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Origins: William Glenn/Captain Glen (Nic Jones)

zydeco joe 30 Mar 10 - 10:44 AM
Steve Gardham 30 Mar 10 - 02:00 PM
Jim Dixon 15 Feb 18 - 11:58 AM
Steve Gardham 15 Feb 18 - 02:44 PM
Brian Peters 15 Feb 18 - 05:13 PM
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Subject: Origins: William Glenn/Captain Glen (Nic Jones)
From: zydeco joe
Date: 30 Mar 10 - 10:44 AM

Anyone know the origins of this song? Nic Jones sometimes called it "Captain Glen" and other times "William Glenn".

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Subject: RE: Origins: William Glenn/Captain Glen (Nic Jones)
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 30 Mar 10 - 02:00 PM

18thc broadside
Captain Glen's Unhappy Voyage to New Barbary. Laws K22 22 stanzas
Was shortened down to 14 stanzas as a 19thc broadside called The New York Trader.

There is another 'Captain Glen' on Scottish broadsides but I strongly suspect the first one is the one Nic would have recorded.

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From: Jim Dixon
Date: 15 Feb 18 - 11:58 AM

From A Pedlar's Pack of Ballads and Songs by W[illiam] H[ugh] Logan (Edinburgh: William Paterson, 1869), page 47:


This "unhappy voyage" has been reprinted from a broadside circa 1815, and collated with a copy bearing date 1794. A copy is among the Roxburghe Ballads, with a conjectured date. There is no reason to believe otherwise than that the story is a mere fiction. At all events, no trace has as yet been found of even the existence of a Captain Glen.

The ballad is illustrative of the superstitions of seamen, whose firm belief in the supernatural is pretty general. The late Mr. O. Smith, the eminent actor, who has never been rivalled in melodramatic ruffians and stage demons, was in his youth in the merchant service. On one occasion, some years ago, he related in my presence this story. When the vessel to which he belonged was lying off the coast of Africa, the mate went ashore to remain all night. Mr. Smith took possession of this man's cot, it being more comfortable than his own, and as the bright moonlight streamed down through the hatchway he felt little inclination to sleep. By and by a figure appeared between him and the light. He averred that he then distinctly saw at the hatchway what he supposed to be the mate returned. This gave him no concern, for the mate was a person he was in the habit of constantly seeing, so he turned on his side and fell asleep. Next morning news arrived that at the particular time the appearance or apparition had been seen by him, the mate had been murdered by the natives. Mr. Smith was seriously under the impression that he had seen the tenant of another world; and, like Sir Walter Scott, his belief in ghosts remained unshaken to the last.

The superstition of the elements being quieted by the captain being pitched overboard, is older than the days of Jonah.

It were needless here to particularize all the "authenticated" accounts of the appearance of apparitions to living persons. Those who are curious in such matters, are referred to Hogg's Wonderful Magazine, 5 vols. 8vo., 1793-4, and to the "Terrific Register," 2 vols. 8vo., 1824.


There was a ship, and a ship of fame,
Launched off the stocks, bound to the main,
With an hundred and fifty brisk young men,
Well picked and chosen every one.

William Glen was our captain's name;
He was a brisk and tall young man,
As bold a sailor as e'er went to sea,
And he was bound for New Barbary.

The first of April we did set sail,
Blest with a sweet and pleasant gale,
For we were bound for New Barbary,
With all our whole ship's company.*

One night the captain he did dream,
There came a voice which said to him:
"Prepare you and your company,
To-morrow night you 'll lodge with me."

This waked the captain in a fright,
Being the third watch of the night,
Then for his boatswain he did call,
And told to him his secrets all.

"When I in England did remain,
The holy Sabbath I did profane;
In drunkenness I took delight,
Which doth my trembling soul affright.

"There's one thing more I've to rehearse,
Which I shall mention in this verse:
A squire I slew in Staffordshire,
All for the sake of a lady dear.

"Now, 'tis his ghost, I am afraid,
That hath to me such terror made;
Although the king hath pardoned me,
He's daily in my company."

"O worthy captain, since 'tis so,
No mortal of it e'er shall know;
So keep your secret in your breast,
And pray to God to give you rest."

They had not sailed a league but three,
Till raging grew the roaring sea;
There rose a tempest in the skies,
Which filled our hearts with great surprise.

Our main-mast sprung by break of day,
Which made our rigging all give way;
This did our seamen sore affright.
The terrors of that fatal night!

Up then spoke our fore-mast man,
As he did by the fore-mast stand,—
He cried, "Have mercy on my soul!"
Then to the bottom he did fall.

The sea did wash both fore and aft,
Till scarce one sail on board was left;
Our yards were split, and our rigging tore:
The like was never seen before.

The boatswain then he did declare
The captain was a murderer,
Which did enrage the whole ship's crew;
Our captain overboard we threw.

Our treacherous captain being gone,
Immediately there was a calm;
The winds did cease, and the raging sea,
As we went to New Barbary.

Now when we came to the Spanish shore,
Our goodly ship for to repair,
The people were amazed to see
Our dismal case and misery.

But when our ship we did repair,
To fair England our course did steer;
And when we came to London town,
Our dismal case was then made known.

Now many wives their husbands lost,
Which they lamented to their cost,
And caused them to weep bitterly,
These tidings from New Barbary.

A hundred and fifty brisk young men,
Did to our goodly ship belong;
Of all our whole ship's company,
Our number was but seventy-three.

Now seamen all, where'er you be,
I pray a warning take by me;
As you love your life, still have a care
That you never sail with a murderer.

'Tis never more I do intend
For to cross o'er the raging main;
But I'll live in peace in my own country,—
And so I end my Tragedy.

* In the edition of 1794 this stanza occurs here:

We had not sailed a day but two,
Till all our whole ship's jovial crew,
They all fell sick but sixty-three,
As we went to New Barbary.

The music of this ballad will be found in the appendix to Motherwell's Minstrelsy, where this stanza only is quoted, with the difference of "league" in the first line for "day." "This common stall ballad," he remarks, "is generally sung to the tune now given." Glasgow, 1827. 4to.

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Subject: RE: Origins: William Glenn/Captain Glen (Nic Jones)
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 15 Feb 18 - 02:44 PM

Such ballads are usually known as 'Jonah' ballads for obvious reasons. Arguable the best-known is 'The Demon Lover' but there are plenty of others 'Cruel Ship's Carpenter' etc.

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Subject: RE: Origins: William Glenn/Captain Glen (Nic Jones)
From: Brian Peters
Date: 15 Feb 18 - 05:13 PM

For more Jonah ballads see 'Sir William Gower' (alternative version of the same song), 'The Cruel Ship's Carpenter' (Roud 15), 'Dreadful Ghost' (Roud 568). The Captain Glen text above looks a lot like Nic's version, given an edit or two.

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