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Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)


Related threads:
Tune Req: Cruel Ship's Captain, music? (14)
Lyr Req: Cruel Sea Captain? / Cruel Ship's Captain (5) (closed)

In Mudcat MIDIs:
Captain James (from Songs the Whalemen Sang, Huntington)
The Cruel Ship's Captain (lyrics embedded)

GUEST 27 Feb 15 - 09:45 AM
Dave Hunt 15 Aug 13 - 07:48 PM
Jim Carroll 15 Aug 13 - 11:48 AM
GUEST,dave askins 15 Aug 13 - 11:39 AM
Jim Dixon 02 Dec 08 - 12:09 PM
EBarnacle 02 Dec 08 - 11:41 AM
Jim Dixon 02 Dec 08 - 11:23 AM
Malcolm Douglas 28 Jan 05 - 07:27 PM
Barb'ry 28 Jan 05 - 06:58 PM
GUEST,Vic at work 28 Jan 05 - 06:49 AM
Joe Offer 28 Jan 05 - 03:49 AM
Lighter 27 Jan 05 - 11:49 PM
Malcolm Douglas 27 Jan 05 - 10:10 PM
Lighter 27 Jan 05 - 09:56 PM
Joe Offer 27 Jan 05 - 09:14 PM
Lighter 27 Jan 05 - 09:06 PM
beetle cat 27 Jan 05 - 08:49 PM
beetle cat 27 Jan 05 - 07:27 PM
Mary Humphreys 27 Jan 05 - 07:22 PM
GUEST,Ralphie 27 Jan 05 - 06:44 PM
Joe Offer 27 Jan 05 - 06:12 PM
Barb'ry 27 Jan 05 - 05:59 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 27 Jan 05 - 05:39 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 27 Jan 05 - 05:37 PM
Joe Offer 27 Jan 05 - 05:28 PM
beetle cat 27 Jan 05 - 05:15 PM
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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
Date: 27 Feb 15 - 09:45 AM

Sorry I've just re-visited this thread, but yes Jim Carroll, it's me "The"Dave Askins from Middleton, and I'd love to hear from you, wherever you are. I'll tell you where I am when I hear from you at

Funny old world.

Dave A.

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: Dave Hunt
Date: 15 Aug 13 - 07:48 PM

A gasket is the rope that one wraps around a furled sail to hold it to the yard - on board sailing vessels often tarred to waterproof them

In sailing, gaskets are lengths of rope or fabric used to hold a stowed sail in place. In modern use, the term is usually restricted to square-rigged ships, the equivalent items on yachts being referred to by the more prosaic "sail ties".

On most ships, gaskets are made of rope. They are attached to the top of the yard and, left loose, would hang behind the sail. Gaskets should never be left dangling, however, so when the sail is set they are brought around underneath the yard and up the back of it and then tied to the jackstay (metal rod) where they originated. When the sail is to be stowed it is first folded and bagged neatly within itself, pulled onto the top of the yard, and then the gaskets are brought round over it and secured to the jackstay to hold it in place. Gaskets should be tied with a slippery hitch to enable them to be let off quickly, though if the yard is large there may only be enough rope to form a clove hitch when the gasket is brought round it

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Aug 13 - 11:48 AM

"THE" Dave Askins from Middleton?
Jim Carroll

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: GUEST,dave askins
Date: 15 Aug 13 - 11:39 AM

The weapon used to kill the apprentice is given variously as "iron bar", "iron gasket", and "tarry rope". The version I heard sung by Harry Boardman in Manchester UK around 1960 said "tarry gasket". What was a tarry gasket ?

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 02 Dec 08 - 12:09 PM

Several sources on the Internet make reference to broadsides held at the Massachusetts Historical Society library, titled


There are 3 versions, by 3 different printers, all printed in Boston in 1799 or 1800. All are described as starting "Come all you noble bold commanders" and consisting of 23 stanzas.

I notice that the above text, allegedly from southern Michigan, would be 23 stanzas if every couplet were counted as a separate stanza.

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: EBarnacle
Date: 02 Dec 08 - 11:41 AM

Garling spykk is pretty clearly a corruption of marling spike, commonly pronounced as marlin spike. I double checked in Steel's Elements of Mastmaking, Sailmaking and Rigging, 1797, and found no reference to a garling spykk. Marling is the process of making use of marling [marline] or cordage involved in knotting and splicing.

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Subject: Lyr Add: THE CABIN BOY (Southern Michigan)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 02 Dec 08 - 11:23 AM

From Ballads and Songs of Southern Michigan by Emelyn Elizabeth Gardner.


1. Come all you noble bold commanders who the raging ocean use,
By my fate I pray take warning your poor sailors don't abuse;
Richard Peva was my servant, and a spritely lad was he;
His parents did a prentice bind him for to cross the raging sea.
'Twas on a voyage to Carolina and as we was returning home,
Cruelly this boy I murdered; such a thing was never known.
'Twas some offense he gave unto me made my bloody heart to rage;
Then straightway to the mast I tied him; there I kept him many day.

2. With his arms and legs extended and him no succor did I give,
Saying, "If any of my men relieve him, not one moment shall they live."
When three days I thus had kept him, he with hunger loud did cry,
"O for Christ sake now relieve me, or with hunger I shall die."
Eighteen bitter stripes I gave him, which made the purple gore to run;
There was none that dare to save him, such a thing was never known;
When seven days I thus had kept him, he now with languish did begin;
Begging for a little water, I some urine gave to him.

3. He, poor soul, refused to drink it which I prepared when I had done;
I made him drink the purple gore which from his wounded limbs did run;
O the cries he sent unto me would have pierced a Christian's heart;
Oftentimes he cried, "Dear master, did you know the cruel smart
That your tender son doth suffer, sure your tender heart would break!
My bitter grief no tongue can utter, O Lord, relieve me from this fate!
O that I had but one small morsel that the dogs would this despise!
Pray God send me down some water from the blessed lofty skies."

4. When nine days I thus had kept him, unto him I then did go;
He cried, "O dear and loving master, one good favor to me show;
Do not keep me here to perish; kill me, send me to my grave,
Or one bit of bread afford me." His excrements I then him gave.
His excrements which he avoided, fording him the same to eat,
And because he did refuse it, eighteen stripes I gave him straight.
With that the distressed creature for a Savior loud did cry;
In this wretched situation this poor creature now did die.

5. Oftentimes my men upbraid me, I like fury cursed and swore,
Saying, "I'll have you hung for pirates if I live to get on shore."
Sailors, learning my intention, a little unto me did say,
But they had me apprehended when we did return from sea.
I thought my money would have cleared me, hearing the boy's friends were poor,
But O the cries of his dear mother would have grieved your heart full sore!
He resolved to persecute me; she no gold nor bribe would take.
Captain James for cruel murder now the gibbets is his fate.

6. How now can a glance of pity be cast on this my crime?
It doth appear to every creature such a blot on you mankind;
Often do I cry for mercy when no mercy do afford
To a poor innocent creature, yet some mercy show me, Lord.
I do lay upon thy mercy, for my death approaches nigh.
Captain James for cruel murder now upon the gibbet dies.

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 28 Jan 05 - 07:27 PM

The Hammonds got three versions in Dorset, two in 1906 and one in 1907. This is presumably a collated text.

The Captain James form (I'd guess the -still inaccessible- Bodleian example to be one of those from the opening line) was included in the Nafis & Cornish Forget Me Not Songster (New York, 1835) in a long and coherent form (21 stanzas, perhaps copied from a broadside); the victim's name is Richard Perry, of which "Richard Paddy" above would likely be a corruption.

There is a 1959 Arkansas example at the Max Hunter Folk Song Collection, incidentally:

Sea Captain

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: Barb'ry
Date: 28 Jan 05 - 06:58 PM

The version I sing is from Eddie Upton:

A boy to me was bound apprentice
Because his parents they were poor
I took him from St James's workhouse
All for to sail upon the Spanish shore

This boy one day, he did offend me
No other word then did I say
But straightway to the yardarm dragged him
And left him there until the very next day

His hands and feet they hung before him
His arms and legs they hung likewise
And with my tarry rope I killed him
Because I would not hear his cries

And then my men they did desert me
Because that I had done such wrong
And in my cabin close confined me
And bound me there with iron strong

To London town they then did take me
And here lie I condemned to die
If I had by my men been ruled
I might have spared that poor boys life - and mine

So come all you men who sail round the ocean
All you with servants to wait on thee
I pray you never, never ill use them
For you plainly see it was the death of me

Not much different to the others - just a few more verses. Eddie told me it was collected by the Hammond Brothers.
Sorry - haven't learned to do html

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: GUEST,Vic at work
Date: 28 Jan 05 - 06:49 AM

Slight thread drift but I think ,interesting. St James work house, Kings Lynn fell down in the 1860's. The Clock in the tower was being repaired and the clock mender got frustrated, kicked some part of the mechanism and the lot fell! Only two(?) deaths as everyone was in church it being a Sunday. There is a photograph in the local archives. Cutting edge technology at the time.

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Subject: Lyr Add: CAPTAIN JAMES
From: Joe Offer
Date: 28 Jan 05 - 03:49 AM

I think I should post at least the first version from Gale Huntington's Songs the Whalemen Sang (1964) This is from the ship Walter Scott of Nantucket, 1840.


Captains listen to my story
A warning you must take by me
See that you don't abuse your sailors
While you're rolling on the sea

Richard Paddy was my servant
A handsome sprightly lad was he
His mother bound him to me an apprentice
For to cross the rolling sea

As we had been to South Carolina
And we were returning home
Cruelly this boy I murdered
Such a thing was never known

A trifling offense he gave me
Which did my loving heart enrage
Straightway to the mast I bound him
There I kept him several days

With his hand and arms extended
I no succor to him gave
Swearing if my men relieved him
Not a moment should he live

When three days I there had kept him
He with hunger loud did cry
Now for God's sake pray relieve me
Or with hunger I shall die

Eighteen bitter stripes I gave him
Which did cause the purple gore to run
None there was that dare relieve him
Such a thing was never known

When five days I thus had kept him
He to languish did begin
Praying for a little water
I some vinegar gave to him

The poor soul requested to drink it
As I had proposed when I had done
I made him drink the purple gore
That from his bleeding wound did run

When many days I thus had kept him
Up to him I then did go
He says my dearest loving master
One small favor to me show

Don't leave me here thus for to suffer
Kill and send me to the grave
One small piece of bread afford me
Which in humanity I crave

Oh that I had but one small morsel
Which the dogs they do despise
He says oh Lord send me some water
From the lofty blissful skies

Hearing what he said unto me
Would have grieved a Christian's heart
Often time he cried dear mother
Did you but know the cruel smart

How your tender son does suffer
It would grieve you to the heart
More bitter grief no tongue can utter
Lord relieve me from my fate

When my men they disobeyed me
I like a fury cursed and swore
That I would have them hang for pirates
When I did arrive on shore

But they knowing my intention
Little to me they did say
And they had me apprehended
When I had got home from sea

How can I now ask for mercy
When no mercy I would afford
On a poor distressed creature
Yet some mercy show me Lord

I thought that my money would have saved me
Knowing that the boy was poor
But the cries of his dear mother
Would have grieved a heart full sore

She was resolved to prosecute me
She no gold nor bribe would take
Captain James for cruel murder
Now the gibbet is your fate

the tune doesn't work as well as I'd like it to.

Click to play

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: Lighter
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 11:49 PM

Excellent as always, Malcolm. Thank you.

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 10:10 PM

That New York Trader reference was a misunderstanding. There is no relation, and it isn't what Lloyd was talking about. The DT notes, as so often, are an inaccurate and misleading digest of the information originally given, so it isn't surprising that people get confused.

For a detailed study of the song in its Norfolk and Bristol forms, see Elizabeth James, 'The Captain's Apprentice' and the Death of Young Robert Eastick of King's Lynn: a Study in the Development of a Folk Song in Folk Music Journal, London: English Folk Dance and Song Society, vol 7 number 5, 1999, pp 579-594.

If your college library can't oblige, back numbers of the Journal are available from at a mere £7 (about $13) plus shipping. They are well worth having. Contents lists can be seen at It will soon be possible to order copies online via credit card, but that will be a month or two away yet.

Joe has already quoted the text and notes from Roy Palmer's book (mentioned above, and an important work). I should mention that it is in print, and available in a new edition, Bushes and Briars: Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, from

Although it's useful for people to be able to see material without having to go to the library, I'm becoming increasingly uncomfortable about the wholesale copying here of significant extracts from books in print and available at modest prices. Too much of that, and we risk damaging the (small) market for actual sales, and discouraging publication in the first place.

Lloyd didn't remember where he'd seen the broadside he mentioned when asked about it later (actually, he only thought he'd seen it), but it may perhaps have been the one Palmer mentions.

The song is number 835 in the Roud Folk Song Index. Examples currently listed are from England and Canada, plus a couple from America. See also Roy Palmer, Boxing the Compass 2001, pp 131-134 (previously The Oxford Book of Sea Songs, pp 119-122) for a broadside text (23 stanzas) printed in Massachusetts c.1810-14, Captain James, which tells essentially the same story.

It seems likely that there were several similar incidents at various times, that gave rise to songs which subsequently influenced each other. Another, later than these (but with a very similar story), was the subject of the song Andrew Rose, which has been discussed here in the past.

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: Lighter
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 09:56 PM

Can't find any of my notes...or the LP...but here's how I remember the song from "There She Blows!"

A boy to me was bound apprentice
Because his parents they were poor
I took him from Sta James's Workhouse
All for to sail
On the Greenland shore.

One day this poor boy he did annoy me
Nothing to him then did I say
I rushed him to a frozen yardarm
And kept him there till the very next day

And when his hands and his feet did hang towards me
And with his head bowed down likewise
It was with an iron gasket then I killed him
Because I would not hear his cries.

Now all you sea captains who go out a-navyin'
I pray a warning take by me
Don't you go abusin' your poor prentice lads
Or else it's hanged you'll surely be.

Doesn't look like much, but if you once heard Lloyd sing it it stuck with you. The melody does it. The delivery too.

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From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 09:14 PM

Thank you, Mary - that was the hint I needed. This should answer some of your questions, Beetle Cat:

The Captain's Apprentice

One day this poor boy to me was bound apprentice,
Because of his being fatherless;
I took him out of St. James' Workhouse,
His mother being in deep distress
I took him out of St. James' Workhouse,
His mother being in deep distress.

One day this poor boy unto me offended,
But nothing to him I did say;
Up to the main-mast shroud I sent him,
And there I kept him all that long day.

All with my garling-spikk I misused him,
So shamefully I can't deny;
All with my marling-spike I gagged him
Because I could not bear his cry.

His face and his hands to me expanded,
His legs and his thighs to me likewise;
And by my barbarous cruel entreatment
This very next day this poor boy died.

I asked my men if they'd release (?) me.
If I'd give them golden store.
Out of my cabin straightway they hauled me,
A prisoner brought me on Bristol shore.

And now in Newdigate I am confined,
The writ of death I do deserve;
If I had been ruled by my servants
This poor boy's life might have been preserved.

You captains all throughout this nation,
Hear a voice and a warning take by me.
Take special care of your apprentice
While you are on the raging sea.

with my garling-spikk I misused him: with my gasket I did misuse him. A gasket was a piece of rope, used to secure a sail.
Newdigate: Newgate

    The plight of pauper children farmed out as apprentices by the poor law guardians caused widespread concern in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. One thinks of the famous Memoirs of Robert Blincoe, which describes the fourteen-year apprenticeship to a Nottinghamshire mill-owner of a boy sent out from St Pancras Workhouse in London at the age of seven, in 1799. At about the same time the death of another pauper apprentice was being chronicled in a fine but bitter song which was sung for another hundred years and more, and still lingers in oral tradition. Vaughan Williams collected it from a septuagenarian fisherman, Mr James Carter, at King's Lynn, and assumed that it was a local production, mainly because of the mention of St James's Work house in the town, so called because St James's Chapel had been converted to the use of the poor as early as 1682. However, two verses (5 and 6 here) in Vaughan Williams's scrapbook additional to those sung by Mr Carter (perhaps remembered later by him, and sent on) move the scene to Bristol. This squares with a broadside recently turned up by Mike Yates in the St Bride Institute. It is without imprint, though probably dating from about 1800, and entitled 'A New Copy of Verses, Made on Captain MILLS, now under Confinement in Newgate, at Bristol, for the murder of THOMAS BROWN, his Apprentice Boy'. The account may have been fictional, though there is a record that in 1798 the captain of the Loyal Briton, off Minorca, 'killed his Cabin-boy by striking him on the head with a handspike' and 'was ordered back to England for trial' ('The Adventures of Serjeant Benjamin Miller', in Journal of Army Historical Research, vol. VII, p.16). A discrepancy in the broadside is its mention of St James's Workhouse, though Bristol Workhouse was called St Peter's Hospital. (However, there is a St James district in Bristol.) Whatever the doubts as to its precise origin, the song held the imagination of singers. It travelled to America, was jotted down in the backs of the logbooks of several whaling ships (see Gale Huntington, Songs the Whalemen Sang, New York, 1970), and continued to circulate in England until this century, mainly in Norfolk, but also in Dorset. Vaughan Williams was deeply impressed by Mr Carter's version (though he collected others), and he used the melody or reminiscences of it in several of his orchestral works, including the Norfolk Rhapsody, Sea Symphony and Pastoral Symphony.

Source: Bushes and Briars: Folk Songs Collected By Ralph Vaughan Williams, Roy Palmer, 1983 & 1988

The tune is just about like this one (click), which was posted previously.
Here's the entry from the Traditional Ballad Index:

Captain James (The Captain's Apprentice)

DESCRIPTION: (Captain James) has a servant who commits a "trifling offense." James ties him to the mast, abuses him, starves him, and leaves him to die of thirst, torture, and exposure. Brought to trial, James thinks money will save him, but he is hanged
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1768 (Journal from the _Two Brothers_)
KEYWORDS: ship sailor death homicide crime punishment trial execution
FOUND IN: Britain(England(Lond)) US(MW,NE,So) Canada(Mar,Newf)
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Huntington-SongsTheWhalemenSang, pp. 54-59, "Captain James" (3 texts, 1 tune)
Gardner/Chickering-BalladsAndSongsOfSouthernMichigan 132, "The Cabin Boy" (1 text)
High-OldOldFolkSongs, p. 28, "The Sea Captain" (1 text)
Creighton-FolksongsFromSouthernNewBrunswick 88, "Captain James" (1 text, 1 tune)
Palmer-OxfordBookOfSeaSongs 52, "Captain James" (1 text, 1 tune)
Forget-Me-Not-Songster, pp. 93-95, "Captain James" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Fred High, "Sea Captain", Max Hunter Folk Song Collection, Cat #0372 (MFH 586), accessed 26 February 2017 from (1 text, 1 tune)

ST SWMS054 (Partial)
Roud #835
John Power, "The Little Apprentice" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
cf. "The Captain's Apprentice (II)" (theme of apprentice mistreated and finally murdered by his captain)
cf. "Andrew Rose" (theme of sailor mistreated by his captain)
NOTES [1216 words]: Although the versions of this I've seen don't clearly state that the vessel in this story was a navy ship, the picture here fits the British navy. The captains, in this era, were almost entirely isolated from their crews, and they weren't really examined for fitness for promotion. Many were incompetent, and many were barbaric.
An extreme example of the latter was Hugh Pigot of H. M. S. Hermione, who killed at least two of his sailors with the cat, at least once ordered fourteen sailors flogged on the same day, and after giving an impossible order which resulted in injuries to two young sailors, had them thrown overboard. The result was a mutiny -- but while Pigot was killed, the admiralty officially stood by him.
A summary of Pigot's career is given in Guttridge in pp. 75-82. On pp. 75-76, he reports, "Hugh Pigot came from a family whose wealth and political influence (his father had been on the board of the British Admiralty) were possibly factors in his attainment of naval command at the age of twenty-two. It would be said in Pigot's defence that he was a skillful if ill-tempered officer who demanded proficiency from inferiors and too readily believed he could flog it out of them."
Guttridge,p. 76, speculates that his assignment to the remoteness of the tropics may have affected his mind: "[H]is average of two floggings a week on HMS Success, a punishment rate not really excessive, was to worsen rapidly after he transferred his command to the 32-gun frigate Hermione early in 1797."
In the autumn of 1797, during a storm, Pigot ordered some canvas taken in, and decided the men were working too slowly. "He threatened to flog the last man down. In the scrambling descent three mizzentopmen missed their footing and plunged to their deaths. Pigot ordered the bodies thrown overboard and blamed a dozen men for clumsiness aloft and had them all flogged" (Guttridge, p.77). Since the ship had a crew of about 170, that means he in one day injured or killed almost 10% of his men -- a patently unsustainable rate. And, indeed, the crew mutinied that night and killed him; Guttridge says "the intruders practically fought each other to get at him." Repeatedly stabbed, he was then thrown overboard, perhaps still alive (since some men reportedly heard his cries; Guttridge, p. 78). I'd consider it a measure of his inhumanity that he actually thought he might be worth rescuing.
Unfortunately, Pigot's insanity had infected the crew, and three more officers were killed before the bloody spree ended. When things calmed down a little, a series of mock-trials were held, and most of the remaining officers executed (Guttridge, p. 79). Apparently one of the mutineers also raped the wife of the boatswain, who was one of those murdered (Cordingly, pp. 99-101).
The crew, realizing they had no hope of mercy, headed for Venezuela, where they begged asylum (claiming falsely to have set their officers adrift). One suspects they got it because their ship was valuable, not because anyone believed them.
The British eventually managed to recover and hang some two dozen of the mutineers (Guttridge, p. 81), though most were not ringleaders. Over a hundred managed to avoid recapture by the British (Guttridge, p. 87); many probably ended up in the United States. The Hermione itself, renamed Santa Cecilia by the Spanish, was eventually retaken by the British, though her career was over; returned to Portsmouth in 1802, she was soon paid off, and broken up in 1805 (Paine, p. 243).
Compare also the captain described in "The Flash Frigate (La Pique)."
It was largely the behavior of officers that eventually led to the Spithead mutiny (which resulted, among other things, in many officers being transferred or put ashore; for details on Spithead, see "Poor Parker"). Captain James may not have been real (none of the books I've read seem able to trace him), but he was true-to-life.
Incidentally, an incident almost parallel to this happened within a year of the recorded text from the Two Brothers -- involving none other than John Paul Jones! According to Morison's biography (p. 17), Jones (then known simply as John Paul) was in 1769 the commander of the John; he had aboard a carpenter named Mungo Maxwell. (Truly. Mungo Maxwell. That's what it says.) Jones became so upset with him that he had him flogged. Maxwell filed charges against Jones, and while they were dismissed, Maxwell died on a voyage soon after. Jones faced a murder charge in consequence, though he was acquitted.
In addition, I'm reading Paul Watson's new book on the Franklin Expedition, Ice Ghosts, and on pp. 110-111 is the account of one W. Parker Snow, who is known for having had a dream that located the Franklin Expedition in about the right place. Snow would go on one of the rescue expeditions, but accomplished nothing.
Snow had suffered a traumatic brain injury as a boy, and it seems to have affected him for the rest of his life -- and caused others to abuse him. "Snow was severely abused as a child apprentice under a vicious captain who regularly had the boy flogged and tied to the mast." He was forced to sit on high spars, constantly beaten, and sleep deprived. "'I was stripped, and sent forward to be tarred, then stand in a tub while water was called up, poured over me as a further punishment, and then, thus tarred, sent out to straddle the jibe, to represent, as he said, a new figurehead.'"
Snow survived, although he was very badly injured in both body and mind. But when I read of that, I couldn't help but think of "Captain James." Presumably the date of this is some time in the early decades of the 1800s. - RBW
Palmer notes the similar treatments of Andrew Rose and Captain James's apprentice. However, "Andrew Rose" has few phrases in common with the earlier ballads, "Captain James" and "The Captain's Apprentice (II)."
Palmer has his The Oxford Book of Sea Songs text from a Boston broadside "printed between 1810 and 1814."
The Forget Me Not Songster is undated. However, according to Sidney F. Huttner and Elizabeth Stege Hunter, A Register of Artists, Engravers, Booksellers, Bookbinders, Printers and Publishers in New York City, 1821-1842 (New York: The Bibliographical Society of America, 1993), p. 164, Nafis and Cornish are at 278 Pearl St., New York, only in 1842 for 1821-1842.
The three Huntington-SongsTheWhalemenSang texts are from the logs of ships out of Massachusetts or Connecticut ports:
1. rig: ship, name: Cortes, home port: New Bedford, year voyage begins: 1847
2. rig: brig, name: Two Brothers, home port: Wethersfield, year voyage begins: 1768
3. rig: ship, name: Walter Scott, home port: Nantucket, year voyage begins: 1840 (pp. 324-325).
For what it's worth, all of the "Captain James" texts we have indexed so far are from North America. Further, while "The Captain's Apprentice (II)" texts mention Newgate, London or Bristol, the only mention of England in our "Captain James" texts is in the title of the 19c broadside printed by Palmer: "Captain James who was hung and gibbeted in England for starving to death his cabin boy." I don't give much weight to the historical accuracy of that title because it was printed more than forty years after the Huntington-SongsTheWhalemenSang 1768 text from Two Brothers. - BS
  • Cordingly: David Cordingly, Women Sailors and Sailors' Women, Random House, 2001 (I use the undated, but later, paperback edition)
  • Guttridge: Leonard F. Guttridge, Mutiny: A History of Naval Insurrection, Naval Institute Press, 1992 (I use the 2002 Berkley edition)
  • Morison: Samuel Eliot Morison,John Paul Jones, 1959 (I use the 1981 Time-Life edition)
  • Paine: Lincoln P. Paine, Ships of the World: An Historical Encylopedia, Houghton Mifflin, 1997
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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: Lighter
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 09:06 PM

You might think "a-navyin'" has to refer to the navy, but who knows? Greenland whaling, I think, was pretty much played out by 1800, so if this isn't one of Lloyd's own great touches, any 19th C. person could be forgiven for thinking that a naval vessel was involved.

I think the version Lloyd recorded on Riverside's "There She Blows!" a few years earlier had an extra verse and a different word or two.

A version of Lloyd's song also appears in one of the small EFDSS books published in the middle '60s. Will check which one.

"Captain Glen" and "The New York Trader" resemble each other, but neither is a version of Lloyd's song.

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: beetle cat
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 08:49 PM

A question concerning the DT version;
The boy was taken from St. James's Workhouse in Kings Lynn to sail on the Greenland shored.   I assumed whaling. But the 4th verse suggests "a-navyin'". What would an english navy ship be doing in Greenland in the late 1700's? Maybe Navy as in general seafarers?

I'm skeptical about the New York Trader. Interesting, and possibly related, but is it the one Lloyd mentioned? I wish he gave a more specific reference.

Ralphie, where did you find Captain James, what is it about? Anything that is too explicit to sing in public sounds pretty good to me. Thats probably the reason that this song wasn't recorded more.

Sounds like a Library trip tomorrow, if its not closed by the snow. I'm not bugging you for the heck of it, by the way, I've got a presentation to do for a Ballad course and this is my ballad of choice.

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: beetle cat
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 07:27 PM

7 verses! What are they?

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: Mary Humphreys
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 07:22 PM

Roy Palmer, in his 'Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams ' of 1983 says, in the notes to The Captain's Apprentice, collected from Mr James Carter of King's Lynn Norfolk that a broadside had been recently discovered by Mike Yates in the St Bride Institute. This broadside dates from about 1800 and is entitled: A New Copy of Verses, Made on Captain Mills, now under confinement at Newgate, at Bristol, for the murder of Thomas Brown, his apprentice boy.
Mr Carter's version of the song is 7 verses long.RVW used the tune in several of his orchestral works.

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: GUEST,Ralphie
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 06:44 PM

My boys, Patterson Jordan Dipper have put out our variant on "Flat Earth" (see threads passim)
Basically culled from Palmer, but tune adapted, (It's not a hanging offence!!)
Have since found another variant called Captain James..

Far too explicit to sing in public though!

Regards Ralphie

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 06:12 PM

The "Cruel Captin" at Bodley doesn't display (click) (at least not today), but it begins, "Come all you noble bold commanders."

I fount three CD recordings of "Cruel Ship's Captain." The one on the A.L. Lloyd Leviathan! CD is misidentified on the CD packaging as Cruel Ship's Carpenter which is an entirely different song. This recording doesn't show up on many indexes, and it's a shame because it is a better-sounding recording than the other A.L. Lloyd cut, on Highpoint's Sailors' Songs and Sea Shanties compilation (dates of thse two A.L. Lloyd cuts are not shown). Here are the notes from the Highpoint recording:
    The Cruel Ship's Captain: Nearly two centuries ago, a whaling skipper of King's Lynn on the Norfolk coast was hanged for the brutal murder of an apprentice. Street singers had a long-winded ballad purporting to be his dying confession. In the foc'sles of the Greenland ships, the whalermen whittled away all the inessentials, and what remained was one of the briefest and most ferocious of all sea-songs.

The third recording comes from an unexpected source, a CD called Inside Dave Van Ronk a 1989 Fantasy resissue of recordings made by Van Ronk in 1962. Van Ronk's interpreation of the song is a powerful one.
None of these three recordings has the fourth verse that is shown in the Digital Tradition. Anybody know of other sources for this song?
-Joe Offer-

In the Digital Tradition, this song is linked with Andrew Ross/Andrew Rose, another song about abused sailors.

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: Barb'ry
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 05:59 PM

I've definitely got a facsimile copy in a book somewhere - I'll look it up tomorrow but I rather think it's in one of Roy Palmer's books. Humm - too many books, too little time..

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 05:39 PM

Seems there are two cruel captains?

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Subject: RE: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 05:37 PM

See the "New York Trader" in the DT and threads. The threads will lead you to other names like Captain Glen. The song is known from 1794 if not earlier.
Many broadsides of the New York Trader are in the Bodleian Collection. Search at Bodleian Collection
Also there is "The Cruel Captain" (captin- sic) at the same site.
I think enough variants to satisfy you are already posted here at Mudcat.

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From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 05:28 PM

Susanne posted a message in another thread, and I'd hate to see it get lost. Here's the pertinent part:
    Thread #8767   Message #56834
    Posted By:
    02-Feb-99 - 09:01 AM
    Thread Name: 'Orribble Murder!!
    Subject: Add: CLAUDY^^ and CRUEL SHIP'S CAPTAIN^^

    The Cruel Ship's Captain

    A boy to me was bound apprentice
    Because his parents they were poor
    So I took him from St. James's Workhouse
    All for to sail on the Greenland shore

    One day this poor boy he did annoy me
    Nothing to him then did I say
    But I rushed him to my frozen yard-arm
    And I kept him there till the very next day

    When his eyes and his teeth did hang towards me
    With his hands and his feet bowed down likewise
    And with a bloody iron bar I killed him
    Because I wouldn't hear his cries

    [1967:] Early in the nineteenth century, a whale skipper was charged in King's Lynn with the murder of an apprentice. A broadside ballad, in the form of a wordy gallows confession and good night, appeared, and in course of circulating round the East Anglian countryside it got pared down to the bone. The poet George Crabbe was interested in the case, and took it as a model for his verse-narrative of 'Peter Grimes', which subsequently formed the base of Britten's opera. The opera is in three acts. The same ground is covered in three verses by a song as bleak and keen as a harpoon head. (Notes A. L. Lloyd, 'Leviathan!')

Susanne has similar information on her Website here (click).

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Subject: Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?)
From: beetle cat
Date: 27 Jan 05 - 05:15 PM

The liner notes of A.L Lloyd's Leviathan recording mention this song having broadside origins, (I don't actually have the notes, but it was mentioned in another thread), and I am wondering if anyone knows or has access to the original broadside text, before it was folk processed into the four common, chilling verses (Lloyd sings three).

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