The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #126347 Message #2821757
Posted By: John Minear
26-Jan-10 - 11:55 AM
Thread Name: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
Subject: RE: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
I like the idea that "Rio Grande" came out of the context of the Mexican War, 1846-48. We know that this war produced another sea shanty "Santiana". I would also like to think that both of these shanties were in use during the California Gold Rush of 1849-50. Here is the link for the song Lighter mentions "The Song of the Memphis Volunteers":
In a book published in 1957, called BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE, SOLDIER-EXPLORER, 1796-1878, by Helen Markley Miller, she says on page 150, "To the Rio Grande they rode, singing the popular song of the newly begun war: 'Oh, say were you ever in the Rio Grande?'"
And in his book on Lincoln called WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE (1977), Stephen Oates says on page 76, "In all directions volunteers headed for the front to the blare of bugles and tuck of drums, singing "Away You Rio" and vowing to defend the flag."
Unfortunately, neither Miller nor Oates gives any documentation for these statements. So we are left with the possibility that "Rio Grande" could have originated during the time of the Mexican War and may have been sung during the California Gold Rush.
On the other end of things, we know that it made its way to Australia because it was collected from George Pattison in South Australia in 1924.
It seems to have been quite popular in that part of the world later in the 19th century. In a novel from New Zealond, called PAGEANT (1933), by Edith J. Lyttleton, writing under the name of G.B. Lancaster, she has "Back in the steamy smoke a rough voice was singing the catch of a sea chanty: 'So, fare ye well, my bonny young girl, We're bound for the Rio Grande..."
In his book WHITE WINGS VOL. I FIFTY YEAR OF SAIL IN THE NEW ZEALAND TRADE, 1850-1900 (1924), Henry Brett talks about Mr. J.L. Kelly's diary on board "The Algoa Bay" and he has a section on "Picturesque Chanties". On page 275, he mentions "Rio Grande".
Finally, the singing of "Rio Grande" at all kinds of social functions gets mentioned a number of times in newspaper articles from New Zealand and Australia (I think). Here is a list (in the Search box, type in "We're Bound For The Rio Grande"):
The most interesting of these newspaper accounts is this one from the "Tuapeka Times" of July 2, 1887, which actually has a text of the song:
And here is Gibb's technicolor rendition of Hugill's A & B versions: