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Strike the Bell, Second Mate

Shanties
Strike the Bell, Second Mate

"Strike the Bell" was a pumping shanty, used to co-ordinate the efforts of crew members as they worked the bilge pumps. The words refer to the use of the ship's bell to record the passage of time. The day was divided into watches of four hours duration: sailors would work one watch and then rest for four hours before returning for their next watch. Every half-hour the mate would mark the time by ringing the ship's bell to indicate the number of half-hours elapsed on that watch. So "Eight Bells" was rung when a full four-hours watch had been completed, and the crew could go below for a welcome rest period after their exertions.

The shanty is a maritime adaptation of the 1865 song "Ring the Bell Watchman" by Henry Clay Work, which celebrated the Union victory in the American Civil War.


Roud Number 4190
Click to play MIDI file
Strike the Bell, Second Mate
Strike the Bell, Second Mate

Up on the poop deck walking about
There is the second mate so steady and so stout
What he's a-thinking he doesn't know himself
But I wish that he would hurry up and strike, strike the bell.

Strike the bell, second mate, let us go below
Look well to windward, you can see it's going to blow
Look at the glass, you can see that it's fell
And I wish that you would hurry up and strike, strike the bell


Down on the main deck working the pumps
There is the larboard watch, they're longing for their bunks
Look out to windward, you can see a great swell
And they're wishing that the second mate would strike, strike the bell

Forward in the fo'c'sle keeping sharp lookout
There stands Johnny now, he's waiting for the shout
"Lights burning bright, sir, everything is well"
And he's wishing that the second mate would strike, strike the bell

Aft at the wheelhouse old Anderson stands
Grasping the helm with his frostbitten hands
Looking at the compass though the course is clear as hell
And he's wishing that the second mate would strike, strike the bell

Aft on the quarterdeck our gallant captain stands
He's looking out to windward with a spyglass in his hand
What he's thinking we know very well
He's thinking more of shortening sail than striking the bell

Strike the bell, second mate, let us go below
Look well to windward, you can see it's going to blow
Look at the glass, you can see that it's fell
And I wish that you would hurry up and strike, strike the bell

Strike the bell, second mate, let us go below
Look well to windward, you can see it's going to blow
Look at the glass, you can see that it's fell
And I wish that you would hurry up and strike the bloody bell!

Play MP3
Strike the Bell, Second Mate, sung by Trim Rig and a Doxy
Henry Clay Work

Although his name may not be well-known, many of his songs most certainly are. His output included Kingdom Coming!  (a.k.a. Year of Jubilo) (1863), Marching Through Georgia (1865), The Ship That Never Returned (1868), and My Grandfather's Clock (1870).


He wrote Ring The Bell Watchman to celebrate the end of the American Civil War in 1865, and it has spawned many other derivatives such as the well-known Australian sheep shearers song Click go the Shears which probably dates from the 1870s, about the same period that Strike the Bell, Second Mate is generally thought to have emerged: but there is a school of thought which holds that the sea song might be older than Clay's "original" .


He was born in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1832. to a family of Scottish descent, whose name derived from Auld Wark Castle. Moving to Illinois in 1835, his father was later imprisoned for allowing their home to be used as a way station on the "Underground Railroad", assisting runaway slaves to reach freedom in Canada. After his release the family returned penniless to Connecticut, where Work was apprenticed to a printer. He later moved to Chicago, where he specialised in setting musical type, and composed his songs to the rhythms of the printing presses.

Work himself remained a lifelong
Abolitionist, and a fervent Union supporter through the Civil War period, writing many songs in support of the cause, starting with Kingdom Coming in 1863.

His family life was not particularly happy. His wife suffered from mental illness and was eventually committed, while two of his four children died in infancy and his eldest son, Waldo, died of tuberculosis aged just 13. Work himself died suddenly from a coronary attack in Hartford, Connecticut, on June 8, 1884.


but it stopped, short, never to go again ...
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