It represents a mystery of human godlike creativity which a person aspiring to the mystery of masonic lore carries with him. In the initiation, the person was given a small ball of earwax or some such, which would represent the cosmos. Reference to this ball of wax was a secret symbol of brotherhood. (from here)

Paddy and the Rats


Hanging Johnny : hang, boys, hang

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“Hanging Johnny” is an halyard shanty in which we talk about the hangman who hangs all those who bother him! Immediately, the scholars wanted to find a historical figure who incarnated this executioner in Jack Ketch notorious executioner in the seventeenth century London.

But for the sailors the phrase “hanging Johnny” has a whole other meaning.


In order to hoist the heavier sails, they followed a strange procedure : the younger and nimble sailors (and less paid as they were apprentices) climbed up on the masthead and, after grabbing a halyard, jumped in the air, hanging like so many hangers. As they descended, they were helped by the efforts of the remaining sailors to slowly reach the deck.
Joys explained that “hanging Johnny” did not refer to a sheriff’s hangman, but instead to nimble young sailors who, when a topsail was to be hoisted, would climb to the masthead and “swing out” on the proper halyard. They would then ride to the deck as the men at the foot of the mast brought them down by their successive pulls. Joys recalled one chanteyman who would always tell the boys when to swing out by shouting up to them, “Hang, you bastards, hang!” Then, while the boys were hanging on the halyard fifty feet or more above the deck, he’d start his song and the crew would make two pulls on each chorus. When the boys hit the deck, they would tail on behind the other men and pull with them until the work was finished.
Joys added that the word “hang” was “the best goddamn pullin’ word in the language, especially on a down haul.” Ashley said the tune was “a bit mournful, but a good one for hoisting light canvas,” noting that the words enabled the sailors to find fault, good-naturedly, with all their real and fancied enemies, “if the work lasted long enough.”
 (from “Windjammers: Songs of the Great Lakes Sailors” by Ivan H. Walton and Joe Grimm, 2002 here)

So on Mudcats a heated debate has opened up: “The words “Hang, boys, hang,” are used in a topsail-halliard hoist, when sweating up the yard “two blocks” where, in swaying off, the whole weight of the body is used. The sing-out, from some old shellback, usually being words such as “Hang, heavy! Hang, buttocks! Hang you sons of ——-, Hang.” After setting the topsails, we gave her the main-topgallant sail, which was all she could carry in a heavy head-sea. The decks were awash all day. “…. the chantey was sung with a jerk and a swing as only chanteys in 6/8 time can be sung. While the words were of Negro extraction, yet it was a great favorite with us and sung nearly every time the topsails were hoisted.” (from Frederick Pease Harlow, 1928, The Making of a Sailor, Dover reprint of Publication Number 17 of the Marine Research Society, Salem, MA here)

Definitely a perfect “pirate song”! I found this piece of film about the golden age of the great vessels in which the song is sung.

Oh they call me hanging Johnny.
Away, boys, away.
They says I hangs for money.
Oh hang, boys, hang.
And first I hanged my Sally
and then I hanged my granny.


Sharp publishes a set of words in which the shantyman does not himself hang people and indeed sings, I never hung nobody. Hugill is adamant (as is Terry) that no shantyman ever claimed that anyone other than himself was the hangman, and that “Sentimental verses like some collectors give were never sung – Sailor John hanged any person or thing he would think about without a qualm.” Checking these ‘some collectors’, one finds several who elect only to hang the bad guys – liars, murderers, etc. – are these the verses Hugill means by ‘sentimental’ or is he having a go at Sharp for the shantyman not being the hangman himself? Sharp’s notebooks show that he recorded from Short the same as he published. It could be that Short is self-censoring but it seems unlikely given that Short seems happy, in various other shanties, to sing text that might not be regarded as genteel (e.g. Nancy, Lucy Long, Shanadore). Short was, however, a deeply religious man and, if this is not simply an early and less developed form of the shanty, then he may have deliberately avoided casting himself as hangman – we will never know! Notwithstanding, and contrary to Hugill’s assertion, there was at least one shantyman who actually sang I never hung nobody.

Collectors’/publishers’ reactions to the shanty are curiously mixed: Bullen merely notes that “shanties whose choruses were adapted for taking two pulls in them… were exceedingly useful”, Fox-Smith that it had an “almost macabre irony which is not found in any other shanty”, and Maitland that “This is about as doleful a song as I ever heard” but, in an almost poetic description points out that “there’s a time when it comes in. For instance after a heavy blow, getting more sail on the ship. The decks are full of water and the men cannot keep their feet. The wind has gone down, but the seas are running heavy. A big comber comes over the rail; the men are washed away from the rope. If it wasn’t for the man at the end of the rope gathering in the slack as the men pull, all the work would have to be done over again.” – Horses for courses! (from here)

Tom Brown from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 1

They called me hanging Johnny,
urrhay-i-, urrhay-i-,
They called me hanging Johnny
so hang, boys, hang
They hanged me poor old father
They hanged me poor old mother
Yes they hanged me mother
Me sister and me brother
They hanged me sister Sally
They strung her up so canny
They said I handeg for money
But I never hanged nobody
Oh boys we’ll haul and hang the ship
oh haul her ropes so neat
We’ll hang him forever,
We’ll hang for better weather,
A rope, a beam, a ladder,
I’ll hang ye all together


Stan Ridgway from  Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, ANTI 2006. Masterful interpretation that transforms the shanty into a melancholy folk song

The Salts live in a jaunty version

 Stan Ridgway lyrics
They call me hanging Johnny,
yay (away )-hay-i-o
I never hanged nobody
hang, boys, hang
Well first I hanged your mother
Me sister and me brother
I’d hang to make things jolly
I’d hang all wrong and folly
A rope, a beam, a ladder,
I’ll hang ye all together
Well next I hanged me granny
I’d hang the wholly family
They call me hanging Johnny,
I never hanged nobody
Come hang, come haul together,
Come hang for finer weather,
Hang on from the yardarm
Hang the sea and buy a big farm
They call me hanging Johnny,
I never hanged nobody
I’d hang the mates and skippers,
I’d hang ‘em by their flippers
I’d hang the highway robber,
I’d hang the burglar jobber;
I’d hang a noted liar,
I’d hang a bloated friar;
They say I hung a copper,
I gave him the long dropper


My Bonnie Highland Lassie sea shanty

Leggi in italiano

Under the title Hieland laddie (Highland lassie) a series of texts are grouped with the same melody (a traditional Scottish air) entitled “If thou’t play me fair play” or “The Lass of Livingston””The melody appears in the Drummond Castle Manuscript inscribed “A Collection of Country Dances written for the use of his Grace the Duke of Perth by Dav. Young, 1734.” However the earliest printing of the tune is in Robert Bremner’s 1757 collection. A variant appears under the title “Cockleshell’s” in Playford’s Apollo’s Banquet (London, 1690) and the Dancing Master of 1701.” (from here)


In Scotland, the “marcing song” is synonymous with bagpipes! “Hieland laddie” was the march of all Scottish regiments before “Scotland the Brave”.


A particularly energetic dance competition

SEA SHANTY: Bonny Laddie, Heiland Laddie (My Bonnie Highland Lassie)

The melody was also used as a capstan and a “stamp and go” shanty, and (without the grand chorus) as a halyard shanty. It was popular on the Dundee Whalers, then later used (c. 1830’s and 40’s) as a work song for stowing lumber and cotton in the Southeastern and Gulf ports of the United States. Highland Laddie was used for long and slow maneuvers: hoisting sails above (2 pulls per chorus) or hauling up the anchor. It was sung in two voices: a solo asking the question (Where have been ye all the day, my Bonnie Laddie Hieland?) and the answer given in chorus by the crew (Way hay and away we go, Bonnie Laddie, Laddie Hieland). (from here)

Pete Seeger live

Was you ever in Quebec?
Bonny laddie, Highland laddie,
Stowing timber on the deck,
My bonny Highland laddie.
High-ho, and away we goes,
Bonny laddie, Highland laddie,
High-ho, and away we goes,
My bonny Highland laddie.

Was you ever in Aberdeen
Prettiest girls that you’ve ever seen(1).
Was you ever in Baltimore
Dancing on the sanded floor?
Was you ever in Callao(2)
Where the girls are never slow?
Was you ever in Merasheen(3)
Where you stayed fast to tree(4)?

1) scottish song and scottish beauty
2) large port of Peru
3) or Merrimashee: there is an island of Merasheen in Newfoundland (Canada), but more likely is Miramichi, a small town in Canada, located in the province of New Brunswick; Merrimashee is also a large river that gives its name to the bay where flows into the Gulf of San Lorenzo. Often the sailors crippled the names of the places that they  did not know.
Italo Ottonello found this note: Merasheen, located on the southwestern tip of Merasheen Island in Placentia Bay, was one of the larger and more prosperous communities resettled. Settled by English, Irish and Scottish in the late 18th century, the community eventually became predominantly Roman Catholic with families of Irish descent. In an ideal location to prosecute the inshore cod fishery along with the herring and lobster fisheries in the ice-free harbour during winter and spring, it appeared that Merasheen would not succumb to the same fate as other small resettled communities.
This is how Ottonello observes: “it seems to hint at a generic stormy place, rather than a particular site”.
4) or “you tie up to a tree”, “Where you make fast to a tree”;

The Kingston Trio.
The checked stanzas are an addition of the group

Was you ever in Quebec
Bonny Laddie, Hielan’ laddie
Stowing timber on the deck
Bonny Hielan’ Laddie

Was you ever in Dundee
There some pretty ships you’ll see
“This Boston town don’t suit my notion
And I’m bound for far away
So, I’ll pack my bag and sail the ocean
And I’ll see you on another day”
Was you ever in Mobile Bay
Loading cotton by the day
Was you ever ‘round Cape Horn
With the Lion and the Unicorn (1)
“One of these days and it won’t be long
And I’m bound for far away
You’ll take a look around and find me gone
And I’ll see you on another day”
Was you ever in Monterey
On that town with three months pay
Was you ever in Aberdeen
Prettiest girls that you’ve ever seen
“Farewell, dear friends, I’m leaving soon
And I’m bound for far away
We’ll meet again this coming June
And I’ll see you on another day”

1) it is the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, the lion symbolizes England and the unicorn of Scotland;

Bonnie Highland Lassie

Nils Brown, Sean Dagher, Clayton Kennedy, John Giffen, David Gossage from Assassin’s Creed Rogue (sea shanty edition)

Were you ever in Roundstone Town (1)?
Bonnie Lassie Hieland Lassie,
Were you ever in Roundstone Town?
My bonnie hieland lassie-o
I was often in Roundstone Town
Drinking milk and eating flour
Although I am a young maid
Come lately from my mammy-o
Were you ever in Bombay
Bonnie Lassie Hieland Lassie,
Were you ever in Bombay
My bonnie hieland lassie-o
I was often in old Bombay
Drinking coffee and bohay (2)
Although I am a young maid
Come lately from my mammy-o

Were you ever in Quebec?
Bonnie Lassie Hieland Lassie,
Were you ever in Quebec?
My bonnie hieland lassie-o
I was often in Quebec
Stowing timber up on deck
Although I am a young maid
Come lately from my mammy-o
Are you fit to sweep the floor?
Bonnie Lassie Hieland Lassie,
Are you fit to sweep the floor?
My bonnie hieland lassie-o
I am fit to sweep the floor
As the lock is for the door
Although I am a young maid
Come lately from my mammy-o

1) Roundstone is a small fishing village near Connemara (County Galway)
2) Roundstone is a small fishing village near Connemara (County Galway)
2) bohea is a blend of black tea originating in the Wuyi mountain region of southeastern China; in practice it was once synonymous with tea

second part


Boney was a warrior

Leggi in italiano

A sea shanty  originally born as a street ballad on the Napoleonic wars: Napoleon embodied the hopes for independence and the revolutionary demands of the European populations and the American colonies (Ireland in the lead); loved by the poorer layers as well as by intellectuals, it is the romantic hero par excellence, in its greatness and its fall. Nowadays, no one siding with Napoleon, but two centuries before, the spirits flared up for him!

Napoleone Bonaparte


AL Lloyd wrote “A short drag shanty. These simple shanties were uses when only a few strong pulls were needed, as in boarding tacks and sheets and bunting up a sail in furling, etc. Boney was popular both in British and American vessels and in one American version Bonaparte is made to cross the Rocky Mountains.”: there are many text versions that all portray the victories and defeats of Napoleon in a few lines. The melody recalls the Breton maritime song “Jean François de Nantes” (with text in French)
C’est Jean François de Nantes OUE, OUE, OUE
Gabier sur la fringante Oh mes bouées Jean François
The adventure “Asterix in Corsica” pays homage to the shanty giving the name Boneywasawarriorwayayix to the chief of the resistance in Corsica

Paul Clayton

Boney(1) was a warrior,
Wey, hay, yah
A warrior, a tarrier(2),
John François (3)
Boney fought the Prussians,
Boney fought the Russians.
Boney went to Moscow,
across the ocean across the storm
Moscow was a-blazing
And Boney was a-raging.
Boney went to Elba
Boney he came back again.
Boney went to Waterloo
There he got his overthrow.
Boney he was sent away
Away in Saint Helena
Boney broke his heart and died
Away in Saint Helena

1) Boney diminutive for Napoleon. The origin of the name is uncertain may mean “the Lion of Naples”, the first illustrious name was that of Cardinal Napoleone Orsini (at the time of Pope Boniface VIII)
2) terrier = mastiff
3) or Jonny Franswor! quote from the Breton maritime song Jean-François de Nantes

.. the punk-rock version with irony
Jack Shit in Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, ANTI 2006

Boney(1) was a warrior
A warrior a terrier(2)
Boney beat the Prussians
The Austrians, the Russians
Boney went to school in France
He learned to make the Russians dance
Boney marched to Moscow
Across the Alps through ice and snow.
Boney was a Frenchy man
But Boney had to turn again
So he retreated back again
Moscow was in ruins then
He beat the Prussians squarely
He whacked the English nearly
He licked them in Trafalgar’s Bay(1)
Carried his main topm’st away
Boney went a cruising
Aboard the Billy Ruffian(2)
Boney went to Saint Helen’s
He never came back again
They sent him into exile
He died on Saint Helena’s Isle
Boney broke his heart and died
In Corsica he wished he stayed

1) The battle of Trafalgar saw the British outnumbered but Nelson’s unconventional maneuver (a position called in military jargon to T) displaced the enemy line up arranged in a long line (the excellent study in see), the only blow inflicted by the French was the death of Nelson. England was an unequaled naval power for the French and the Spanish, so Napoleon renounced the invasion of Great Britain who became the mistress of the seas until the First World War
2) the ship that brought Napoleon into exile on Saint Helena was Bellerephon but the name was crippled in Billy Ruffian or Billy Ruff’n by his sailors not sufficiently well-known to appreciate the references to Greek mythology.


The authors write in the short Sharp Shanties project notes “Short’s words were few—a mere two and a half verses—but sufficient to indicate that his, like every other version of the shanty, essentially followed Napoleon Bonaparte’s life story to a greater or lesser extent depending on the length of the job in hand (although, as Colcord points out, some versions introduced inventive variations on his life). We have simply borrowed some (of the true) verses from other versions—but by no means all that were available!.. Perhaps, we are again dealing with a shanty that changed its purpose—Jackie has chosen a slower rendition which may be more appropriate to the time. Sharp noted: “Mr. Short sang ‘Bonny’ not ’Boney’, which is the more usual pronunciation; while his rendering of ’John’ was something between the French ’Jean’ and the English ’John’.” (tratto da qui)

Jackie Oates from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 2

Boney was a warrior,
Wey, hay, yah
A bulling fighting tarrier,
John François
First he fought the Russians
then he fought the Prussians.
Boney went to Moscow,
Moscow was on fire oh.
We licked him in Trafalgar’s
Billy ??
Boney went to Elba
he came back to make another show
Boney went to Waterloo
and than he maked his overthrow.
Boney went to a-cruising
Aboard the Billy Ruffian.
Boney went to Saint Helena
Boney he didn’t get back
Boney broke his heart and died
in Corsica he should stay
Boney was a general
A ruddy, snotty general.

An interesting version in the folk environment comes from Maddy Prior who sings it like a nursery rhyme with the cannon shots and the drum roll in the background
Maddy Prior from Ravenchild 1999

Boney was a warrior
Wey, hey, ah
A warrior, a terrier
John François
He planned a distant enterprise
A great and distant enterprise.
He is off to fight the Russian bear
He plans to drive him from his lair.
They left with banners all ablaze
The heads of Europe stood amazed.
He thinks he’ll beat the Russkies
And the bonny bunch of roses. (1)

1) english soldiers

FRENCH SHANTY: Jean-François de Nantes

Les Naufragés live

C’est Jean-François de Nantes
Oué, oué, oué,
Gabier de la Fringante
Oh ! mes bouées, Jean-François
Débarque de la campagne
Fier comme un roi d’Espagne
En vrac dedans sa bourse
Il a vingt mois de course
Une montre, une chaîne
Qui vaut une baleine
Branl’bas chez son hôtesse
Carambole et largesses
La plus belle servante
L’emmène dans la soupente
En vida la bouteille
Tout son or appareille
Montre et chaîne s’envolent
Attrape la vérole
A l’hôpital de Nantes
Jean-François se lamente
Et les draps de sa couche
Déchire avec sa bouche
Il ferait de la peine
Même à son capitaine
Pauvr’ Jean-François de Nantes
Gabier de la Fringante.


Windy old weather (Fishes Lamentation)

Leggi in italiano

The songs of the sea run from shore to shore, in particular “Windy old weather”, which according to Stan Hugill is a song by Scottish fishermen entitled “The Fish of the Sea”, also popular on the North-East coasts of the USA and Canada.
TITLES: Fishes Lamentation, Fish in the Sea, Haisboro Light Song (Up Jumped the Herring), The Boston Come-All-Ye, Blow Ye Winds Westerly, Windy old weather

A forebitter sung occasionally as a sea shanty, redating back to 1700 and probably coming from some broadsides with the title “The Fishes’ Lamentation“. “This song appears on some broadsides as The Fishes’ Lamentation and seems to have survived as a sailor’s chantey or fisherman’s song. Whall (1910), Colcord (1938) and Hugill (1964) include it in their chantey books. We also recorded it from Bob Roberts on board his Thames barge, The Cambria. It also appears in the Newfoundland and Nova Scotia collections of Ken Peacock and Helen Creighton“. (from here)

A fishing ship is practicing trawling on a full moon night, and as if by magic, the fishes start talking and warning sailors about the arrival of a storm. The fishes described are all belonging to the Atlantic Ocean and are quite commonly found in the English Channel and the North Sea (as well as in the Mediterranean Sea).
The variants can be grouped into two versions

FIRST VERSION  Blow the Man down tune

In this version the fish warn (or threaten) the fishermen on the arrival of the storm, urging them to head to the ground. The text is reported in “Oxford Book of Sea Songs”, Roy Palmer

Bob Roberts, from Windy old weather, 1958

David Tinervia · Nils Brown · Sean Dagher · Clayton Kennedy · David Gossage from Assassin’s Creed – Black Flag
“Windy Old Weather”

Dan Zanes &  Festival Five Folk from Sea Music 2003 a fresh version between country and old time.

As we were a-fishing
off Happisburgh(1) light
Shooting and hauling
and trawling all night,
In the windy old weather,
stormy old weather
When the wind blows
we all pull together
When up jumped a herring,
the queen (king) of the sea(2)
Says “Now, old skipper,
you cannot catch me,”
We sighted a Thresher(3)
-a-slashin’ his tail,
“Time now Old Skipper
to hoist up your sail.”
IV (4)
And up jumps a Slipsole
as strong as a horse(5),
Says now, “Old Skipper
you’re miles off course.”
Then along comes plaice
-who’s got spots on his side,
Says “Not much longer
-these seas you can ride.”
Then up rears a conger(6)
-as long as a mile,
“Winds coming east’ly”
-he says with a smile.
I think what these fishes
are sayin’ is right,
We’ll haul up our gear(7)
now an’ steer for the light.

1) Happisburgh lighthouse (“Hazeboro”) is located in the English county of ​​Norfolk, it was built in 1790 and painted in white and red stripes; It is managed by a foundation that deals with the maintenance of more than one hundred lighthouses throughout Great Britain. 112 are the steps to reach the tower that still works without the help of man. The headlights at the beginning were two but the lower one was dismantled in 1883 due to coastal erosion. The two lighthouses marked a safe passage through the Haagborough Sands
2) In the Nordic countries herrings (fresh or better in brine or smoked) are served in all sauces from breakfast to dinner. “It is a fish that loves cold seas and lives in numerous herds.The herring fishing in the North Seas has been widespread since the Middle Ages.It is clearly facilitated by the quantity of fish and the limited range of their movements. trawlers and start the fishing season on May 1, to close it after two months.In all the countries of North America and Northern Europe this fishing has an almost sacred character, because it has been for years the providence of fishermen and is a real natural wealth In the Netherlands and Sweden, for example, the first day of herring fishing is organized in honor of the queen and is proclaimed a national holiday ” (from here)
3) Thresher shark thresher, thrasher, fox shark, alopius vulpinus.with a characteristic tail with a very elongated upper part (almost as much as the length of the body) that the animal uses as a whip to stun and overwhelm its prey. The name comes from Aristotle who considered this fish very clever, because he was skilled in escaping from the fishermen
4) the mackerel stanza is missing:
then along comes a mackerel with strips on his back
“Time now, old skipper, to shift yout main tack”
5) perhaps refers to halibut or halibut, of considerable size, has an oval and flattened body, similar to that of a large sole, with the eyes on the right side
6) the “conger” is a fish with an elongated body similar to eel but more robust, can reach a length of two or three meters and exceeds ten kilos of weight. It is a fundamental ingredient in the Livorno cacciucco dish!
7) another translation of the sentence could be: we recover our networks

SCOTTISH VERSION, Blaw the Wind Southerly tune

In this version the fish take possession of the ship, it seems the description of the ghost ship of “Davy Jone”, the evil spirit of the waters made so vividly in the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean”. An old Scottish melody accompanies a series of variations of the same song.


Quadriga Consort from Ship Ahoy, 2011 ♪ 

Michiel Schrey, Sean Dagher, Nils Brown from, Assasin’s Creed – Black Flag  titled “Fish in the sea” (stanzas from I to III and VIII)

Come all you young sailor men,
listen to me,
I’ll sing you a song
of the fish in the sea;
And it’s…Windy weather, boys,
stormy weather, boys,
When the wind blows,
we’re all together, boys;
Blow ye winds westerly,
blow ye winds, blow,
Jolly sou’wester, boys,
steady she goes.
Up jumps the eel
with his slippery tail,
Climbs up aloft
and reefs the topsail.
Then up jumps the shark
with his nine rows of teeth,
Saying, “You eat the dough boys,
and I’ll eat the beef!”
Up jumps the lobster
with his heavy claws,
Bites the main boom
right off by the jaws!
Up jumps the halibut,
lies flat on the deck
He says, ‘Mister Captain,
don’t step on my neck!’
Up jumps the herring,
the king of the sea,
Saying, ‘All other fishes,
now you follow me!’
Up jumps the codfish
with his chuckle-head (1),
He runs out up forward
and throws out the lead!
Up jumps the whale
the largest of all,
“If you want any wind,
well, I’ll blow ye a squall(2)!”

1) literally “stupid head” is a common saying among the fishermen that the cod is stupid, because it does not recognize the bait and lets himself hoist docilely on board.
2) the fishermen were / are very superstitious men, in all latitudes, it takes little or nothing to attract misfortune in the sea, it is still a widespread belief that the devil or the evil spirit has power over the sea and storms.


Of the second version, the best-known in America bears the title “The Boston as-all-ye” as collected by Joanna Colcord in her “Songs of American Sailormen” which she writes”There can be little doubt that [this] song, although it was sung throughout the merchant service, began life with the fishing fleet. We have the testimony of Kipling in Captains Courageous that it was a favourite within recent years of the Banks fishermen. It is known as The Fishes and also by its more American title of The Boston Come-All-Ye. The chorus finds its origin in a Scottish fishing song Blaw the Wind Southerly. A curious fact is that Captain Whall, a Scotchman himself, prints this song with an entirely different tune, and one that has no connection with the air of the Tyneside keelmen to which our own Gloucester fishermen sing it. The version given here was sung by Captain Frank Seeley.”

Peggy Seeger from  Whaler Out of New Bedford, 1962

Come all ye young sailormen
listen to me,
I’ll sing you a song
of the fish of the sea.
Then blow ye winds westerly,
westerly blow;
we’re bound to the southward,
so steady she goes
Oh, first came the whale,
he’s the biggest of all,
he clumb up aloft,
and let every sail fall.
Next came the mackerel
with his striped back,
he hauled aft the sheets
and boarded each tack(1).
The porpoise(2) came next
with his little snout,
he grabbed the wheel,
calling “Ready? About!(3”
Then came the smelt(4),
the smallest of all,
he jumped to the poop
and sung out, “Topsail, haul!”
The herring came saying,
“I’m king of the seas!
If you want any wind,
I’ll blow you a breeze.”
Next came the cod
with his chucklehead (5),
he went to the main-chains
to heave to the lead.
Last come the flounder(6)
as flat as the ground,
saying, “Damn your eyes, chucklehead, mind how you sound”!

1) In sailing, tack is a corner of a sail on the lower leading edge. Separately, tack describes which side of a sailing vessel the wind is coming from while under way—port or starboard. Tacking is the maneuver of turning between starboard and port tack by bringing the bow (the forward part of the boat) through the wind. (from Wiki)
2) porpoise is often considered as a small dolphin, has a distinctive rounded snout and has no beak like dolphins
3) it  is the helmsman shouting
4 ) smelt it (osmero) is a small fish that lives in the Channel and in the North Sea; its name derives from the fact that its flesh gives off an unpleasant odor
5) literally “stupid head” is a common saying among the fishermen that the cod is stupid, because it does not recognize the bait and lets himself hoist docilely on board.

Blow the Wind Southerly


Blow away the morning dew sea shanty

Leggi in italiano

The ballad known as The Baffled Knight is reported in many text versions both in the eighteenth-century collections and in the Broadsides, as well as orally transmitted in Great Britain and America with the titles of “Blow (Clear) (Stroll) Away The Morning Dew” or “Blow Ye Winds in the Morning “: the male protagonist from time to time, is a gentleman, or a shepherd boy / peasant.

It could not miss the sea shanty version of this popular ballad in the text version best known as “The Shephers lad” (The Baffled knight Child’s # 112 version D), summarized in four stanzas

Nils Brown from Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag (Sea Shanty Edition, Vol. 2)

There was a shepherd boy,
keeping sheep upon the hill,
he laid his bow and arrow down
for to take his fill
Blow ye wind in the morning
Blow ye winds aye-O.
Clear away the morning dew,
and blow boys blow.
He looked high and he looked low,
He gave an under look
And there he spied a pretty maid,
Swimming in a brook.
“Carry me home to my father’s gate
before you put me down
then you shall have my maidenhead
and twenty thousand pounds”
And when she came to her father’s gate
So nimbly’s she whipt in;
and said ‘Pough! you’re a fool without,’
‘And I’m a maid within.”


Another sea shanty version comes from the testimony of John Short: [Richard Runciman] Terry [in The Shanty Book Part II (J. Curwen & Sons Ltd., London. 1924)] comments that although Short started his Blow Away the Morning Dew with a verse of The Baffled Knight, he then digresses into floating verses. In fact three of the verses recorded and published by Terry, not one derive from The Baffled Knight! Short sang only the “flock of geese” verse to Sharp. Sharp did not publish the shanty, but other authors also give Baffled Knight versions. The other predominant version in collections is the American whaling version but still using the tune associated with The Baffled Knight and the chorus remaining close to the usual words. (from here)

Jim Mageean  from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 3

As I walked out one morning fair,
To view the meadows round,
it’s there I spied a maid fair
Come a-tripping on the ground.
Blow ye wind of morning
Blow ye winds aye-O.
Clear away the morning dew,
and blow boys blow.
My father has a milk white steed
He is in the stall
he will not eat it’s hay or corn
And it will not go at all
When we goes in a farm’s yard
see a flocking geese
we downed their eyes
and closed their eyes
and knocked five or six
As I was a-walking
down by a river side,
it’s there I saw a lady fair
a-biding in the tide
As I was a-walking
out by the Moonlight,
it’s there I saw the yallow girl
and arise (then shown) so bright
into the field of?)
she says “Young man this is the place
for a man must play”
As I was a-walking
down Paradise street
it’s there I met a (junky?) ghost
he says (“Where you stand to a treat”?)
TITLES: The Baffled Lover (knight),  Yonder comes a courteous knight, The Lady’s Policy, The Disappointed Lover, The (Bonny) Shepherd Lad (laddie), Blow away the morning dew, Blow Ye Winds in the Morning, Blow Ye Winds High-O, Clear Away the Morning Dew
Child #112 A (Tudor Ballad): yonder comes a courteous knight
Child #112 B
Child #112 D ( Cecil Sharp)
Child #112 D (Sheperd Lad)
Blow Away The Morning Dew (sea shanty)