Boney - Shanty U.K. Archive

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Boney Was A Warrior

Boney was a warrior - and this shanty tells it like it was, giving a pretty fair account of the military career of Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of  France. Having risen from fairly humble beginnings and got the better of nobility and royalty, Boney was a folk-hero to the lower classes of all nations, even those he fought against such as the British. And he was particularly popular with the Irish and Americans

Broadsides published in the first part of the nineteenth century contain verses with almost identical words, so the shanty probably originated shortly after the events portrayed. The story was usually told in a straightforward manner, and Hugill says he had no  knowledge of any dirty versions.

When used at halyards there would be two pulls on each chorus line; for short-hauls or foresheets there would be only one, this coming on the final syllable.

Roud 485
Click to play MIDI file
Boney Was A Warrior
Boney Was A Warrior

Boney was a warrior,

Wey, hay, yah

A warrior, a tarrier,

John François

Boney went to school in France.

Wey, hay, yah

He learnt to make the people dance

John François

Boney fought the Rooshians.
The Austrians and Prooshians

He beat the Prooshians squarely.
He beat the British - nearly

Boney went to Moscow,
Lost his army in the snow

Moscow was on fire then.
So  Boney he came home again,

They sent him off to Elbow.
He came back to make another show

We beat him at Trafalgar Bay.
Blew his main topmast away

On the plains of Waterloo
The Iron Duke he put him through

Boney went a-cruis-eye-ing.
Aboard the Billy Ruffian

The sent him off to Saint Helenn
He never never came back again

The sent him into exile.
He died on St Helena's isle

Boney broke his heart and died
On Corsica he wished he'd stayed

Boney was a general,
A rorty, snorty general,

Boney was a warrior,

Wey, hay, yah

A warrior, a tarrier,

John François

Play MP3
Boney Was A Warrior, sung by Vaughan Hully on Trafalgar Night, 2005
St Helena

St Helena is one of the most remote places in the world, lying in the South Atlantic some 1,200 miles west of the coast of Angola. Only about 10 miles  long and five miles wide, it remains accessible only by sea - a long-promised airstrip has yet to materialise. Discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, it was claimed for Britain by Oliver Cromwell in 1657 and the first Governor arrived there in 1659, making  it Britain's second oldest colony after Bermuda. It was ruled by the British East India Company from then until the India Act of 1833 made it a Crown Colony.

It is best known as Napoleon's place of exile (he was detained here from 1815  until his death in 1821), but many others have been unwilling guests of Britain: in the 1840s over 15,000 slaves freed by anti-slavery patrols of the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron were held here in transit camps awaiting dispersal; the Zulu king Dinizulu spent seven years here in the 1890s after leading a Zulu army against the British; and in 1900-01 more than 6,000 Boer prisoners-of-war were held there.

For centuries St Helena was an important way-station for sailing vessels to  pick up fresh supplies and water, but steamships were less reliant on the trade winds, while the opening of the Suez Canal gave a more direct route to India, further reducing the numbers of ships calling in on their way round the Cape of Good Hope. In  1855 over 1,100 ships called in but by 1889 it had fallen to a mere 288.

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