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Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)

08 May 01 - 10:15 AM (#457828)
Subject: Blood Red Roses
From: sophocleese

I heard a friend sing Blood Red Roses a while ago and am now learning it. What does "blood red roses" mean in this song? And where did it start?

08 May 01 - 10:31 AM (#457840)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Charley Noble

This question should keep this thread unraveling. I'm sure you'll find discussion already on a previous thread if you search for *blood red roses*.

The short answer is that there is no consensus of explanation. Great shanty when done with full spirit!

08 May 01 - 10:32 AM (#457841)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Dave the Gnome

I am led to believe that the 'Blood red roses' refered to here are the redcoats being carried overseas on boats. The sailors, being dressed in whites or blues, refered to the soldiers, possibly marines, by this term because of the colour of their uniform coats.

Don't realy know if it is true but makes some sort of sense if you accept that the song is a shanty or at least of nautical origins.


Dave the Gnome

08 May 01 - 10:54 AM (#457858)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: A Wandering Minstrel

As I understood it, the Blood Red Roses were the blisters and calluses that grew on your hands due to hauling wet rope in cold weather. you'd want them to go down as they hurt like B%^$*%$*%y!

Soldiers a-shipboard were more often called Lobsters or Bloodybacks, tho' I'm not saying that DtG is wrong...

08 May 01 - 11:32 AM (#457888)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Charley Noble

Remember, despite what Alexander Kent writes, shanties were not supposed to be sung on British naval ships. Therefore, it's unlikely that the reference would be to those red uniformed marines. There are references in other sea songs to "bunch of roses" and, who knows, maybe there was a ship called the Rose, whose crew was known as the Roses. Even money...

08 May 01 - 11:36 AM (#457890)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Naemanson

Dave's theory is one I've heard before but it has one flaw. Navy ships did not use shanties so they wouldn't have been singing a shanty about the red coats in the rigging.

I hadn't heard the one about blisters but it makes sense.

08 May 01 - 11:37 AM (#457891)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Dave the Gnome

I think the ban on Shanties on British ships (Royal Navy Only - never applied to the merchant fleet) stemmed from Napoleonic times. Prior to that they would have been allowed. The 'Bunch of Roses' or 'Bonny bunch of roses' is again, I believe, Napoleonic. Napoleon and his commanders refering to the Countries making up the UK as 'the bunch of roses'. Dunno why though - perhaps some 'in' French joke of the time???



08 May 01 - 11:44 AM (#457899)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Dave the Gnome

and just had another thought (Why does that always heppen - hit the submit button and something else occurs to you??? Ah Well...)

I think I am right in saying that shanties were allowed on merchantmen. If the merchant fleet were used in transporting armies during times of great need because the RN vessels were all involved in sea battles then could the merchant seamen have used the shanties to either praise or lampoon their 'cargo'?

There is probably no real answer as Charlie said before but it makes more interesting reading than some of the thread we have had of late;-)

Keep it up, you mudcat posters, keep it up...



08 May 01 - 12:00 PM (#457916)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: LR Mole

I think it has to do with venereal disease, since the next line seems to compare it to "Yer boots and posies (poses?)" and the distinctly piratical cast of many of the verses.

08 May 01 - 12:35 PM (#457947)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: GUEST,JohnB

The version I heard was the Bloody Blister one, although I can't remember where, when or who. Or all the verses either if it comes to that. John Er?

08 May 01 - 12:48 PM (#457957)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: GUEST,chanteyranger

Merchant seamen sometimes used Naval themes in their chanteys, and often had a disdain for soldiers, as heard in the bunting chantey, "The Royal Artillery man." I've heard the redcoats explanation for Blood Red Roses as well. Chantey singer Allan MacLeod says that the blood red roses refers to a red rose insignia on a flag aboard British ships, but was sung as a double entendre - poking fun at soldiers.


08 May 01 - 12:52 PM (#457961)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Les from Hull

DtG - certainly the merchant fleet was used to transport British troops. The Royal Navy only had a few transports itself (usually converted from 'over-age' or redundant warships), and so hired merchant vessels. For example, there were well over 300 transports hired to convey Sir John Moore's army from Corunna, and ever more for the Walcheren Expedition.

I'm not sure that would explain the song, though. I'm of the blister school myself, though I'm sure that a regularly-employed seaman's hands would be hardened enough to avoid blisters. Newcomers (always a butt of jokes anywhere, but even more so at sea) could suffer agonies before their hands grew the necessary callouses (they were encouraged to soak their hands in salt water and to piss on them!)


08 May 01 - 01:13 PM (#457982)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Irish sergeant

Great post! I recently learned the song and I sing it upon occasion. Thanks for a great thread. Kindest reguards, neil

08 May 01 - 03:17 PM (#458125)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Margo

Like many shanties, I'm inclined to believe the double entendre idea. Yes, I believe the English empire was referred to as the bonny bunch of roses, as well as the heart of oak.

I wonder what the meaning of "go down" is as that, it would seem, would have a bearing on what the blood red roses are... go down = may you sink into the sea???

Just a guess, Margo

08 May 01 - 03:22 PM (#458131)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Margo

Like many shanties, I'm inclined to believe the double entendre idea. Yes, I believe the English empire was referred to as the bonny bunch of roses, as well as the heart of oak.

I wonder what the meaning of "go down" is as that, it would seem, would have a bearing on what the blood red roses are... go down = may you sink into the sea???

Just a guess, Margo

08 May 01 - 03:33 PM (#458143)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Mr Red

The Royal Navy was the "silent service" because a crowd of singing sailors would be heard before they could be seen on relatively calm seas. If they can't see you you can't see them so you don't know when they are over the horizon.
I will consult Uncle Stan on this one. But Royal Navy song it ain't, whatever the red referrence is to. Would Royal Naval sailors pawn there boots & shoes? AND did the Royal Navy venture round the Horn that often?. There were always plenty of men to work on military ships, no need for super-efficiency.
No surprise that I song this one, is there?

08 May 01 - 03:43 PM (#458151)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: pattyClink

i have a dim recollection of the story of this song, maybe it was in a Hugill book, but I can't find it again. The job of hauling anchor chain literally involves a man or two hanging over the side of the ship, so it was 'hang down' in some versions. Dim recollection that the 'roses' were the greenhorns of the crew...come on, some shantyman out there has seen this in print...I'm not losing my mind, am I?

08 May 01 - 04:02 PM (#458165)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Dave (the ancient mariner)

Hugill's references to this song are contradicted by some old whalermen I knew in England when I was a boy. These men told me the song was about killing whales. In the early morning or late afteroon the sun shining through the bloody spray that the dying whales blew out of their blow holes as they breathed their last reminded the men of Roses and pinks and posies growing in the garden. As the whales slowly died, the spray got less and less. This made the mens job of towing the whale to the ship easier; and therefore was something they all wished for. Hence the line "Go down you blood red roses go down! Yours, Aye. Dave

08 May 01 - 04:07 PM (#458171)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Dave (the ancient mariner)

I should add that the whales were punctured in the lungs by long lances to hasten their demise. Until the whales were dead they often towed the harpooneer and his mates long distances and this was a dangerous event. Known as a "Nantucket Sleigh Ride". Dave

08 May 01 - 04:13 PM (#458178)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: sophocleese

Thanks for all the info on this question. I did try searching before posting but didn't find anything that answered me. It seems that some people have different words from the DT version, click here, and I would be interested to see what they sing. I looked at several books in the library this morning but found no copy of this song.

I was confused by the references to soldiers as the version I can see is about whalers so couldn't see a connection. If you've got different words that would account for it.

08 May 01 - 04:40 PM (#458194)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: fat B****rd

I once read, but can't recall where, that Spanish galleons had a red rose as an emblem on their sails.

08 May 01 - 04:45 PM (#458196)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Dave the Gnome

We do the old schoolboy 'smutty' (non)rhyme to it

As I was going by St Pauls
Go down etc
A woman grabbed me by the elbow
Go down etc

Oh, you pinks and posies
etc etc etc

She says you look a man of pluck
Come inside and have a sandwich

etc etc etc



08 May 01 - 11:21 PM (#458449)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Abby Sale

I think one of the earliest recordings of it is as late as MacColl on Whaling Ballads, 1966. He says then it was grand but rare. He quotes one former bosun, Ned Close, as having used it as a whaler but having no idea what the refrain meant.

There's some justification for accepting any meaning is lost if you listen to the Caribbean "Come Down, You Roses" - equally grand and rare - (Boarding Party as well as several of the Caribbean field recordings) There's a clear (to me) relation between the two songs but in "Come Down.." there's less room to find any symbolic meaning.

In the few instances I've heard & read (Abrahams) of contemporary rowboat whalers sing the chanties, they little know or care what the words mean when those words are equivacal. They're more interested in whether they can well pull to the song. (!)

09 May 01 - 10:10 AM (#458642)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: LR Mole

Two verses Farina used to sing, from memory (and therefore probably inexactly rendered):
Our good old captain said to me (go down, etc.)
We'll plunder to a high degree(etc.)
On no-man's land we'll dance around ()
We'll drive the roses underground ()
Now, Farina, like a lot of singers back then, was fond of new words to old melodies (his "Birmingham Sunday" was to "I Loved A Lass", and probably older than that), but if there's a double meaning here I don't get it. Mathews' Southern Comfort had a good, surprisingly rocking version of it.

09 May 01 - 11:36 AM (#458700)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: GUEST,Mr Red@Library

The whaling reference sounds the most plausible to me.
I have the Doerflinger book as well Hugill. I must consult both
I have found DT versions often at odds with my other sources and sometimes with itself
eg Wild Colonial Boy 1st verse in the tune database is the one I sing, the text refers to Jack Doolan or some such.
isn't this folk process fun?

09 May 01 - 01:13 PM (#458781)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses

The lyrics to the verses don't really matter. The "GO DOWN YOU BLOOD RED ROSES GO DOWN" is Instruction for sweating tops'l halyards. "Go"... crew pulls the halyard out perpendicular to the ,mast. "Down" They feed it to whoever is holding the turn around the pin.

This chantey takes into consideration the swtretch and bounce of the halyard and load. That's why the "sweats" are in sets of two. And that's why the "Oh you pinks and posies" gets stretched out,. At this point, the stretch is all out of the halyard and the yard is at the top of it's bounce.

If you've ever sweated a halyard with something really heavy on the other end , l8ike the bower anchor, it reaches a point where you just can't get the load to move anymore, right? So, you turn to eachother and say,something like, "What the hell, it just won't move" upon which the Captain says, "Try it again ". so you do and LO AND BEHOLD THE LOAD MOVES AGAIN. Here'sw why

with all the stretch out of the halyard and it being at the top of the bounce, it starts to bounce "downward" as the rope compresses. When it starts to bounce up again, that's the time to start sweating again. O>K>?,BR.,BR.Stam Hughill is full of shit. . I picked up a copy of his shanty book and opened it at random, First thing I read he says, "Strike the bell is an old traditional; Irish Ballad tune. IN A PIGS ASS IT IS. Henry Clay work, wrote the song ,"Watchman strike the bell" which is where the tune came from. He was not known for adapting folk songs. He also wrote, "Marching through Georgia," My Grandfather's Clock" "Father dear Father come home with me now" and about umpteen others.
Well, says I to myself, "Everyone's entitled to mad a mistake now and then.

Then I came to "Row Bullies Row" which is a dandy song for keeping multiple sets of oars synchronized. BUT NOT THE WAY STAN WRITES IT. He threw the Meter right out the window. And if you sing it the way he wrote it, You start the second verse pushing on the oars instead of pulling on them. Forget the long Row...............Row Bullies Row, and just sing Row, Row Bullies Row without the long note. It comes out reight this way,. show it to someone who understands meter and he'll agree that this way, the meter stays consistent. Then I came across Blood Red Roses and his kakamaimee bit of "looking for social significance" and his "The red uniforms of the British Soldiers art Waterloo and the Frenchmen clling them Blood Red Roses. What a bunch of claptrap./ Anyone who tries to find social signigicance in a sea chantey gets seven years bad luck and if you believe Stan Hughgill, you get 14 years bad luck. read Joanna Colcord's book or Frederick Pease Harlowe's "Chanteying aboard American Ships" He describes them the way I use them. The first time I ran into Stan Hughgill, He was on stage at Mystic Folk Festival with the audience composed mostly of families with children, and he proceeded to pull a botle of Rum out of his back pocket and get "Falling Down Drunk"on stage, thereby furthering the bullshit about the "Drunken Sailor"

I am, in case you're curious, a Professional Boatswain on square rigged ships, and REAL chanteyman, who is in charge of whatever operation he is engaged in.

I had a friend "Herb Spinney" Who was the most experienced Square Rigger sailor I've ever met. When Herby was a young man he was Boatswain of "Lawhill", One of the ships in "The Last Grain Race" in 1939. First time I met him I was singing some chantey or other on stage at the "Bay Voyage" in Jamestown, RI, He waltzed up on stage and, in a deep resonant BOOMING voice said, "Back 'er down there ol' son, you're killing the crew" . Herby taught me a lot about working with Chanteys. He said that the "Go Down" preceeded the rest of the song, it was part of a parody of "Go Down Moses" and it went (Same tune as Blood red roses) Go Down, bloody Moses, Go Down," "Thinks his toes is roses", (from "Moses supposes his toeses is roses) But, Ship Captains were very often deeply religious people and they objected to the cavalier use of a spiritual song. So, it was changed to the way it's sung now.

Don't believe this just because I said it's so, think about it, read what you can on the subject, and make up your own mind.

Herby was lost at sea a few years back . He was Captain of a George's Banks Commercial Fishing boat when he was lost. RIP Herby.

Jody Gibson.

09 May 01 - 02:18 PM (#458834)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Charley Noble

Cranky – what you say with regard to the "use" of a song like "Blood Red Roses" makes sense to me, along with the idea that "Go Down Moses" might just be related. I wish you had more patience or tolerance with other people's theories when you disagree with them, but then why else would you call yourself "Cranky Yankee"?

09 May 01 - 02:41 PM (#458862)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Dave the Gnome

Hey Charley! Always believe the chanteyman - he's the boss when it comes to pullin' together;-)

Thanks for starting a very interesting thread sophoclese and thanks one and all for keeping it so. More so for being able to disagree and discuss each others views on the whys and wherefores without resorting to some of the jibes (nautical pun intended) on other threads!

I'm sure Stan wouldn't have minded Jody's frank and forthright views - After all Jody makes his living with the real stuff while Stan makes a living teaching computer consultants like me about a life we'll never know. And seeing as us consultants know a thing or two about BS I reckon everyones entitled to a bit of it at least....

Each to his own

Cheers and hoping for plain sailing:-)

Dave the Gnautical Gnome

09 May 01 - 03:49 PM (#458927)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Metchosin

Actually Cranky Yankee, for authenticity I would not rely on Johanna Colcord, but get hold of a copy of Shanties by W.B. Whall, Master Mariner. I quote from his book published in 1910, Ships, Sea Songs and Shanties:

"As to Shanties, two attempts, so far as I know, have been made to collect them: these were not successful because the writers were not well equipped for the work. If a lady goes round sailors' boarding homes and attempts to copy down words and music of Shanties from men, she is bound to fail. First, sailors are shy with ladies. Secondly, few of these songs have words which seaman would care to sing to a lady in cold blood. And thirdly, very few sailors were shanty men." I believe he was referring to Colcord here.

Regarding Runciman
"a mercantile officer, who, presumably started sea life too late to have known Shanties in their prime ... who sang the tunes to a musical friend who harmonized and wrote accompaniments to them ... This was bad enough, but to make things worse, the author put words of his own to the songs; this, of course, at once took away any possible value they might have had"

Regarding the content of what was sung, not the form
"now seaman who spent their time on cargo-carrying ships" (as opposed to those on passenger ships who were regaled to clean up their acts until the passengers were removed) "never heard a decent Shanty; the words which sailor John put to them, when unrestrained, were the veriest filth."
And here he cites Hog-Eye Man and considering the verses I have heard, rightly too eg:
'O Nellie's in the kitchen punching duff,
And the cheeks of her arse go chuff, chuff chuff.'
And that was one of the nicer verses of which I am personally aware.

He goes on:
"It was in these vessels--and only these that a collector of songs was wanted, and it is only is such vessels that a collection could have been made. Such a collection was made, both of Songs and Shanties, by me."

He is not particularly modest, but I am inclined to believe him, as he was at sea aboard the East Indiamen for eleven years, starting in 1861, and states, from 1872 onwards, he had "not heard a Shanty or Song worth the name" least on his side of the pond.

I have seen references on the Web that Blood Red Roses originated in New Zealand. Can anyone confirm this?

09 May 01 - 04:36 PM (#458964)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Metchosin

Oddly enough, my brother just called regarding another sea-song related topic and I recounted this discussion to him. He used to do this piece and teach Shanty workshops in Port Townsend when he was a member of Lime Bay Mutiny .

He too was of the opinion that the Blood Red Roses were a reference to the whales spurting their last puff from blood filled lungs.

He also thought that the reason Row Bullies Row or (Roll Bullies Roll, as it is also known in some quarters) did not follow a proper work form was that it was a Forecastle song and not a work song at all. He also stated that there were probably others more knowlegeable here that would dispute that, but that was his opinion.

09 May 01 - 04:46 PM (#458971)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Charley Noble

It's true that there are few bawdy shanties in the Joanna Colcord book "Roll & Go" but that may have had more to do with what could be published in the 1920's than her sex or skill as a collector. Her father was a master of square riggers and she and her brother Lincoln (another fine writer of sea stories) grew up aboard ship; they had plenty of time to nose about and learn whatever rude things the sailors sang; for more detail read the recently published "Letters from Sea: Joanna & Lincoln Colcord's Seafaring Childhood" by Parker Bishop Albee, Jr.

Then again, we've never seen the unexpurgated collection of Stan Hugill in print, and what we have seen is replete with wistful musing of having to disguise unprintable lyrics; Stan did sing the unexpurgated versions to one and all at various late night parties at those wonderful Mystic Sea Port Sea Songs Festivals.

09 May 01 - 05:17 PM (#459000)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: MsMoon

Row Bullies Row is used at Mystic Seaport only for pumping and capstan work.

09 May 01 - 07:13 PM (#459073)
Subject: RE: other bawdy stuff
From: Abby Sale

Speaking of which, I've several times heard it that "Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her" was the bawdiest of all of a raunchy bunch of songs - together with it's slams of the officers it "was tantamount to mutiny to sing it before the last day of the voyage" as a final pumping-out chantey, I believe. Yet, I've never seen even a slightly off-color verse out of many printed. Anyone know if any survived?

Second: As to Hugill's bawdy collection (and I believe there must be one) Legman claimed to have it and to be working on it. This is in a footnote of his stupendous production of the Randolph "Unprintable" books. What he did for the great Randolph, he would do for Hugill. Since Legman's death nothing has surfaced here. Now there would be a research project! Find that manuscript. I wonder whatever happened to the rest of Legman's library, come to that.

I think it's a scandal that there's not a single scholarly collection of bawdy sea songs in the whole world.

10 May 01 - 12:37 AM (#459287)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses

Hey, Row Bullies Row, is PERFECT FOR SYCHRONIZING THE OARSMEN,. If you sing it to the right meter./ Meter is ALL imprtant in using chanteys. Row Bullies Row is not only a good rhythm for rowing, it also provides a definite place to "roll" your wrists in both directions, for "feathering" the oars so y ou don't have to waste energy lifting them up after each stroke. you just let them skip along the surface (if they're feathered right)

Just hop intop a rowing vessel, and start singing as you row,. DO NOT PUT THE LONG ROOOOOOOOW..................... BEFORE ROW BULLIES ROW.There is still the word "Row" on each oar stroke in this passage. This is in 3/4 time, not 3/4 with one 4/4 bar. And furthermopre, anything can be used a s a chantey if it workds. After youre rowing exercise, see if you don't change your mind about whether or not this is usefull to coordinate oarsmen.

10 May 01 - 05:54 AM (#459372)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: IanC

Hi Cranky

Referring to "Strike the bell", I'm not sure what youy say about the tune is true (though I might dispute the "Irish" origin. It is used in other contexts as a work song, and there are one or two English folk songs where the tune is used.

Just because HCW usually wrote his own tunes, doesn't mean he always did.

I'm interested, so I'll look through the forum before starting a new thread on this one.


10 May 01 - 08:18 AM (#459419)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Charley Noble

Say, maybe, this would be the time to revive that old shanty "Wake Up, Suzianna," the precursor to "Wake Up, Little Susie" that I found lining the drawer in an old sea chest.

10 May 01 - 10:48 AM (#459536)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: GUEST,Mr Red@Library

Neither uncle Stan nor Doerflinger profer an explanantion for the "Blood red roses" nor "pinks and posies".
uncle Stan referred to "camaflaging" words and in some cases it is reasonably clear what words were pruderized.
Hugill was clear that each ship had versions.
NZ was a busy whaling nation last (but one) centuary.
hence "Davy Lowston"

10 May 01 - 11:05 AM (#459548)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Dave the Gnome

I thought Davy Lowston was a sealer rather than a whaler? Or is this thread complicated enough already;-)

Nice to see the 'uncle' Stan moniker. I hadn't seen it in ages and was reminded of the tale told of Mr Hugils visit to Poland - he was refered to there as 'Saint' Stan apparantly!



10 May 01 - 11:24 AM (#459557)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: IanC


My apologies. Having looked at all the available evidence, it looks as if you're right about "Strike The Bell". None of the songs to the tune seem to be as old as HCW's.


11 May 01 - 02:31 AM (#460240)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Wotcha

Just watch the movie "Moby Dick." Didn't A.L. Lloyd lead some of the chanteys ...? "Blood Red Roses" was one of them. The colorized version (of course can't be seen in France ... damn droit d' auteur) of the movie certainly shows the whales spouting red ... on that sleigh ride. It was only a movie but highly instructional.

13 May 01 - 12:31 PM (#461416)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Mr Red

Talking to Mike Starkie (Bristol Shantymen & Westerliegh Wailers) who with Maggie runs the Dragon FC in Bristol Fri @ the Bridge Inn, (Shortwood area).
Mike met Uncle Stan on many occasions and Stan gave this explanation:-
1) its a reference to the Pox
2)and is somewhat graphical on the stages of the diseases and its physical symptoms.

13 May 01 - 05:10 PM (#461547)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: sophocleese

They only had pox round Cape Horn? Whales had the Pox? It seems a little strange..But I'm enjoying the speculations. I wondered if it might have anything to do with the red roses of Lancashire. Just a thought, what seaports does Lancashire have, I don't have an atlas in the house.

13 May 01 - 06:34 PM (#461591)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Snuffy


13 May 01 - 06:43 PM (#461599)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: toadfrog

I could, of course be wrong. I had heard, "blood red roses" at the time of the Napoleonic Wars was what Frenchmen called British soldiers. I also think I saw the expression somewhere in a broadside about the Battle of Belle Alliance (or Waterloo, as the English have it). Of course, that doesn't explain how it would get into a 'horner. If anyone knows, I would welcome correction.

13 May 01 - 07:02 PM (#461613)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses

Do any of you know who invented the crosscut saw, or the chisel, or "C"clamps, Huh? I use them all the time in my work and don't give a damn where or how they originated. The same goes for the Chantey "Blood Red Roses". It's a very usefull tool in my "Professional Chanteyman" occupation for sweating up topsail yards, which is probably the heaviest halyard operation on a sailing vessel. As for the lyrics, The words to the verses are completely unimportant. The form and rhythm (or lack thereof) is all important.

As for song lyrics and which one is the authentic one. That too is a pointless argument. Take "Greenland Whale Fisheries" for example. The date of composition is right there in the song. Which version is the authentic one? There's no doubt in my mind that this song improved remarkably as the years rolled on. I pretty much sing the 1863 version. THIS IMPROVEMENT BY SUBSEQUENT SINGERS OR AUTHORS IS CALLED "THE FOLK PROCESS". POersonally, I don't believe that there is a "proper or authentic" version of a folk song. So you Folk music purists (folk music fascists?) have fun arguing about which vrsion is the real one. I DON'T CARE.

13 May 01 - 07:13 PM (#461619)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Shields Folk

the professionals didn't fart about playing at sailors. And its there lives and loves and songs I'm interested in not yours

13 May 01 - 07:20 PM (#461623)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses

Just to change the subject, Sung properly, Row Bullies Row is an excellent chantey for synchronizing the stroke where multiple oarsmen are in use. But even if you don't use it for that. Take this into consideration. Do any of you dance the "Waltz"? This song is (you all must agree) written in 3/4 or waltz time. Right? Well "Choose your partners" for the waltz and take notice of where the second verse starts in the Waltz step? It's not the same place is it? O.k some of you use it as a capstan chantey. I don't know why with all those "Darling" capstan chanteys around . But, I accept the fact that you do. Now, take note of how the second verse starts. IT'S NOT ON THE "PUSH" STROKE, IS IT? As for pumping, any rhythm will do, I guess.

Fact: "Liverpool Judies" is a generic term for "contrary wind" as well as "Ladies of the night". So don't you think that "Row" and "Liverpool Judies" just might have something to do with the use that this chantey is put to? or are you going to ignore the obvious in order to continue singing this song to the wrong kind of rhythm and meter?. It occures to me that "Contrary Wind" and "Rowing" means that the crew is involved in "Kedging", wouldn't that make some kind of sense? As I said previously, find a rowboat, get in it and row around while singing "Row Bullies Row" without the long ROOO....................w row bullies row. and just keep a steady rhythm. That should make a believer out of you.

If any of you happen to be in Newport, give me a call and I'll take you for a row around the harbor. I'm in the phone book.

? Think about it. Jody Gibson

13 May 01 - 07:21 PM (#461624)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses

DON'T TRUST EXPERTS, THINK FOR YOURSELVES (and that goes for my expertise also)

13 May 01 - 07:30 PM (#461627)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Shields Folk

Sorry for the cranky coment yank but the days of sail are really lost in time. You may come as close as any of us are likely to get but what people believed in the 19th century and beyond are lost to us. How many times have you left port with your family not knowing if they will ever hear from you again.These songs are a very dirty window into the past.

13 May 01 - 07:49 PM (#461633)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses

Hey, Shield Folk, what makes you think that "Professional Chanteyman" or Professional Sailor" are things of the past? I not only was "HMS" Rose's first Boatswain, and chanteyman, but my wife and I rigged it when it was brand new, in Lunenburg Nova Scotia. Think about it. Oh, in case you'r going to say that Chanteys were never used on warships, you're absolutely right. Rose is not a warship, it has a U.S. commercial ticket and is manned by a civilian crew. it is a REPLICA of an 18th century 20 gun ship, (6th rate) and has never been used in combat, and has never fired anything heavier than a cork from it's cannons.

13 May 01 - 08:21 PM (#461643)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Shields Folk

My point exactly, its a replica and you are, not wishing to offend, a replica Chanteyman. And of course i'm realy jelous

13 May 01 - 09:23 PM (#461669)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: sophocleese

Cranky Yankee, thanks for your information. I just wanted to know because when I sing a song I like to know what the words mean. With the phrase "blood red roses" I had a mystery, they didn't seem to mean literally blood red roses, unless its a carry over from an old pruning song, but instead signify something else. I wanted to know what that might be. I thinks it's interesting that there are several theories. Even that is information. Thanks to all who have written and are thinking about this question.

14 May 01 - 02:21 AM (#461788)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Margo

Hey Yankee, there's a Newport in Washington state where I am.... Which Newport are you referring to?


14 May 01 - 04:13 AM (#461806)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Chanteyranger

Of course, in time the meanings of the words to chanteys like "Blood Red Roses" are lost on sailors, and they just want a good chantey to set the rhythm, but at one time this song must have meant something to the chanteyman who made it up, and others who might have changed words over time. Fi8nding out it's mea

14 May 01 - 04:28 AM (#461811)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Chanteyranger

Damn, clicked "submit" too soon. As I was saying, before I rudely interrupted myself, is that finding out the meanings to these songs does increase our understanding, and even if that understanding is not of earth shattering significance, it, at least, satisfies one's curiosity about what the chantey's original composer meant, and in what historical context he was working in. Chanteys were such great outlets for expressing their hardships, their feelings about women, their complaints and praises for various people, I have to believe that the chanteymen who made them up or adapted songs from shore DID care about what they were singing. Others who sang them might not have, as long as they were the right tools for the job. It looks like in this case, though, we might not be able to separate the theories from facts. A worthwhile question and interesting responses.


14 May 01 - 09:39 AM (#461927)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses

the Horn was a double entedre in many shanties
and Wales probably had a lot of Pox in cardiff and Swansea
the orginator of a shanty may not have recognised his song after sailors had customised it and misheard it and it got bowdlerised by the pressure of puritanical moores
I find a little background is useful - how many times have we seen a video of Uncle Stan singing Rueben Ranzo - - he didn't have the puff for every word as he pulled on the rope.
I once heard a well known shanty crew sing so fast they couldn't get the words out
the yard arm would have been in orbit on his ship.

YEA it does matter they were songs with a purpose and whatever we do to them we are fools to forget their origins.
we are folk singers aren't we?
call it "method" singing if you like.

14 May 01 - 10:05 AM (#461929)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Naemanson

The history is important to us. It may not mean much to Cranky Yankee because to him the songs are just tools but to us they mean something more than just tools we don't use. For some of us these songs are a connection to a life we cannot live. For some it is a chance to fit in with a group. And for all of us it is a form of music that we enjoy, that resonates within us.

For many reasons we want to know more. Our speculations are just that, speculations. They are fun and raise more questions than they answer but they satisfy us. And someone might have another piece to this jigsaw puzzle, something others may have overlooked. All contributors are welcome. Denigrators do not have to read the thread.

As far as Row, Bullies, Row is concerned I don't believe I have ever heard it with a long Roooow in it. I have only heard it in 3/4 time with short consonants and in my opinion it is excellant for rowing or paddling if you are in a hurry to get somewhere.

14 May 01 - 12:08 PM (#462009)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses

Shields Folk

No I don't know how 19th century folk felt when their loved ones went to sea. But, I am no replica of anything. I do the job, as much as any "old timer chanteyman" ever did. There isn't as much danger in sailing as there once was, we have diesel auxiliaries, great radio communication, accurate(?)weather forecasting, etc, but that does not detract from my qualification as a chanteyman. Why don't you do as I did, learn how to sail, if possible, on a large seagoing vessel, get enough experience to be in charge of whatever operation you're engaged in and use chanteys in their practical (as opposed to entertaining) application. Then you'll be a chanteyman, and not a replica. The learning how is as much fun as the doing, so what's keeping you? Just ask anyone in Newport Rhode Island that knows me and they will assure you that I'm a one of a kind ME.

I'm going to modify a statement I made previously. While I don't care where the lyrics of any chantey, I use, come from, I' think it is very important to acknowledge where the entire IDEA of using music as a tool came from. I'm going to start a new thread right after I submit this one. I truly hope that it sparks some lively discussion, but, please, let's keep it civil.

14 May 01 - 12:30 PM (#462020)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Melani

Just for the record, it's really hard to sing "Row, Bullies, Row" (or anything else) as slow as Sea Scouts row. As for the history and meanings of all this stuff, Cranky Yankee, if we weren't all into history and trivia we probably wouldn't be here.

And I'm quite sure you're an original, not a replica.

14 May 01 - 12:46 PM (#462030)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Kim C

Gnome, I have read that the Royal Navy had fiddlers aboard and not singers. Also before Napoleonic times, I don't think there were any real work shantys. Sea songs, yes, but not work songs. At least that's how I understand it.

Mr. Cranky, I have read that the words to Greenland Whale Fisheries have been found on a broadside dating back to the 18th century. I would imagine singers have changed the year in the song depending on what year they were singing it.

'Course I am no expert either, I'm just an unfrozen caveman. ;-)

14 May 01 - 03:01 PM (#462143)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Charley Noble

Hugill does mention in his introduction to Songs of the Sea that the earliest reference he could find to shanty singing (a crew pulling on a rope, with a lead singing coordinating them) was in the book of a Dominican friar, one Felix Fabri of Ulm, Germany, "who in 1493 sailed aboard a Venetian galley to Palestine."

Let's all raise a glass to Brother Felix!

15 May 01 - 07:33 AM (#462627)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Les from Hull

Just to help clear up one or two points about the lack of shanties in the Royal Navy (and possibly in other Navies).

Warship crews are much more numerous than Merchant crews, far more than would be needed to sail the ship (on a typical frigate 300 crew for a ship that you could sail with 30). So co-ordinated effort was not so much needed. On the occassions that it was, a fiddler (if available)could be used to play a hornpipe, or the marine drummer could be used.

Discipline was much tighter. Look at some of the shanties sung and see if the officers would have thought them 'appropriate'. Officers usually came from a different class if a very class conscious society.

Sailors were encouraged to dance and sometimes to sing what have come to be known as 'forebitters' such as Spanish Ladies.


15 May 01 - 08:08 AM (#462641)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Naemanson

I have a question. I agree that shanties were not used in the navies because they had so many men to do the work. However, there was one time in which they were undermanned for sailing the ship and that was when the extra men were doing the other jobs they were there for, i.e., fighting.

When the ship was engaged in action most of those extra men were busy loading and firing and the sailing was left suddenly to far fewer men. they probably wished for shanties then though adrenaline may have made up the difference.

15 May 01 - 08:23 AM (#462647)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Les from Hull

Although there would be fewer men available there would still be plenty (unless casualties had been high). In a normal quarter-bill (a list of where sailors would serve in particular circunstances) usually two of each gun-crew would serve as sail trimmers and would be called away from their gun by an appropriate order such as 'hands to make sail'. There was a similar arrangement for boarders (to form a boarding party or to repel boarders) and for firemen (to put out a fire).

I agree that in some circumstances shanties would have been extremely useful, such as in sailing a prize back to port (when very reduced crews were used), but I've not read any report of anything like this happening. As sailors were interchangable between the merchant fleet and the Navy, they would have been used to all the ways of merchant ships. Tradition is a very powerful thing in the Royal Navy, and it may be that it was just 'not the done thing'.


18 Jan 03 - 10:55 AM (#869472)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses (zersungen)
From: Abby Sale

I was having a whip round the web & also looking for some newly found verses for BRR and found this page: CZTERY REFY - Blood Red Roses

I'm wondering where this long mondegreen could have come from. Babel Fish doesn't do Polish so it couldn't be that. Anyone have any notion if these verses were actually trad?

18 Jan 03 - 01:24 PM (#869572)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: banjomad (inactive)

Of course you would know best CRANKEE YANKEE Stan Hugill was only a REAL shantyman. Not a folk club singer.

18 Jan 03 - 07:28 PM (#869634)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: EBarnacle1

To get back to the original question, the way I heard it, the Blood Red Roses were the afterguard of a merchant ship. Their extra weight would be needed to add that last little bit of haul or weight to sweat a sheet or halliard as they hung down from a really tough short haul.

19 Jan 03 - 12:41 PM (#869965)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Mr Red


The problem with all this speculation is that in addition to the folk process on the song - so it is with the ancilliary data. AND sailors no doubt revelled in the multiplicity of reasons for the naming or referrencing. It sort of makes it more relevant or funny or neat depending on your reason for liking the wealth of connections. Stan Hugill's explanantion of the pox is my prime candidate, but I would be surprised not to find others riding alongside.

Witness the oft heard shanty lines about "not bothering with women and being safer off Cape Horn". I defy you not see duality in that one sentence, and sailors were no dumber than us.

19 Jan 03 - 03:06 PM (#870032)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Barry Finn

Hi E & Abby. Abby here are a few (don't know if they're new or not) of the verses that I've been singing since the mid to late 70's. I no longer remebber where they came from. If these are trad verses they might give more to ponder on. If not, I still like them. I'm not getting into this above me. Hope to see you both sometime soon. Barry

Around no man's land we'll dance around

go down blub,blub,blub

And drive the roses underground

go down........

Around the German land we'll go

For ashes makes the flowers grow

19 Jan 03 - 03:25 PM (#870037)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Malcolm Douglas

Those verses were recorded by Matthews Southern Comfort on their first LP (1971-ish). I don't know whether they're authentic; they seem to have got them from Richard Farina (see L R Mole's post above).

15 Feb 09 - 08:10 PM (#2567904)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: GUEST,Gibb

Sorry to dredge up this old thread, but I'm curious if the collective wisdom could shed light on something....

My question is whether anyone has any source for this "blood red roses" line that can't be traced back to A.L. Lloyd?

Most of this thread has been a discussion of what the phrase "blood red roses" means in its supposed chantey context. One recurring point, that it doesnt really matter whether it meant anything (i.e. it was simply meant to function), I can agree with. I can also agree with the point that, nonetheless, it is interesting and perhaps useful to know what such phrases mean. I'll add that it is of little use to try to look at the content of solo verses to get at the "meaning" of a chantey chorus -- don't even try!

Where I think this thread might have been damned from the beginning is in assuming the line "blood red roses" had much of a history as chorus (and then trying to figure out what that history was: Napoleon, red coated soldiers, whale blood, etc.)

My attempt to put together a chronology of sources for this chantey:

1. 1879, Captain R.C. Adams, ON BOARD THE ROCKET, gives the chorus (no tune) of "Come Down, you bunch of roses"

2. 1935, an Alan Lomax recording made in the Bahamas, "Come Down, You Roses"

3. 1951 Doerflinger, SHANTYMEN AND SHANTYBOYS, prints a text and melody for "Come Down, You Bunch of Roses." Whereas other chanteys in his collection are from recordings he made in New York, this one, which he calls "very rare," he got from an 1893 manuscript of a notation of a sailor from Mass. He had never seen nor heard this chantey otherwise.

...So far, no "Blood Red Roses". And it's "Come Down," not "Go Down" (the meaning of the latter was the subject of another Mudcat thread). Then...

4. 1956 A.L. Lloyd appears in the film MOBY DECK performing a very excellent chantey: "Go Down, You Blood Red Roses." The solo verses are standard chantey fare. His tune matches Doerflinger's book, which he would have had access to. In the same year, he recorded it on an album THE SINGING SAILOR. Other folk revival singers follow suit, such as Paul Clayton who recorded it the same way in 1956 on an album in reference to the Moby Dick theme. (Perhaps the idea that "blood red roses" has something to do with whaling comes from this association.)

5. 1961, Stan Hugill, SHANTIES FROM THE SEVEN SEAS. This one has the original refrain, "Come down, ye bunch o' roses." He gives an alternate ~title~ as "Blood Red Roses," but this would seem to be the influence of his having seen/heard both of the AL Lloyd recordings (which he mentions). His version actually comes from the Barbadian chanteyman Harding. It's tune is a bit different from the Doerflinger/Lloyd tune.

6. 1962, an Alan Lomax recording from Trinidad or school girls singing "Coming Down with a Bunch of Roses" It's a play song, not a chantey, but other play songs of the Caribbean seem to have shared their source with chanteys (e.g. "Little Sally Rackett").

7. 1969, Stan Hugill, SHANTIES AND SAILORS' SONGS. In this book, he has now switched over to "Blood Red Roses" (also preferring, "Hang Down"). His transcription of the tune has miraculously changed now to pretty much match the Doerflinger/Lloyd tune. Plus, all over the book he keeps mentioning "Blood Red Roses" as supposed evidence that this chantey came into being in the 18th century, that it was all about Napoleon, etc.

8. 1972, Doerflinger, SONGS OF THE SAILOR AND LUMBERMAN. This is the revised edition of his 1951 text. In the appendix, he has a note: "I doubt that the movie version, with a "blood-red roses" chorus, is authentic folklore." The reference is obviously to the spurious versions spawned by Moby Dick.

So, a question and a comment:

Does anyone have any source with "blood red roses" that pre-dates 1956 (Lloyd)? Bert Lloyd did ship on a whaler for a period; the question would be whether he got the bloody ruddy chorus from the oral tradition, or if he contrived what is now our ~new~ oral tradition?

If you buy my argument (so far) that "go down you blood red roses" has no historical validity (its "meaning" having existed solely in Bert Lloyd's brain)...and if you are the type inclined to speculate on meaning of can focus on "come down, you bunch of roses." For example, "bunch of roses" is a term of endearment; "come down" is an admonition to come over and play, etc etc


15 Feb 09 - 09:46 PM (#2567941)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Lighter

That's a d@^n good question, Guest Gibb, and one somebody seems never to have asked.

Alan Lomax printed the song ("Blood Red Roses") in "Folk Songs of North America" (1960) with this fascinating note: "As sung by A.L. Lloyd and Paul Clayton, rarely published."

Lomax also says, without saying how he could know, "Heard among Negro crew on American ships in the 1820s."

Lloyd & MacColl also recorded it on their album "The Singing Sailor" released, I believe, not long after the movie.

A quick search of my shanty books and a look at Google suggests that "Go Down, You Blood-Red Roses," as commonly sung, was largely Lloyd's creation. I find nothing like it in the online catalogue of the James Madison Carpenter collection, and I do not recall seeing it in the manuscripts of Robert W. Gordon.

There is a possibility that he learned it from Hugill, but I don't know if the two were in contact in 1956.

It certainly may be that Lloyd got the song from Doerflinger and made the roses "blood-red" himself. And never mentioned it.

You know: like the king's wine in "Sir Patrick Spens."

15 Feb 09 - 10:24 PM (#2567952)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Lighter

Having checked out, on a hunch, the unabridged version of Hugill (not the abridged recent edition), I now think it more likely that Hugill influenced Lloyd rather than the other way around.

Of the ten stanzas Hugill prints, five were sung by Lloyd on "The Singing Sailor." Hugill also says that the song was "very popular in Liverpool ships, yet overlooked by most collectors." That suggests to me that he' personally heard several versions, and it seems unlikely (though certainly not impossible) that he would include stanzas that he'd recently learned from a Hollywood movie.

Besides indicating, in brackets, that "blood-red roses" is a variant of "bunch o' Roses [sic]," Hugill also prints a slightly different tune with the words printed as "Hang down, ye blood-red roses."
Again, it seems doubtful that he would have included the words "blood-red" if he'd only heard them in the movies.

In "Shanties and Sailor's Songs" (1969), Hugill again prints "Hang down, ye blood-red roses," this time as his only version.

Lloyd recorded "Blood-Red Roses" on LP at least three times that I can think of between ca1956 and ca1970, making his recordings the most likely source of most revival versions.

Burl Ives also recorded the shanty at some point, with some quite different lyrics, source unknown. It would be very interesting to know where he got them from. Ives seems to have sung "bunch of roses," as far as I can tell.

15 Feb 09 - 11:29 PM (#2567975)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: GUEST,Gibb

Lighter, thanks for the good discussion and for checking out the original edition of Hugill.

I'm not sure how Hugill would have influenced Lloyd if his book didnt come out until afterwards, unless they would meet up sometimes. (I would guess that around that time period when the film came out, Hugill was teaching at the Outward Bound Academy in Aberdovey. I honestly have no idea though if he would have been socializing with Lloyd.) But the fact that Hugill mentions both recordings by Lloyd (the film and the album) suggests they were an influence on him.

In my opinion, Hugill's book is the single best collection of chanteys. However, after reading it a lot you tend to notice certain places where he takes wild guesses but doesnt ~quite~ admit he's guessing! Case in point: He says this chantey was "overlooked by most collectors." What does that mean? Why say "most" when he could just admit, "The only other collection [excluding ON BOARD THE ROCKET, not a collection] that I've seen this in is Doerflinger's." He's intentionally ambiguous where information is lacking, and sometimes our faith in him (after all, he knew more than just about anybody) lets us give him the benefit of the doubt. Another example: On what basis does he say "it appears to be a British shanty"; he seems to be reasoning that the Napoleon theory is what makes it so.

As I said, I think Hugill's 1969 text is a flip flop after he has well and truly convinced himself of the Napoleon thing. The 1961 book was all about presenting all the various possibilities and dirty variations, whereas the 1969 book is about trying to give succinct "answers" to things. (Note for instance how in that book he had become convinced that he found an Italian source for "Rueben Ranzo".)

As for him getting stanzas from a movie, he really doesnt take many, and I dont think they're significant. His theme (and unique tune, in the earlier book) comes from Harding. It has "bound out for Iquique Bay," which is what marks it as a "Cape Horner" shanty; that also explains the idea "very popular in Liverpool ships" (i.e. those bound round Cape Horn in the nitrate trade). The only lines in common with the film are "Boots and clothes in pawn" and "around Cape Stiff we all must go", all regular cliches that are in a dozen other halyard shanties in his book.

Burl Ives recorded a very safe sounding "Go down you RED red roses" on an album in 1956. I would guess that was also derivative of the film version (or Lloyd's SINGING SAILOR). MOBY DICK was released in June of that year.

I have also thought that Lloyd must have used Doerflinger as a source, based on some of the tunes he has used, for example on songs "Paddy West" and "Do Me Ama".

16 Feb 09 - 12:23 AM (#2567986)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Lighter

Gibb, somebody around here must know if Hugill and Lloyd were in contact before 1956. I think your skepticism overall is well grounded, and I do agree that, yes, Lloyd may have been responsible for the "blood-red." The evidence isn't conclusive in either direction. And if experience is any indicator, the likelihood that the mystery will be solved is remote.

I met Hugill on two occasions, once in 1988. At that time he expressed his opinion that Lloyd's versions of sea songs ("Farewell, My Dearest Nancy" in particular) were not always quite authentic.

Perhaps Hugill saw "Moby Dick" (it's hard to imagine that he didn't!) and, if he didn't know Lloyd at the time, simply assumed that "Blood-Red" Roses was the "Yank" version!

Hugill was indeed the last and greatest living authority on sea shanties, but some of his statements were apparently hasty. He wrote for a popular rather than a scholarly audience, and while he certainly did try to get things right, he wasn't always sufficiently critical of secondary sources.

"Overlooked by most collectors" is strictly true, though it tells us nothing about the song's popularity. Doerflinger included it (through Silsbee), but it's absent from other important collections like those of Whall, Bullen, Robinson, King, Colcord, C. F. Smith, and Sampson. As I've said, Carpenter and Gordon don't seem to have collected it either.

Hugill's statement that the song itself (however red the roses may have been) was "popular among Liverpool seamen" is evidence (though not proof) because was a Liverpool man himself and in a position to know. OTOH, he may simply have been told by a shipmate, "Sure, we all knew that one!" We don't know. We probably never will. And it may not make much difference.

16 Feb 09 - 05:40 AM (#2568083)
Subject: RE: Blood Red Roses
From: Les in Chorlton

It is a great song with a jerky little tune and a strange chorus.

Fingerprints of Bert? I bet!

L in C

04 Sep 09 - 04:44 PM (#2716369)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Charley Noble

refresh for Bruce!

04 Sep 09 - 05:07 PM (#2716397)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Allan C.

I will admit to not having read all of the posts here; but the question immediately made me think of the red rose of the royal house of Lancaster and wondered if there could be any sort of connection.

04 Sep 09 - 07:40 PM (#2716478)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Tug the Cox

Nope, unless they all had the pox.

04 Sep 09 - 10:54 PM (#2716564)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: MGM·Lion

In all this long thread, no-one seems to have made what seems to me one obvious suggestion as to a possible meaning: based on the well-known fact [cf Bonnie Bunch of Roses-o] that Bunch·Of·Roses was a nickname for redcoats in Napoleonic times, could not the crew of a merchantman being used as troop-carrier have been telling the soldiers maybe wandering the decks for some air to get back down below [hence 'Go down'], out of the way, & not obstruct them by crowding the decks while they were busy hauling — the 'Blood-red' being an aphetic [demanded by the rhythm rather than as bowdlerisation] for 'You blood[y] RedRoses': so that the meaning would be, "We're busy doing our job hauling here & you are obstructing us, so get back down below out of our way, you bloody soldiers!"?

Just a thought...

05 Sep 09 - 04:23 PM (#2716953)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Dead Horse

.....and surely as such would be for the bosun to order, not for the crew to say, and certainly not in song.
A simple "Shift yer arse, soldier boy" rather than ten verses of shanty.
What I dont understand, particularly with this shanty, is why do so many include "You pinks and posies" as chorus, rather than shantyman only? The chorus is "Go down (Hang down) you blood red roses, Go down (Hang down)" repeated ad infinitum. And only that. At a steady meter. Shantyman inbetween. That, to my mind, is how it should be sung. Not the way so many "club singers" do it.
Same goes for Sally Racket. The chorus is "Haul 'em away" No more, no less. Keep ya "Hauley hi ohs" to yerself when I am aboard, matey!

05 Sep 09 - 07:56 PM (#2717090)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

Dead Horse -- I second the motion. Same deal in "John Kanaka," "John Cherokee"...

06 Sep 09 - 01:07 AM (#2717294)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: MGM·Lion

I take your point, Dead Horse. But perhaps originally some shantyman, looking for a new refrain the crew could work to for a shanty tune which had just come into his head, might echo an order he had just heard the bosun [or on a merchamtman more probably the mate] yell out, of 'Go down below, you bloody red-roses", to be taken up by the hauling or heaving crew as their chorus: I mean, all shanty words have to come originally into the shantyman's head from somewhere, don't they? Like I say: just [another] thought...

06 Sep 09 - 01:25 AM (#2717297)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Barry Finn

If someone wants to sing, who the hell am I to tell them not to. Ought to be happy that's there's a voice that wants to join in


06 Sep 09 - 06:28 PM (#2717652)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Dead Horse

Joining in, yes. But not so welcome when they sing the verses.
Shanties are mostly call and response and when I am leading, I do the calling.
I usually sing with a crew of between 2 - 8 folkies.
It gets very hard having to lead when I have just finished belting my lungs out in the preceeding chorus, so joining in is VERY welcome on those occasions, I can assure you.
But I also like things done "right",
In these days of modern shanty singing, one has to employ the old shantymans art of gaugeing the size of the job with regards to the ability of the "tools" (singers) to do it. Then you pick your shanty accordingly.
That is why I rarely lead some shanties which are known by all, preferring to sing an obscure version, or another song entirely, merely to keep the "chorus singers" from mucking it up.
If I muck it up, it dont matter so much. The chorus is still there and I will repeat a line or use a non rhyming verse (which is my idea of why certain shanties have been written down that way) when my mind goes blank memory wise.
Sometimes it is much better to have a vigin crew for back up.
You just try singing "Raise tacks, sheets and mains'l haul" when every other bugger is shouting "Bound for Valliperaisa round the Horn" :-(
I guess my point is: When I am leading a shanty it is MY song, and I will try to sing it MY way, rather than just picking a song that everone will know and can perform quite well without me.
How self centered is that?
(Mebbe that is why so many consider Uncle Stan & others like him as "egotistical", huh?)

06 Sep 09 - 06:37 PM (#2717659)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Barry Finn

Ya, fairly self centered seeing as you asked. If you're gonna sing the song, sing it, keep it & don't let the chorus singers take it away on you. If they do it's not their fault, it's yours. When the song's yours you should be able to keep it & lead those that follow.


06 Sep 09 - 09:33 PM (#2717744)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: MGM·Lion

We seem to have be getting away from origin/meaning of BldRdRoses on to the technique of shanty singing — a bit of drift almost demanding a new thread of its own, maybe?

07 Sep 09 - 12:43 AM (#2717811)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Dead Horse

The MEANING of BRR is that it is a work song. A shanty. A means to an end.
If you wanna know what the phrase means, ask him wot wrote it.
If it helps you to have an idea as to the meanings of phrases you sing, all I can suggest is to pick one.
You are as likely to be right as not, and it only matters to you unless you choose to explain it all, at length, to your audience.
In that case, you are as likely to be wrong, as not.
Sods law.
I have heard all sorts of ideas concerning meanings. Some interesting, some really thought provoking, some downright ridiculous.
But in the long run its only your own idea that matters to you when you are singing.
MY idea of Blood Red Roses is that it is a mondegreen.
The sailors of old were apt to suffer somewhat from sun, wind & weather, so the actual original correct phrase was.........
Blood Red Noses.
(An' if ya believe dat, den you is in need of more help dan Mudcat c'n offa, matey)

07 Sep 09 - 12:53 PM (#2718125)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

If anyone has read my posts you might be aware that I strongly believe the phrase "blood red roses" to be of no consequence (and "hang down"/"go down" is a further red herring) because more than likely AL Lloyd (or someone very close to him) made it up. The question then is only: what did it mean to AL Lloyd? (And do we really care?) One can keep the faith in folk heros and hold out on judgement, hoping that somebody, somewhere sang it that way and somehow only transfered that knowledge to Lloyd...or we can play the surrender game of "We may never know" -- which, strictly speaking is true, but that goes without saying for most discussions of this sort, and it does not mean that we can't weigh the evidence and come up with pretty strong suspicious about what went down!

I'm working on an article right now where, incidentally, in one passage, I've laid out my "argument" about "blood red roses." I'm gonna post it next to see if it will satisfy anyone. My challenge to anyone is whether they can actually provide any positive proof that "blood red roses" preceded Lloyd...or any other positive argument (in lieu of "proof") as to why we should think it within the realm of reasonable possibility that the chantey existed that way before the Folk Revival.


P.S. Though my tone may sound quite formal in quirky, know that I'm quite jolly right now

07 Sep 09 - 01:09 PM (#2718143)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

OK, here's the excerpt I'm working on. I've not formated it, for example for italics, so it may miss a little. And obviously the citations refer to items in a bibliography, which won't appear here (but I can provide on request). The context of the passage is an examination of the legacy of Hugill's SHANTIES FROM THE SEVEN SEAS (SFSS) in shaping, not-shaping, and in some cases, being shaped by the Revival. Any feedback is appreciated, thanks. Gibb, A.K.A. Skeptic Sahib


...My final example shows just how complicated and subtle the process is, especially when vagueness about origins is overlooked in favor of clout and the desire for a story with which one can identify. It concerns one of the best-known shanties in the current repertoire, often called "Blood Red Roses." It is so entrenched, in fact, that there is surely little interest among practitioners in critiquing its pedigree as a "traditional shanty." In fact, this is just the usual dynamic at work. One does not often go to books seeking information on something which one feels he or she already knows about. It is for the lesser-known shanties that a person would turn to SFSS, and these being less-known gather little momentum. The trajectory of so-called "Blood Red Roses" is one that achieved great momentum despite little being known of it at the start of the Revival.
        In 1879, Captain R.C. Adams, in On Board the Rocket, gave the chorus (text only) of "Come Down, you bunch of roses" as heard sung some decades earlier by an all African-American crew headed out of Boston for Virginia; they followed it by the quintessential Caribbean shanty, "Sally Brown" (1879:65). We do not read of this shanty again until 1924 when, in obvious reference to Adam's text (as well as to Dana 1869), shanty scholar Joanna Colcord wrote,

What would lovers of shanties not give to hear "Captain Gone Ashore," or "Come Down, You Bunch o' Roses, Come Down"? They were sung once, and their names survive, but there is in all probability no one living today who ever heard those tunes lifted to halliards or windlass. (Colcord 1938:35)

Colcord would be proven wrong; however, her statement demonstrates the great rarity of the shanty—at least in Anglo-American circles. A version of this song, although not used as a shanty, was recorded by Alan Lomax in the Bahamas in 1935 (Lomax 1999), entitled "Come Down, You Roses." Lomax recorded what seems to be another related song, "Coming Down with a Bunch of Roses" in Trinidad in 1962 (Lomax 1997). It was a play song sung by schoolgirls, but this would not be the first time Caribbean play songs correlate with shanties (e.g. "Little Sally Rackett"). Doerflinger (1990 [1951]) was the first collector to print a full text and melody for the shanty form, "Come Down, You Bunch of Roses." He called it "very rare," getting it not from an oral source, but rather finding it only in an 1893 manuscript of a sailor from Salem, Mass., Nathaniel Silsbee, who had learned it in the late 1880s. The solo verses have a particularly "downhome" African-American, Southern or minstrel-song flavor, for example:

        Oh, what do yer s'pose we had for supper?
        Black-eyed beans and bread and butter.

        Oh, Poll's in the garden picking peas.
She's got fine hair way down to her knees.
(Doerflinger 1990:22)

A couple other song samples seem to be of a related strain. Harlow documented a sing-out (a form of short shanty or work-chant) "of negro origin," that he heard in 1875 aboard the Akbar out of Boston, having the phrase "Oh Mary! Come down with your bunch of Roses!" (2004:29). And a Gordon Grant book from circa 1931 has, "Ho, Molly come down, Come down with your pretty posey, Come down with your cheeks so rosy. Ho, Molly, come down." This, then, was an uncommon shanty with a curious connection to trade with Massachusetts and that only seemed lived on in, if it was not derived from, music of the Afro-Caribbean world. The phrase, "bunch of roses," if not literal, is perhaps a term of endearment.

The trajectory of the song changes drastically with A.L. Lloyd's rendition of the shanty, as "Go Down, You Blood Red Roses," on a 1956 album, The Singing Sailor. In June of that year, more significantly, Lloyd appeared in the film adaptation of Moby Dick. The tune of his rendition matched that printed by Doerflinger, a text that he clearly utilized on occasion (i.e. as seen from a pattern of other renditions in his recordings). However, the phrases "go down" and "blood red roses" were new. Some now believe these lines were inspired by the image of killing whales, but that legend probably derives from the song's strong association with the film. The performance and picturization of the song in the film are excellent, which is probably one reason why "Blood Red Roses" comes off so convincingly as something "traditional." Other folk revival singers followed Lloyd with similar renditions, such as Paul Clayton, who, being present as a performer at the Moby Dick premiere in New Bedford (Coltman 2008:68-9), was inspired to record it in 1956 on an album in reference to the Moby Dick theme. Apparently it gained such momentum in the late 50s Revival that Alan Lomax included "Blood Red Roses" in The Folk Songs of North America (1960), stating that the song was, "As sung by A.L. Lloyd and Paul Clayton, rarely published." Thus gaining the seal of such luminaries as Lloyd, Clayton, and Lomax, along with the legitimizing effect of popular media, "Blood Red Roses" became a convincing simulacrum of a shanty that once was. Doerflinger, the collector whose book had introduced the shanty to revival singers, recognized this. In the revised edition of his text, 1972, he added to his notes about "Come Down, You Bunch of Roses": "I doubt that the movie version, with a 'blood-red roses' chorus, is authentic folklore."

"Blood Red Roses," however, had already been canonized in the Revival, and Hugill was not immune to its influence. In SFSS, he gave what we have seen to be the original refrain, "Come down, ye bunch o' roses." His version was distinctive, having come from the Barbadian shantyman, Harding. However, he gave an alternate title for the shanty as "Blood-Red Roses." It is a clear possibility that that came from the influence of Lloyd and company, as Hugill mentions both the Moby Dick film and The Singing Sailor LP. He goes one step further in remarking that, "it appears to be a British shanty, probably derived from a song about Napoleon and the British soldiers—'Redcoats' or 'Blood-red Roses' as they were called on account of the red jackets they invariably wore" (1994:274-5).   While I find that to be pure speculation with little to support it, I am nonetheless comforted by the fact that the reader is free to take or leave this opinion. What really counts, Harding's shanty, is there to speak for itself. Moreover, while Hugill did not believe the chantey had African-American origins, on the grounds that "bunch o' roses" was allegedly a phrase characteristic of "true English folk-song," he did allow that, "Of course, the shanty may have passed, like many others, through the Gulf Ports' shanty mart" (275). However, in his 1969 book, Hugill switched over to calling the shanty just "Blood Red Roses" (also preferring the phrase, "hang down"). More disappointingly, the notated tune now pretty much matched Lloyd's rendition. With it, the "Redcoats" theory is stated as strong probability, with none of the other messy details about the shanty's provenance. In addition, he cites "Blood Red Roses" as supposed evidence that this shanty, being allegedly about Napoleon, may be one of the few extant shanties to have originated in the 18th century (1969:33-4; 184). I believe this is an unfortunate case of faith in the Revival dynamics being so strong as to compromise even the "last" representative of pre-Revival shanties. ...


07 Sep 09 - 01:20 PM (#2718151)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

P.S., and this is only for the folks that tend to get "defensive." There is absolutely nothing "wrong" with singing "blood red roses" -- and it is quite an awesome chantey and a great one to sing, IMO. My argument simply has these motivations:

1) (in this thread): To explain why I think speculating the origin and meaning of the phrase is moot.
2) (in my article): To demonstrate the dynamics of the folk revival, and how media, clout, strong personalities, and the desire for certain origins and stories behind songs have influenced/changed their previous meanings. One of my more contentious allegations would be that both the perception of chanteys as primarily something White British and the desire to "use" them in articulating that heritage (especially) by certain leading figures in the Revival was played out in subtle ways of how they interpreted the chanteys for audiences, both in terms of musical style and backstory about them.

07 Sep 09 - 01:24 PM (#2718157)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: MGM·Lion

'Redcoats' or 'Blood-red Roses' as they were called on account of the red jackets they invariably wore" (1994:274-5).   While I find that to be pure speculation with little to support it...'

Your arguments are indeed cogent: but as to the 'little to support it', you must surely give some credence to the well-authenticated "Conversing with young Bonaparte Concerning the Bonnie Bunch of Roses-o"?

07 Sep 09 - 01:37 PM (#2718169)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

Thanks, MtheGM.

According to my line of thought, Hugill was doing there the same thing that many have done in this thread. I was taking the line for granted and without much other historical context and seeking to guess at its meaning. Maybe I think (I don't!) a "bunch of roses" means a girl's first menstruation in Gambia. Why would I jump to that, though, unless I had some preconceived notion in mind about where the shanty is from?

The many other references to similar "bunch of roses" songs make no hint whatsoever at redcoats. Hugill did not have all those references, but he had some. He chose to relate it to English history, but on only the grounds of a phrase that is by no means exclusive to that context.   


07 Sep 09 - 02:11 PM (#2718189)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Lighter

That's great work, Gibb Sahib.

AFAIK - and I've been interested in this stuff for 45 years - there is not a scrap of historical evidence to suggest that "blood-red roses" meant redcoats - ever or anywhere. The song "Bonnie Bunch of Roses O" is undoubtedly the origin of this folk-revival belief, but there aren't any "blood-red roses" in it and the "Bunch of Roses" is used merely as a symbol of the United Kingdom.

Though the phrase "blood-red roses" turns up occasionally in Victorian poetry and fiction, the only person before Lloyd who is absolutely known to have addressed said roses personally ("O blood-red roses!") was Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass.

And what are the chances that Lloyd had never read Walt Whitman?

07 Sep 09 - 02:26 PM (#2718204)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: MGM·Lion

'And what are the chances that Lloyd had never read Walt Whitman?' What a peculiarly patronising tone here!

I knew Bert Lloyd - interviewed him at gr8 length [3xA4 close-printed pages] for Folk Review Sep 1974. Despite his background and lack of early formal education, he was widely and eruditely read & would most certainly have read Whitman. To quote a short passage about his time in Aus way out in the Bush but subscribing to Sydney Central Lib's bushworkers' postal-loan scheme: "cheap bound editions - Cape's Travellers Library, Chatto&Windus Phoenix Library ... Joyce's Dubliners & Proust & a number of other works..." Can't believe a man who would spend his youthful wages educating himself like that in the Bush had never read Whitman, can you?

07 Sep 09 - 02:34 PM (#2718209)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Lighter

Sorry, MtheGM, but national styles in irony must vary.

I meant to imply that *of course* Lloyd must have read Whitman, and that the phrase may well have stuck in his mind.

Had I meant to patronize, I'd have written instead "And what are the chances Lloyd had ever read Whitman?"

Nobody who's read "Folk Song in England" could imagine the man wasn't widely read, knowledgable, insightful, and all the rest.

07 Sep 09 - 02:45 PM (#2718217)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Les in Chorlton

And fond of re-arranging, re-creating and even making up songs?

Still a genius?

L in C

07 Sep 09 - 03:20 PM (#2718249)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

Thanks for pointing out to me the Lomax FOLKSONGS OF NORTH AMERICA source. I acknowledge you in the footnote to the prospective article, but would like to here, as well.


On a different note, my interest is piqued by the ring-play song from Trinidad and I wonder if the "Ring around the Roses" game could be a connection. On a self-reflective note: My interest in that avenue might be a good example with which to compare Hugill's interest in the "redcoats." He may have been more inclined to look to English literary precedents while I am more inclined to look towards vernacular music of the creole New World; both reflect our biases. My hope, however, is to avoid doing what (I allege) Hugill did in this instance, which was to use language like "probably" when only speculating!

And to be honest, if only as speculation for the fun of it, I'd still be interested to learn what "bunch of roses" might have meant.


07 Sep 09 - 03:23 PM (#2718253)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

oops, In my 1:37 pm post, above, I meant to write "HE was taking for granted..."
A psychological slip? :)

07 Sep 09 - 04:40 PM (#2718310)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Leadfingers


07 Sep 09 - 04:41 PM (#2718312)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Richard Bridge


07 Sep 09 - 04:42 PM (#2718314)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Richard Bridge

Bugger! missed it!

07 Jan 10 - 08:51 PM (#2806205)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Charley Noble

I just ran across a variant verse of this old shanty in Gordon Grant's book SAIL HO!: Windjammer Sketches Alow and Aloft, pubished by William Farquhar Payson, New York, © 1930, p. 16:

Ho, Molly come down,
Come down with your pretty posey,
Come down with your cheeks so rosy,
Ho, Molly, come down
He O! He O!

Grant who sailed aboard the Balclutha in 1925 describes this song being used for "swaying off":

"They have set the main topgallant staysail. In order to stretch it taut along the stay one man takes a turn under the belaying pin; the other two stand on the fife rail, grasp the halliards, and "sway off," putting all the weight into it. As they bend their knees, the slack is taken up on the pin and the process repeated.

Charley Noble

14 Feb 10 - 07:30 PM (#2839376)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: GUEST,Urnungal

I wonder. The VD mess on board ships of the Andrew used to be referred to as "Rose Cottage".

16 Nov 10 - 09:27 AM (#3033482)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: shipcmo


16 Jan 11 - 01:09 PM (#3075758)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Abby Sale

Lighter & Guest Gibb,

If Burl Ives recorded "RED red roses" on an album in 1956 and I see it's also in his 1956 book _Sea Songs_ (no month given), it seems he could not easily have gotten it from, learned and published after the June 1956 movie.

Very different verses and style - seems to be a bit in the style of Appalachian game songs. Still, he uses "blood red" in the refrain and that "the ship we're on is a living hell." Hardly bawdy but less safe.

    1. Come sailors listen unto me,
       Come down, you bunch of roses, come down,
       A lovely song I'll sing to thee,
       Oh, you pinks and posies come down, [sic]
       You bunch of roses come down.

Same tune as Lloyd without the "come down" refrain after the second line.

FWIW, Ives claims copyright "because of variation in melody or text" on this and 12 other of the 66 songs printed. There is no other attribution for this song.

OTOH, the January, 1956 foreword by John Huston, director of "Moby Dick," only says that he put the four sea songs, including "Red, Red Roses," in the movie. Not by his own decision, they were already there and sang themselves into the picture.

16 Jan 11 - 04:15 PM (#3075877)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Lighter

Thanks, Abby. That's very interesting. It prompted me to see if Ives's lyrics have been posted online since 2009, and it looks like they have:

Come sailors listen unto me:
Chorus: Come down you bunch of roses, come down
A lovely song I'll sing to thee.
Chorus: Oh, you pinks and posies,
Come down, you red, red roses, come down.

A whale is bigger than a mouse;
Come down you bunch of roses, come down
A sailor's lower than a louse.
Oh, you pinks and posies,
Come down, you red, red roses, come down.

The cook he rolled out all the grub:
One split pea in a ten-pound tub.

In eighteen hundred and fifty-three
We set sail for the Southern Sea.

In eighteen hundred and fifty-five
I was breathing but not alive.

In eighteen hundred and fifty-seven
We sailed up to the gates of Heaven.

Saint Peter would not let us in.
He sent us back to earth again.

All this is true that I do tell.
The ship we're on's a livin' Hell.

The captain's covered o'er with fur;
Has grown a tail like Lucifer.

I still don't know where he found - or if he invented - the text. I've never seen the stanzas anywhere else. So-called "internal evidence" means nothing here.

FWIW, Huston knew Ives personally and had hoped to star him in a film about the Irish poet Raftery. (It didn't happen.) However, Huston actually filmed Moby Dick in 1954 and 1955, though it wasn't released till 1956.

I've never heard a song "sing itself" into or out of anything. How Huston happened to find and cast Lloyd as the chanteyman seems to be unknown. Just possibly Huston heard Ives sing "Red, Red Roses," realized Ives was too huge (in every sense) to play the chanteyman, and got Lloyd to sing the song in whatever version he knew. Of course, we don't where Lloyd got it. Was he in contact with Hugill in 1954-55? We don't for sure.

The musical connections between Hugill, Huston, Ives, Lloyd and "Blood-Red Roses" (or any other kind) are very murky and uncertain.

20 Jan 11 - 01:09 AM (#3078420)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

Hi Abby

Good point in that Burl Ives' version was not necessarily influenced by the film MOBY DICK -- though it still may have been influenced by Lloyd's renditions in 1954 (i.e. during shooting) or earlier (if he had it in his repertoire around and about). Indeed, I does seem Ives copyrighted "Go Down, You Red, Red Roses" in Nov. 1955, if this link is accurate:

Now, this is all interpretation, but FWIW:

1. Hugill's mystery version and Lloyd's version are, in my opinion, just too similar to be a coincidence. Either Hugill was on the scene contributing that version in the early/mid 50s (an idea that Lighter has put forth) or Hugill himself was influenced by the revival version and put it in his 1961 book. The latter is what I lean towards. If that was the case,

2. Lloyd or Ives are likely to have worked up their versions from another source. My best conjecture is that whoever the person was, he read Doerflinger's book. I think the items, texts, and title spellings from Lloyd and Ives' albums show that one or both used Doerflinger's book as a reference for several of his/their songs. I have not done any close analysis of that. I also believe that the tune of Lloyd's "Blood Red" is appreciably similar to that in Doerflinger.

3. If I had to guess Lloyd or Ives as the originator of a revival version, I'd guess Lloyd. No disrespect to Ives, but it does seem that Lloyd and his cohort were leading the sea music trend. Lloyd's solo verses are nothing like Doerflinger's, however they are all stock chanty lines (e.g. from "Handy, My Boys, So Handy") that he could have fitted as per his aesthetic -- an aesthetic which, I would argue, did not favor the "downhome" minstrel-y American couplets. On the other hand, Ive's text resembles Doerflinger's in keeping "come down"/"bunch of", and the solo lines, while different, have that downhome quality. I would think he certainly read Doerflinger's 1951 book. But why does Ives have "red red"? And why O why in the title is it "go down"? The latter smacks of Lloyd's reinterpretation, and the former seems like a toning down of Lloyd's "blood-red."

My GUESS would be that Ives drew from both Doerflinger's book and Lloyd's live performance activities.

If all my guesswork has not entertained you enough :) then here is an anecdote: I was thinking about this today and suddenly remembered that I had recently overheard someone at a coffeeshop saying that he would occasionally get a call from Burl Ives. Apparently, Ives was a friend of his father; the gent had to explain the significance of Ives to whomever he was talking to. So I got this crazy idea that I'd go back to the coffeeshop and ask this guy if he could arrange a call to Ives. I'd ask Ives where he learned the song from. I entertained the idea for about half an hour before I remembered to check if Ives had died...15 or so years back!

20 Jan 11 - 01:31 AM (#3078423)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

To add to my last post:

While Lloyd's THE SINGING SAILOR album is commonly dated (or estimated) to 1956, I've discovered a review of the album in the Dec. 1955 issue (Vol 7, #4) of _Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society_. So, the Lloyd's album came out before Ives registered his copyright in late Nov. of that year -- if that means anything.


30 Jan 11 - 03:26 PM (#3085410)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Abby Sale

Good. I couldn't agree more that, as with many songs, the academic and the entertainment value are very different. I had the pleasure to hear "John Barleycorn" last night (pleasure for the fine singing but also because it's so rare to hear any traditional song at all around here).

The singer asked me if I knew the origin. I answered that it was a pretty old traditional song that many of want to believe is of an extremely old pre-Christian root - but I doubt actually is. But I said it likely didn't matter to the audience even if the singer "should" have some thought about it. It helps (me, anyway) to have a setting for the song - to interpret it. But especially since it's 300+ years old, anyway...

BRR is like that - a great song, at worst related to a chantey and certainly sounds like one.

As to Ives, Lloyd, etc. Them guys didn't have the advantages of the Web, the Bodley online, the DT or even all the books printed or reprinted in the 60's. They had to work pretty hard for material. Many, Ives notably, were considerable collectors. And if they came on the same sources or stole from each other - well no big surprise. I'd never thought of that much until I read the brief note in Dyer-Bennett's break-through "1601" LP of the bawdy version of:

"The Eer-i-e Canal - A canal boatmen's song .
I heard it first in Portland, Maine, and later
an almost identical version from Burl Ives."

As I write, "Pablo Meshuggie" is web-streaming a song from the MacColl/Lloyd "Blow, Boys, Blow." That's where I learned BRR in 1960. Huh! That's wrong. It's on their later "Whaling Ballads" LP. I learned if from taping MacColl at his and Peggy Seeger's concert at Penn in 1959.

I still sing it.

08 Feb 11 - 03:07 AM (#3090936)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

I came across a sample on-line of Burl Ives' rendition. Since it doesn't seem to be the most easily accessible recording (I had trouble finding it earlier), I thought I'd share the link.

Burl Ives - Come Down You Red Red Roses

*Warning: the lyrics on the page do not correlate.

09 Feb 11 - 03:15 AM (#3091592)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

Just a comment. After hearing Ives' version, I believe it likely that he referenced Doerflinger's book for his tune -- rather than, for example, following Lloyd's. I do think there was an influence of Lloyd, too (or, some common version doing the rounds of folk clubs).

And FWIW I do still think Lloyd referenced Doerflinger. But this would mean a parallel trajectory...even if Lloyd's did win out as the most influential.

By chance, does anyone reading know if Burl Ives could read music well/ at all?

09 Feb 11 - 07:30 AM (#3091673)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: GUEST,Desi C

It's one of those phrases crops up oten in music, esp in Trad Irish ballads. There it's often realated to armed conflicts, James PLunket organisor of the 1916 Easter Rising notably wrote a poem called Blood upon the rose, and that line also appeaes in the song, Grace, a tribute to his wife. I've always assumed it's a metaphor for the ugliness of war upon the beauty of a flower/the land

31 Mar 11 - 09:14 AM (#3125483)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Lighter

A new twist on an old rationalization. From the notes to _Rolling Home_, a nice CD by Pat Sheridan and Brasy:

"The soldiers in their red tunics, often referred to as lobsters, were, we understand, the focus point in some of these shanties as well as targets in battle: Go down you red roses, as they shot down the red tunics."

This leads me to picture American merchant seamen shantying during the battle of, who knows, New Orleans, "as they shot down the red tunics."

Someone will some day claim that this shows the existence of the shanty during the War of 1812 - or even the American Revolution. It certainly could tie in with the Johnny Horton song, which does mention "pretty scarlet coats." Don't try to deny it.

31 Mar 11 - 01:46 PM (#3125638)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Mr Red

So this greenhorn asked the oldest tar what the words mean. And the old tar is remembering from when he was a novice. Or he doesn't know and tries to guess at the origin. Or wants to shut the newbie up. Memory plays tricks - it is not to be relied on unconditionally.

Stands to reason that the old lag, in his invention, will relate it to his profession. And maybe the old lag is having a joke at the expense of the naive. THAT is a tradition as old as the hills. Ask anyone who served as an apprentice.

So all explanations are valid, in the context of the route they take to get to this century.

And shanty double and triple entendre is pretty universal. Plenty of examples.

31 Mar 11 - 02:11 PM (#3125652)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

Interesting to compare this other chantey appearence of "roses." The 1909 Coast Seamen's Journal article attribute to F. Buryeson has these lyrics in "Haul Away, Joe."

Away, haul away, boys, and haul away, my rosies.
Away, haul away, and haul away, Joe.

Away, haul away, boys, and haul, my bunch of posies.
Away, haul away, and haul away, Joe.

First off, the lyrics in the article seem to reflect oral tradition, and don't seem to be derivative of any printed material. So it is a good piece of evidence for comparison.

It may be notable that there is no "red" or "blood-red" here, either.

"Haul Away Joe" is a song that I think can be reasonably argued to have had its genesis in the minstrel-y "Jim Along Josey" -- a song of the American milieu, w/ Afro-American associations. Certainly by 1909 it had developed a lot, and whatever its geographic and cultural origins, they are not necessarily relevant. However, one can wonder if, in the same way the "bunch of roses" idea turned up in Caribbean and Black American songs, it turned up here.

On the other hand, it could be a phrase of chantydom that was shared within that repertoire, with no necessary national or cultural associations attached to it. For example, the shantman might have lifted the rhyme from the "Bunch of Roses" shanty itself.

On the third hand (of the alien man), "rosies" could be simply what happened to the word "josey."

Most people are familiar with the version of Haul Away Joe that has "Rosey"/"Rosie" construed as a woman's name. But I won't speculate when and how each of these changes might of happened.

Lots of possibilities...impossible to say... I guess the one thing I would go out on a limb and argue is that the evidence of the Haul Away Joe again challenges the idea that "Bunch of Roses" was a chanty conceived in reference to any military forces.

31 Mar 11 - 04:54 PM (#3125781)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Les from Hull

Lighter - You mean the Johnny Horton Battle of New Orleans song? Yeah, like that's a stickler for historical accuracy!

03 Apr 11 - 04:52 AM (#3127394)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

I recently found a book in the library with some more evidence about this song.

1965 [copyright 1962]        Elder, Jacob D. _Song Games from Trinidad and Tobago._ The American Folklore Society.

Incidentally, the author seems to have been with Alan Lomax in 1962 when they recorded "Coming Down with a Bunch of Roses" at the San Juan Girls Government School. However, it is implied that his experience with the song goes beyond that one occasion. They example he gives is actually from Tobago in 1928, although it's not clear to me if he collected it all the way back then.

Pg63-64 -- includes score. Lyrics:

1. Lift up you' clotheses,
Comin' dung;
Right up to you' noses,
Comin' dung.

Comin' dung with you' bunch o'roses,
Comin' dung;
Comin' dung with you' bunch o'roses,
Comin' dung.

2. Gal show me you' motion,
Gal show me you' motion,

3. Bring in you' lover,
Bring in you' lover,

Notes say that the game is played with 12-24 boys and girls in two files, facing one another. The last pair forms arch with arms, others dance under/through.

"This song was collected from Harrington Benjamin (10) and others at Charlotteville, Tobago in 1928. It is a popular game among children in Tobago although adults usually play it at wakes. This game-song is analagous [sic] to the shanty "Blood Red Roses" as well as to "Bonny Bunch o' Roses." The game which it accompanies is a courtship-game in which the player with the dramatic role—usually female—makes a display of her finery, good looks and dancing styles, and then chooses a lover with whom she dances."

There are a few other notes about this songs scattered in the book.

Pg13 "Brown girl in da ring," "Coming down with you' buncha roses," and "Mizay Marie," played as a rule by adults at a dead-wake from which children are barred, can also be heard among children playing on the neighbourhood compounds on moonlight nights."

Pg 14-15
"Many games, like "Brown gal in da ring" and "Comin' dung with you' buncha roses," have connotations for adults which are far beyond the understanding of the children who learn them from their parents…In "Comin' dung with you' buncha roses," the players must choose partners and arrange themselves in couples to start the game."

Pg50, as references for the song, Elder cites Doerflinger, Adams, Harlow, Hugill. Also says, "Related to the Scottish game "Bonny bunch o' roses"," citing MacLagan.

A couple other game-songs in the collection have "roses" lyrics:

Pg 77, "In my right hand / I have a rose"..."Come in, come in / My charmin' rose." This game actually involves a girl who holds a roses and is admitted into a circle.

Pg105 – "See Miss Lilian So Fresh'n Gay" has lyrics, "See Miss Lilian so fresh 'n gay / With a bunch of roses in her hair". Also involves a girl holding flowers.

Unless one thinks the chanty turned into a game-song, after which it was reinterpreted, these examples suggest pretty strongly that it was a decorated female that was being addressed to "come down" (e.g. down the line).

Possibly cf. "Ring a Ring o' Roses."

03 Apr 11 - 07:19 AM (#3127494)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: JeffB

The copyright is 1962, well after the time that Lloyd is suspected of working up some kind of "Come down with your roses" shanty to produce BBR. Both Hugill and Lomax accepted BBR as an old shanty, and as Mr Elder worked with Lomax perhaps the reference to an analogy in his book is due to him. Particularly as Mr Elder was able to quote all the collectors who had something to do with an early "Roses" shanty.

I think it's very interesting too that the children's game which apparently provided the original song might have come from Scotland. If so, it's another astonishing example of how songs sometimes migrate and evolve from one culture to another. Reminds me of the theme from Dvorak's "New World" symphony, which again started out as a Scottish tune, a lament for the pipes, became a spiritual in the Deep South, and ended up being played in concert halls around the world.

03 Apr 11 - 02:58 PM (#3127789)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

Here's a bio for Elder, who was born and raised in Tobago. He would have been 15-16 when the version of "Comin' Dung" that he gives was heard.

The recording made in 1962 in Trindad by Lomax, with Elder's help, can be heard here (there are two excerpts):

For comparison, one can see the MacLagan 1901 source that Elder cited in suggesting the game-song was from Scotland. One must scroll down to pp61-62:

The songs really aren't very similar at all. Elsewhere in his book, Elder states his belief that a number of Trini game-songs descended from English ones. This sounds reasonable because they are, after all, in English language. It's not unreasonable to suspect that this "Bonny Bunch o' Roses" game was an ancestor to the song, however, by the 20th century the Trini one would have to be recognized as a different song. The chanty is related to the Caribbean song, not the Scottish one.

23 Apr 11 - 01:27 PM (#3141160)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: GUEST,Can I just say...

The history of these songs pre-dates the existence of for thought?

23 Apr 11 - 02:37 PM (#3141219)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

What "these songs"? Which ones? (We are mainly talking of one.) When does the history of America start? We're dating "Bunch of Roses" to mid-late-19th c. Do you have some argument about how it predates that? Sorry, I don't get it!

23 Apr 11 - 02:38 PM (#3141223)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

Sorry, I shouldn't have said "we're dating." I meant "I am" -- shouldn't speak for others.

23 Apr 11 - 02:52 PM (#3141236)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: GUEST,Lighter

"Go Down, You Bunch of Roses" began in Atlantis before America. People began to sing when their gardens were flooding. Kind of like the Titanic but in Atlantis. They were always cheerful.

14 Sep 11 - 04:29 PM (#3223269)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: GUEST,Mandy

This is a whaling song - I was told the red roses and pink posies refer to the great 'flowers' of blood which cloud the water when a whale is harpooned.

11 Nov 11 - 03:38 PM (#3255164)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)

Decades ago I heard a folk/rock group (Pentangle???)sing "GROW down you blood red roses grow down. They said that it was adapted from another song. They were specifically addressing the poppies of Flanders field. I found the image powerful and moving and have never forgotten it. In fact I came across this post while searching for it given upcoming remembrance day.

11 Nov 11 - 08:55 PM (#3255333)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Charley Noble

"GROW down you blood red roses grow down."

I don't think so, other than some folk/rock group might have heard the shanty that way and then recorded it. Something to ponder.

Charley Noble

11 Jul 12 - 12:28 AM (#3374769)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: GUEST,Send Help

Redcoats? The French for red roses is 'roses rouges' which the English would have corrupted into god knows what but probably not red roses.

After reading too many pages of this I am not longer interested in the meaning of the phrase, and am beginning to think the shanty was written by Alexander Pope and a bottle of sack or two.

11 Jul 12 - 04:23 AM (#3374805)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Les in Chorlton

If you want help Ms/Mr Send come down The Beech tonight and we will play some good tuned and next Wednesday we will sing some good songs

M21 9EG


L in C#

11 Jul 12 - 05:01 AM (#3374812)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Phil Edwards

I think Gibb's said all that needs to be said on this one. Here's what it sounded like when I had a bash:

Come down, you bunch of roses

11 Jul 12 - 05:03 AM (#3374813)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Phil Edwards

I think Gibb's said all that needs to be said on this one.

...but I can't resist quoting myself (from the link above).

As for "Come down you bunch of roses", it seems to have been based on a West Indian children's game (a singing game with the refrain "Come down with a bunch of roses" was recorded in 1962). Shanty writers worked with whatever was to hand – the not at all family-friendly "Little Sally Racket" also seems to have started life in the playground. Asking what the roses meant is a bit like asking for the meaning of the socks in "While shepherds washed their socks by night" – there was this song, and it got twisted to use as a shanty, and, er, that's it. Having said that, perhaps the appeal of the phrase in this context has to do with the contrast between the flower imagery and the masculine job of hauling on a rope; a shantyman singing "Oh you pinks and posies!" is a bit like a sergeant major saying "Come on, you great fairies, put your backs into it!" (Perhaps we should sing it as "pinks and pansies". Or perhaps not.)

21 Jan 13 - 11:29 AM (#3469474)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)

After having read all these threads about blood red roses lyrics, I was fascinated by
the variety of explanations. What a great source!

I'm a Matthews Southern Comfort fan and first heard Iain Matthews
version (Second Spring Album) while I was serving in Vietnam. It still remains
a favorite after all these years, but it wasn't until recently that I began to
wonder how the lyrics could relate to World War II.

I taking a bit of a dive here, but I'll risk a explanation about the World War
II version. I don't know about Farina's version, and even if I did there's nothing
on the internet that explains it..other than a mention of it on your site.
So here goes, perhaps the lyrics run deeper than the merchant marine
and are a reference, instead, to the British subs operating in and around "Around Japan we'll have to go". "Sunken ships will tell no tale"
would clearly entail subs sinking ships, and subs DO GO DOWN and the
ocean is definitely "NO MAN's LAND"

BTW, there is a wonderful YouTube video you can watch in which Iain Matthews
sings the WWII version of Blood Red Roses. It's a beautiful version, well sung
and performed!

Jack Kid/singer/songwriter

25 Jan 13 - 08:40 PM (#3471468)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: GUEST,Lighter

Gibb et al., see my post just now to the "Van Dieman's Land" thread re Hugill, MacColl, and Lloyd.

28 Mar 15 - 05:26 PM (#3697942)
Subject: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Joe Offer

I'm working on lyrics for this song for the upcoming Rise Again Songbook. I'm thinking of using these lyrics from the Digital Tradition. I think they come from Lou Killen, but I can't find a Killen recording to verify that.


Our boots and clothes are all in pawn
     Go down, you blood red roses, Go down.
And it's flamin' drafty 'round Cape Horn,
     Go down, you blood red roses, Go down.

Oh, you pinks and posies,
     Go down, you blood red roses, Go down.

My dear old mother said to me,
My dearest son, come home from sea.

It's 'round Cape Horn we all must go
'Round Cape Horn in the frost and snow.

You've got your advance, and to sea you'll go
To chase them whales through the frost and snow.

It's 'round Cape Horn you've got to go,
For that is where them whalefish blow.

It's growl you may, but go you must,
If you growl too much your head they'll bust.

Just one more pull and that will do
For we're the boys to kick her through.

Recorded by Louis Killen- 50 South, also MacColl and LLoyd
@sailor @whaling
filename[ BLOODRED

Here's the Traditional Ballad Index entry on this song:

Blood Red Roses

DESCRIPTION: Shanty. Characteristic lines: "Come/go down, you blood red/bunch of roses, Come down... Oh you pinks and posies, come down...." The verses generally refer to life at sea, with perhaps floating verses on other themes
AUTHOR: unknown
KEYWORDS: shanty ship flowers
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Doerflinger, pp. 22-23, "Come Down, You Bunch of Roses, Come Down" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hugill, pp. 365-367, "Bunch O' Roses," "Ho Molly!" (3 texts, 3 tunes - includes a fragment of text titled "Ho Molly! which seems to follow the same meter and rhyme) [AbrEd, pp. 275-277]
Scott-BoA, pp. 132-134, "Blood Red Roses" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FSNA 27, "Blood Red Roses" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 90, "Blood Red Roses" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Frederick Pease Harlow, _The Making of a Sailor, or Sea Life Aboard a Yankee Square-Rigger_, 1928; republished by Dover, 1988, p. 124, (no title) (1 fragment, 1 tune, probably this)

Roud #931
A. L. Lloyd, "Blood Red Roses" (on Lloyd3, Lloyd7)
Henry Lundy & David Pryor, "Come Down, You Roses" (AAFS 511 A1, 1935; on LomaxCD1822-2)

cf. "O Mary, Come Down!" (lyrics)
NOTES: Doerflinger comments of this piece, "I doubt that the movie version, with a 'blood red roses' chorus, is authentic folklore." However, that's the version I've always heard (including even an alleged New Zealand version), so I've adopted that title. Doerflinger also thinks the "bunch of roses" refers to Napoleon. Obviously that is the case in other "roses" songs, but I can't see any connection here. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.3
File: Doe022

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The Ballad Index Copyright 2015 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.

29 Mar 15 - 01:15 AM (#3697992)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Reinhard

I don't have his album 50 South to 50 South that the DT entry refers to so I can't verify that. But on the Revels' album Homeward Bound, Louis sings verses 1, 3, 2, 6 and 7 of the DT Blood Red Roses lyrics.

29 Mar 15 - 09:23 AM (#3698075)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Lighter

RE the Ballad Index entry posted above: "Frederick Pease Harlow, _The Making of a Sailor, or Sea Life Aboard a Yankee Square-Rigger_, 1928; republished by Dover, 1988, p. 124, (no title) (1 fragment, 1 tune, probably this)."

This is not a chantey but a "singout." (Harlow calls it a "semi-chantey.") The tune is little more than a chant and nothing like "Blood Red Roses."

Here are the words - apparently *not* a fragment:

Oh, Mary!
Come down with your bunch of roses!
Come down when I call, oh, Mary!
Oh, Mary! Come down!

Gibb has mentioned this (and the similar "Molly" version") without giving all the words.

30 Mar 15 - 11:47 AM (#3698408)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

I'll add to this thread a note included in the collection of songs by William Smith (1867-1955) of Liverpool, Nova Scotia, which were taken down by his son in 1940. They appear in:

Edith Fowke, ed. _Sea Songs and Ballads from Nineteenth Century Nova Scotia, The Willian H. Smith and Fenwick Hatt Manuscripts_. NY and Phila.: Folklorica, 1981.

On pg 36, after giving lyrics to "Drunken Sailor," this note on the song (and another) is recorded.

"[Referring to Drunken Sailor:] West Indie Nigger shanty. Does not think there was more to it. [Now referring to Come Down You Roses:] In hoisting, the West Indies darkies, on pulling down on a rope, used this refrain: 'Come down you bunch of roses.'"

We may note that other significant deepwater sailor "sightings" were in Doerflinger (from the Silsbee manuscript) and in Adams—both being of New England. And then the other evidence is from the Caribbean. Smith's Nova Scotia world is close enough, in my book, to that world of New England/Canadian Maritimes trade with the Caribbean to reinforced a picture of the trade/routes where this song traveled—the Caribbean-Grand Banks "cod/rum" jaunt, when Afro-Caribbean men were part of the crew.

(What's perhaps more interesting about Smith's footnote is his apparent belief that "Drunken sailor" could be ascribed to Afro-Caribbean workers specifically! A topic for elsewhere…)

30 Mar 15 - 01:29 PM (#3698435)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Lighter

Good post, Gibb, as always.

> his apparent belief that "Drunken sailor" could be ascribed to Afro-Caribbean workers specifically!

It may simply mean that he first heard it in that context. For most people that would probably be evidence enough.

30 Mar 15 - 04:29 PM (#3698478)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Gibb Sahib

I agree, Lighter. I'm certainly not ready to conclude anything about "Drunken Sailor" from Smith's funny footnote! Although to thicken the plot [off topic]: Bullen gives lyrics to "Drunken Sailor" that are written in dialect that I think is meant to be read as "Black" dialect. Again, I don't think this necessarily says anything about the "origins" of the song in general, but it is interesting so far as (I think) "Drunken Sailor" is typically thought of as a pretty well established "Anglo" song, and yet these two folks experienced it (it seems) in a way that led them to "mark" it as Afro-American.

To be clear, I'm not operating under any agenda to see "Drunken Sailor" as African-American. I do, however, see "Bunch of Roses" as (so far as the concept of "origins" is reasonably used) African-American[/Caribbean] originally.

30 Mar 15 - 05:00 PM (#3698484)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: Lighter

> "Bunch of Roses" as (so far as the concept of "origins" is reasonably used) African-American[/Caribbean] originally.

I think the preponderance of the limited evidence points that way.

30 Mar 15 - 05:31 PM (#3698496)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)

Hi Joe, et alia,

Your version there is essentially identical to what I sing. I got it from MacColl.

I'm interested this week as Lloyd suggested it's a possible reference to the War of the Roses (no date suggested for the chantey, itself, though). I believe this is absolutely, 100% true. A hard fact.

The reason for my certainty is that the last, climactic battle of the Wars of the Roses was played March 29, 1461 and I sang it yesterday with that in mind, also a Palm Sunday. Since that could hardly be a mere coincidence, it must be true.

Abby Sale

16 Jun 15 - 05:58 AM (#3716901)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: GUEST,BosunRich

Fascinating thread, but there is one possible origin which has never been mentioned. The red coats of soldiers have been alluded to, but might it, in fact, refer to the red coats of the Royal Marines. Every R.N. vessel from a frigate upwards carried a complement of Marines. Not normally involved in the working of the ship, in some circumstances the marines would be expected to add their weight to hauling and, less adept at such duties, would become the object of guarded ribaldry from the Naval crew, exhorting the "blood red roses" to hang down.
This, of course, is only conjecture, particularly as the Royal (sailing) Navy did not officially allow work songs. Nevertheless, naval vessels on distant, detached service would often press extra hands from merchant ships and whaling vessels, despite any (sometimes dubious) letters of protection. These hands might bring songs with them and would, on discharge revert to their former merchant occupations, taking adaptations of the songs with them. And so it goes on!!

16 Jun 15 - 09:20 AM (#3716937)
Subject: RE: Origins: Blood Red Roses (what's it mean?)
From: GUEST,Handy

always was led to believe that blood red roses was a derogatory term used to describe newer crew members on the whaling ships sailing out of American ports . Whaling being so richly rewarded after a successful trip that men not being used to the outdoor life might venture a trip to make a profit. Then getting so badly sunburned and blistered as to to have to "go down", below. Just another fish in the barrel of conjecture

    Thread closed because it's become a magnet for Spam. -Joe Offer- 16 Aug 2016-