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Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey


Related threads:
Lyr Req: A Poor Old Man Was Crossing the Road (14)
Tune Req: Poor Old Horse (Mummer's Song) (15)
Lyr Req: The Place Where the Old Horse Died (9)
Lyr Req: Old Horse (from M Carthy/Brass Monkey) (4)
Lyr Req: My Old Saddle Horse Is Missing (9)
Lyr Req: The Dead Horse (33)
Lyr Req: Poor Old Man (4)

EBarnacle1 19 Dec 02 - 12:00 AM
Dave Bryant 19 Dec 02 - 06:45 AM
MMario 19 Dec 02 - 08:29 AM
Dead Horse 19 Dec 02 - 09:34 AM
Gibb Sahib 06 Sep 09 - 02:37 PM
Charley Noble 06 Sep 09 - 04:25 PM
EBarnacle 07 Sep 09 - 11:57 AM
Gibb Sahib 07 Sep 09 - 12:29 PM
Dead Horse 07 Sep 09 - 03:26 PM
ClaireBear 07 Sep 09 - 04:11 PM
ThreeSheds 07 Sep 09 - 04:14 PM
EBarnacle 07 Sep 09 - 08:05 PM
Barry Finn 07 Sep 09 - 09:01 PM
Gibb Sahib 07 Sep 09 - 10:53 PM
mikesamwild 15 Aug 10 - 02:57 PM
MGM·Lion 16 Aug 10 - 07:15 AM
mikesamwild 16 Aug 10 - 11:26 AM
MGM·Lion 16 Aug 10 - 11:49 AM
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Subject: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: EBarnacle1
Date: 19 Dec 02 - 12:00 AM

I was reading "Ten Shanties [sic] Sung of the Australian Run, 1879" collected and Sung by George H. Haswell, reissued 1992 by the Antipodes Press. These were collected on a run from London to Sydney. The cited version of The Dead Horse is the most complete description I have ever run across. It is included with its relevant comments.

"On Thursday, October 2nd, lat, 7.32N., long. 25.20W., Mr. Richard Tangye, the well-known judge and buyer of blood stock attended the "Parramatta" sale, and purchased the animal which was too celebrated to need mention by name. At about 8 o'clock a vast multitude of those interested in the turf were assembled on the poop anxiously waiting to catch a glimpse of the noble animal as he emerged from his stable in the fore part of the ship. His jockey having mounted mi, proceeded to the main deck amidst a crowd of the ship's crew, singing as they did a song which would have deterred anybody with less spirit than Mr. Tangye from bidding. It appeared that the horse was a victim to fate, and that his dirge was being sung.

The Dead Horse

1:    Oh, now poor horse your time is come,
       And we say so. for we know so.
       Oh, many a race I know you've run.
       Poor Old Man.

2:    I have come a long, long way.
       To be sold upon this day.

3:    I have made Fordham's heart to jump with joy.
       For many a long time he tried a Derby to win.

4:    But I was the moke to carry him in.
       So I hope I shall fetch plenty of tin.

5:    Oh, gentlemen, walk up and speculate.
       If I go cheap my heart will break.

6:    So now, Mr. Auctioneer, you can begin.

Put up therefore he was, before the poop the auctioneer introducing him to the public by narrating his past and properous career, and quickly inducing them to make spirited bids. the bidding commenced at 5s., and speedily ran up to L6-10s., each Person being answerable for the amount of his or her bid. The horse and jockey being knocked down, the crew sang the following requiem, the melody being the same as that given above, to the dirge:

The Requiem

1:    Now, old horse, your time is come.
       Altho' many a race you have won.

2:    You're going now to say good-by,
       Poor old horse you're going to die.

The procession moving forward, the horse and jockey were attached to a rope and hauled up to the main yardard, and were then, amid plenty of blue fire (stay, the jockey, who happened to be alive, was spared) committted to the deep. the crew then sang:

Now he is dead and will die no more.
I makes his ribs feel very sore.

He is gone and will go no more.
So good-bye, Old Horse.
We say good-bye!

...The horse's body is made out of a barrel, and his extremities of hay or straw, covered with canvas. The mand and tail of hemp, or still better of manilla. The eyes consist of two gingerbeer bottles, which are sometimes filled with phosphorus. when the horse is completed he is lashed to a box, which is ccovered by a rug and then drawn along, in Egyptan fashion, on a grating."

This is the most complete example I have found of the entire process, as well as the earliest I have seen. One comment I have is the use of the word "moke" above, simply meaning person.

In his comments about Reuben Ranzo, the author states ""Ranzo" is suspiciously like a "crib" from a well-known old sea song concerning a certain "Lorenzo," who also "was no sailor."" Has there been any discussion about the origins of Reuben Ranzo?

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: Dave Bryant
Date: 19 Dec 02 - 06:45 AM

"Moke" usually mean donkey. The Cockney Rhyming Slang is "Jerusalem" (see Albert Chevalier's song "Jerusalem's Dead") from Jerusalem Artichoke - Moke.

I never heard of an auction at a "Dead Horse" celebration - after all the reason for it was to celebrate the fact that members of the crew had finished working off their advances and were now being paid for real.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: MMario
Date: 19 Dec 02 - 08:29 AM

Ebarnacle - I don't recall ever seeing a discussion of Reuben Ranzo here at the forum - but in his notes on the song Doerflinger says it is pretty evident that "Ranzo" is derived from "Lorenzo" - but doesn't discuss the previous song.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: Dead Horse
Date: 19 Dec 02 - 09:34 AM

I have never heard any of those verses, or an auctioneering theme.
Very interesting.
Hugill gives the title & date of the best description of *Paying off the dead horse* as "Reminiscenses Of Travel In Australia, America and Egypt, by R Tangye" (London 1884) He also says this shanty was very popular on immigrant ships, where the crew would put on quite a show for the passengers.
As far as I know, Rueben Ranzo (as opposed to half a dozen others of the Ranzo group) was normally sung on whaling vessels, and not those on the Australian run.

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Subject: Origins: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 06 Sep 09 - 02:37 PM


Adding some more notes here about this well-known chantey. I was recently looking into some references about its origins, and here's some stuff I came up with. No doubt some redundancies with info in other, ~scattered~ Mudcat threads, but the effort is to bring the historical references together a bit. I don't give the full info on all references (which I'd have to dig up), but that's usually since they aren't all that significant. So...

AKA, "Poor Old Man," this chantey is well represented in early literature, no doubt because of the colorful "ceremony" that it was used to accompany. Indeed, some interpreters nowadays (e.g. Mystic Seaport Chanteymen) class this song as a "ceremonial chantey." And Hugill supposed it became used as a regular halyard chantey only after the "dead horse ceremony" had died out. However, after reviewing the literature, I am not convinced of this categorization/interpretation. As "Poor Old Man"—the chorus found in nearly all documented versions—it was often a halyard chantey for actual use, in which case the verses would most likely not include the special emphases on the "dead horse." Notably, Hugill's version is one of few that gives as a possible chorus, "Poor Old HORSE." Naturally, that would wrap up the desired picture of the "ceremonial chantey" in a tidy fashion.

The original (pre-chantey) emphasis of the verses were concerned with the poor old ~man~. In fact, the core few verses first turn up in minstrel song compositions.
A version of the famous song "Clare de Kitchen," 1832 contains the following lines:

I went to de creek, I cou'dn't get a cross,
I'd nobody wid me but an old blind horse;
But old Jim Crow came riding by,
Says he, old fellow your horse will die.
Its Clare de kitchen old folks, young folks,…
(appears in Lhamon 2003)

Incidentally, while Colcord and Doerflinger made this connection, Hugill wrote "I fail to see any connection"; he must have been looking the "wrong" versions of the song, since the connection is plain.

These lines float into other songs associated with African-American traditions. "Charleston Gals," as it appears in Allen's milestone SLAVE SONGS OF THE UNITED STATES (1867), contains these lines:

As I walked down the new-cut road,
I met the tap and then the toad;
The toad commenced to whistle and sing,
And the possum cut the pigeon wing.
Along come an old man riding by:
Old man, if you don't mind, your horse will die;
If he dies I'll tan his skin,
And if he lives I'll ride him agin.
Hi ho, for Charleston gals!...

In Talley's NEGRO FOLK RHYMES (1922), these verses turn up in the song labeled "He is My Horse":

One day as I wus a-ridin' by,
Said dey: "Ole man, yo' hoss will die"—
"If he dies, he is my loss;
An' if he lives he is my hoss."

Nex' day w'en I come a-ridin' by,
Dey said: "Ole man, yo' hoss may die."—
"If he dies, I'll tan 'is skin;
An' if he lives. I'll ride 'im ag'in."

I even find a reference (Wells 1920) that quotes these lines as a "lullaby." They turn up in many casual literary references, where the common emphasis is the happy-go-lucky or indifferent sentiment of the "old man"—of course, this happy-go-lucky character (who couldn't care less if his horse died or not) is one of the comedic "Negro character types" of minstrelsy—though it also turns out to be a kind of sentiment found in songs sung by sailors.

Having adopted these floating lines, the chantey builds along the theme of a very different type of "dead horse." (cf. the chantey "Fire Down Below," which uses the idea of "fire" in many different literal and metaphorical ways in the same piece.) This was in reference to the phrase, "working off a dead horse," which described the fact that for the first month of a voyage, sailors were essentially working off money they had already spent – the advance pay they had spent on gear before the voyage, more than likely boozed away.

The ceremony marked the end of that month, to celebrate the fact that from then on the sailors would actually be earning something. It involved constructing an effigy of a horse. Bullen (1914) said it was just a bundle of combustibles, while some others describe it as a more accurate likeness to a horse, made perhaps of a barrel, bits of old rope, and straw. It was paraded up and down the deck, before being hoisted up to the main or fore yardarm, to the rhythm of this chantey. (Harlow said it might also be dropped in the sea from the cathead.) At the conclusion of the song, a sailor up on the yard would cut the rope and let the horse drop into the sea. Ex-sailor Bullen said that it was set afire, and that its fall was done to the "deafening accompaniment of piercing yells and shouts," while Cecil Sharp (1914) claimed the horse was dropped in silence. Doerflinger (1951) claimed that the ceremony was done with more formality aboard British ships, and that by 1890 it had died out. Colcord (1924) said she never heard of it aboard American ships, but Harlow's description and other references contradict that.

I find the first reference to this chantey in Camden's 1869 THE BOYS OF AXLEFORD as a pumping chantey, followed by a description in CHAMBERS'S JOURNAL, 1879. Tangye's 1883 account of a voyage from Australia gives a detailed description of the ceremony.   The first big chantey collection, Davis & Tozer (1886) has it. Then: Jeynkins (1892), Richards (1897), and Boston Seaman's Friend Society (1900). In 1906 it is given as a halyard chantey in both the Journal of the American Folk Lore Society (Hutchinson) and in Masefield's SEA SONGS—as "Poor Old Joe." The ex-seamen Whall (1910), Lubbock (1915), and Robinson (1917) mention it next, besides Bullen and Sharp (1914). RR Terry (1921) said it was for hauling and pumping. Frothingham (1924), Shay (1927), Bone (1931), and even Sandburg, in THE AMERICAN SONG-BAG (1927) have it. Colcord (1924) had it for halyards and sometimes capstan even! Most instructive are Harlow's observations, from sailing in the 1870s. He actually gave "Poor Old Joe" (halyards or hand over hand), along with "Poor Old Man" with a slightly different melody…AND "The Dead Horse," i.e. 3 diff. chanteys!

We are lucky to have the clear recording of Capt. Leighton Robinson, an old shellback who gives a stately version of "The Dead Horse." Some more recent versions tend to be more up-tempo and rhythmic, as the Mystic Seaport Chanteymen's version. Note that a facsimile of the hoisting of the dead horse has long been a part of Mystic Seaport's program. As interpreted by staff member Don Sineti, it is a favorite with (and geared towards) children visitors. A video of that can be seen at this link:


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: Charley Noble
Date: 06 Sep 09 - 04:25 PM


Nicely summarized.

Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: EBarnacle
Date: 07 Sep 09 - 11:57 AM

Good summary. Although you do not say it explicitly, it is well known that there was a common migration between field songs, vaudeville/music hall and chanteys.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 07 Sep 09 - 12:29 PM

Thanks for reading, guys.

As EBarnacle points out, that flow between genres is well known -- I've almost come to expect to find a line from a chantey, more often than not, in one of the other genres. What I think is interesting (though still maybe not surprising) in this case is how the line about the "dead horse" is brought into an entirely different context with a different meaning.

Also I think it's interesting (though I've not proved it by any means) to consider that this chantey was just as much a regular working chantey as it was something for the ceremony. Also that the "first" reference has it as a pumping chantey was surprising to me.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: Dead Horse
Date: 07 Sep 09 - 03:26 PM

There is an assortment of folk plays with the theme of "The old horse" or "hoss" and some of the verses of
song & spoken dialogue are very similar to the oft heard words to this shanty.
See here
and here

Although these particular sites make no claim to ancient authenticity, they do use words & phrases handed down through generations.
There is also, of course, the ceremony of broaching the first cask of "salt beef" which uses the same theme,
the crew being suspicious as to the origin of said "beef", liking it to horse meat.
By the stars, I'd give me eye teeth to 'ave bin an ancient mariner (not)!

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: ClaireBear
Date: 07 Sep 09 - 04:11 PM

That reminds me: Charley, are you ever going to update the C. Fox Smith "Poor Old Ship/Regent's Canal Dock" page with that information I gave you on the Derbyshire "Poor Old Horse" song to whose tune her poem can be sung (not the forebitter, as the page now says)?

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: ThreeSheds
Date: 07 Sep 09 - 04:14 PM

I misread the title as Dead Horse Chutney

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: EBarnacle
Date: 07 Sep 09 - 08:05 PM

I misbedoubt that that would taste very good, especially in areas with no means of preservation.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: Barry Finn
Date: 07 Sep 09 - 09:01 PM

Poor Old Man theme is also found in the BWI's. It's used as a rowing song, ring games & elsewhere. Abrahams collected (see "Deep the Water, Shallow The Shore") it as "Johhny Come Down With A Hilo" (first shanty in the book) but the 4 lines ends off with the fourth line always with the same melody as heard in the Dead Horse verisons, "poor old man" (as well as the 3rd line always being very close to "Johnny Come Down To Hilo"), so one migth even say it's 2 line verse with a 2 line chorus. Abrahams only has one 4 line, I'm no longer sure if he has more verses on the field tapes (I'll have to one day pull them out from where ever they're hiding) or not but I do know that I've added a good few. I do remember that what Abrahams has was at least repeated a good few times.

The poor old man he sick in bed,
He want somebody to 'noint his head
Oh, Johny come down with a hilo,
Poor old man


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 07 Sep 09 - 10:53 PM

Good one, Barry! I'd forgot about that similar musical phrase.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: mikesamwild
Date: 15 Aug 10 - 02:57 PM

Am I flogging a dead horse or can anyone let us know about horse killing ceremonies in other cultures. I know our local Owd Oss and Owd Tup traditions . And have heard of a the Grey Mare in Wales.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 16 Aug 10 - 07:15 AM

A somewhat drifty sidenote, to show the phrase not entirely dead: when my late wife & I moved to this village 33 years ago, our originally cockney next-door neighbour {whom I saw recently and who is still alive in her 70s} mentioned in conversation with my wife that someone she knew had recently started a new job, for which she had received some advance payment; so that, she said "she is just working dead-horse at the moment".

Drifting even further, re another song: the same neighbour would always refer to buying second-hand clothes at a charity shop as "going to rag-fair".


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: mikesamwild
Date: 16 Aug 10 - 11:26 AM

My dad in Manchester used to work as a steel erector and paying off the 'sub' or advance, which was common in the building trade, was also called that. He had been in the Royal Navy from being a lad.

He also said shanties were not sung in his experience in the RN.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Dead Horse Chantey
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 16 Aug 10 - 11:49 AM

No, indeed; from C19, when it caught on in the merchant service, whaling fleets, &c, shanty singing, according to all authorities I have read, was forbidden in the Royal Navy, the necessary work rhythms being provided by drum and fife, or perhaps fiddle, rather than by a solo singer; and the hauling crew were encouraged to use their breath for the task rather than for singing. Probably poor psychology, as the act of singing as one works is generally regarded as an encouragement to effort; but it was probably felt by Their Lordships Of The Admiralty that a singing crew would not redound to the credit of Naval smartness.


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