Paddy Lay Back - Shanty U.K. Archive

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Paddy Lay Back

Paddy Lay Back
Paddy Get Back
Mainsail Haul
Valparaiso Round the Horn

This is a very variable shanty, known by at least three titles and with a bewildering array of verses which seem to have been added to the shanty at several different time periods.

  • Hugill says "It is a fairly old song dating back to the time of the Mobile cotton hoosiers" (i.e. 1830s);

  • Doerflinger, writing in 1950 says "Most versions refer to the Black Ball packet Oxford, launched in 1836 and well known on the North Atlantic run until 1850." Versions collected from old sailors between the 1920s and 1940s bear this out.

  • But by the time of Paul Clayton's 1959 recording the "yankee bark the Oxford" had become the "limey bark the Hotspur" that we are familiar with today. But where did that come from?

  • And South Cones had not been introduced until some ten years after the Oxford ceased to run: see below, bottom right

Although Hugill's Shanties from the Seven Seas gives 19 verses (plus an alternative to verse 14!) he states that it was unusual to sing them all. Indeed most recorded versions are only 6 to 8 verses long, but no two singers seem to pick the same verses: you can see the verses that various artists have recorded here:

Roud Number 653
Click to play MIDI file
Song title
Paddy Lay Back

'Twas a cold and dreary morning in December (December)
And all of me money, it was spent, (spent, spent)
Aye, where was going, I don't remember (remember)
So down to the shipping office went. (went, went)

Paddy lay back, (Paddy lay back!)
Take in your slack, (Take in your slack)
Take a turn around the capstan,
Heave a pawl. (Heave a pawl)
'Bout ship's stations, boys, be handy (Be handy!)
We're bound for Valipariso 'round the Horn!

Well, I heard there was a great demand for sailors,
For the colonies, for 'Frisco and for France.
So I signed aboard a limey barque, the 'Odber',
An' got paralytic drunk on my advance.

Well, I joined her on a cold December morning,
A-flapping of my flippers to keep me warm,
With a south cone a-hoisted as a warning,
Telling of the coming of a storm.

Now some of our fellers had been drinking,
And I myself was heavy on the booze.
And I sat upon my old sea-chest a-thinking
I'd turn into my bunk and have a snooze.

Well, I woke up in my bunk all sick and sore,
Knew I'd got sent to sea again;
When a voice come a-bawling through the door,
"Wake up, you bugger, and answer to your name."

Well 'twas on the quarterdeck where I first saw them.
Such an ugly bunch you've never seen before,
There was a bum and a true and a rogue from every quarter,
Made me poor old heart feel sick and sore.

There was Dutchmen and Frenchmen and Rooshians,
And Johnny Crapoos just across from France.
Aye, and none of the buggers could speak a  word of English,
They answered to the name of "Month's Advance".

Well, I knew that in my bunk I had a bottle,
By the boarding-master was put there;
And I wanted something for to wet my throttle,
Something for to drive away dull care.

So down upon my knees I went like thunder,
Put my hand into the bottom of the box,
And imagine my great surprise and wonder,
Just a bottle of medicine for the pox.

Well, I wished that I was in the 'Jolly Sailors',
Along with fat Kate a-drinking beer,
And I thought what a jolly lot are sailors,
And with me flipper I wiped away a tear.

Recorded by Owd Chyvers
Play MP3
Paddy Lay Back, sung by Owd Chyvers
The original Fishermen's Friend

Versions of the shanty mentioning "a South Cone hoisted as a warning"  appeared quite late in the song's history, as warning cones did not appear until the 1860s.

In October 1859 occurred probably the worst storm of the whole nineteenth century, with the loss of over 800 lives around the British coasts. Over 450 of these victims were aboard the steam clipper Royal Charter, homeward bound for Liverpool from Melbourne when she foundered off the north-east coast of Anglesey, barely 60 miles from the end of her 10,000 mile voyage. This was then the highest ever casualty figure for a shipwreck, and since then
has usually been referred to as simply "The Royal Charter Storm"

The Meteorological Department of the Board of Trade, forerunner of today's Met Office, had been founded in 1854 with Captain Robert FitzRoy as the first Meteorological Statist, and commenced operations  the following year. FitzRoy had previously been Captain of H.M.S. Beagle from 1828 to 1836, during which time his second commission, from 1831 to 1836, was to accompany Charles Darwin on his voyage of exploration to South America and the Pacific. Before joining the Board of Trade he had been MP for Durham between 1841-1843 and then Governor of New Zealand 1843-1845, the second person to hold that office. He was promoted from Captain to Vice-Admiral in 1863, but committed suicide in 1865.

The Meteorological Department was primarily intended to improve safety at sea, and as a direct result of the Royal Charter disaster FitzRoy developed charts which allowed predictions of the weather to be made, and he was the originator of "weather forecast" as the word for these predictions. He set up 15 coastal land stations which telegraphed reports to him several times a day, and the also distributed small barometers to the harbourmasters of many small fishing ports.

In 1860 he devised a system of
of issuing gale warnings by telegraph to the ports likely to be affected. The message contained of a list of places with the words:

  • North Cone’ or ‘South Cone’ - for northerly or southerly gales respectively

  • Drum’  - for when further gales were expected,

  • Drum and North/South Cone’ - for particularly heavy gales or storms.

On receiving the forecast, the station would hoist the appropriate signals on a staff or gantry, and this would then be repeated at at the smaller harbours by the local Coast Guard or other authorised agents. The Met Office ordered that fleets should remain in port if cones were displayed, but this was very unpopular with the owners of the fishing fleets, and after FitzRoy's death in 1865 they managed to negate its enforcement for a while. But pressure from fishermen and life-saving organisations ensured that it was re-instated in 1874.

With a South Cone hoisted ...
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