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DT Study: The Black Cook


Joe Offer 29 Nov 21 - 06:39 PM
GUEST,Nick Dow 29 Nov 21 - 07:05 PM
RTim 29 Nov 21 - 07:15 PM
Joe Offer 01 Dec 21 - 04:20 AM
GUEST,Don Meixner 01 Dec 21 - 10:51 AM
Dave Hanson 01 Dec 21 - 02:35 PM
Dave Sutherland 01 Dec 21 - 04:48 PM
GUEST,Julia L 01 Dec 21 - 10:27 PM
The Sandman 02 Dec 21 - 03:07 AM
Anglo 02 Dec 21 - 11:19 PM
The Doctor 03 Dec 21 - 05:19 AM
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Subject: DT Study: The Black Cook
From: Joe Offer
Date: 29 Nov 21 - 06:39 PM

This song needs some research:


If you'll listen awhile, I will sing you a ditty
Concerning a doctor who lived in Carrtown,
By seamen so bold he was fairly outwitted
And fifty gold guineas was forced to pay down
These jolly jack tars and their comrades, well grogged,
Their money all spent and their credit far gone;
From Fairport's bright town to the Keys they had wandered
And bound to obtain some money for fun.

The cook of our ship, being one of their number
A bold lad was he, and his color was black,
For wit and for wisdom, hew always was ready
To think of a way to get cash in a crack.
Said he to his comrades," I've heard people say
That a corpse can be sold quite readily here.
Go take me alive, wrap me up in my hammock
And sell me to buy some whiskey and beer,"

The crew being glad to accept of his offer
Away to the house where the doctor did dwell,
And into his ear, most softly did whisper,
"Kind doctor. We have a fine corpse for to sell."
"A corpse!" said the doctor, like one in amazement,
"Oh, where did you get it? Oh, tell me, I pray!
Get it and bring it unto me this evening,
And fifty gold guineas to you I will pay!"

The crew being glad to accept of his offer,
Away to the ship, why, they quickly did steer.
And now pay attention to all that I mention,
And the rest of my story you quickly will here.
They took the black cook, tied him up in his hammock
And he, being a lad both steady and strong,
Under his coat, in the way of protection
Carried a knife with a blade about half a yard long.

That night, after dark, when the streets were deserted
The crew they struck out with the cook on their back;
When they got to the house where the doctor resided,
'Twas in a dark room they concealed the poor black.
And after the doctor had paid them their money
They told him the cook he had died upon sea,
And rather than have his dead body for to bury,
"Why, we've sold him to you, sir, now he's out of the way."

The doctor went up for the tools to dissect him,
And soon he came down with a saw in his hand.
When he got to the room where the corpse was residing
Why Jack, with his cutlass, most boldly did stand.
And there stood the doctor, like one in amazement
He thought the black cook was a very rich prize,
In a voice loud as thunder, Jack boldly beheld him
Crying "Damn your eyes, doctor, I'll skin you alive!"

The doctor was glad to retreat in a hurry
And of his late bargain was soon to repent,
While Jack he went out where his comrades were drinking
And the rest of the night was most pleasantly spent.

recorded Ellen Stekert- Songs of a New York Lumberjack; John
Roberts - Across the Western Ocean
Tune: Var. of Larry O'Gaff
@sailor @death
filename[ BLCKCOOK

Popup Midi Player

Here's the entry from the Traditional Ballad Index:

Black Cook, The

DESCRIPTION: One of three sailors, a black cook, has an idea to "rise cash." They sell his body as a corpse to a doctor. When the doctor goes to dissect the corpse it stands. The doctor runs to his wife, who bars the door and asks him to "leave off dissecting"
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: before 1911 (broadside, Bodleian 2806 c.14(57))
KEYWORDS: trick corpse humorous cook doctor sailor Black(s) money
FOUND IN: Canada(Newf,Ont) Britain(Scotland(Aber)) US(MA,NE)
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Greig/Duncan2 297, "The Black Cook" (1 text)
Peacock, pp. 856-858, "The Black Devil" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fowke-TraditionalSingersAndSongsFromOntario 7, "Three Jolly Jack Tars" (1 text, 1 tune)
Guigné-ForgottenSongsOfTheNewfoundlandOutports, pp. 58-61, "The Black Devil (Three Jolly Jack Tars; The Black Cook)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ives-FolksongsFromMaine 19, "The Black Cook" (1 text, 1 tune)
Byington/Goldstein-TwoPennyBallads, pp. 22-24, "The Black Cook" (1 text, 1 tune)

Roud #2310
Freeman Bennett, "The Black Devil" (on PeacockCDROM) [one verse only]
Richard Pennell, "The Black" (on MUNFLA/Leach)

Bodleian, 2806 c.14(57), "The Black Cook" or "The Doctor Outwitted," James Lindsay (Glasgow), 1851-1910; also Firth b.27(445), "The Doctor Outwitted"; Harding B 26(141), 2806 b.9(12)[many illegible words], "The Docter Outwited by the Black" (sic.)
NLScotland, L.C.178.A.2(078), "The Black Cook, or The Doctor Outwitted," unknown, c. 1870

cf. "Burke's Confession" (subject: sale of dead bodies for anatomical studies)
cf. "The Roon-Moo'ed Spade" (subject: sale of dead bodies for anatomical studies)
cf. "Larry O'Gaff" (tune, per Fowke-TraditionalSingersAndSongsFromOntario)
NOTES [1285 words]: The shortage of cadavers for dissection which gave rise to this song is by no means exaggerated. Adams, p. 6, notes that, as early as 1505, Scottish surgeons were required to learn anatomy -- which meant finding bodies to take apart. The problem was so bad that the great William Harvey had to dissect his own father and sister (Roach, p. 42)! Anatomists need bodies; so do beginning medical students. And few people have been willing to donate their bodies to such causes. The well-to-do were buried, and that was that.
That left two sources of dead bodies: Executed criminals, and paupers. Sapolsky credits Henry VIII with passing a law giving dead bodies of criminals to the doctors. And Jameson, pp. 24-25, notes the various American "Anatomy laws": "Massachusetts in 1784 passed an act providing that the bodies of those killed in duels or executed for killing another should be given to the surgeons to be dissected.... Massachusetts in 1831 passed the first liberal law for the benefit of anatomy in any English-speaking country, giving to the surgeons the bodies of criminals and of State paupers who died without leaving relatives. But the New York law of 1789 had given judges the power to order the dissection of executed criminals as part of their sentence."
According to Roach, p. 40, this was considered an extra punishment to the convicted because of the belief at the time in the literal resurrection of the body -- meaning that a sliced-up body would need a lot more resurrecting!
These measures were inadequate in two ways. First, they did not provide enough bodies (especially since, according to Palmer, p. 66, there were people who thought that the dead bodies of executed criminals had medicinal effects and tried to make off with them, or parts of them). Second, and worse, the cadavers so obtained were not typical.
The bodies of the Henry VIII's criminals were usually healthy, but they had suffered from execution -- and, before death, had suffered the brutal conditions of English prisons, and very likely from torture as well.
The corpses of the poor were intact, but these people had died of starvation, illness, and the general brutality of life. Their deaths were theoretically "natural," but they were usually hastened by their workhouse conditions.
The result was that doctors generally were not in position to examine the bodies of people who died of a healthy old age. Indeed, this remains a problem to this day, according to Sapolsky. It is a genuine problem both for doctors and for medical researchers -- he notes on p. 121 that two artificial diseases (one related to the adrenal glands and one related to the thymus) went into the diagnostic manuals as a result of always performing dissections on poor and sick people. Children with healthy thymus problems was actually treated with radiation, to shrink glands that appeared larger than was expected. In fact the radiation damaged the healthy glands resulting in poorer health for those so treated plus a vast spike in cases of thyroid cancer (Sapolsky, p. 122).
Sapolsky, pp. 117-119, tells of how the desperate need for corpses for dissection gave rise to the occupation of the body snatcher -- people who went out and unearthed (often literally) the bodies of recently-dead people for use by doctors. (This is to be distinguished from "grave robbery," which consists of taking artifacts such as jewels left in the coffin but leaving the body intact; Roach, p. 43).
The first reasonably well-documented case of grave-robbing for anatomical purposes, according to Adams, pp. 9-10, took place in 1678. Adams, p. 8, describes the shortage of bodies as being so severe that, in 1794, a group of doctors circulated a letter in support of body-snatching. Happily, this did not become widely known.
There was also said to be an organized ring for taking dead bodies from Ireland to Scotland in ferries for resurrection purposes. This was discovered when one delivery went uncollected and the bodies were left to rot (Adams, p. 69).
Reportedly London in 1828 had ten full-time body snatchers and hundreds of others who occasionally engaged in the trade (Roach, p. 44). They worked only during the cool season; because of the problem of decay, anatomy lessons were held only during the winter.
This problem was bad enough that a coffin was marketed in 1818 as being safe from being opened by the snatchers. Another solution, according to Adams, p. 47, was a rentable coffin cover made of heavy metal; it could be placed over the grave until the body had decomposed enough to be useless. Others mounted guards on graves, or surrounded them with booby traps (Adams, p. 57). Under the circumstances, it is understandable that some doctors might be willing to work with the body snatchers. Ugly as their profession obviously was, it had the potential to bring good for many other people.
It appears that the sailors in this song are imitating the snatchers.
The fact that the cook was Black may have made his corpse even more desirable. According to Adams, p. 21, anatomists particularly liked unusual specimens such as dwarfs. In eighteenth or nineteenth century England, Blacks were rare enough that they might be considered a peculiar race.
The law was less willing to look the other way. Jameson, p. 24, notes that "New York in 1789 passed a law punishing the disinterment of bodies for purposes of anatomy"; other jurisdictions came to have similar laws.
For some reason, the problem was particularly acute in Scotland. Or, at least, was of greater concern to the citizens. Adams, p. 2, notes riots in 1742, widespread fear in 1752, and a notorious court case in 1753 among other things.
In Edinburgh in the late 1820s, two criminals, Burke and Hare, became famous for acquiring bodies for anatomists by any means necessary. Many broadsides were produced about their crimes and trial; for details, see "Burke's Confession." Although the number of corpses so used was probably relatively small, they gained enough attention that the body snatchers came to be known as "resurrectionists" (HistTodayCompanion, p. 647). Fowke-TraditionalSingersAndSongsFromOntario, p. 165, notes that "to burke" became a verb for committing murder in such a way that a charge could not be proved. Generally it means "to strangle."
The body snatchers became so infamous that folktales began to circulate about them, e.g. "The Corpse in the Cab" (Briggs, volume A.2, p. 48), in which two resurrectionists try to use their victim's body to hold a place for their cab, with regrettable results, and "Resurrection Men" (Briggs, A.2, p. 249), in which a local youth scares off two resurrectionists by appearing to rise from a grave.
We also see them made the subject of literature; Stevenson wrote "The Body Snatcher," and they are also mentioned in Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Edwards, p. 80).
As a result, Britain in 1832 passed the "Anatomy Act," This made the bodies of workhouse inmates and paupers available to the doctors (HistTodayCompanion, pp. 22-23; Roach, p. 41, dates it to 1836). According to Palmer, p. 44, "diggum uppers" continued to work for a decade or so, but the problem began to resolve itself. According to HistTodayCompanion, p. 23, however, the Anatomy Act contributed to the fear of the workhouse which endured into the Twentieth Century, and which so infests many of the works of Dickens.
Incidentally, there are still resurrectionists today. A 2018 article on the Ars Technica web site mentions the conviction of a husband and wife for buying diseased bodies, chopping them up, and selling them to medical students and such who needed to practice their craft and thought they were getting safe body parts. - RBW

  • Adams: Norman Adams, Scottish Bodysnatchers: True Accounts, Goblinshead, 2002
  • Briggs: Katherine Briggs, A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language, Part A: Folk Narratives, 1970 (I use the 1971 Routledge paperback that combines volumes A.1 and A.2)
  • Edwards: Owen Dudley Edwards, Burke & Hare, 1983 (I use the revised 1993 paperback edition by Mercat Press)
  • HistTodayCompanion: Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn, Editors, The History Today Companion to British History, Collins & Brown, 1995
  • Jameson: J. Franklin Jameson, Dictionary of United States History 1492-1895, Puritan Press, 1894
  • Palmer: Roy Palmer, The Folklore of Warwickshire, Rowman and Littlefield, 1976
  • Roach: Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Norton, 2003
  • Sapolsky: Robert M. Sapolsky, The Trouble with Testosterone and Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament, Touchstone Books, 1997
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Subject: RE: DT Study: The Black Cook
From: GUEST,Nick Dow
Date: 29 Nov 21 - 07:05 PM

Take a look at Palmer British Ballads Page 24/25.
No more for now feeling rough at the moment. I'll dig up some more when I'm OK.

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Subject: RE: DT Study: The Black Cook
From: RTim
Date: 29 Nov 21 - 07:15 PM

See here - From John Robert's webpages...Golden Hind,

The Black Cook

Before the advent of our more enlightened attitudes towards medical research, it was impossible for doctors to acquire, by legal means, corpses for dissection, this practice being prohibited by laws emanating from the strictures of the Church. If a doctor needed a corpse, a commodity which, after all, might well be considered essential to his research, then he was forced to go outside the law. In the Midlands of England, the robbing of new graves was commonplace; in a coastal town, the opportunity to obtain a recently deceased, unburied cadaver must have been a well-nigh irresistable temptation to a medical man.

The song itself is a rare one, and as far as we can determine has been collected in the field only four times, though it does appear on an Irish broadside in Cecil Sharp House (the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society). Three of the four oral versions are Canadian, collected by Edith Fowke, Helen Creighton and in Newfoundland by Kenneth Peacock, in whose book ('Songs of the Newfoundland Outports', Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1965) we first came across it. The version presented here is essentially Peacock's, although some of the text has been collated with the Pennsylvania variant collected by Ellen Steckert, and since printed in Goldstein, Kenneth S. and Byington, Robert H. (eds.): 'Two Penny Ballads and Four Dollar Whiskey: A Pennsylvania Folklore Miscellany', Hatboro, Penn.: Folklore Associates, 1966.

A story I'll tell you, it happened last evening,
Of an eminent doctor that lived in Cork town,
By seamen so bold he was fairly outwitted,
And fifty bright guineas he had to lay down.
Three jolly Jack Tars and their messmates, being groggy,
Their money all spent, and their credit far gone,
From Patrick Street to the quayside they rambled,
They was bent to procure it, their money for fun.

Now the cook of the ship, being one of the party,
A smart lad he was and his color was black,
With wit and contrivements he always was ready
And soon found the way to get cash in a crack.
Said he to his messmates: I've heard people talking,
A corpse can be sold very readily here,
So take me alive, wrap me up in your hammock,
And sell me to buy all your whiskey and beer.

The sailors agreed, and accepted the offer,
And away to the house where the doctor did dwell,
And into his ears they boldly did whisper,
Saying: Doctor, we've got a fine corpse here to sell.
A corpse! said the doctor, like a man in amazement,
Oh where did you get it? Come tell me, I pray.
If you'll bring it here I will buy it quite ready
And fifty bright guineas to you I will pay.

Well the sailors agreed, and accepted the offer,
And it's back to the ship, oh, they quickly did steer.
Come listen awhile, and pay great attention,
And the rest of the story you quickly shall hear.
They took the black cook, tied him up in his hammock,
But he being a lad both sturdy and strong,
It's under his waistcoat, by way of protection,
He carried a blade about half a yard long.

It's round about midnight, the streets were deserted,
The sailors set out with the cook on their back,
And into the house, oh, they boldly did enter,
And in the back room they concealed the poor black.
The doctor soon paid the bold seamen their money,
They told him: The cook, he had died on the sea,
And rather than have his dead body to bury
We've sold him to you, sir, now he's out of our way.

Well, the doctor soon went for some knives to dissect him,
And then came downstairs with the tools in his hand,
When he came to the room where the corpse had been lying
The black stood before him with his cutlass in hand.
The doctor cried out, like one in amazement,
A-thinking the corpse was in very rich prime,
With a voice loud as thunder the black he approached him,
Crying: Damn your eyes, doctor, I'll dissect you alive!

Well, the doctor was forced to retreat in a hurry,
And of his late bargain was soon to lament,
And Jack hurried off to where his comrades were drinking,
And the rest of that evening was merrily spent.

© Golden Hind Music

There is also a lot of messages on Mudcat about the song, as well a DT Lyrics page...
And a great version on John's Sea Fever CD.....

Tim Radford (who is Not John's agent...just a good friend!!)

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Subject: RE: DT Study: The Black Cook
From: Joe Offer
Date: 01 Dec 21 - 04:20 AM

Thread #138608   Message #3252247
Posted By: Mysha
07-Nov-11 - 02:22 PM
Thread Name: Review: Damn Your Eyes Doctor (Peter Taylor)
Subject: ADD Version: The Black Cook/Doctor Outwitted


Beside the words the good soldier added above, shows this text (except maybe for some added typo's; please check):

The Black Cook
The Doctor Outwitted

I will tell you a trick, that was played the other night,
Tis concerning a Doctor that dwells in this town,
By a sailor so bold, he was nicely outwitted,
And fifty white shillings he had to pay down.

Some Jolly Jack tars, its they had got groggy,
Their cash it was spent, and their credit was done,
Down through Glasgow, to the Broomielaw they did ramble
Being bent for to raise either money or fun.

The cook of the vessel being one of the party,
He was a smart lad, though his colour was black,
For wit and contrivence he never yet wanted,
He found out a way to rise cash in a crack.

He says my shipmates, I hear people saying,
A corpse could be sold very readily here,
So take me alive, roll me up in my hammock,
And sell me to get either whiskey or beer.

The sailors agreed and accepted his offer,
And off to a shop where a Doctor did dwell,
In the ear of the Doctor, they slowly did whisper,
Kind sir we have got a corpse for to sell.

A corps said the Doctor, like me in amaze,
Tell me now where you have got it I say,
If you bring it safe here, I will buy it quiet ready,
And fifty white shillings to you I will pay.

They rolled up the black, with his hammock about him,
He was a fine fellow, both sturdy and strong,
And into his pocket by way of protection,
They stuck a knife with a blade, that was half a yard long.

Ten o'clock it was struck, and the town it was silent.
The sailors set out with the black on their back,
And into the Doctor they slowly did venture,
Where in a back room they laid down the black.

The doctor he paid the bold seamen their money,
They told him it was their cook, he had died out at sea,
And rather than have his dead body be buried,
We've sold it to you and its out of the way.

The Doctor he went for a knife to dissect him,
And quickly came down with the tools in his hand,
When he entered the room where he left the corps lying,
The black with his gully there ready did stand.

when he entered the room, where he left the corps lying.
He thought that the cook was a very rich prize,
With a voice loud as thunder the black did assail him,
And said d__n my eyes Doctor I'll dissect you alive

O the Doctor was glad to run in a hurry,
And unto his wife the news he did bring,
Saying dear, oh dear, where will you hide me,
For surely the devil is in the back room.

The coast being clear its off the black did start
And along the Broomielaw so quickly he went,
Until he did join with the rest of his party,
And the fifty white shillings they have merely spent.

White shillings being silver shillings, and Broomielaw being Glasgow's port area. This version has less duplicate lines then the version we already have, but it doesn't clear them all as in the line before "rich prize" we see one duplication replaced by another. I doubt this is the original, but combining the two should allow for improving the lyrics.


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Subject: RE: DT Study: The Black Cook
From: GUEST,Don Meixner
Date: 01 Dec 21 - 10:51 AM

John Roberts does a great rendition.


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Subject: RE: DT Study: The Black Cook
From: Dave Hanson
Date: 01 Dec 21 - 02:35 PM

Dave Burland did a great version of this song on his album ' The Dalesmans Litany ' which is also a great song.

Dave H

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Subject: RE: DT Study: The Black Cook
From: Dave Sutherland
Date: 01 Dec 21 - 04:48 PM

Yes - I learned the song from the singing of Martyn Wyndham - Read and made a tape of it for Stefan Sobell. While Dave was staying at Stefan's place in Newcastle he heard the song and recorded it.On the sleeve notes to Dalesman's Litany he reckoned that he hadn't seen a printed version of the song and a few weeks after the LP's release I came across the 4 cent whiskey book as mentioned above.

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Subject: RE: DT Study: The Black Cook
From: GUEST,Julia L
Date: 01 Dec 21 - 10:27 PM

Helen Hartness Flanders recorded Charles Finnemore of Bridgewater Maine singing this on 5/8/1942.
I have included a transcription of it which appears in my new book "Bygone Ballads of Maine- Songs of Ships & Sailors" which is now at the printer, available in 2 weeks. Published by Loomis House- 165 songs with tunes, lyrics and background notes.

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Subject: RE: DT Study: The Black Cook
From: The Sandman
Date: 02 Dec 21 - 03:07 AM

mudcat member "the doctor" used to sing this song, maybe he still does

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Subject: RE: DT Study: The Black Cook
From: Anglo
Date: 02 Dec 21 - 11:19 PM

I would like to point out that the notes above from my Golden Hind Music webpage come, not from my recording of the song on "Sea Fever," but from the notes to the much earlier (1972) "Across The Western Ocean," John Roberts & Tony Barrand. Tony recorded the song as an a cappella solo. Years later, as Tony was no longer singing it (at least, I hadn't heard him do it for a long time), I regularized the tune a bit, added the concertina accompaniment, and recorded it on my album of sea songs. Tony did most of the research for the "Western Ocean" project, and though the album notes are credited to the two of us, I would consider this Tony's work.


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Subject: RE: DT Study: The Black Cook
From: The Doctor
Date: 03 Dec 21 - 05:19 AM

Re above: The Sandman
I still sing The Black Cook, and in fact that's where my handle came from. I learnt it from Dave Burland's Dalesman's Litany, and Martyn W-R told me Dave got it from him. I was singing at Farningham when it all started, and I heard Dave singing it, and learnt it from the LP. Many years later, having been long gone from Kent and moved to Yorkshire, I rang a member of Skinner's Rats to ask about their CDs. I introduced myself to Barrie by saying,'You probably don't remember me, but I used to sing at Farningham in the early 1970s.' There was a slight pause, and he said,'Damn your eyes, doctor, I'll skin you alive.' I related this to my current associates, and that's how it began.

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