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Nelson's Blood

Shanties
A Drop of Nelson's Blood
(Roll The Old Chariot Along)

We'll Roll The Old Chariot Along, (a.k.a. A Drop of Nelson's Blood, or The Golden Chariot) appears to have derived from an American negro spiritual "as heard at Salvation Army gatherings" according to Doerflinger. The original form was:

If the sinner's in the way, we'll stop and take him in, (3x), And we won't drag on behind,
followed by a chorus of
We'll roll the old chariot along (3x), And we won't drag on behind.
Subsequent verses referred to the
drunkard,the harlot and the gambler, before ending with
If the devil's in the way, we'll roll it over him (3x) And we won't drag on behind.

This version was well known across late nineteenth century America, and was included in The Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook, consisting of songs and hymns learned in her childhood by the author of The Little House On The Prairie.

Sailor John soon turned the song into a list of things that wouldn't do him any harm, which (combined with the fact that no rhymes are necessary) gives the shantyman almost unlimited scope for making up verses. Items in Hugill's version include
a long spell in gaol; a nice fat cook; a nice watch below; and a night with the gals. In Volume II of The Oxford Song  Book (1927) the sailor is more concerned with food and drink, craving a plate of hot scouse; a fresh sea-pie; a new plum duff; and a glass of whisky hot.

Like The Drunken Sailor, this was a
stamp-and-go or walkaway shanty, and Dick Maitland sang it for Doerflinger using a version of the Drunken Sailor tune.


Roud Number 3632
Click to play MIDI file
A Drop of Nelson's Blood
A Drop Of Nelson's Blood

And a drop of Nelson's blood wouldn't do us any harm

And a drop of Nelson's blood wouldn't do us any harm
And a drop of Nelson's blood wouldn't do us any harm
And we'll all hang on behind.

   
And we'll roll the old chariot along
   And we'll roll the old chariot along.
   And we'll roll the old chariot along
   And we'll all hang on behind!

And a plate of Irish stew wouldn't do us any harm
And a plate of Irish stew wouldn't do us any harm
And a plate of Irish stew wouldn't do us any harm
And we'll all hang on behind.

And a good run ashore wouldn't do us any harm
And a good run ashore wouldn't do us any harm
And a good run ashore wouldn't do us any harm
And we'll all hang on behind.

And a big fat bosun wouldn't do us any harm
And a big fat bosun wouldn't do us any harm
And a big fat bosun wouldn't do us any harm
And we'll all hang on behind.

And a roll in the clover wouldn't do us any harm
And a roll in the clover wouldn't do us any harm
And a roll in the clover wouldn't do us any harm
And we'll all hang on behind.

And if you want to do it, don't you do it agin' the wall
And if you want to do it, don't you do it agin' the wall
And if you want to do it, don't you do it agin' the wall
And we'll all hang on behind.

And a pint from the landlord wouldn't do us any harm
And a pint from the landlord wouldn't do us any harm
And a pint from the landlord wouldn't do us any harm
And we'll all hang on behind.

And a drop of Nelson's blood wouldn't do us any harm
And a roll in the clover wouldn't do us any harm
And a pint from the landlord wouldn't do us any harm
And we'll all hang on behind.

Recorded by Owd Chyvers
Play MP3
Nelson's Blood, sung by Owd Chyvers
Nelson's Blood: fact or fiction?

After his death at Trafalgar, HMS Victory returned to England with Nelson's body which was given a state funeral in January 1806. To prevent his body from decaying during the voyage he was placed inside a cask which was then filled with spirits. According to legend, some of this was subsequently tapped and drunk by the sailors, gaining the name of "Nelson's Blood".

Depending which book or website you consult, the original "Nelson's Blood" can be either rum or brandy or grog, and two completely opposite reasons are given for sailors drinking it. Some say that it was because sailors will drink anything they can lay their hands on, even if it has had a body floating in it; others ascribe a completely different motive: that Nelson was much loved, and his courage, skill and gallantry so admired by his crew, that during the dark hours they would creep out and drink from the cask containing his body, praying they would inherit some of his traits.

In actual fact this appears to be an early urban legend. From Trafalgar all the way to St Pauls, his body was constantly guarded by a detachment of Marines.  Initially he was placed in a 184-gallon water cask filled with brandy. During the seven day voyage to Gibraltar the brandy was drawn off and the cask refilled. Before sailing for England, the brandy was again drawn off and the cask then re-filled with a mixture of two parts brandy and one part spirit of wine. This procedure was repeated twice en route to England.

At Spithead, a post-mortem was carried out, the bowels removed and the
remains wrapped in cotton vestments, then placed in a lead coffin filled with brandy containing camphor and myrrh, then placed inside a further wooden coffin for the voyage into the Thames estuary. Off Sheerness the corpse was placed in a wooden coffin made from part of the of the French warship L'Orient, whose wreck had been presented to Nelson in 1799 after the Battle of the Nile, and transferred to the Yacht Chatham for conveyance to the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, where it lay in state over Christmas and the New Year.

Finally on 8th January 1806, his body was placed on a royal barge and headed a procession of 60 vessels up the Thames to Whitehall: the following day the funeral procession through the streets of London was so long that the head of it had already reached St Pauls before the tail had left the Palace of Whitehall.


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