Piracy and slavery – the horror and the pity of The Flying Cloud

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Piracy and slavery - the horror and the pity of The Flying Cloud

Contemporary engraving of a pirate party (from http://anthropik.com/)

I’ve been listening to this hugely powerful song telling a story of slavery and piracy recently, first as sung by my friend Annie Dearman with her band Dearman, Gammon and Harrison, and later by Ewan McColl. Both versions are awesome, but I can’t let you hear an mp3 sample without breaking copyright. However, I can share the lyrics of the ballad with you.

I think it’s pretty clearly a broadside ballad, but unlike many, it’s far from being doggerel. Prepare to be shocked by this story of the cruelty of slaving and of piracy.

The Flying Cloud

My name is Arthur Hollandin, as you may understand
I was born ten miles from Dublin Town, down on the salt-sea strand,
When I was young and comely, sure, good fortune on me shone,
My parents loved me tenderly for I was their only son.

My father he rose up one day and with him I did go,
He bound me as a butcher’s boy to Pearson of Wicklow,
I wore the bloody apron there for three long years and more,
Till I shipped on board of The Ocean Queen belonging to Tramore.

It was on Bermuda’s island that I met with Captain Moore,
The Captain of The Flying Cloud, the pride of Baltimore,
I undertook to ship with him on a slaving voyage to go,
To the burning shores of Africa, where the sugar cane does grow.

It all went well until the day we reached old Africa’s shore,
And five hundred of them poor slaves, me boys, from their native land we bore,
Each man was loaded down with chains as we made them walk below,
Just eighteen inches of space was all that each man had to show.

The plague it came and fever too and killed them off like flies,
We dumped their bodies on the deck and hove them overside,
For sure, the dead were the lucky ones for they’d have to weep no more,
Nor drag the chain and feel the lash in slavery for evermore.

But now our money it is all spent, we must go to sea once more,
And all but five remained to listen to the words of Captain Moore,
‘There’s gold and silver to be had if with me you’ll remain,
Let’s hoist the pirate flag aloft and sweep the Spanish Main.’

The Flying Cloud was a Yankee ship, five hundred tons or more,
She could outsail any clipper ship hailing out of Baltimore,
With her canvas white as the driven snow and on it there’s no specks,
And forty men and fourteen guns she carried below her decks.

We plundered many a gallant ship down on the Spanish Main,
Killed many a man and left his wife and children to remain,
To none we showed no kindness but gave them watery graves ,
For the saying of our captain was: “Dead men tell no tales. “

We ran and fought with many a ship, both frigates and liners too,
Till, at last, a British Man-O-War, The Dunmow, hove in view,
She fired a shot across our bows as we ran before the wind,
And a chainshot cut our mainmast down and we fell far behind.

They beat our crew to quarters as they drew up alongside,
And soon across our quarter-deck there ran a crimson tide,
We fought until they killed our captain and twenty of our men,
Then a bombshell set our ship on fire, we had to surrender then.

It’s now to Newgate we have come, bound down with iron chains ,
For the sinking and the plundering of ships on the Spanish Main,
The judge he has condemned us and we are condemned to die.
Young men a warning by me take and shun all piracy.

Farewell to Dublin City. and the girl that I adore,
I’ll never kiss your cheek again nor hold your hand no more,
Whiskey and bad company have made a wretch of me,
Young men, a warning by me take and shun all piracy.

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