A whalerman’s lament learned from the singing of AL Lloyd, who at one time worked on the whalers… I really don’t know how traditional it is, given Lloyd’s talent for improving the songs he picked up. Whatever, it’s a damned powerful piece that doesn’t shrink from describing the brutality of the work, nor what seems to be an example of exploitatation. It’s also yet another sea song designed to be a warning to others…
I was chuffed to read this story on the Classic Sailor website. I greatly enjoyed Ann Davison’s book My Ship is so Small about crossing the Atlantic solo in a 23ft boat some years ago, and it still sits on a shelf above my computer.
Dating as it does from the mid 1950s, it’s the sort of thing you might still find in the sailing section of a good second-hand bookstore.
This mighty and horrifying ballad is packed with journeys: first, the butcher’s boy runs away to sea and sails to Bermuda; second the young lad joins a brutal get rich quick slaving voyage to Africa and Cuba; third he becomes a merciless pirate and sails for the Spanish Main; and fourth he is captured and taken to London to be tried and hung on the gallows.
And I suppose the fifth is a mental and spiritual journey in which this adventurer becomes contrite, and bitterly wishes he’d never done any of it.
I guess all of this may well have happened in some genuine cases, but I suspect this ballad was written in a later era, and packed with adventure in order to sell printed ballad sheetsy. The earliest date it was collected as a song was in 1906.