The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #126347   Message #2826380
Posted By: John Minear
31-Jan-10 - 10:31 AM
Thread Name: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
Subject: RE: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
I now want to turn to the last of the four cotton-screwing "chants" that Nordoff probably heard in Mobile, Alabama, sometime between 1845 and 1853. It is "Highland Laddie". You will find it on page 42 of his book THE MERCHANT VESSEL (1856):,+Bonnie+Laddie+Charles+Nordhoff,+The+Merchant+V

I know that this shanty probably comes from or is based on an old Scottish song and tune of the same name. That is beyond my area of knowledge and concern. Check this thread for more information on that:


I am interested in its use as a shanty in the first half of the 19th century. I am also aware that there is a variant called "Donkey Riding".   The song that Nordhoff quotes seems to be the basic shanty itself, but in his case it is being used to stow/screw cotton.

I might as well go ahead and mention Erskine again in this context since he also presents a version of "Highland Laddie" in his book TWENTY YEARS BEFORE THE MAST (1896 - was he trying to outdo Dana?), page 297. Again, I am estimating that this event, which supposedly happened in New Orleans, took place in the fall of 1845.,+Bonny+Laddie,Highland+Laddie&cd=1#v=onepage&q=

Erskine also presents "Highland Laddie" in the context of screwing cotton. In a book entitled A VOYAGE ROUND THE WORLD; INCLUDING AN EMBASSY TO MUSCAT AND SIAM IN 1835, 1836, AND 1837, published in 1838, a W.S.W. Ruschenberger, M.D. mentions "Highland Laddie" as a sea shanty:,Highland+Laddie&lr=&cd=200#v=onepage&q=&f=false

Dr. Ruschenberger's voyage was aboard the "U.S. Ship Peacock, commanded by C.K. Stribling, Esq." (from opening page called "Advertisement"). On Tuesday, the 22nd of September, 1835, "on the island Mazzeira, which, according to the charts, lies about ten miles from the coast of Happy Arabia..." (p.56) (the ship had run aground and the crew was lightening the load trying to get her free), Dr. R. says "When she moved more easily, those at the capstan sang, to the tune of "The Highland Laddie,"

        "I wish I were in New York town,
        Bonny Laddie, Highland Laddie," &c." (p. 59)

It is interesting that the initial phrase is turned around and made a statement rather than the more familiar question of "Were you ever in...."

I've not come across any other earlier references prior to 1853 so far. To sum up this early material, we have the following:

   Dr. Ruschenberger in September of 1835
   Charles Erskine in 1845, maybe
   Charles Nordhoff sometime between 1845 and 1853.

This shanty is found in SAILORS SONGS OR 'CHANTIES'" (188?) Frederick J. Davis R. N. R. , with music by Ferris Tozer. (I don't have access to this). It is in Colcord (first pub. 1924) and in Doerflinger (1951), who has it from Captain James P. Barker, who went to sea in 1889. These three sources seem to indicate that it was known in the latter part of the 19th century. Hugill has two versions, one of which is from Bosun Chenoworth, a Dundee whaler, and the other one from the timber droghers, but with no mention of a specific source. He also has a version of "Donkey Riding" but with no source.

I find it interesting that "Highland Laddie" does *not* appear in so many of the standard collections, and for being such a "popular" shanty, there's not a lot of written notice of it in the 19th century.   Did it fall out of favor, or did "Donkey Riding" replace it, or was it always there in the oral tradition?" Speaking of which, here is Gibb Sahib's rendition:

I think that "Highland Laddie" is a good candidate for a shanty that *could* have been sung of board the "Julia Ann" on her voyages from San Francisco to Sydney in 1853-1855.