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.
If you don’t know it, clock the story of Mary Read, who spent much of her life passing as a boy or a man – and had careers in soldiering and two spells of piracy, one of which was as crew with pirate captain John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham.
She became friendly with Calico Jack’s lover, pirate Anne Bonny. The pirate captain became suspicious that they were lovers, and had to be let into the secret of Mary’s true gender.
Then Mary fell in love with a captured sailor, saved him from probable death in a feud, then got captured and tried, and finally died of fever in jail…
It’s scarcely credible, particularly when you think of the sleeping and toileting arrangements on ships in the old days, but it must be true…
My thanks to Museum Ship Fountain for pointing this out.
Nigel Towse of Sherkin is a gentleman and scholar – I know this because he has very kindly sent me these great photos of the launch of the AK Ilen via my musical pal Katie Howson. Thanks for your kind help, both of you!
The Ilen looks great of course, and they had such a nice day for it!
Here’s an earlier post announcing that the launch after seven years’ hard work was imminent.
For your further entertainment, here is a project he was involved with a few years back, and here’s his lovely 1892 Heir Island lobster boat, Hanorah.