THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY for July 1858 contains an article on "Songs of the Sea."
Here are some passages about work-songs.
The sailor does not lack for singing. He sings at certain parts of his work;—indeed, he must sing, if he would work. On vessels of war, the drum and fife or boatswain's whistle furnish the necessary movement regulator. There, where the strength of one or two hundred men can be applied to one and the same effort, the labor is not intermittent, but continuous. The men form on either side of the rope to be hauled, and walk away with it like firemen inarching with their engine. When the headmost pair bring up at the stern or bow, they part, and the two streams flow back to the starting-point, outside the following files. Thus in this perpetual " follow-my-leader " way the work is done, with more precision and steadiness than in the merchant-service. Merchantmen are invariably manned with the least possible number, and often go to sea shorthanded, even according to the parsimonious calculations of their owners. The only way the heavier work can be done at all is by each man doing his utmost at the same moment. This is regulated by the song. And here is the true singing of the deep sea. It is not recreation; it is an essential part of the work. It mastheads the topsail-yards, on making tail; it starts the anchor from the domestic or foreign mud; it " rides down the main tack with a will"; it breaks out and takes on board cargo; it keeps the pumps (the ship's,—not the sailor's) going. A good voice and a new and stirring chorus are worth an extra man. And there is plenty of need of both.
What a great statement on the difference of work in a Navy versus a merchant vessel. It provides perfect evidence for the argument that merchant vessels "needed" chanties.
I remember well one black night in the mid-Atlantic, when we were beating up
against a stiff breeze, coming on deck near midnight, just as the ship was put about. When a ship is tacking, the tacks and sheets (ropes which confine the clews or lower corners of the sails) are let run, in order that the yards may be swung round to meet the altered position of the ship. They must then be hauled taut again, and belayed, or secured, in order to keep the sails in their place and to prevent them from shaking. When the ship's head comes up in the wind, the sail is for a moment or two edgewise to it, and then is the nice moment, as soon as the head-sails fairly fill, when the main-yard and the yards above it can be swung readily, and the tacks and sheets hauled in. If the crew are too few in number, or too slow at their work, and the sails get fairly filled on the new tack, it is a fatiguing piece of work enough to " board " the tacks and sheets, as it is called. You are pulling at one end of the rope,—but the gale is tugging at the other. The advantages of lungs are all against you, and perhaps the only thing to be done is to put the helm down a little, and set the sails shaking' again before they can be trimmed properly.—It was just at such a time that I came on deck, as above mentioned. Being near eight bells, the watch on deck had been not over spry ; and the consequence was that our big main-course was slatting and flying out overhead with a might that shook the ship from stem to stern. The flaps of the mad canvas were like successive thumps of a giant's fist upon a mighty drum. The sheets were jerking at the belaying-pins, the blocks rattling in sharp snappings like castanets. You could hear the hiss and seething of the sea alongside, and see it flash by in sudden white patches of phosphorescent foam, while all overhead was black with the flying scud. The English second-mate was stamping with vexation, and, with all his Hs misplaced, storming at the men:— "'An'somely the weather main-brace,— 'an'somely, I tell you!—'Alf a dozen of you clap on to the main sheet here,— down with 'im!—D'ysee 'ore's hall like a midshipman's bag,—heverythink huppermost and nothing 'andy.—'Aul 'im in, Hi say!"—But the sail wouldn't come, though. All the most forcible expressions of the Commination-Service were liberally bestowed on the watch. " Give us the song, men!" sang out the mate, at last,— " pull with a will!—together, men!—haltogether now! "—And then a cracked, melancholy voice struck up this chant:
"Oh, the bowline, bully bully bowline,
Oh, the bowline, bowline, HAUL!"
At the last word every man threw his whole strength into the pull,—all singing it in chorus, with a quick, explosive sound. And so, jump by jump, the sheet was at last hauled taut.—I dare say this will seem very much spun out to a seafarer, but landsmen like to hear of the sea and its ways; and as more landsmen than seamen, probably, read the " Atlantic Monthly," I have told them of one genuine sea-song, and its time and place.
The classic sheet shanty.
Then there are pumping-songs. "The dismal sound of the pumps is heard," says Mr. Webster's Plymouth-Rock Oration ; but being a part of the daily morning duty of a well-disciplined merchant vessel,—just a few minutes' spell to keep the vessel free and cargo unharmed by bilge-water,—it is not a dismal sound at all, but rather a lively one. It was a favorite amusement with us passengers on board the --- to go forward about
pumping-time to the break of the deck and listen. Any quick tune to which you might work a fire-engine will serve for the music, and the words were varied with every fancy.
"Pay me the money down," was one favorite chorus, and the verse ran thus:—
Solo. " Your money, young man, is no object to me.
Chorus. Pay me the money down!
Sola. Half a crown's no great amount.
Chorus. Pay me the money down!
Solo and Chorus. (Bis.) Money down, money down, pay me the money down! "
Not much sense in all this, but it served to man and move the brakes merrily. Then there were other choruses, which, were heard from time to time, —" And the young gals goes a
weepin',"—" O long storm, storm along stormy"; but the favorite tune was "Money down," at least with our crew. They were not an avaricious set, either; for their parting ceremony, on embarking, was to pitch the last half-dollars of their advance on to the wharf, to be scrambled for by the land-sharks. But " Money down " was the standing chorus. I once heard, though not on board that ship, the lively chorus of " Off she goes, and off she must go,"—
" Highland day and off she goes,
Off she goes with a flying fore-topsail,
Highland day and off she goes."
It is one of the most spirited things imaginable, when well sung, and, when applied to the topsail-halyards, brings the yards up in grand style.
So PAY ME THE MONEY DOWN is used for pumping (brake style), along with (implied) ACROSS THE WESTERN OCEAN and STORMALONG. Is the last one HIGHLAND LADDIE? Or is it perhaps something related to Hugill's "Hilonday"?