The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #132198   Message #2995074
Posted By: Matthew Edwards
28-Sep-10 - 06:24 AM
Thread Name: Origins/ADD: The Dolphin
Subject: RE: Origins/ADD: The Dolphin
I agree with Pip that "trying to nail down the details of a traditional ballad to a specific historical event is very often quixotic". To see just how daft this gets you only have to glance at the (re)current thread on Peggy Gordon and 'Ingo' to see how often people still prefer to ignore Malcolm Douglas's rather pained reasonableness and make completely unsubstantiated assertions.

However in the case of the song 'The Dolphin' while there have been many naval ships of that name, some of which may have had a connection to Liverpool and some of which captured privateers or French men of war I have only been able to find one example of a ship meeting all these conditions. This is Their Majesties Ship the Dolphin, frigate, stationed to cruise in Irish waters in the 1690's to protect English shipping from French attacks during the War of the Grand Alliance. Some actions of the Dolphin were reported in the London Gazette at the time, and from 1695 also in other contemporary newspapers. Under her captains Thomas Kercher, and later Thomas Stepney, she took part in several successful actions against French privateers and men of war. On at least one occasion she took her prize into Liverpool; the Post Boy and Historical Account for September 5 1695 reported that;-

"They write from Leverpool, that the Dolphin Frigat hath taken and sent into that port, a French Caper of 8 Guns and 38 Men."

This very minor event may hardly seem worth inspiring a song; and there some are other discrepancies. The song mentions Liverpool dock, but these events predate the construction of the first Liverpool dock in 1715. The song also mentions the 'coast of Africa', but Liverpool's notorious "African" or slave trade didn't start until the early 18th century.There are indeed some early ballads describing actions betweeen Bristol letter of marque ships and Algerine ships off the North African coast in the early to mid seventeenth century, but nothing to confirm any Liverpool involvement.

I can't prove that the song 'The Dolphin' is definitely about the naval frigate the Dolphin of the Irish squadron in 1694/1695; it is quite plausible that the Dolphin's name should be a later interpolation in the ballad composed by Captain Philip Saumarez.

The lines that really do puzzle me in the song are 'we're going to sink and destroy'; this is a very modern sentiment, and entirely out of character with the enlightened self-interest of most ordinary seamen who always wanted to capture the enemy intact so as to share the resulting bounty of prize money.

I'm sorry if anyone finds these efforts "particularly daft"; I think the stories behind the songs are compelling and interesting, even when the songs aren't historically accurate. The songs are windows onto history, though the glass may be a bit obscure.