Stan Hugill expressed surprise that this song was not mentioned in earlier shanty collections, and he seems to have picked it up during his own sailing days. He claims that the heroine originally bore the name Nelly Ray, and the first written mention of the song was in a diary belonging to Charles Picknell, a sailor aboard the convict ship Kains, which departed from London to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) on July 8, 1830.
A careful recording of the history of the Kains can be found on the Free Settler or Felon website. Some of Picknell's diary entries are preserved in the 1930 Sydney Morning Herald: May 10, May 17, and May 24. Meanwhile, the journal was published in the London periodical Blue Peter. The song appeared at the end of the journal, which has since been reprinted as The Kains: Female Convict Vessel (Adelaide: Sullivan's Cove, 1989). Mudcatter "Lighter" and others give a breakdown of the lyrical anachronisms here. Richard Edmunds suggests the song is an 1870s musichouse parody of "Darling Nelly Gray" in the most careful writeup of the history of the song. The Welsh baritone J. W. Myers first recorded the song in October, 1905. The Beatles recorded a fragment and the song is said to have been a staple of the Quarrymen.
The name Maggie May could be seen as a nickname for Mary Magdalene, and Edmunds gives ample newspaper reports of events similar to those portrayed in the song.
Temporarily disabled. Sorry. Please use the contact form in the sidebar.
Now come all you young sailors and listen to my plea
And when you've heard my tale you'll pity me.
For I was a goddamn fool in the port of Liverpool,
The very first time I came home from sea.
Now I've paid off at the Home, from the port of Sierra Leone;
Three-pound-ten a month it was my pay.
But I wasted all my tin whilst drinking up the gin
With a little girl whose name was Maggie May.
Now well do I remember where I first met Maggie May,
She was cruising up and down in Canning Place,
She was dressed up mighty fine, like a frigate of the line,
So being a ranting sailor I gave chase.
I kept right on her track, she went on the other tack,
But I caught her and I broke her mizzen line.
Next morning I awoke with a head more bent and broke,
No coat, no vest, no trousers could I find.
I asked her where they were, she said, “My good kind sir,
They're down at Park Lane pawn shop number nine.
Now, you've had your cake and bun, and it's time for you to run
Or you'll never make the dockside, lad, in time.”
To the pawnshop I did go, but no trousers could I find,
And the police came and took that girl away.
And the judge he found her guilty of robbing a homeward-bounder;
So now she's doing time in Botany Bay.
Oh Maggie, Maggie May, they've taken you away,
Never more to roam alone down Canning Place
For you robbed too many whalers, and you poxed too many sailors
Now you'll never see old Lime Street anymore.
As sung by A. L. Lloyd
I was paid off at the home, From a voyage to Sierra Leone; Three pounds monthly, was my pay. When I drew the cash I grinned, But I very soon got skinned By a lass who lived in Peter Street, called Ray.
I shall ne'er forget the day When I met Nellie Ray. 'Twas at the corner of the Canning Place; With a mighty crin-o-line Like a frigate of the line, As if I were a slaver she gave chase.
Saying, 'What cheer ! homeward bounder, Just you come along with me'; So in Peter Street we had some gin and tea; It was morn when I awoke Then I found that I was broke For sweet Nellie had skedaddled with my money.
To the magistrate I went, Where I stated my lament : They soon had poor Nelly in the Dock. And the Judge he guilty found her, For she'd robbed a homeward bounder, And he sent her to Van Dieman's far away.
Oh! my charming Nellie Ray, They have taken you away, You have gone to Van Diemen's cruel shore; For you've skinned so many tailors, And you've robbed so many sailors, That we'll look for you in Peter Street no more.
Charles Picknell's 1831 diary, likely added post-1880