The Eastern Light (the Banks of Newfoundland)

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There are several sea songs entitled “the Banks of Newfoundland”, not to be properly considered variations on the same melody, even if they share a common theme, the dangers of fishing or navigation offshore of Newfoundland.

Most sad was my misfortune in the year of ‘sixty-three

Sometimes as “The Eastern Light” the ballad of the Canadian tradition entitled “the Banks of Newfoundland” describes a fishing season on the Great Banks of Newfoundland , the fishing boat left the port of Gloucester (Massachusetts) in the month of March and our sailor was definitely drunk when boarding.

Kenneth Peacock collected it from James Rice in 1951, and published it in Songs Of The Newfoundland Outports, Volume 1, 1965, he noted that this appears to be an American ballad of New England origin, also Helen Creighton had collected this ballad in Nova Scotia as The Gloucester Fishermen,

Jim Rice [1879-1958] of Cape Broyle from MUNFLA ♪

The Dardanelles live,  (from The Eastern Light, 2011) instrumental arrangement Matthew Byrne & Billy Sutton

‘Twas of my sad misfortune
in the year of seventy-three (1),
I set on board the fisher ship
all off a drunken spree (2),
her name it was The Eastern Light (3),
as you might  understand,
We were bound down on a salt sea trip to the Banks of Newfoundland.
The saturday day beein the first of March, we left Gloucester port
the girls all wove their handkerchiefs
as we sailed down the shore
we had a jar of rum on board
which gathered round all the crew,
We drank the health to the Gloucester girls, in bidding us adieu.
It’s early in the morning boys
our cook he give a bawls,
“Get out and get your breakfast, b’ys, get out and haul your trawls (4).
You’ll scarce have time to light your pipe, your dory (5) she do go,
You’ll have to make three sets today
no matter how hard it blows”
We fished around  the foggy bank (6)
the space of seventeen days,
We boarded a couple of Frenchmen boat, no brandy could we raise.
The halibut they be in kind of scarce, we run our cod-fish gear,
our skipper he says ‘I’ll fill her up, if it takes a half a year.”
We fished around the foggy bank
our skipper he louded shout
“Come hoist aboard your dories, b’ys, and break your anchor out;
come hoist the …(?)
we’ll get her under way,
provisions are getting kind of scarce, we can no longer stay,
And now the anchor’s on the bow
we are homeward bound,
And when we get to Gloucester port
we’ll pass the glasses round.
We’ll go down to Johnny McLoudy
and we’ll have a happy night,
We’ll drink the health of the Gloucester girls,
and success to the “Eastern Light”.

* transcribed by Cattia Salto in part from here
1) the date changes for some is 1873. for others the 1863: also written as “in eighteen hundred and seventy-three”
2) in some verses not reported here the sailor curses his love for liquor, because if he had kept sober, he would never have boarded
3) a fishing vessel named “Eastern Light” 70 tons, was built in 1866, owned by “Maddocks and Company of Gloucester”, Massachusetts.
4) “Banks Dory” is the boat built in a serial way and in large quantities starting from 1850, flat-bottomed for one or two men depending on the dimension. see more.
5) but traditional fishing on the Great Banks at least until the end of the nineteenth century was done with lines (see more)
6)  The Grand Banks of Newfoundland are a group of underwater plateaus south-east of Newfoundland roughly triangular in shape often overwhelmed by storms, treacherous and dangerous due to the presence of icebergs and the frequent fog. The mixing of  the cold Labrador Current with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream helped to create one of the richest fishing grounds in the world, but it’s also causes fog in the area, and before the advent of instrumental navigation, it made the Banks very insidious

transportation song
working on a  fisher ship
the Eastern Light
captain’s death (american ballad)
shipwreck and rescue on the Banks (Canadian ballad)


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