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Boston Harbour

Shanties
Boston Harbour

This is a shanty that does not appear in Stan Hugill's Shanties from the Seven Seas, although it had appeared in two earlier shanty collections  upon which he drew extensively: Roll and Go by Joanna C Colcord (1924, enlarged 1938 as Songs of American Sailormen), and Ships, Sea Songs and Shanties by Captain W B Whall (1910 & reprinted 1927 as Sea Songs and Shanties)

Whall says ""The origin of the following example is unknown to me. It is evidently the work of a seaman and has, probably, never before appeared in print. I have never met with it. The song goes with a good swing, and was very popular between the years of 1860 and 1870, though now, I fear, it has gone the way of all songs with choruses, and is replaced by music hall inanities."

It was recorded by the Watersons on the Topic compilation album "New Voices" (1965), where A.L. Lloyd's sleeve notes state:"It's a fo'c'sle song, a forebitter, not a shanty. The Bow-wow chorus is borrowed from an influential music-hall song of the mid-nineteenth century."  Most versions sung today show little deviation from these printed versions, but see below for a very different version from 1911

Roud Number 613
Click to play MIDI file
Boston Harbour
Boston Harbour

From Boston harbour we set sail
When it was blowing a devil of a gale
With a ring-tail set all abaft the mizzen peak
And a Rule Britannia** ploughing up the deep

With a big bow wow, tow row row
Fol dee rol dee rye doh day.

Then up comes the skipper from down below
It's look aloft, and it's look alow
And it's look alow and look aloft
And it's "coil up your ropes, boys, fore and aft".

Then down to his cabin he quickly falls
Poor old steward there he bawls
"Fix me a drink that will make me cough
For  it's better weather here than it is up aloft."

Now we poor sailors are a-standing on the deck
Blasted rain all a-falling down our neck
Not a drop of grog could he to us afford
But he damns our eyes at every other word.

Now there's one thing that we have to crave
That the captain meets with a watery grave
We'll throw him down into some dark hole
Where the sharks'll have his body and the Devil have his soul.

Now the poor old bugger he's dead and gone
Woe to us, he's left to us a son
And if to us that he doesn't prove frank
Very soon we'll make him walk the plank


With a big bow wow, tow row row
Fol dee rol dee rye doh day.

** alternative words "dolphin striker"

Recorded by Owd Chyvers
Play MP3
Boston Harbour, sung by Owd Chyvers
Same but different

This version appeared on page 235 of "A Ship of Solace" by Elinor Mordaunt, published in 1911 by Sturgis & Walton, New York. The chorus and second verse do not seem to appear in any other versions. There are no known recordings: in fact no tune is known for this version.

From Boston Harbour we set sail,
And the wind it was blowing the devil of a gale.

Royals free—Royals free.

With a Ring-tail set all abaft the mizzen peak,
To see Britannia a-ploughing up the deep.

Royals free—Royals free,
Studding sails aloft, boys, Royals free.


And now the wind begins for to blow,
It's in with your Ring-tail quickly oh.
Clew up the to'gallant sails and take 'em in again;
Bear a hand, jolly tar, at the mizzen fore and main.

Now we poor sailors are a-trampin' on the deck,
With the nasty cold rain all a-blowin' down our necks.
Not a dram of grog can the old man afford;
But it's 'Damn your eyes!' at every other word.

Now that old fellow he's both dead and gone,
But he's left to us his one and only son—

Royals free—Royals free.

And if he don't prove both kind and frank,
So help me Jimmy, we'll make him walk the plank.

Royals free—Royals free,
Studding sails aloft, boys, Royals free.


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