The Dead Horse sea shanty: Working off the Dead Horse

Leggi in italiano

kw294114Paying off the Dead Horse” perhaps derives from a custom in negotiations between breeders: once the agreement was sanctioned with a handshake there was no way to go back even if the horse died soon after.
Flogging a dead horse” or “beating a dead horse” has entered the nineteenth-century ways of saying to indicate a way of doing that has no prospects or outlets (it is useless to whip a horse when it is dead because it will never rise again).
But “to work (for) the dead horse” means wasting money to buy useless things (like a dead horse).

Working off the Dead Horse

“Working off the Dead Horse” still has a further meaning in marine jargonas, explained by Italo Ottonello: at the signing of the recruitment contract for long journeys, the sailors received an advance equal to three months of pay which, to guarantee the respect of the contract, it was provided in the form of “I will pay”, payable three days after the ship left the port, “as long as said sailor has sailed with that ship.” Everyone invariably ran to look for some complacent sharks who bought their promissory note at a discounted price, usually of forty percent, with much of the amount provided in kind.
So often there was nothing left of the advance, spended for the personal equipment (boots, wax, knives etc that were charged to the sailor) or more commonly for women and “drinks”.
Thus the sailor worked for the first month for “nothing” that is for “the dead horse”; others mean that it is the sailor who is an exploited horse because in the first month on the ship he does not work for himself, but for his creditors.
In support of the first hypothesis there are those who maintain that once the driver of a horse who was employed by a chief was responsible for the death of the horse and would no longer receive his salary until he repaid the cost of the horse.


A curious ceremony took place aboard the sailing vessels: a horse was assembled with discarded objects (stitched worn sails, old barrels and worn ropes) and dragged around the deck of the ship; then an auction was opened with the auctioneer who praised the good qualities of the animal, at the end the horse was hoisted with a rope on the highest flagpole and thrown into the sea, while the last part of a song’s melody was sung as requiem. called “Paying off the dead horse”.
The ceremony … became a rather half-hearted affair in the latter days of sail, whereas in days gone by it was a spectacular effort, particularly in the emigrant ships, and one of the best descriptions is given in Reminiscences of Travel in Australia, America, and Egypt,by R Tangye (London, 1884).” (Stan Hugill)


The custom gradually declined and the song became a halyard shanty. Thus R Tangye writes : “Being a month at sea the sailors performed the ceremony called ” Burying the Dead Horse,” the explanation of which is this: Before leaving port seamen are paid a month in advance, so as to enable them to leave some money with their wives, or to buy a new kit, etc., and having spent the money they consider the first month goes for nothing, and so call it ” Working off the Dead Horse.” The crew dress up a figure to represent a horse; its body is made out of a barrel, its extremities of hay or straw covered with canvas, the mane and tail of hemp, the eyes of two ginger beer bottles, sometimes filled with phosphorus. When complete the noble steed is put on a box, covered with a rug, and on the evening of the last day of the month a man gets on to his back, and is drawn all round the ship by his shipmates, to the chanting of the following doggerel: oh! now, poor Horse, your time is come; And we say so, for we know so. Oh! many a race we know you’ve won, Poor Old Man. You have come a long long way, And we say so, for we know so. For to be sold upon this day, Poor Old Man. You are goin’ now to say good-bye, And we say so, for we know so. Poor old horse you’re a goin’ to die, Poor Old Man.
Having paraded the decks in order to get an audience, the sale of the horse by auction is announced, and a glib-mouthed man mounts the rostrum and begins to praise the noble animal, giving his pedigree, etc., saying it was a good one to go, for it had gone 6,000 miles in the past month ! The bidding then commences, each bidder being responsible only for the amount of his advance on the last bid. After the sale the horse and its rider are run up to the yard-arm amidst loud cheers. Fireworks are let off, the man gets off the horse’s back, and, cutting the rope, lets it fall into the water. The Requiem is then sung to the same melody. Now he is dead and will die no more, And we say so, for we know so. Now he is gone and will go no more; Poor Old Man.
After this the auctioneer and his clerk proceed to collect the ” bids,” and if in your ignorance of auction etiquette you should offer yours to the auctioneer, he politely declines it, and refers you to his clerk!”

The ritual echoes ancient propitiatory and auspicious rituals such as those of the Poor Old Horse at Christmas.


Other titles: Poor old man, Poor old Horse
Use: Halyard e Long drag shanty

Assassin’s Creed -IV Black Flag

A poor old man came riding by.
And we say so, And we know so.
O, a poor old man came riding by,
O, poor old man.

Says I, “Old man, your horse will die.
“And if he dies we’ll tan his hide.
And if he don’t, I’ll ride him again.
And I’ll ride him ‘til the Lord knows”
He’s dead as a nail in the lamp room door (1), And he won’t come worrying us no more
We’ll use the hair of his tail to sew our sails
and the iron of his shoes (2) to make deck nails,
Drop him down with a long long rope
Where the sharks have his body
And the devil takes his soul (3)!

1)Charles Dickens in “A Christama Carol”:  “that Marley was as dead as a door-nail”. The expression is very ancient used both by Shakespeare and even before in the Middle Ages c. 1350. Will. Palerne: For but ich haue bot of mi bale I am ded as dorenail
But William and Mary Morris, in The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, quote a correspondent who points out that it could come from a standard term in carpentry. If you hammer a nail through a piece of timber and then flatten the end over on the inside so it can’t be removed again (a technique called clinching), the nail is said to be dead, because you can’t use it again. Doornails would very probably have been subjected to this treatment to give extra strength in the years before screws were available. So they were dead because they’d been clinched.” One of our traditional ceremonial sea songs, “Dead Horse Shanty,” uses the line “dead as a nail on the lamproom door.” We might assume that these nail heads were appropriately flattened. For those who are now curious to know what a “dead horse” had to do with sailors, it was a symbol of the advance pay they or their crimp received before boarding ship. So they didn’t earn any additional pay until they had worked off the “dead horse.” (from here). 
In the old-time navy, you get the combination of a wooden ship and gunpowder – potentially troublesome. Especially as the gunpowder was stored down below decks where there were no windows to let in the light. Taking a lit torch or candle into the gunpowder store was frowned upon, often briefly and from a great height. The lamp-room was next to the gunpowder store, with a glass window to throw light on the powder without risk of ignition. Nails in the woodwork were also a source of risk, because if struck they could create a spark. Nails in the lamp-room door and around the powder store were ‘deadened’ by being painted over with pitch to protect from this eventuality. With people ashore living in wooden houses with thatched roofs, the practice of ‘deadening’ door nails with pitch or something similar was probably more widespread“,
2) the hooves
3) or
We’ll hoist him up to the main yardarm
We’ll drop him down to the depths of the sea

We’ll sing him down with a long, long roll
Where the sharks’ll have his body
and the devil have have his soul

Robin Holcomb Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, ANTI 2006

Poor old man came ridin’ along
And we say so,
And we hope so.
Poor old man came ridin’ along
Poor old man.
Well poor old man your horse he must die
And we say so,
And we hope so.
Poor old man your horse he must die
Poor old man.
Well 30 days have come and gone (1)
And we say so,
And we hope so.
30 days have come and gone
Poor old man.

And now we are on a good month’s pay
And we say so,
And we hope so.
I think I hear our wharfing man say
Poor old man.
So give them grog for the 30th day
And we say so,
And we hope so.
Give them their grog for the 30th day
Poor old man.
Then up hail ox (2) to the old main yard arm
And we say so,
And we hope so.
Then cut him drip and do him no harm
Poor old man.
A poor old man came ridin’ along

1) in this version the ceremony obviously takes place after the first month of navigation
2) it was the simulacrum of the horse to be hoisted on the highest yard and then thrown into the sea, so why an ox?

Ian Campbell – Farewell Nancy 1964

I say, “Old man, your horse is dead.”
And we say so, And we know so.
I say, “Old man, your horse is dead.”
O, poor old man.
One month a rotten live we’ve led
While you lay on y’er feather bed
But now the month is up, ol’ turk
get up, ye swine, and look for work
get up, ye swine, and look for graft
while we lays on an’ yanks(1) ye aft
An’ yanks ye aft t’ th’ cabin door
and hopes we’ll never see ye more

1) to yank: pull, or move with a sudden movement


Keith Kendrick – Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 3 

A poor old man came riding by.
And we say so,
And we know so.

O, a poor old man came riding by,
O, poor old man.

Says I, “Old man, your horse will die
Says I, “Old man, your horse will die.
And if he dies I’ll tan his hide
(if he leaves my old sail a ride?)
As I was rambling down the street
flesh young girl I chanced for to meet
say I “Young girl (whan’t you send a treat?)
Yes you’ve come to the bottom of the street
Aloft we went in a low back car
she took me to jack store’s bar
She pull him for some cakes and wine
to plumb well as my desire
I plumbed the well and the fancy was gone
but now I left her on the strand


“Fire Down Below” the last shanty

Leggi in italiano

“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

Leggi in italiano

“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

Morrigan: 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

Short Sharp version

The curators of the project write: “It feels as though this version is far closer to a cotton-screwing chant than the Hugill version. (Carpenter makes a note beside the version from Edward Robinson that it also was for ‘cotton screwing’).  There is only one complete verse and a couple of phrases from Short to Sharp, so the additional words are from Hugill’s version but ignoring location aspects and reworked to fit Short’s significantly different structure” (from here)

Tom Brown in Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 3 ♪ 

So help me, Bob ,
I’m bully in the alley,
Way, hey, bully in the alley!
Bully down in an alley
So help me, Bob, 
I’m bully in the alley,
Way, hey, bully in the alley!
(solo) Bully in Teapot alley
Way, hey, bully in the alley!
Sally is the girl down in our alley,
Way, hey, bully in the alley!
Sally is the girl down in our alley,
Way, hey, bully in the alley!
Have you seen on Sally?
(solo) I could love her cheerly
Way, hey, bully in the alley!
Sally is the girl that I love dearly
Sally is the girl that I love dearly
She is the girl in the alley
Oh I’ll spliced to nearly
Way, hey, bully in the alley
I’ll leave my Sally go a sailin’
I’ll leave my Sally go a wailin’
One day I’ll wed Sally
Wedding bed my Sally
Way, hey, bully in the alley


Hanging Johnny : hang, boys, hang

Leggi in italiano

“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


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.


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)


Rolling Sally Brown!

Leggi in italiano

In the sea shanties Sally Brown is the stereotype of the cheerful woman of the Caribbean seas, mulatta or creole, with which our sailor  tries to have a good time. Probably of Jamaican origin according to Stan Hugill, it was a popular song in the ports of the West Indies in the 1830s.
The textual and melodic variations are many.


WAY, HEY, ROLL AND GO (halyard shanty)
I ROLLED ALL NIGHT(capstan shanty)
ROLL AND GO (John Short)


Roll, boys! Roll boys roll!

In this version the chorus doubles in two short sentences repeated by the crew in sequence after each line of the shantyman, here the work done is the loading of the ship
Roll, boys! Roll boys roll!
Way high, Miss Sally Brown!

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

Oh! Sally Brown, she’s the gal for me boys
Roll, boys! Roll boys roll!
Oh! Sally Brown, she’s the gal for me boys
Way high, Miss Sally Brown!
(Oh way down South, way down South boys
Oh bound away, with a bone(1) in her mouth boys)
It’s down to Trinidad(2) to see Sally Brown boys,
She’s lovely on the foreyard, an’ she’s lovely down below boys,
She’s lovely ‘cause she loves me, that’s all I want to know boys,
Ol’ Captain Baker, how do you store yer cargo?
Some I stow for’ard (3) boys, an’ some I stow a’ter
Forty fathoms or more below boys,
There’s forty fathoms or more below boys,
Oh, way high ya, an’ up she rises,
Way high ya, and the blocks (4) is different sizes,
Oh, one more pull, don’t ya hear the mate a-bawlin?
Oh, one more pull, that’s the end of all the hawlin’
Sally Brown she’s the gal for me boys

1) “Bone in her teeth” is the expression used for a bow wave, usually implying that the vessel in question was moving pretty fast. (see more here)
2) the southernmost of the Caribbean islands
3) the front and the back of a ship have a specific terminology
4) In sailing, a block is a single or multiple pulley


Not to be confused with “Spent My Money On Sally Brown”. Cecil Sharp ranks as capstan shanty.
In Short Sharp Shanties the project’s curators write”A
lthough, by Hugill’s time, ‘this shanty had only one theme – Sally and her daughter’, Short’s text is not on this ‘one theme’ – it is based around a less overtly sexual relationship.  Short gave Sharp more text than he actually published. It is always possible that Short may be self censoring – but there is no indication that this is the case, and from other textual evidence in Sharp’s field notebooks (e.g. see the notes to Hanging Johnny), rather the reverse. We have added just two floating verses at the end

Roger Watson from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 2

Way, hey, roll and go

Oh Sally Brown, Oh Sally Brown
a long time ago
She promised for to marry me
Way, hey, roll and go
She promised for to marry me.
a long time ago

Oh Sally Brown is the girl for me
Oh Sally Brown has slighted me.
As I walked down one morning fair
it’s there I met her I do declare.
And I asked for to marry me
to marry me or let me be.
She spent me pay all around the town
she left me broken bad and dow.
Than I will pack me bags and go to sea
and I’ll leave my Sally on the quey


Blow the man down sea shanty

Leggi in italiano

“Blow  the man down”, that is to knock a man down or strike with a fist, belaying pin or capstan bar, is a popular sea shanty.

There are a great variety of texts of this halyard shanty, with the same melody, and after the version for the cartoon character “Popeye” it has also become a song for children!

Billy Costello the voice of the first Popeye

According to Stan Hugill “the shanty was an old Negro song Knock A Man Down. This song, a not so musical version of the later Blow The Man Down, was taken and used by the hoosiers of Mobile Bay, and at a later date carried by white seamen of the Packet Ships.

Knock a man down

The original version probably comes from African-American workers, but ended up in the repertoire of liners along the transatlantic route. In his video Ranzo combines the melody of Stan Hugill with that of John Short: in the first text the shantyman would prefer to be on the ground, to enjoy themselves with drinks and girls.
Hulton Clint

There are three main themes.

FIRST VERSION: prime seamen onboard a Black Ball

The oldest version is the one in which the novice sailors are soon aware of the harsh and violent climate on the Black Baller.

In addition to the flag the Black Ball of the Black Ball Line was drawn on the fore-topsail

As Hugill says ” Chief Mates in Western Ocean ships were known as “blowers”, second mates as “strikers”, and third mates as “greasers.”
Packets and Blowers
A Packet ship was one which had a contract to carry packets (formerly “paquettes”) of mail. The earliest and most famous transatlantic packet route was the Liverpool service, started in 1816 by the Black Ball Line, with regular departures from New York on the 1st and 16th of every month without fail, regardless of weather or other inconveniences. These early ships of 300 to 500 tons averaged 23 days for the eastward voyage and 40 days to return westward. Cabin passengers were usually gentlefolk of good breeding, who expected to find courtesy and politeness in the captains with whom they sailed. Packet captains were remarkable men, hearty, bluff, and jovial, but never coarse, always a gentleman.
The mates, on the other hand, had no social duties to distract their attention, and devoted their time and energies to extracting the very maximum of performance from both their vessel and its crew, so it is no surprise that it was on board the Black Ball liners that “belaying pin soup” and “handspike hash” first became familiar items of the shipboard regime. A hard breed of sailor was required to maintain the strict schedules whatever the weather, and it took an even harder breed of mate to keep this rough and ready bunch in some sort of order. If all else failed then then Rule of the Fist applied: to “blow a man down” was to knock him down with any means available – fist, belaying pin, or capstan bar being the weapons most often preferred. (from here)

“Capstan Bars” di David Bone 1932
oh! Blow the man down, bullies.
Blow the man down W-ay! hey?
Blow the man down!
Blow the man down bullies.
Blow him right down, give us the time and we’ll blow the man down!
Come all ye young fellers that follows the sea.
W-ay! hey? Blow the man down!
I’ll sing ye a song if ye’ll listen t’ me.
Give us the time an’ we’ll blow the man down!
‘Twas in a Black Baller I first served my time.
and in a Black Baller I wasted my prime.
‘Tis when a Black Baller’s preparin’ for sea.
Th’sights in th’ fo’ cas’le(1) is funny t’ see
Wi’ sodgers (2) an’ tailors an’ dutchmen an’ all,
As ships for prime seamen(3) aboard th’ Black Ball.
But when th’ Black Baller gets o’ th’ land
it’s then as ye’ll hear th’ sharp word o’ command.
oh! it’s muster ye sodgers an’ tailors an’ sich.
an’ hear ye’re name called by a son of a bitch.
it’s “fore-topsail halyards”(4), th’ Mate(5) he will roar.
“oh, lay along smartly you son of a whore”.
oh, lay along smartly each lousy recroot.
Wor it’s lifted ye’ll be wi’ th’ toe of a boot.

1 )the forward part of a ship below the deck, traditionally used as the crew’s living quarters.
2) sodger vvariant of soldier is used as an insult in the sense of ambush, slacker, one who always tries to escape from work, that when there is work, goes away or retires
3) the inexperienced and the novices are good only for the easy maneuvers
4) fore-topsail halyards= In sailing, a halyard or halliard is a line (rope) that is used to hoist a ladder, sail, flag or yard; fore-topsai  the sail above the foresail set on the fore-topmast
5) Mate= first officer

The Seekers

Come all ye young fellows that follow the sea
To me weigh hey blow the man down
And pray pay attention and listen to me
Give me some time to blow the man down
I’m a deep water sailor just in from Hong Kong
If you’ll give me some rum I’ll sing you a song-
T’was on a Black Baller I first spent my time
And on that Black Baller I wasted my prime
T’is when a Black Baller’s preparing for sea
You’d split your sides laughing at the sights that you see
With the tinkers and tailors and soldiers and all
That ship for prime seamen onboard a Black Ball
T’is when a Black Baller is clear of the land
Our boatswain then gives us the word of command
“Lay aft” is the cry “to the break of the poop
Or I’ll help you along with the toe of my boot”
T’is larboard and starboard on the deck you will sprawl
For Kicking Jack Williams commands the Black Ball
Aye first it’s a fist and then it’s a pall
When you ship as a sailor aboard the Black Ball

SECOND  VERSION: I’m a `Flying Fish’ sailor

The second version tells the story of a “flying-fish sailor” just landed in Liverpool from Hong Kong, swapped by a policeman for a “blackballer”. The sailor reacts by throwing the policeman on the ground with a sting and obviously ends up in jail for a few months.

Stan Hugill& Pusser’s Rum from Sailing Songs  (1990)

I’ll sing you a song if you give some gin
To me wey-hey, blow the man down
?? down to the pin
Gimme some time to blow the man down
As I was rolling down Paradise street(1)
a big irish scuffer boy (2) I chanced for to meet,
Says he, “You’re a Blackballer from the cut of your hair(3);
you’re a Blackballer by the clothes that you wear.
“You’ve sailed in a packet that flies the Black Ball,
You’ve robbed some poor Dutchman of boots, clothes and all.”
“O policeman, policeman, you do me great wrong;
I’m a `Flying Fish’ sailor(4) just home from Hongkong!”
So I stove in his face and I smashed in his jaw.
Says he, “Oh young feller, you’re breaking the law!”
They gave me six months in Liverpool town
For bootin’ and a-kickin’ and a-blowing him down.
We’re a Liverpool ship with a Liverpool crew
A Liverpool mate(5) and a Scouse(6) skipper too
We’re Liverpool born and we’re Liverpool bred
Thick in the arm, boys, and thick in the head
Blow the man down, bullies, blow the man down
With a crew of hard cases(7) from Liverpool town

1) once the fun way for sailors, the 19th century Paradise street left today the place for Liverpool One,
2 sassy policeman or big Irish copper: scuffer is a typical nineteenth-century term for policeman
3) all the Black Baller line sailors wore their hair cut short
4) According to Hugill a flying-fish sailor is a sailor ” who preferred the lands of the East and the warmth of the Trade Winds to the cold and misery of the Western Ocean
5) first mate
6) scouse is a term used by the people of Liverpool which is also the name given to the local dialect. Originally born from the habits of the sailors of Liverpool to eat the stew of lamb and vegetables probably derived from the Norwegian “skause”. It refers to the English spoken language typical of Irish immigrants
7) hard cases: a tough or intractable person, a person who is hard to get along with.

JOHN SHORT VERSION: Knock a man down

The shantyman John Short sings a very personal version compared to the “Blow the man down” reported in the shanties archives, in the arrangement for the Short Sharp Shanties the authors write ” ” Fox-Smith, Colcord and Doeflinger all comment on the number of different texts which the shanty carried.  Hugill gives six different sets of words and Short’s words are not really related to any of them – so we have added ‘general’ verses from other versions.  Specifically, we’ve added the ‘Market Street’, ‘spat in his face’ and ‘rags are all gone’ verses – the rest are Short’s.”
Sam Lee from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 2 

As I was a-walking down Market street
way ay knock a man down, 
a bully old watchman I chanced for to meet
O give me some time to knock a man down.

Knock a man down, kick a man down ;
way ay knock a man down,
knock a man down
right down to the ground,
O give me some time to knock a man down.

The watchman’s dog stood ten feet high (1),
The watchman’s dog stood ten feet high.
So I spat in his face by gave him good jaw
and says he “me young  you’re breaking the law!”
I wish I was in London Town.
It’s there we’d make them girls fly round.
She is a lively ship and a lively crew.
O we are the boys to put her through
The rags are all gone and (?the chains they are jam?)
and the skipper he says  (? “If the weather be high”?)

A transcription still incomplete because I can not understand the pronunciation of the final verses
1) it was not unusual that the watchmen since the Middle Ages were accompanied with a dog, as can be seen from many vintage illustrations

THIRD VERSION: Beware of the drink whenever it’s free

The most widespread version is about an unfortunate meeting in Paradise street with a young “damself” sometimes compared to a ship in which, metaphorically, the sailor would want to embark.
The awakening is bitter, because he was shanghaiing on a Yankee ship. (see more)

the Haunted Saloon

I’ll sing you a song, a good song of the sea
Way – hey, blow the man down.
I trust that you’ll join in the chorus with me; Give me some time to blow the man down.
Blow the man down, bully, blow the man down; Way – hey, blow the man down.
Blow the man down, boys, from Liverpool town; 
Give me some time to blow the man down.

As I was a-walking down Paradise street
A handsome young damsel I happened to meet
At the pub down on Lime street I then went astray
I drank enough stout for to fill Galway Bay
The next I remember I woke in the dawn
On a tall Yankee clipper that was bound round Cape Horn.
Come all ye young fellows who follow the sea
Beware of the drink whenever it’s free

Woody Guthrie from Songs of American Sailormen, 1988 version collected by Joanna Colcord

As I was out walkin’ down Paradise street(1),
To me way, hey, blow the man down!
A pretty young damsel I chanced for to meet,
Give me some time to blow the man down!

She was round in the counter and bluff in the bow,
So I took in all sail and cried “way enough now”(2)
I hailed her in English, she answered me clear
“I’m from the Black Arrow bound to the Shakespeare”
So I tailed her my flipper(3) and took her in tow
And yard-arm to yard-arm(4), away we did go
But as we were a-going she said unto me
“There’s a spankin’ full rigger(5) just ready for sea”
That spankin’ full rigger to New York was bound
She was very well mannered and very well found
But as soon as that packet was clear of the bar(6)
The mate knocked me down with the end of a spar
As soon as that packet was out on the sea
‘Twas devilish hard treatment of every degree
So I give you fair warning before we belay
Don’t never take heed of what pretty girls say.

1) once the fun way for sailors, the 19th century Paradise street left today the place for Liverpool One,
2) way enough now from Weigh enough – Take the stroke, put the blades on the water and relax. “Weigh enough” (or “Wain…’nuff”, or “Way enough”) (USA) The command to stop what ever the rower is doing, whether it be walking with the boat overhead or rowing.
3) flipper= hand
4) yard-arm to yard-arm= Very close to each other.
5) rigger=packet
6) The bar of Mersey river.

Allen Robertson for the cartoon version of Jack Sparrow from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Swashbuckling Sea Songs 2007

Oh, blow the man down, bullies, blow the man down
Way aye blow the man down
Oh, blow the man down, bullies, blow him away
Give me some time to blow the man down!
As I was a walking down Paradise Street
A pretty young damsel I chanced for to meet.
So I tailed her my flipper and took her in tow
And yardarm to yardarm away we did go.
But as we were going she said unto me
There’s a spanking full-rigger just ready for sea.
So just as that lass I reached not to far
The mate knocked me down with the end of a spar.
It’s starboard and larboard on deck you will sprawl
For Captain Jack Sparrow commands the Black Pearl
So I was shangaiing aboard this old ship
she took off me money and gave me to sleep
So I give you fair warning before we belay,
Don’t ever take head of what pretty girls say.


Two variants from the Nevis and Carriacou islands so Ranzo writes in the notes: “The variation from Nevis, with its repeated phrase “in the hold below”, suggests the song was once associated with stevedores loading cargo. This is fascinating, because it is consistent with (my reading of the) evidence that “Blow the Man Down” was initially a stevedore song, in which the act of blowing “the man down” was perhaps a metaphor for stowing each piece of cargo. Also, the many variations, “hit,” “knock,” “kick,” “blow” are consistent with other historical data that “knock a man down” was an/the early form. The variation was sung by Roy Gumbs and party of Nevis in 1962. Lomax recorded it, and Abrahams transcribed it in his 1974 book. The second variation is from Carriacou. It refers to a vessel named _Cariso_. It was sung by Daniel Aikens and chorus in 1962.”


The Irish Girl of Mr Tapscott

Leggi in italiano

“Mr Tapscott” is a sea shanty/emigration song known as “The Irish Girl”, “The Irish Emigrant”, ” Yellow Meal”. (see firt part)

The Irish Girl of Mr Tapscott

It tells the story of an Irish girl who, from Liverpool embarks on a packet ship of Mr. Tapscott directed to New York. Her arrival point is Brooklyn’s Irishtown not as famous as the Five Points in Manhattan but even more crowded by Irish immigrants. Irishtown was in the Fifth Ward / Vinegar Hill, an Irish stronghold full of illegal whiskey distilleries and detached from Anglo-American culture, in which even the police dared not set foot. Like the famous Irish revolutionary Michael Collins said in the movie, “There is one weapon that the British cannot take away from us: we can ignore them.”  More generally, the masses of poor and desperate Irish settled along the coast of Brooklyn, on the waterfront from Williamsburg to Gowanus.
The waterfront neighborhoods of antebellum Brooklyn was such a place. These neighborhoods of mostly English Protestants and old Dutch aristocracy were quickly overwhelmed by these Catholic “invaders” crippled by diseases, starving and with a legacy of rebelliousness, secrecy, violence and faction fighting within their fiercely communal cooperations. In short, these great numbers of Brooklyn immigrants were in no way interested in assimilating into the incumbent Anglo-Protestant culture. (from qui)

A color drawing from 1855 looking west toward Brooklyn’s Navy Yard. Just beyond it in the area that looks shaded was “Irishtown.”

MR TAPSCOTT (John Short)

john-shortText and melody are a variant of “The New York gals” (“Can’t You Dance the Polka?”) This is what the authors of the Short Sharp Shanties project write in the notes: This shanty text is more widely known as The Irish Girl, The Irish Emigrant or Yellow Meal and the texts are fairly consistent – however, this text is one of only two instances where we have deliberately changed any words: we were not prepared to use the ‘N’ word – nor did Sharp, although he noted it, so we have used his text for the ‘Foulton Ferry’ verse. Short’s tune is, of course, more widely known as carrying New York Gals or Can’t You Dance the Polka (which are, arguably, text variants of Jack-All-Alone (a.k.a. Patrick Street/Barrack Street) – which used the tune of the polka Larry Doolan  (a.k.a.The Irish Jaunting Car) –  published 1852). The tune was also used for the American Civil War song The Bonny Blue Flag (1861) and subsequently for The Southern Girl’s Reply. The text has also been recorded, as a shanty, sung to Heave Away, Me Johnny (to which Short sang Banks of the Sweet Dundee (from here)

Sam Lee from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor Vol 1 

As I was a-walking down
by the Clarence Dock (1),
I overheard an Irish girl
conversing with Tapscott (2).
Chorus (after each verse):
And away you Santy (3), my dear Annie,
Oh you Santy, I’ll love you for your money
“Good morning Mister Tapscott,
good morning, sir,” says she,
“O have you got a ship of fame
to carry me o’er the sea?”
“O yes, I have a ship of fame,
tomorrow she sets sail,
She’s lieing in the Waterloo Dock taking in her mail.”
The day was fine when we set sail
but night has scare begun (4)
A dirty nor’west wind came up
and drove us back again.
Our captain, being an Irishman,
as you shall understand,
He hoisted out his small boat on the banks of Newfoundland.
‘Twas at the Castle Gardens (5) fair
they landed me on shore,
And if I marry a Yankee boy
I’ll go to sea no more.
I went down to Foulton Ferry (6)
but I could not get across,
I jumped on the back
of a ferryboat man
and rode him like an hoss.
My father is a butcher,
my mother chops the meat,
My sister keeps a slap-up (7)
shop way down on Water Street (8).

1) The port of Liverpool is a port system along the Mersey river estuary. The first basin of Liverpool was built in 1715 and then developed into a system of interconnected docks that allowed the movements of ships uninterruptedly despite the tides. Most of the small quayside of the southern part of the port of Liverpool were closed in 1971, as new basins were opened to accommodate the new cargo ships.
2)This shanty may have had a special appeal to Short: ‘Tapscott’ was William Tapscott from a Minehead (Somerset) family that had lived in the town (a neighbour to Watchet) from at least the mid-1770s.  William was an American packet ship broker, with offices on Regents Road, Liverpool, and Eden Quay, Dublin. He worked in conjunction with his brother James, who looked after the New York end of the business, and specialized in selling pre-paid passages to successful immigrants who now wished to bring their families to America.  They were agents for the Black Ball Line and, at one period, also for the Red Cross Line of American packets.  Together, they fleeced the unsuspecting. The Tapscott brothers were systematic villains, whose frauds began with their advertisements: although Taspcott advertised that his passages were on ships of over 1000 tons, and even as much as 2000 tons, in fact most were barely 600 tons. As their wealth increased the Tapscotts set up their own shipping line.  Cheap emigrant passages was the name of the game – but conditions were atrocious and the food poor (the ‘yellow meal’, i.e. corn grits, of the alternative title).  In 1849 William Tapscott was adjudged bankrupt, and in the same year was charged with fraud, concerning the money of shareholders in the business. He was found guilty and sentenced to three years’ penal servitude (from qui)
3 it recall to another sea shanty and to Santy Anna- Santiana . Santy here is used as a term of endearment in Italian could be Santina
4) Passengers often suffered from seasickness, especially with strong winds from the north wind
5) Castle Clinton or Fort Clinton or Castle Garden was a circular fort located in New York City in Battery Park, in the southern part of the island of Manhattan: from the mid-nineteenth century, it was used as the first sorting center for the european immigration. The station was in operation until 1890, when the federal administration, under pressure of a second and more massive immigration wave coming from all the states of Europe, decided to open a more functional one in Ellis Island.

New York 1850
John Bachmann. The Empire City, Birdseye View of New York and Environs, 1855

6) Fulton Ferry was the ferry that connected Brooklyn with New York and that remained in business until the construction of the famous bridge (1883) see more
7) nowaday we translates slap-up as “excellent” but I imagine a place to eat an economic meal (origins here),the term is however associated with a quality positive as something very good, but it may also mean a trendy place.
8) on the waterfront of Brooklyn


Undaunted Mary or  “The Banks of the Sweet Dundee”

Leggi in italiano

“Undaunted Mary” or  “The Banks of the Sweet Dundee” is a nineteenth-century ballad reported in numerous broadside (since 1820) particularly popular in the British Isles (England, Scotland and Ireland) and also widespread in North America (USA) and Canada), still sung today (there are more than 170 versions)

Calling by Roy Palmer, “a 19th-century melodrama” it tells of a rich heiress who remains without parents,and she is forced by her uncle to take an arrogant husband; Mary is instead secretly in love with William, a simple peasant, but in the shadows her uncle plot to call the enlisters to take away her handsome William.
So the nobile suitor reoccurs or rather throws himself on the afflicted Mary trying to put her in front of the fait accompli, but she rebels, takes his pistols and kills him.
Her uncle hearing the shot runs to see and of course he wants to punish Mary, but she shoots her uncle mortally wounding him. At the point of death, his uncle leaves his estate in testament, paying tribute to the strength of mind demonstrated by his nephew (once when a girl of good family managed to shoot with guns it was considered an act of extreme courage)!


So the version of John Short inserts the ballad “The Banks of the Sweet Dundee” in the structure of a sea shanty s following the melody and chorus of Heave Away, My Johnny (We’re All Bound to Go)
Barbara Brown from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 3 ♪  accompanied in the chorus by Keith Kendrick and Jackie Oates
This is another shanty where, with the tune and structure fairly consistent, different texts were used over time.  Sharp had only three verses from Short – but they immediately show his text to have been the folksong Banks of the Sweet Dundee.  Colcord also notes the use of Banks of the Sweet Dundee to this tune and notes that “this version was seldom or never sung on American ships.” Other texts used for this shanty include, as Colcord notes, Mr. Tapscott – which Short used to the New York Girls tune (see Mr. Tapscott).   Hugill quotes both Mr. Tapscott and The Banks of Newfoundland texts as sung to Heave Away Me Johnny. Whall and Colcord both surmise an 1850s’ origin to the shanty, but this assumption seems to be based on the fact that their texts are both Mr. Tapscott versions.  Hugill says that the most popular way of singing this shanty in the latter days of sail was with the ‘Sometimes we’re bound for Liverpool’’ set of words.  Perhaps we have an evolution here where the form, tune and chorus remains fairly consistent, but the texts used move from Banks of the Sweet Dundee to Mr. Tapscott to Sometimes we’re bound for Liverpool’.  Short, once again, gives us an early version and it may indicate that the shanty started life on the English side of the pond rather than the American. From Short’s three verses we have expanded the text from the closest broadside versions of Banks of the Sweet Dundee.  The full text would take too much time for even the longest of tasks so we have exercised some précis skills without, hopefully, destroying the story!   (from here)

It’s of a farmer’s daughter,
so beautiful I’m told
Heave away my Johnnies,
heave away
Her parents died and left her
five hundred pound in gold;
Heave away me bully boys,
we’re all bound to go.
Now there was a wealthy squire
who oft her came to see,
But Mary loved a ploughboy
on the banks of the sweet Dundee (1).
Her uncle and the squire
rode out one summer’s day,
“Young William he’s in favour,”
her uncle he did say.
“Indeed it’s my intention
to tie him to a tree (2)
Or to bribe the press gang (3)
on the banks of the sweet Dundee.”
Now the press gang came for William when he was all alone,
He boldly fought for liberty,
but they were six to one.
The blood did flow in torrents,
“Pray, kill me now,” says he,
“I would rather die (4) for Mary
on the banks of the sweet Dundee.”
This maid one day was walking, lamenting for her love,
When she met the wealthy squire down in her uncle’s grove.
And he put his arms around her,
“Stand off, base man,” said she;
“For you vanished the only man I love from the banks of the sweet Dundee.”
And young Mary took his pistols
and the sword he used so free,
But she did fire and shot the squire
on the banks of the sweet Dundee.
Her uncle overheard the noise
and he hastened to the sound,
“Since you have shot the squire
I’ll give you your death wound!”
“Stand off!” then cried young Mary, “undaunted (5) I will be!”
She the trigger drew
and her uncle slew
on the banks of the sweet Dundee.
He willed his gold to Mary
who fought so valiantly,
Then he closed his eyes,
no more to rise,
on the banks of the sweet Dundee.

1) Many question the name Dundee being a small town in Scotland but without a river of the same name. Obviously it can be any hill or mountain slope near Dundee, even a small stream in the surroundings. Among the hypotheses Ruairidh Greig suggests that it is a mispronunciation of a compound name Dun Dee referring to the river Dee (see more)
2) to leave him at the forest fairs as it was used in the past with poachers
3) The enlistment in the British armies was voluntary, so in the second half of the 1600s and until the mid 1800s, the recruiting sergeants with a young tambourine went around the countryside. They were good at convincing the young tipsy men who were in the inns, to take the infamous King’s Shilling.
And so on with crews for warships.
They used brutal methods with the system called “impressment” or forced recruitment by “press gangs” during mass raids, under the pretext of arrest for minor crimes in which the unfortunate person was just a vagabond and drunk tied up like a salami and boarded
4) we have some hypotheses (with related variations) on how it went: in fact some prefer the happy ending, so William is not killed, but only enrolled in the navy and then return and get married with the beautiful Mary
5) the archetype of the warrior woman corresponding to the strong and courageous adolescent female who does not lose her femininity, rather preserves it for the man who manages to marry her (usually after passing some tests). It is no coincidence that in some Piedmontese versions of the ballad, the virginity of the girl remaining in close contact with the male world is emphasized (see more)


The June Tabor version stands out among all
June Tabor

It’s of a farmer’s daughter,
so beautiful I am told.
Her father died and left her
five hundred pounds in gold.
She lived with her uncle,
the cause of all her woe,
But you soon shall hear how this fair maiden  that causes his overthrow
Her uncle had a ploughboy young Mary loved fair well
And in her uncle’s garden
their tales of love they’d tell.
There was a wealthy squire
who oft her came to see
But still she loved her ploughboy
on the banks of sweet Dundee.
Her uncle and the squire
rode out once on summer’s day.
“Young William’s in favour,”
her uncle then did say,
“Indeed is my intention
to tie him to a tree
Or else to bribe the press gang
on the banks of sweet Dundee.“
The press gang found young William when he was all alone;
He boldly fought for liberty,
but they were six to one.
The blood did flow in torrents,
“Pray, kill me now,” says he,
“I’d rather die for Mary
on the banks of sweet Dundee.“
One day this maid was walking, lamenting for her love,
She met the wealthy squire
down by her uncle’s grove.
He put his arms around her,
“Stand off, base man,” said she;
“I would rather die for William
on banks of sweet Dundee.“
He put his arms around her
and tried to cast her down;
Two pistols and a sword
she spied beneath his morning gown.
Young Mary drew the pistols
and the sword he used so free;
And she did fire and shot the squire
on the banks of sweet Dundee.
Her uncle overheard the noise
and hastened to the ground,
“Since you shoted the squire,
I’ll give you your death wound!”
“Stand off!” said Mary,
“undaunted I will be!”
The trigger she drew and her uncle slew on the banks of sweet Dundee.
The doctor was sent for
a man of noted skill,
And likewise a lawyer
that he maked  his will;
He left his gold to Mary
who’d fought so manfully
And closed his eyes,
no more to rise,
on the banks of sweet Dundee.