The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #126347   Message #2827151
Posted By: John Minear
01-Feb-10 - 08:09 AM
Thread Name: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
Subject: RE: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
What sea shanties were in existence in 1853? I am assuming that if they were in existence anywhere in the world, then they *could* just as well have been found in the port of San Francisco in the 1850s. Stan Hugill, in his 1969 book, SHANTIES AND SAILORS' SONGS (page 45), says that,

"In fact the great constructive period of the shanty is now agreed to have been between the 1820s and the 1850s,..."

And, on page 48, he says,

"...before the 1850's neither shanties nor forebitters were mentioned as such in         the nautical literature of the day."

Then he goes on to document the few exceptions which we have been looking at in some detail.

It is safe to assume that a number of shanties did not come into until later in 19th century (1860-1880), and that many of the earlier ones continued to evolve in both content and use throughout that century. It seems to me that it should be relatively possible to sort out these later shanties, and I'm sure that this has been done. We've suggested that "South Australia", in the forms that we know it, comes from the second half of the century.

So, theoretically, that leaves a vast number of earlier shanties for the period from 1800-1860. I'm new at all of this and if you will excuse the irony, I often feel totally at sea. I have a tremendous respect for the reality and significance of "oral traditions". And I have a equal respect for the need to do what I call "historical-critical" research on these traditions and to try to date them when possible. I am also fascinated by how one derives historical information from received oral traditions. So, we sing a song today that we know is "old", coming to us out of almost 200 years of oral tradition. Perhaps it finally got written down by someone in the 1880s and was collected in several versions from around the world in the forty years after that and finally ended up in Hugill's SHANTIES FROM THE SEVEN SEAS. He says it comes from such and such an era, say that of the packet ships. He knows this by oral tradition and by "internal evidence". Because in most cases there does not seem to be any external evidence.

Am I on track here? Is this the correct nature of our situation? Sea shanties are certainly not the only area of historical research where this process is under investigation, and I don't see that this search is unique. I just want to make sure that I am not missing something important.