William Brown Meloney IV, The Chanty Man Sings, 1926
The Flannan Isles Lighthouse protects ships along the Western Isles of Scotland. In 1900, it was staffed by three men: James Ducat, Thomas Marshall, and Donald McArthur. Just one year after it was first lit, the country was captivated by their mysterious disappearance. On December 15, the ships began noting that the light was unlit. When the Northern Lighthouse Board arrived to investigate, they found the premises in good order but no sign of the crew. An official investigation determined the men were swept away by an enormous rogue wave, but for years, there has been rampant speculation about sea serpents, ghosts, foreign spies, new identities, or violent altercations. Later research uncovered that "Marshall was previously fined five shillings when his equipment was washed away during a huge gale. It is likely, in seeking to avoid another fine, that he and Ducat tried to secure their equipment during a storm and were swept away as a result. The fate of McArthur, although required to stay behind to man the lighthouse, can be guessed to be the same."
The word beacon is laden with symbolism, and the sight of a familiar lighthouse was usually accompanied by joy as in En Gammal Brigg. The lonely plight of a lighthouse keeper is captured in Brasswork: The Lighthouse Keeper's Lament.
September 3, 1884 marks the sinking of the John Bigler, an otherwise unremarkable schooner out of Detroit (or possibly Chicago) memorialized in song. The slow-moving timber drogher was sailed, and sometimes pulled, through the Great Lakes canals, averaging some 4 miles an hour. The ship was lost with $3,500 worth of stone in the middle of Lake Superior. A clipping from the Toronto Telegram, 3 Oct 1942, provides more detail about the ship, the times, and the song.
Från Canton till Macao,
Från Hong Kong å Luliao,
The sodgers and sailors
de sjung-it hennes love.
For ding-e, ding-e
ding-dong, hm-di, hm-di!
Hon var en sampan girlie
allt i-från Hong-ki-kong.
A you-oo like me-hee,
A mandarin's daughter?
You sodgers and sailors,
Som seglar på Hong Kong,
I no-o like you-hu,
You no-o like me-hee,
You all belong to sodgers
You no belong to me.
We were schooner-rigged and rakish, with a long and lissome hull,
And we flew the pretty colours of the cross-bones and the skull;
We'd a big black Jolly Roger flapping grimly at the fore,
And we sailed the Spanish Water in the happy days of yore.
We'd a long brass gun amidships, like a well-conducted ship,
We had each a brace of pistols and a cutlass at the hip;
It's a point which tells against us, and a fact to be deplored,
But we chased the goodly merchant-men and laid their ships aboard.
Then the dead men fouled the scuppers and the wounded filled the chains,
And the paint-work all was spatter-dashed with other people's brains,
She was boarded, she was looted, she was scuttled till she sank,
And the pale survivors left us by the medium of the plank.
O! then it was (while standing by the taffrail on the poop)
We could hear the drowning folk lament the absent chicken-coop;
Then, having washed the blood away, we'd little else to do
Than to dance a quiet hornpipe as the old salts taught us to.
O! the fiddle on the fo'c's'le, and the slapping naked soles,
And the genial "Down the middle, Jake, and curtsey when she rolls!"
With the silver seas around us and the pale moon overhead,
And the look-out not a-looking and his pipe-bowl glowing red.
Ah! the pig-tailed, quidding pirates and the pretty pranks we played,
All have since been put a stop-to by the naughty Board of Trade;
The schooners and the merry crews are laid away to rest,
A little south the sunset in the Islands of the Blest.
Me have got a flower boat,
Come sailing Chu-ki-ang,
Sampan girlie play to you
All the same sing-song.
Lao-yeh, you like me?
Tzia-tzia, velly good.
Foreign man to Canton come,
Me got plenty chow.
Homeside have got pidgin,
Me savvy, me can tell,
Bring me master chicken,
Chi-da, velly well.
Suppose he likee Sam-shu,
It all the same can-do,
Chop-chop me fetch him,
You no likee Yang-yen,
Me lightie littie pipe,
He go smokie Shang-yen,
Belong velly velly tight.
A poor old man came riding by
And we say so, and we know so
O, a poor old man came riding by
O, poor old horse
Says I, "Old man, your horse will die."
And we say so, and we know so
And if he dies, we'll tan his hide
O, poor old horse
And if he don't, I'll ride him again...
And I'll ride him, 'til the Lord knows when...
For one long month we rode him hard...
For one long month we all rode him hard...
But now your month is old Turk...
get up you swine and look for work...
O, he's dead as a nail in the lamp room door...
And he won't come worrying us no more...
We'll use the hair of his tail to sew our sails...
And the iron of his shoes to make deck nails...
We'll drop him down with a long long ro'...
Where the sharks have his body and the devil takes his soul!...