The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #126347   Message #2825936
Posted By: John Minear
30-Jan-10 - 06:55 PM
Thread Name: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
Subject: RE: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
I'm looking for sea shanties that *could* have been historically sung on board the bark "Julia Ann" on her three and a half voyages from San Francisco to Sydney between 1853 and 1855. I'm especially interested in shanties that have some historical documentation for the period prior to 1853. And I am willing to consider ones mentioned for ten years or so after 1855, especially if they refer back to an earlier period.

Such is the case for Charles Nordhoff and his book THE MERCHANT VESSEL, published in 1856 (for some reason I said 1857 above). I was not able to figure the exact dates for his voyages, but they took place sometime prior to 1856, which gives them overlap with the timeframe for the "Julia Ann". Gibb Sahib, in this post to another thread says that it was sometime between 1845 and 1853 when Nordhoff was at sea. This would be a perfect timeframe to coincide with that of the "Julia Ann".


In his book, Nordhoff discusses being in Mobile and gives us four "chants" that were used for "screwing cotton". We've already looked at "Stormalong" and "Yankee Dollar". Now I want to look at "Fire Maringo", which is his third "chant". You will find it here on page 42:,+fire+away%22&cd=2#v=onepage&q=%22Fire%20maringo%2C%20f

I think that there are two earlier references to this shanty. There is a book by Charles Erskine entitled TWENTY YEARS BEFORE THE MAST - WITH THE MORE THRILLING SCENES AND INCIDENTS WHILE CIRCUMNAVIGATING THE GLOBE UNDER THE COMMAND OF THE LATE ADMIRAL CHARLES WILKES 1838-1842. This book was not published until 1896, but it would seem to record events that happened much earlier. Erskine is in New Orleans on board the ship "Charles Carol". I think that this was sometime in September of 1845 (scroll back up several pages until you come to Erskine's departure from New York and there you will find a date - I realize there is a discrepancy between the title and this date). He gives two cotton-screwing songs: "Bonnie Laddie" and "Fire Maringo". The overlap with Nordhoff is interesting.

What is even more interesting is that his words are exactly the same as Nordhoff's, except that Erskine has one additional verse at the very end:

        In New Orleans they say,
        Fire, maringo, fire away,
        That General Jackson's gained the day,
        Fire, maringo, fire away!

This would seem to be a reference to Andy Jackson's victory at the "Battle of New Orleans" in the war of 1812, which doesn't necessarily mean that the shanty goes back to that period. By the way, Erskine's words for "Highland Laddie" are not the same as those found in Nordhoff.

And here is another early reference, that can be dated as December 31,1838. Phillip Henry Gosse, in his LETTERS FROM ALABAMA (1859), also mentions the cotton-screwing shanty, "Fire the ringo" (page 305-306, at the very end of his book):,&lr=&cd=1#v=onepage&q=%22I%20thin

This is a different version from both Nordhoff and Erskine. He does mention the verse that Erskine has above although he reverses the lines:

        "Gin'ral Jackson gain'd the day;
        Fire the ringo, &c.
        At New Orleans he won the day;
        Fire the ringo, fire away!"

Here is some excellent discussion of Gosse by Gibb Sahib in another thread:


And here is reference to an article on Gosse:

I have been going back in history with these sources. Here is how I see them.
        1. Gosse, December 31, 1838 off of the "low shore of Mobile Point"
        2. Erskine, September, 1845 in New Orleans
        3. Nordhoff, between 1845 and 1853 in Mobile

None of these sources offer us a tune. The tune heard today is quite good, but of recent composition. But I think it is obvious that all three of these sources are talking about the same song. And they all predate the voyages of the "Julia Ann". I realize that "Fire the Ringo/Fire Maringo" is not presented as a deep sea shanty in any of these sources, but as a cotton-screwing shanty. But we know that other cotton-screwing shanties went to sea, so why not this one?

Has anybody found a reference to this song after Nordhoff? Unless we could find some evidence that this song "went to sea", I'm not sure what relevance a "cotton-screwing" song would have on a voyage from San Francisco to Sydney. However, it is a song used at a capstan, if I understand the business of cotton-screwing at all, so theoretically it could have been used at sea.