The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #94293   Message #1823642
Posted By: Charley Noble
31-Aug-06 - 11:57 AM
Thread Name: Origins: Haul Awa' (Rowing Shanty)
Subject: Origins: Haul Awa' (Rowing Shanty)
The Boarding Party version of this song is in the DT but I can find no detailed discussion of this song in the Mudcat threads. My interest was triggered by coming across a fragment of this old sea song in a book of short stories I was reading titled LIMEHOUSE NIGHTS, by Thomas Burke, published by Robert M. McBride & Co., New York, © 1920, p. 136, with the following fragment being described as an "old Malayan chanty":

Love is kind to the least of men . . .
Eee-awa! Eee-awa!

Most of us know this song from the Boarding Party recording 'TIS OUR SAILING TIME.
The Boarding Party version of the lyrics and their notes are below:


(Traditional after singing of Lucy Simpson and Robin Roberts (now Robin Howard)
Recorded by the Boarding Party on 'TIS OUR SAILING TIME, © 2000 Folk Legacy Records, Inc.)

Love is kind to the least of men,
Haul awa', haul awa',
Though he be but a drunken tar
Haul awa', awa'.

Once I had a star-eyed maid…
I was content with her to lay…

In the comfort of her bed…
Let me lay until I'm dead…

Take my body to the shore…
Star-eyed maid, I'll sail no more…

Here's my blessing (story) – let it be…
May you love as she loved me…*

Love is kind to the least of men…
Though he be but a drunken tar…* ^^^

* New verses added by Lucy Simpson

Notes edited from CD:

Robin learned the song from a Massachusetts woman, a Mrs. Walsh, who had gotten it in turn from "a retired clipper ship sailor." Robin recorded the chorus as "Ee awa" and Norman Kennedy later noted a similarity to the Gaelic phrase "I a bha," pronounced the same way which means "She that's gone" which may just be coincidence.

I'm curious if any one here has or can find more clues to the origin of this song. It's unclear if the reference to "an old Malayan chanty" means that it was originally a traditional Malayan rowing song or sung by sailors who frequented that part of the world. The author of LIMEHOUSE NIGHTS, Thomas Burke, was not himself a deep-water sailor but a writer who grew up in London's sailortown. Here is a short bio of Burke:

Thomas Burke (1887-1945) was a very good writer of the Edwardian and post-war eras. He wrote widely, penning 30 books, most of them about London. He was orphaned as a baby and spent his first nine years in Poplar, a working-class London borough near to Limestone and the Thames River docks. He was fascinated from a young age with the life of the East End streets and gained as much education from them as from formal schooling. His books reflected this fascination, concentrating on the East End of London and in particular Limehouse, where he was best friends with an elderly Chinese man who later became the model for Quong Lee. Burke's most memorable creation is the old Chinese sage Quong Lee, who originally appeared in a series of short stories as part of Burke's "Limehouse" series. These were later collected into The Song Book of Quong Lee of Limehouse (1920), More Limehouse Nights (1921), and The Pleasantries of Old Quong (1931).

By the way THE SONG BOOK OF QUONG LEE OF LIMEHOUSE does not include the song in question.

Anyway, "Haul Awa'" is a fine sea song, and it could be fun to track down where it came from. Any takers?

Charley Noble