Song Notes and Lyrics

LIFE OF BRINE : Sea shanties and forebitters  – sung by The Roaring Forties

Sea shanties are sailors’ work songs used to synchronise the work of hauling ropes, heaving capstans, working pumps etc. Forebitters are the songs sailors sang when off watch and relaxing at the bow (fore of the bitts). The language and the tunes are rough and raw and recall a special era of nautical history. Half the songs on this CD have Australian content/authorship.

Disclaimer: the song lyrics have been “folk processed” over the years and may vary from other sources.

1      Wool Fleet Chorus
2      Batavia
3      Johnny, Come Down to Hilo
4      Waterwitch
5      Stormalong
6      Lee Fore Brace
7      Mainsail Haul
8      Cheerily Men
9      Shawnee Town
10    Davy Lowston
11    The Day’s Work
12    Ballina Whalers
13    Bound for Darling Harbour
14    A Channel Rhyme
15    Bully in the Alley
16    Yarmouth Town
17    John Cherokee
18    Larry Marr
19    Heave Away (To the South)
20    Marco Polo
21    The Old Moke Pickin’ on a Banjo
22    Randy Dandy O!
23    Seamen’s Hymn

1.      A Wool Fleet Chorus   Words: Cicely Fox Smith (1882-1954); Tune: Barrie Temple

A Tribute to the Cutty Sark which made record breaking times on the wool run from Australia to England for the London markets in the late 1800s. Cicely Fox Smith was a Victorian gentlewoman who spent nine years in Victoria, British Colombia, making intimate observations of life in the lumber mills and shipping ports on the North West Pacific coast as well as the London docks. Many of Cicely’s poems have been transcribed by Charlie Ipcar and others and can be found at the website: <>

Words: Cicely Fox Smith; Tune: Barrie Temple

Fare you well, you Sydney girls, it’s time for us to go.
The Peter’s at the fore truck and five thousand bales below.
We’ve a dozen shellbacks for’ard and a skipper hard as nails,
We’re bound away for England and the January sales.
Sales, boys, sales, oh the January sales,
We’re bound away for England and the January sales.

Soon we’ll leave the snares behind, blusterous and strong,
Up’ll come the westerlies and hustle her along.
Running like a driven deer all through the thundering gales,
Racing under royals for the January sales.
Sales, boys, sales, oh the January sales
We’re racing under royals for the January sales

Cape Stiff will drop astern, like a blinking dream,
Sleet and snow and crashing seas, fog and ice’ll seem,
Snoring through the tropics with a trade that never fails,
Nor’ard on a bowline for the January sales.
Sales, boys, sales, oh the January sales
Nor’ard on a bowline for the January sales

Then the girls’ll get the towrope and she’ll smell the land again,
She’ll reel the knots off steady like a blessed railway train,
Till seventy days from Sydney Heads, the Lizard light she hails,
First up the channel for the January sales.
Sales, boys, sales, oh the January sales
We’re first up the channel for the January sales

2.      Batavia   Words and Tune: John Warner

The Batavia sailed with a convoy to Java on her maiden voyage in 1628, laden with jewels and gold for the Dutch East India Company (the VOC). In a plot by Jeronimus Cornelisz the vessel was parted from the fleet and inadvertently wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Western Australia. Over a two-month period Cornelisz and his companions slaughtered 125 of the 200 survivors of the wreck, planning to seize the rescue vessel and turn pirate. They were foiled by a group of loyal soldiers led by Wiebbe Hayes and a dreadful justice was finally meted out to Cornelisz and the other mutineers.


Words and tune © John Warner

Nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, tea
Heave and fall on the southern swells
Fill the holds of the VOC
Roll Batavia down
But down in stout Batavia’s hold
There’s a massive weight of jewels and gold
Quarter-million guilders worth, all told
Roll Batavia down.

For months the murderous plot’s been laid
Heave and fall on the southern swells
To slip away from the ships of trade
Roll Batavia down
Make passage south to the unknown land
Turn buccaneer as the skipper has planned
Slaughter all others out of hand
Roll Batavia down.

What’s that gleam on the larboard quarter?
Heave and fall on the southern swells
Moonlight glinting on the water
Roll Batavia down
No moonlight here, but the crashing wave
The lookout cries too late to save
Batavia from her island grave
Roll Batavia down

Now some did drown and some made land
Heave and fall on the southern swells
But few can hide from death’s cold hand
Roll Batavia down
The sword and dagger do their work
Who knows where bloody murderers lurk
To silence traitors with a dirk
Roll Batavia down

The commander’s gone and the captain too,
Heave and fall on the southern swells
Along with the best of the barge’s crew
Roll Batavia down
Protection that they might have made
By this desertion is betrayed
Throats stretched to the slaughterer’s blade
Roll Batavia down

The rescue ship has come too late
Heave and fall on the southern swells
For those who met a bloody fate
Roll Batavia down
The thieves have paid for their plunder dear
Trial and torture, pain and fear
Death for every mutineer
Roll Batavia down

Stark the creaking scaffolds stand
Heave and fall on the southern swells
The dead swing over the blowing sand
Roll Batavia down
They say that dead men tell no tales
Who knows but many a spirit wails
In the cold lament of the southern gales
Roll Batavia down

3.      Johnny, Come Down to Hilo   Traditional

Tom was attracted by the humour of this song which he collected at Paimpol, Brittany, in 1991 from the Mystic Sea Port Shanty Crew. Sailors would have mutinied if expected to work with this capstan shanty at the pace it is usually sung at these days.


I’ve never seen the like since I’ve been born
Arkansas farmer with his sea boots on

When Johnny come down to Hilo, poor old man
Won’t you wake her, oh shake her
Shake that gal with the blue dress on
When Johnny come down to Hilo, poor old man

Who’s been here since I’ve been gone
Pretty little gal with the blue dress on

Hilo girls with a roll and go
I’m bound away for Calio

Well my wife died in Tennessee
And they sent her jaw bone back to me

I hung her jaw bone on the fence
I ain’t heard nothing but the jaw bone since

There was an old man, his name was Uncle Ned
He had no hair on the top of his head.

Hilo girls they dress so fine
And they don’t got Sunday on their mind

She’s a down east girl with a down east smile
And a dollar a time is well worth while

Hand me down my riding cane
I’m off to see my Mary Jane

I thought I heard the old man say
One more haul and then belay.

4.      Waterwitch   Traditional
The whaling ship, the Waterwitch, sailed from the 1840s till the 1890s in the Tasmanian fisheries and is recorded in a number of logs and in Will Lawson’s book Harpoons Ahoy. She sailed in both the Middle grounds of the Pacific and later the Antarctic grounds off south-west Tasmania. From the singing of Jack Davies of New Town in Hobart.


A neat little packet from Hobart set sail,
For to cruise round the west’ard amongst the sperm whale;
Cruising the west’ard where the stormy winds blow,
Bound away in the Waterwitch to the west’ard we’ll go.

Bound away, bound away, where the stormy winds blow,
Bound away in the Waterwitch to the west’ard we go.

Early one morning, just as the sun rose,
The man from her masthead cries out, “There she blows!”
“Where away!” cried our skipper, and springing aloft,
“Three points on the lee bow and scarce three miles off.”

We sailed off the west wind and came up a pace
The whale boats were lowered, and set on the chase
“Get your lines in your boats, me boys, see your box line all clear,
And lower down, me bully boys, and after him we’ll steer!”

We fought him alongside, harpoon we thrust in
In just over an hour he’d rolled out his fin
The whale is cut in me boys, tried out and stowed down
He’s worth more to us boys than five hundred pound

Now the ship she gets full, me boys, and to Hobart we’ll steer,
Where there’s plenty of pretty girls and plenty good beer.
We’ll spend our money freely with the pretty girls on shore,
And when it’s all gone, we’ll go whaling for more.

5.      Stormalong   Traditional
Stormalong was a mythical hero to the American sailors, said to be 30 ft tall. His ship was so large that it had hinged masts which could be lowered to avoid the moon. He and his exploits feature in a number of tales, and he became identified with the American general (later President) Zachary Taylor, who defeated the Mexican general Santa Anna at the battle of Molina Del Ray. This version combines one of the common sets of words for the capstan shanty General Taylor with a tune of the halyard shanty, Stormalong.


Old Stormy he is dead and gone
To me way, hey, hey, you Stormy
Old Stormy, he is dead and gone
Move along, Stormalong, Stormalong John

General Taylor died long ago
Now he’s gone where the winds don’t blow

General Taylor gained the day
Santy Anna ran away

We dug his grave with a silver spade
His shroud of finest silk was made

We lowered him down with a golden chain
And we made dam’ sure he’ll not rise again

I wisht I was Old Stormy’s son
I’d build a ship of a thousand ton

I’d fill her up with old Newport rum
And all of me shipmates, I’d give them some

There’s a cup of grog for every man
And a bloody great bucket for the shanty man

6.      Lee Fore Brace   Words: Cicely Fox Smith; Tune: Gerry Hallom
Changing the position of the fore-sail on the lee side of the ship in heavy seas meant sailors were thoroughly doused and the task was particularly hazardous in the icy conditions around Cape Horn. Charlie Ipcar heard Gerry Hallom’s setting to Henry Lawson’s poem The Outside Track and set that tune to Cicely’s words. Margaret rearranged it slightly. The phrase “mile-long greybeards” refers to large foam-topped waves.

Words: Cicely Fox Smith
Tune: Gerry Hallom’s setting to The Outside Track arr. Charlie Ipcar

There was ten men hauling on the lee fore brace
In the rain and the driving hail
And the mile-long greybeards charging by
And the thundering Cape Horn gale
That dark it was, you scarce could see
Your hand before your face
That cold it was, our fingers froze
Stiff as they gripped the brace

And “Christ!” says Dan “for a night in port
And a dago fiddler’s tune
And just one whiff of the drinks again
In a Callao saloon!”

There was ten men hauling on the lee fore brace
When the big sea broke aboard
Like a stream in spate, like a foaming flood
Right fore and aft it poured
The ship she staggered and then lay still
So deep, so dead lay she
You’d think she could not rise again
From such a weight of sea

And “Christ!” says Dan “for a night in port…

There was ten men hauling on the lee fore brace
Seven when she rose at last
The rest was gone to the pitch-dark night
And the sea and the ice-cold blast
And one of them was Dago Pete
And one was Lars the Dane
And the third was the lad whose like on earth
I shall not find again

And “Christ!” says Dan “for a night in port…

And I’ll heave and haul and stand my wheel
And reef and furl with the rest
For winds and seas go on the same
When they’ve took and drowned the best
And it ain’t no use to curse the Lord
Nor it ain’t no sense to moan
For a man must live his life the same
And keep his grief his own

So I’ll drink my drink and sing my song
And nobody know but me
That a lump of my heart went down with Dan
That night in the wild Horn sea

7.      Mainsail Haul   Words: C. Fox Smith; Tune: Trad.
This poignant poem of Cicely’s about the distribution of a sailor’s effects after his death was set to the tune of Paddy West by John Warner.

Words: Cicely Fox Smith\
Tune: Paddy West trad arr John Warner
(2 verses dropped from original)

“I don’t want none of ‘is stuff” said Bill,
“Nor I don’t want none of ‘is gear.
I don’t want things as ‘e used to use,
Nor things as I seen ‘im wear.
It aint such things as them,” says he,
“And that’s the truth, my son,
Will make me think of Mike, my pal,
Now Mike, “e’s dead and gone.”

It’s things you see and things you ‘ear
And things you feel an’ do,
That bring the dead alive again,
They make the old years new.
An’ it ain’t Mike’s bits of things I want,
An’ that’s God’s truth, my son,
To make me think of Mike my pal,
Now Mike, ‘e’s dead and gone.

“There’s Bluenose Pete as wants ‘is palm,
And the knife ‘e wouldn’t sell.
And Jake, ‘E wants ‘is good seaboots,
‘Cos ‘is own, they leak like Hell.
An’ one wants this and one wants that,
The way blokes do at sea,
Well, let them ‘ave their pick”, says I,
“They can ‘ave the lot for me.”

“An’ they can ‘ave ‘is teakwood chest,
With the painting as ‘e did,
Of the Southern Cross off Sydney ‘eads,
Full sail inside the lid.
An’ the marline spike ‘e always used,
An’ the bottled ship ‘e made,
Rollin’ up to the Western Isles,
Close-hauled on the Nor-east trade.”

“It’s sun and stars and fog and frost,
And blue weather and grey,
An’ big seas curling green as glass,
Before they break in spray.
An’ sudden dark on tropic seas,
Dropped like a blind that’s drawn,
An’ stormy sunsets off the capes,
An’ strange landfalls at dawn.”

“For Mike an’ me was pals” says he,
“An’ I couldn’t bring my mind,
To wrangle like a greedy gull,
For the gear ‘e left behind.
We’ve sailed together, rough or smooth,
We’ve stuck it, sink or swim,
An’ it ain’t mikes bits of things, God knows,
Will make me think of ‘im.”

8.      Cheerily Men   Traditional
“Cheerily” means “with a will” or “enthusiastically.” This “whore’s register” would boost morale during the dreary task of hauling on the halyards. It includes the singable and not entirely obscene set of Sally Racket words similar to those collected by A.L. Lloyd.


Oh, Sally Rackett, aye yeo
Cheerily men!!

Pawned my best jacket, aye yeo
Cheerily men!!

And lost the ticket, aye yeo
Cheerily men, o, hauly aye o, cheerily men!

Oh, Nancy Dawson
No flannel drawers on,
Winks at the Bosun

!Oh, Flo Fernanah
Slipped on a banana,
Can’t play the pianner.

Oh, Susie Skinner
Sez she’s a beginner,
Prefers it to dinner.

Oh, Dolly Duckett,
washes in a bucket,
Sh’e a whore, but don’t look it.

Oh, Nancy Riddle
Broke her new fiddle
The hole’s in the middle.

Oh, Kitty Carson
Slept with a parson,
She’s got a bar-son.

Oh, Polly Hawkins
In her white stockings
Beats all at knocking.

9.      Shawnee Town   Words: Dillon Bustin; Tune: Trad.
Dillon Bustin put this song together from various sources, including fragments in Riverboat Days, and added a few verses himself.


Some rows up, but we floats down
Way down the Ohio to Shawnee Town

And it’s hard on the beach oar, she moves too slow
Way down to Shawneetown on the Ohio

Now the current’s got her, we’ll take up the slack
Float her down to Shawnee Town and bushwhack her back

Whiskey’s in the jug, boys; wheat is in the sack
We’ll trade them down in Shawnee Town and bring the rock salt back

I got a wife in Louisville, and one in New Orleans
And when I get to Shawnnee Town gonna see my Indian Queen

The water’s mighty warm boys, the air is cold and dank
The cursed fog it gets so thick you cannot see the bank

Some rows up, but we floats down
Way down the Ohio to Shawnee Town

10.   Davy Lowston   Traditional
This song of the sealing industry comes to us by way of America and New Zealand in Coulquhoun’s collection. It recounts the trials of the sealers from the ship Active under Captain Bader. They were left marooned off the coast of New Zealand for four years before being accidently found and rescued by the Governor Bligh. whose  Australian skipper, John Grono explored and named parts of the New Zealand south-west coast. Two of the rescued men later became Grono’s sons-n-law.

Adapted from Colquhoun

My name is Davy Lowston, I did seal, I did seal.
My name is Davy Lowston, I did seal.
Though my men and I were lost, though our very lives it cost,
We did seal, we did seal, we did seal.

In 1810 we set sail, we set sail
In 1810 we set sail,
It was on the sixteenth day, of Februar-i-ay
We set sail, we set sail, we set sail.

We were set down in Open Bay, were set down, were set down.
We were set down in Open Bay, were set down.
We were left we gallant men, never more to sail again,
Never more, Never more, Never more.

Our captain John Bedar he set sail, he set sail.
Yes for old Port Jackson he set sail.
“I’ll return men without fail” but he foundered in a gale
And went down, and went down, and went down.

We cured ten thousand skins for the fur, for the fur.
We cured ten thousand skins for the fur.
Brackish water, putrid seal, we did all of us fall ill,
For to die, for to die, for to die.

Come all you lads who sail upon the sea, sail the sea.
Come all you jacks who sail upon the sea,
Though the schooner Governor Bligh, took on some who did not die,
Never seal, never seal, never seal.

11.   The Day’s Work   Words: Cicely Fox Smith; Tune: Traditional
A catalogue of the miserable jobs that sailors had to do on a steel-hulled sailing ship. The setting of the tune – used variously for Roving Journeyman/Jack of All Trades and Tumba-Bloody-Rumba – was arranged by John Warner.

Words: Cicely Fox-Smith; Tune: Traditional

“A woman’s work is never done,
Or so I’ve heard,” said Dan;
“But if that’s true of anyone,
That one’s a sailorman.”
“The folks ashore think life at sea’s
All leaning on the rail
To smoke your pipe an’ take your ease
An’ watch the hooker sail.”

“A woman’s work is never done,
Or so I’ve heard,” said Dan;
“But if that’s true of anyone,
That one’s a sailorman.”

“I’d like to ‘ave ’em ‘ere, that’s all,
On this ‘ere watch with me,
To take their turn at pullyhaul,
Like all the rest,” said he
“I’d like to see ’em spashin’ round
On the slantin’ streamin’ decks,
An’ tallyin’ on a brace ‘arf drowned,
With water to their necks;”

“Or layin’ out on a tops’l yard,
Some dark night, shortenin’ sail,
With the canvas frozen iron-‘ard,
In a shriekin’ Cape ‘Orn gale.”
“An’ then, when to their bunks they crawl,
Their eyes ain’t closed afore
‘All ‘ands!’ they hear the bos’n bawl,
An’ tumble up once more.”

“But times like that ain’t what I mind;
It’s when it’s fine it’s worse;
The jobs o’ work of every kind
Would make a parson curse.”
“There’s soogy-moogy, tar and ile,
There’s ‘olystones an’ paint,
An’ the Chief Mate fussin’ fit to rile
A blushin’ plaster saint.”

There’s rattlin’ down an’ slushin’ too,
There’s endless shiftin’ sail,
An’ chippin’ plates till all is blue,
Nor that ain’t ‘arf the tale.”
“For, calm or storm, and rain or sun,
You can take this ‘ere from me,
A sailor’s work is never done,
An’ that’s a fact,” said he.

12.   Ballina Whalers   Words and Tune: Harry Robertson

Harry was a Scotsman who came to Australia in the 1950s. He whaled out of Ballina, Queensland and Norfolk Island in ex-World War 2 Fairmiles when the industry had become more mechanised. Harry was a prolific songwriter with an acute sense of the maritime tradition and history.

Words and tune: © Harry Robertson

In ’fifty-six I sailed on board
a ship called ‘Byron One’,
She carried trawler men on deck,
and a harpoon whaling gun.
With a tractor for a whale winch,
the ship an old Fairmile,
Twin diesels turned the props aroon’,
we whaled the Aussie style.

Heigh-ho ye trawler men come on,
forget the snapper and the prawn,
And it’s out of Ballina we’ll sail,
a-fishing for the Humpback whale.

So keep a sharp lookout me lads,
for the whale is on the run,
And we’ll chase them into Byron Bay,
and we’ll kill them with our gun.
The harpoon and the line fly true,
bedding deep into the whale,
But she split the timbers of that ship
with a flurry of her tail.

The rigging struts were snapped in two,
we reeled beneath the blow,
Then the gunner fired the killer shot
and that Humpback sank below.
Now make her tail fast to the bow
we’ve got no time for bed,
For four-and-twenty hours each day
we kept that factory fed.

The flensing men upon the land,
some had been jackaroos,
But they skinned the blubber off them whales
like they’d skinned the kangaroos.
One hundred whales then fifty more,
to the factory we did send,
‘Til a message said, “Knock off me lads,
the season’s at an end.”

Back into Ballina we sailed,
tied up, and stowed the gear,
Then all hands headed for the pub
and we filled ourselves with beer.

13.   Bound for Darling Harbour   Words: Merv Lilley; Tune: Traditional
Written in the 1950s when Merv was working on coastal vessels around Australia. It reminds us that the tourist mecca of DarlingHarbour in Sydney was once a busy, dirty industrial port.

Words: Merv Lilley; Tune Traditional

Northern Queensland is my home.
Fire away, fire away.
Northern Queensland is my home,
We’re bound for Darling Harbour.

Fire away, fire away.
Oh fire away you stoke-hole crew,
We’re bound for darling harbour.

Queensland mills are crushing now.
Raw sugar stacked up to the bow.

Down in that deep and gloomy hole,
A thousand tons of Bowen coal.

Coal burning ships have seen their day,
Oil is here and come to stay.

Our hearts are sad, our hearts are sore,
To see old firemen left ashore.

Our ships will sail inland one day,
To float the Nation’s goods away.

Now fare you well and fare you well,
A last farewell to the stokehole hell.

14.   A Channel Rhyme   Words Cicely Fox Smith; Chorus and Tune: John Warner
Cicely’s verses give a list of the hazardous places along the English Channel from Cornwall to Essex where countless ships and sailors have met their doom. John added the chorus.

Words to verses: Cicely Fox Smith
Tune and chorus: John Warner

Start Point and Beachy Head
Tell their tale of quick and dead
Forelands both, and Dungeness
See many a ship in dire distress

So heave your lead and watch your lights
She’s a coast to dread by day and night

The Lizard and the Longships know
Oft the end of friend and foe
And many and many a seaman’s knell
Has been rung by Manacles bell

Gull and Dodman ask aright
A wide birth on a dirty night
Bolt Head and Bolt Tail
Are ill spots in a Channel gale

Over nigh to Portland Bill
In Channel fog it’s just as ill
And Wolf Rock and Seven Stones
Rest their feet on sailors’ bones

Start Point and Beachy Head
Tell their tale of quick and dead
But from Nore Light to Cape Cornwall
Goodwin Sands are worst of all!

15.   Bully in the Alley   Traditional
A halyard shanty of Negro origin which Hugill heard in the West Indies. There is a Shinbone Alley in Bermuda and several other locations, and a town of Shinbone in Alabama.


Help me, Bob, 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 lives in Shinbone alley
Way, hey, bully in the alley!
My gal lives in shinbone alley
Bully down in shinbone al!

Well, Sally is the girl down that I love dearly,
Sally is the girl that I spliced nearly.

Sally is a bright mullata
A pretty girl, but I can’t get at her

For seven long years I courted Sally,
All she did was dilly-dally.

I left my Sal to be a sailor,
I left my gal aboard a whaler.

I’ll come back and I’ll marry Sally,
We’ll have kids to count with a tally.

16.   Yarmouth Town   Traditional
This forebitter seems to be first recorded by Peter Bellamy, who attributed it to the singing of Peter Bullen of Norwich, of whom little is known, although there are other songs with broadly similar stories. It sounds as though it might have been a music hall song. It is a good song to elaborate on in traditional style.


In Yarmouth town there lived a man,
And he kept a little tavern down by the strand.
The landlord had a daughter fair
A pretty little thing with the yellow hair.

Oh Won’t you come down; Oh won’t you come down,
Oh won’t you come down to Yarmouth Town?

At night there came a sailor man,
And he’s asked the daughter for her hand.
“Oh why should I marry you?” she said,
“I can have all I want without being wed.”

“But if with me you do want to linger,
I’ll tie a piece of string all around me finger.
And as you pass by just pull on the string,
And I’ll come down and I’ll let you in.

“At closing time the sailor man,
He’s gone to the tavern down by the strand.
And as he passed by he pulled on the string,
And she’s gone down and she’s let old Jack in.

Now he’s never seen such a sight before,
‘Cause a string around her finger was all she wore!
So he went up and he pulled on the string,
She pulled back the covers and let Jack in,

The sailor stayed the whole night through,
And early in the morning went back to his crew.
And when he told them about the maiden fair,
The pretty little thing with the yellow hair,

Well the news it soon got around,
And the very next night in Yarmouth town,
There were fifteen sailors pullin’ on the string,
And she’s come down and she’s let them all in.

So all young men that to Yarmouth go,
If you see a pretty maid with her hair hanging low,
Well, all you got to do is pull on the string,
And she’ll come down and she’ll let you in!

17.   John Cherokee   Traditional
A negro slave song from the southern states, and Stan Hugill relates that it was in common use among coloured crowds in the old West Indian trading vessels; he adds it was probably introduced to seamen by way of cotton hoosiers.


This is the tale of John Cherokee
Alabama John Cherokee
An Indian man from Miramichi
Alabama John Cherokee
Way-hey, uh —– Alabama John Cherokee x 2

They made him a slave down in Alabam
Alabama John Cherokee
He run away every chance he can
Alabama John Cherokee
Way-hey, uh —– Alabama John Cherokee x 2

They catched him and they bound him tight
Alabama John Cherokee
Down in the hold without any light
Alabama John Cherokee
Way-hey, uh —– Alabama John Cherokee x 2

Kept him without any food or drink
Alabama John Cherokee
Until his bones they began to clink
Alabama John Cherokee
Way-hey, uh —– Alabama John Cherokee x 2

Nothing to drink and nothing to eat
Alabama John Cherokee
He fell down dead at the boss’s feet
Alabama John Cherokee
Way-hey, uh —– Alabama John Cherokee x 2

And now his ghost it can be seen
Alabama John Cherokee
Around the deckhouse, all wet and green
Alabama John Cherokee
Way-hey, uh —– Alabama John Cherokee x 2

At the break of dawn he goes below
Alabama John Cherokee
That’s when the cocks, they begin to crow
Alabama John Cherokee
Way-hey, uh —– Alabama John Cherokee x 2

18.   Larry Marr   Traditional
From the singing of Stan Hugill; taped for Margaret at a folk club in Brighton by Val Wagstaff in the early 1980s. Stan’s introduction mentioned runners rowing out to greet sailing ships before they even arrived in port, promising the sailors accommodation and good times on shore. But they ended up in the seedy area of San Francisco known as the Barbary Coast, plied with dope and at the mercy of crimps like Larry Marr.


In ‘Frisco Town there lived a man, Larry Marr was his name
And in the days of the Cape Horn trade, oh he played the Shanghai game

In the old Virginia lowlands, lowlands low
In the old Virginia lowlands, low

His wife’s name it was Mary Ann – ’twas known both near and far
They never missed a lucky chance to use the big five-gallon jar

A hell ship she was short of hands of full red-blooded tars
Mrs and Larry would prime the beer in their old five-gallon jar

Shellbacks and farmers, just the same, sailed in to Larry Marr’s
And sailed away around the Horn, helped by the old five-gallon jar

From the Barbary Coast, steer clear, me boys, and from old Larry Marr’s
Or else, damned soon, shanghaied you’ll be by Larry’s five-gallon jar

Shanghaied away on a skys’l ship, around Cape Horn so far
Goodbye to all the boys and girls, and Larry’s five-gallon jar

19.   Heave Away (To the South)   Words and Tune: Harry Robertson
This tale is set on the Britannia, one of the ships of the Third Fleet, in 1791. She was the first British whaling ship in New South Wales waters and the Tasman Sea. The “live lumber” in her hold was the description used by Captain Thomas Melville of her convict passengers, 21 of whom died on the voyage.

Words and music: © Harry Robertson

To the coast of New South Wales
The ship Britannia sails
With live lumber in her hold
And the Trade Winds blowing cold

Heave away! To the south, me lads,
Where sperm whales do blow

Fifty days away from land
Convicts dying out of hand
And we heave them o’er the side
One and twenty to the tide

Sydney town with rum and girls
Some in rags and some in pearls
But we turn the ship around
Heading for the whaling ground

Now its steady as we go
For the harpoon’s set to throw
And we’ll kill that angry whale
‘fore he kills us with his tail

It’s a year and then once more
Sailing off New Zealand’s shore
But our casks are full of oil
And we’re weary with the toil

Back to England we set sail
With the riches of the whale
But we know that we’ll return
To the convict whaling ground

20.   Marco Polo   Words/Tune: Hugh E. Jones
John heard this set of words at a singing session in the 1970s and learned later that it was the writing of Hugh E. Jones – but by then the words had been thoroughly “folk-processed”. Bully Forbes was renowned for his courage, determination and duplicity in the handling of his men. James Baines was an American who owned the Black Ball shipping line.

Words and music © Hugh E. Jones

The Marco Polo’s a very fine ship
The fastest on the sea
On Australia’s strand we soon will land
Bully Forbes (he) can look for me

Marco Polo – the fastest on the sea
Marco Polo –  the fastest on the sea

I’ll jump the ship in Melbourne Town
I’ll go a-diggin (for the) gold
There’s a fortune found beneath the ground
Where the eucalyptus grows.

The company owner Mister Baines
Said to Bully Forbes one day
“It’s up to you to keep your crew
When the gold calls them away”

Said Bully Forbes to Mister Baines
“I have a plan so fine, sir
Leave to me and I think you’ll agree,
I’m king of the Blackball Line, sir.”

Now when we get to Melbourne town
Bully Forbes declares the scurvy,
An there’s a quarantine law and we can’t get ashore,
Til we reach the River Mersey.

And now we’re back in Liverpool town,
I’ll go to sea no more, sir
I’ve served my  time in the Blackball Line
Under Captain Bully Forbes, sir.

21.   The Old Moke Pickin’ on a Banjo   Trad.
The pace and drudgery of work onboard ship isn’t too different from that work on the railroad in America where “pickin’ on a banjo” was a euphemism for digging with a shovel. Margaret originally heard this song sung at a folk club in Brighton, UK in 1980(?) by a group called the Songwainers.


Heybang Shebang, Daddy shot a bear
Shot him in the arse me lads and never turned a hair

We’re all on the railroad tooraloo
With the old moke a picking on the banjo
Hoorah, what the hells the row
We’re all from the railroad tooraloo
We’re all from the railroad tooraloo
With the old moke a picking on the banjo

Pat get back, take in your slack, heave away me boys
Heave away me bully boys, why don’t you make some noise

Roll her boys, bowl her boys, give a flaming gip
Drag the anchor off the mud, and let the bastard rip

Rock-a-block, chock-a-block, heave the capstan round
Fish the flaming anchor up, for we are outward bound

Out chocks, two blocks, heave away or bust
Bend your backs, me bully boys, kick up some flaming dust

Whiskey oh, Johnny oh, the mudhook is in sight
It’s a hell of a way to the gals that wait and the old Nantucket light

22.   Randy Dandy O!   Traditional
Used at the pumps and the capstan, this shanty has had its original bawdy verses camouflaged by Hugill and some of his sources. The words “heave a pawl” and “warping her out through the locks” certainly indicate it would have been used as a capstan shanty.


Now we are ready to sail round the Horn
Way hey roll and go
Me boots and me clothes boys are all in the pawn
To me rollicking randy dandy oh.

Heave a pawl oh heave away
Way hey roll and go
The anchor’s on board and the cable’s all stored
To me rollicking randy dandy oh.

And now we are warping her out through the locks
Where all the pretty young girls come down in their flocks

Now press the bar bullies and heave her away
And now we’re driving her way down the bay

Saying goodbye to Sally and goodbye to Sue
And we are the boys to kick her on through

Now heave away you parish rigged rigged bums
Get your hands from your pockets and don’t suck your thumbs

We’re outward bound for Valipo Bay
Get cracking me lads it’s a hell of a way.

23.  Seamen’s Hymn   Words: A.L. Lloyd; Tune: Trad.
Apparently folklorist Bert Lloyd wrote this for a BBC documentary on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, using a Welsh hymn tune.

A.L. Lloyd

Come all you bold seamen wherever you’re bound
And always let Nelson’s proud memory go round
And pray that the wars and the tumults might cease
For the greatest of gifts is a sweet lasting peace
May the Lord put an end to these cruel old wars
And bring peace and contentment to all our brave tars.

  1. Aimee Ringle

    I’m listening to you share songs on the Rainy Camp zoom call right now and you just shared a lovely song with the chorus “Here’s to the people of all trades”. Where might I find the lyrics to that one? Is that song yours? Many thanks for all of your work!

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