The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #2169   Message #798030
Posted By: Joe Offer
06-Oct-02 - 09:59 PM
Thread Name: Origins: Admiral Benbow
Subject: ZDTStudy: Admiral Benbow
Hi, Andy - I added crosslinks above to our previous thread, and the two versions we have in the Digital Tradition. Here is the entry from the Traditional Ballad Index. I guess we'll make this thread into a DTStudy and post and correct the Digital Tradition lyrics, too. The "we landed in Virginia" lyrics are in the other thread and I think I'll this thread with that one.
-Joe Offer-

Admiral Benbow (I)

DESCRIPTION: Despite being badly outnumbered, Benbow prepares for battle (against the French), but captains Kirkby and Wade flee the contest. In the fight that follows, Benbow loses his legs, but orders his face to be turned toward the fight even as he dies
AUTHOR: unknown
KEYWORDS: battle sea death abandonment
1702 - Death of Admiral John Benbow in battle in the West Indies
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South))
REFERENCES (7 citations):
CopperSeason, pp. 266-267, "Admiral Benbow" (1 text, 1 tune)
PBB 76, "The Death of Admiral Benbow" (1 text)
Sharp-100E 87, "Admiral Benbow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Chappell/Wooldridge II, pp. 92-93, "Admiral Benbow" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Bertrand Bronson, "Samuel Hall's Family Tree,'" article published in the _California Folklore Quarterly_ (1942); also published in Bertrand Harris Bronson, _The Ballad as Song_ (essays on ballads), University of California Press, 1969, pp. 18-36; republished on pp. 30-47 of Norm Cohen, editor, _All This for a Song_, Southern Folklife Collection, 2009. The article discusses "Sam Hall," "Captain Kidd,,""Admiral Benbow," and related songs, with all or part of 16 texts and 9 tunes
C. H. Firth, _Publications of the Navy Records Society_ , 1907 (available on Google Books), p. 149, "The Death of Admiral Benbow" (1 text)

Roud #227
NOTES: The story outlined here is true in its general details. John Benbow (1653-1702), commanding the British in the West Indies, and was mortally wounded in battle with the French after two of his captains deserted him (the two were later tried and executed for cowardice). The battle took place off Cartagena (the one in Columbia, not the one in Spain; Mahan, p. 207). Benbow became a naval hero, and several later battleships were named for him.
One version of the story is briefly told in Herman, pp. 245-246. Herman argues that Benbow was wrong and his captains right: The British squadron of six ships was not strong enough to fight the French. But Benbow (who lost only his right leg, not both) lived long enough to order the court martial of the rebellious officers. The leader, Richard Kirkby of the Defiant, was executed, as was one of the other captains. This firmly established the principle of obedience to orders no matter how stupid.
Not everyone agrees with Herman's interpretation. Woodman devotes pp. 48-58 to Benbow and his subordinates, and draws a very different picture. Benbow was a very unusual admiral, in that he was a "tarpaulin" officer -- that is, one drawn from the ranks of the sailors, rather than a noble who went straight into the officer class (Woodman, p. 48). He didn't even come up through the naval ranks; he had gone to sea as a merchant sailor, and risen to captain, and then been offered a naval command by James II because he had done an impressive job of beating off a pirate attack (Brumwell/Speck, p. 48).
That background as a merchant sailor and a privateer as well as in the navy, and seems to have developed a very high opinion of his own judgment as a result (Woodman, p. 49). Woodman, p. 49, says that the French fleet under Ducasse had a fleet with a total of 258; Benbow's force he lists as having 456 guns. If true, then Benbow's decision to attack was reasonable.
Bruce/Cogar, p. 40, sum up Benbow's career as follows: "Although Benbow came to be regarded as a hero in popular legend, there remains a doubt about his place in British naval history and whether his high reputation was well deserved."
Clark, p. 317, summarizes the whole incident as follows: "Vice-Admiral John Benbow, with seven English ships, had a good opportunity of attacking a weaker French squadron which remained to operate against English and Dutch commerce. Unfortunately four of his captain failed to join the fight, and it was a failure. Benbow was mortally wounded. Two of the captains were court martialed and shot. There is a still popuar folk-song about this dramatic but unimportant event."
Brumwell/Speck, pp. 48-49, also considers Benbow's squadron superior to the French, and speculates that his officers refused orders because they considered him their social inferior.
Stokesbury, p. 108, also declares the French squadron "weak." He makes the interesting note that Benbow's story did not immediately inspire firm obedience by future captains; in 1708. Admiral Wager could not make his captains fight at Porto Bello.
Most texts of this fit the tune of "Captain Kidd" (and the only one I've seen which doesn't appears to have been fiddled with), though the tune in Chappell isn't quite the standard "Captain Kidd." It is also said to be used for "A Virgin Most Pure." We might note that Kidd went to the scaffold at the time Benbow was fighting his fight with the French.
This is not the only song about Benbow; Firth (who calls this one "The Death of Admiral Benbow") prints another, "Admiral Benbow," on p. 148. That is said to date from at least 1784, though it appears less popular than this (which seems to have first been printed in Halliwell's Early Naval Ballads).
Benbow's reputation as a stickler seems to have been richly deserved; in addition to his conduct in the battle that caused his death, he was tough on people who showed up in the West Indies without leave -- even if they were subjects of the British crown! When the Scottish Darien expedition resulted in disaster, a shipful of colonists fled to the Indies -- and were refused help by Benbow (Thomson, p. 88). - RBW
Bibliography Last updated in version 4.0
File: PBB076

Admiral Benbow (II)

DESCRIPTION: "Oh, we sail'd to Virginia, And from thence to Fial." The fleet sees seven sails. They draw up in line and fight for four hours. Admiral Benbow is wounded by a chain shot and is carried below but says to keep fighting. He is remembered after his death
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1891 (Ashton-Sailor)
KEYWORDS: battle sea death
1702 - Death of Admiral John Benbow in battle in the West Indies
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Ashton-Sailor, #19 insert, "Admiral Benbow" (1 text)
Roud #3141
Bodleian, Harding B 28(261), "Admiral Benbow," W. Armstrong (Liverpool) 1820-1824
NOTES: For background on John Benbow, see the notes to "Admiral Benbow (I)" - RBW
Last updated in version 3.2
File: AshS019i

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Come all ye seamen bold, and draw near
And draw near
Come all ye seamen bold, and draw near
It is of an admiral's fame
O brave Benbow was his name
How he fought all on the main
You shall hear, you shall hear.

Brave Benbow he set sail, for to fight
For to fight
Brave Benbow he set sail, for to fight.
Brave Benbow he set sail,
With a fine and pleasant gale
But his captains they turn'd tail
In a fright, in a fright.

Says Kirby unto Wade, "We will run,
We will run."
Says Kirby unto Wade, "We will run.
For I value no disgrace
Or the losing of my place
But the enemy I won't face
Nor his guns, nor his guns."

Then Ruby and Benbow fought the French
Fought the French,
Then Ruby and Benbow fought the French.
They fought them up and down
'Til the blood came trickling down
'Til the blood came trickling down
Where they lay, where they lay.

Brave Benbow lost his legs by chain shot
By chain shot,
Brave Benbow lost his legs by chain shot.
Brave Benbow lost his legs
And all on his stumps he begs
Fight on, my English lads
'Tis our lot, 'tis our lot.

The surgeon dress'd his wounds, cries Benbow
Cries Benbow,
The surgeon dress'd his wounds, cries Benbow.
"Let a cradle now in haste
On the quarterdeck be placed,
That the enemy I may face
'Til I die, 'til I die.

From English Folk Songs, Sharp
@navy @battle @English
filename[ ADBENBOW

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Come all you seamen bold, landed here, landed here,
It is of an Admiral brave called Benbow by his name,
How he ploughed the raging main
You shall hear, you shall hear.

Last Tuesday morning last, Benbow sailed, Benbow sailed,
What a sweet and pleasant gale when Benbow he set sail
And the enemy they turned tail
In a fright, in a fright.

Great Reuben and Benbow fought the French, fought the French,
See the boats go up and down and the bullets whizzing round
And the enemy they knocked down,
There they lie, there they lie.

Oh, Benbow lost his legs, by chain-slot, by chain-shot,
Down on his stumps did fall and so loud for mercy called,
Oh, fight on my British tars,
It is my lot, it is my lot.

When the doctor dressed the wounds Benbow cried,
Benbow cried,
Oh, pray pick me up in haste to the quarter deck my place
That the enemy I might face
Until I die, until I die.

Last Tuesday morning last, Benbow died, Benbow died,
What a shocking sight to see when they carried him away
They carried him to Se'm's'on church
There he lays, there he lays.

Printed in The Copper Family Songbook - A Living Tradition
Recorded by The Copper Family on Song For Every Season
@sailor @battle @death
filename[ ADBENBW2