Sea shanties and maritime music

"I've put in a good many hard years on shipboard," old Tom Shea told me, "and I've shipped with some queer lookin' crews, but let me tell ye that when the shanties was started everything got jolly and cheerful at once, and the men that never seen each other before acted like wot they was old friends. — And ye needn't think," he added, "that the shanties was all noise and yellin'. There was some fine singers in them old crews, and it was great to hear them at the shanties."

W. R. Mackenzie, Ballads and Sea Songs from Nova Scotia, 1928

This Day in History (February 29, 1908)

This Day in History (January 8, 1806)

The death of Lord Nelson was a national tragedy like no other for England. "From Greenwich to Whitehall Stairs, on the 8th of January, 1806, in one of the greatest Aquatic Processions that ever was beheld on the River Thames" drifted the royal shallop (barge). The event is referenced in the modern lament, Carrying Nelson Home. Nelson is mentioned in nearly a dozen other songs.

Try a random shanty sampling

The First of the Emigrants
Forecastle song

Now I'm leaving old England, the land that I love,
And I'm bound out far across the sea.
Oh I'm bound to Australia, the land of the free,
Where there will be a welcome for me.

So fill up your glasses and drink what you please,
For no matter's the damage, oh, I'll pay;
So be aisy and free whilst you're drinking with me,
Sure, I'm the man you don't meet every day.

Now when I boarded my ship for to go
She was looking all snug and trim;
For I landed aboard with my bag and baggage,
And the mate he told me just where to go.

Now down to Gravesend, oh, soon we did go,
And the customs they came on board,
And inspected us all and called out our names:
There was girls and boys all galore.

They let go of us and we soon sailed away
Down to the Nore and around.
Oh, the Foreland's in sight, oh, it became late at night,
But I was the man they didn't meet every day.

Now we sailed down the Channel of old England, and away
To the Ushant and far across the bay;
Oh, out into the Roaring Forties did stay,
And it's here were our westerly wainds.

Now I'll never forget the look on the Old Man's face
As he roared: 'All stuns'ls we'll set.'
Oh, we're bound to the island of St. Helena,
And around the cape of Good Hope we will get.

Now I ofttimes have wondered just what he meant
When he roared like a bull to the mate;
But the mate understood, and soon they were bound.
We're the men you don't meet every day.

We rounded the Cape with a fair waind abaft,
And soon we were running our easting down.
We were bound to the Semaphore and the southern shores,
And good lord, how the wind did roar.

Now we got round the Heads and into Sydney harbour,
Where the bays are all fine to look upon.
Oh the doctor he came on board and examined us,
And, 'What a fine crowd', the words he did say.

Now I've worked hard in Australia for thirty long years,
And today, sure, I'm homeward bound,
With a nice little fortune for to call me own;
I'm bound home, but not the same way I came out.

Oh I'm sorry I'm leaving you all today,
For I'm homeward bound, don't you see?
But a different way to the way I came out;
I am going home on a steamboat, you see.

Then it's goodbye to one and it's goodbye to all,
For I'm bound home for England's merry country;
And my girl I will find, the one I left behind,
And I'll make her as happy as can be.