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Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)

28 Nov 11 - 08:52 AM (#3264740)
Subject: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Richard Bridge

Yes I've searched "Rolling Sailor" and "Rolling Sea" and "Sailor Laddie".

Has anyone got the words or a copy of the broadside version referred to as Roud 506?

28 Nov 11 - 09:39 AM (#3264762)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)


There's a copy in Roy Palmer's Oxford Book of Sea Songs (pp147-148 according to the Roud index), or in the later version Boxing The Compass (pp157-158). (I don't know Eliza's version, so I can't see if it's the same version). Other versions of 506 with that title are broadsides in the Madden collection.

There's a version here on Mudcat, which at a quick look, is the version from Palmer, but I haven't time to check in detail: The Rolling Sailor

I haven't time to check it properly at the moment (I have to go and visit someone in hospital), but I'll do it when I come back and if it's different I'll post the Palmer version then.


28 Nov 11 - 10:11 AM (#3264778)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Lighter

Another outstanding performance, BTW.

28 Nov 11 - 10:58 AM (#3264800)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Reinhard

Palmer's version is the one Mick linked to.

I have the verses of Eliza's "Rolling Sea" on my website next to Frankie Armstrong's "Sailor Laddie".

28 Nov 11 - 12:04 PM (#3264836)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Richard Bridge

Thank you, yes I did see the version linked to above, when searching, and yes I have the Eliza Carthy verses, and yes I know of the Frankie Armstrong version.

I'd like to see the words from the Madden broadsides. Didn't there used to be a way to get broadsides up from the Bodleian collection?

28 Nov 11 - 01:53 PM (#3264904)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)

Sorry Richard, your post wasn't clear about what you wanted (I mistook the meaning of the words part of your request)

The Madden collection is at the Cambridge University Library, so (not surprisingly) won't be online at the Bodleian. Neither is it in the UCSB Broadside ballad collection. So you may be out of luck there.

Eliza's text is almost identical to the version printed by Roy Palmer - last line different, a few minor text changes and a slightly different chorus. The song appears to have been quoted in quite a few books (on a quick scan through Google). Masefield's Sailor's Garland has a 15 verse version as The Sailor Laddie..

Are you only interested in the versions of Roud 506 under the Rolling Sailor title (most are under different titles)?

And thanks Reinhard for confirming that the posted version here was as in Palmer. Palmer's notes say the first two verses are from James Gardner's, Above & Under Hatches (1906) p.16, (see it at as Recollections of James Anthony Gardner - though the actual page is a bit blurred in the online version), the remaining verses from the twenty-five of a garland text 'The Sailor Laddie, which the Roud index gives as Three Excellent New Songs (Chapbook) (Harding Garlands A1). The latter doesn't seem to be at the Bodleian. There are copies in VWML. Maybe Steve Gardham has a copy.


28 Nov 11 - 03:26 PM (#3264969)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Richard Bridge

I'm actually interested in running to earth as many versions of the words as possible, with a view to creating a combined text to use the Carthy melody and probably chorus - different to but probably no longer than the Carthy version. Accordingly if they are "the same song" (a bit of a judgment issue in there) I don't care what they are called.

I wonder why I didn't find the stuff you did with google.

Anyway, the help is greatly appreciated.

28 Nov 11 - 04:10 PM (#3264988)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)

Actually I had another look at some of the songs for Roud index #506. There are 4 entries that come up in a title search for Rolling Sailor (2 for Palmer's books and 2 for the Madden collection), but 36 entries for #506. Not all of these have the sailor.

Several have the title Whistle O'er The Lave O't. I looked at the version in Farmer's Merry Songs and Ballads and the song doesn't appear to have anything in common with the Rolling Sailor. Similarly with the (3verse) Collier Lads from the Huddlestons' Songs of The Ridings (which does have the ..brass verse but nothing else).

Laura Smith's Through Romany Songland, has My Mother Sent Me O'er The Water, which is more like the Whisle O'er, but does have two sailor-related verses:

  My chap's gone a sailor for to be,
  He's gone across the deep blue sea ;
  When he do return how happy I shall be,
  I'm going to marry a navy !

  I'm going to marry a chap in blue,
  He is a navy, and his eye dark blue,
  And O ! I know that he loves me true.
  I'm going to marry a navy ! "

It looks as if most of the other-titled songs for #506 have little to do with waiting for pressed sailors. It may be that by using the other verses from The Sailor Laddie, Palmer has biased the song a bit. It would be nice to see the Madden broadside to decide.


28 Nov 11 - 04:46 PM (#3265015)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Richard Bridge

I agree with that ambition.

06 Feb 17 - 02:33 PM (#3837142)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: GUEST,Helen


I have a linked question ... can anyone tell me whether the Eliza Carthy Rolling Sailor/Rolling Seas melody is traditional?

thanks, Helen.

06 Feb 17 - 03:48 PM (#3837156)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Steve Gardham

Perhaps to clarify a very muddy situation a little.

This song (or family of songs if you like) has a very wide range of stanzas and has been rewritten several times using a few core stanzas with a range of different occupations for the lead character. In versions he is variously a sailor/collier/fisherlad. The collier/fisher versions have different Roud numbers but the core stanzas are the same.

It dates back at least to the middle of the 18th century having been printed at Aldermary Churchyard in London.

I have various widely differing copies from the Madden Collection if anyone is interested.

07 Feb 17 - 02:12 AM (#3837228)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: vectis

I believe it was collected from Portsmouth workhouse. I think Liz R has a book with the words and origins in it.

07 Feb 17 - 09:40 AM (#3837311)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: RTim

The only songs collected in Portsmouth Workhouse were by Dr. George Gardiner, and I have done a lot of research on these, and don't remember a Rolling Sea/Sailor song - so I checked again today.
Nope - no such song from Portsmouth...........

Tim Radford

07 Feb 17 - 03:35 PM (#3837398)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Steve Gardham

Here's some detail on the evolution of the songs based on all the versions I have to hand.

Using the late 18th century 'The Rolling Sailor' as the most influential I have made this the link between older and newer relatives. However I have to say the only version TRS I have from oral tradition is a 4 stanza fragment (one being the everpresent chorus) from c1825 in the John Bell Collection without tune so I would guess the tune has been taken from either Whittaker's Northumbrian 'O the Bonny Fisher Lad' or one of the collier variants.

The 15-stanza London printings which appear to be the earliest and are written in northern dialect only have one stanza and the chorus in common with later rewrites.

Oh! my bonny sailor laddie,
Oh! my bonny sailor, he,
Well I love my sailor laddie,
Blythe and merry may he be.

Stanza 5
Sailor lads has gold and silver,
Fisher lads has nought but brass,
Send him safely back to Terry,
There to court his bonny lass.

The song is about the girl declaring her love for her sailor and lamenting the fact he has been pressed. If pushed I would guess it is set and originated at Newcastle which was a major printing centre for ballads in the 18th century, probably the biggest out of London.

I have about 5 variants of The Rolling Sailor, all from c1790 and all pretty much alike with only the odd word altered here and there.

The Rolling Sailor

Sailors they get all the money,
Soldiers they get none/nought but brass,
I do love a jolly sailor,
Once I was a sailor's lass.
    O my little rolling sailor,
    O my little rolling he,
    I will have a jolly sailor,
    blithe and merry may he be.

My mother sent me to the well,
To get some water for my tea,
My foot slipt and in I went,
The sailor fell a top of me.

Don't you see the ship a coming,
Don't you see she is in full sail,
Don't you see the Britannia coming,
With the prizes at her tail.

My mother she oft-time told me,
Sailors they would win my heart,
I never minded what she said,
But would always take their part.

It was in the month of February,
When the green leaves began to spring
The little lambs did skip like fairies
Birds did couple, build and sing,
The roses red, the violets blue,
Carnations sweet and so are you.

07 Feb 17 - 03:43 PM (#3837400)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Steve Gardham

Error in the above is the chorus isn't actually everpresent as it doesn't occur in the 'collier' variants.

Here's Whittaker's Northumbrian minstrelsy 'fisher' variant which has 2 stanzas and the chorus from TRS.

O the Bonny Fisher Lad

On Bamboroughshire's rocky shore,
Just as you enter Boumer Raw,
There lives the bonny fisher lad,
The fisher lad that bangs them a'.
    O the bonny fisher lad
    That brings the fishes frae the sea,
    O the bonny fisher lad,
    The fisher lad gat had o' me.

My mother sent me out one day
To gather cockles frae the sea;
But I had not been lang away,
When the fisher lad gat had o' me.

A sailor I will never marry,
Nor soldier, for he's got no brass;
But I will have a fisher lad,
Because I am a fisher lass.

This smacks to me as a newly written parody, not from oral tradition. It has been much reprinted but I know of no oral versions not based on this one.

07 Feb 17 - 03:54 PM (#3837401)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Steve Gardham

There seems to be several versions of the 'Collier Lads' variant, all from oral tradition, but Bert Lloyd has had his fingers on most of them. However the fuller versions have 3 stanzas in common with TRS.

Here's the fullest from the singing of Harry Boardman's mother (Lancashire cWWI) as printed in Spin 2. 10 in the 1960s

I'll have a Collier

I went out to get some water,
Get some water for my tea.
Caught my foot and then I stumbled
Collier lad's come kissing me.

My mother said I mustn't have a collier,
It would surely break her heart,
I don't care what my mother tells me
I'll have a collier for my sweetheart.

If you'll leave your collier sweetheart
I'll buy you a guinea gold ring,
You shall have a silver cradle,
For to rock your baby in.

I don't want your silks and satins,
I don't want your guinea gold ring,
I don't want your silver cradle
For to rock my baby in.

Collier lads got gold and silver,
Ferranti's lads get nowt but brass.
And who'd be married to a lad from Ferranti's
When there are plenty of collier lads?

My mother said I could be a lady
If from my collier lad I'd part,
But I'd sooner walk on the bottom of the ocean
Then I'd give up my collier sweetheart.

FWIW IMO this last piece from oral tradition is infinitely superior to all the others.

07 Feb 17 - 03:58 PM (#3837403)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Steve Gardham

BTW the earliest variant 'The Sailor Laddie' should be easy to get hold of, it's reproduced in Ashton's 'Real Sailor Songs' and in Masefield's 'Sailor's Garland'.

07 Feb 17 - 04:20 PM (#3837408)
Subject: RE: Origins: Rolling Sailor (Eliza Carthy)
From: Steve Gardham

Eliza's last stanza which isn't from TRS or in Frankie's version is an adaptation of the penultimate stanza in the earliest piece.