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Lyr Req: The Fireship

21 Apr 02 - 09:21 AM (#694811)
Subject: The Fireship
From: GUEST,Paolait

Hello to you all, I'm Paola from Italy ( so please forgive my inglish); I'm loocking for the lyric of a sea shanty " the fireship", as sung by Cyril Tawney on a CD called "Blow the man down". I wasn't able to find it on the digitrad.

21 Apr 02 - 09:47 AM (#694818)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: khandu


There are lyrics for "The Fireship in the Digitrad. Perhaps they are not what you seek, but Here They Are.


21 Apr 02 - 10:06 AM (#694829)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Celtic Soul

If the lyrics Khandu has linked to are not the ones you are looking for, there are a few other songs that *mention* fireships in them, but of which are not called "Fireship". If you could give us a chorus or a bit of the song, it might make it easier.

21 Apr 02 - 10:59 AM (#694847)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: GUEST,Paolait

Thank you, Kandhu, but "the Fireship" that's on the Digitrad is not the one I' seeking.Like this one, mine has a lot of double meanings (I hope "double meaning" is tha right expression, since I traslated as it is from Italian...)from nautical terms, and I don't catch them. I try to write i bit of the song: it is (more or less) As Jack walked one morning ...???...up and down/ He spied pretty polly of merry Portsmouth town/As soon as Jack see her most beautiful face/ He.....????...and to her gave chase/(chorus)To me rigging....../come rattle my rigging down/ come rattle my rigging an rattle....../ etc. I hope it's useful! Thank you - Paola

21 Apr 02 - 11:42 AM (#694871)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: masato sakurai

Sound clip is HERE.


21 Apr 02 - 11:47 AM (#694873)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Charley Noble

Paola - the version of "Fireship" you are looking for appears to be an older traditional one. I'll check my collection of Cyril Tawney recordings and see if I can find it. If anyone has Tawney's e-mail address, that might speed up the process.

21 Apr 02 - 12:40 PM (#694897)
Subject: Origins: The Fireship
From: Malcolm Douglas

The song turns up in a number of forms, of course, and with a number of different titles. The Fireship as already mentioned is evidently not quite the same version as the one Paola is looking for, but without knowing where [s]he heard it, we are really just guessing at the moment; unless, that is, somebody has recognised the precise example already. There's a reference in the Roud Folk Song Index to a traditional set recorded by Edith Fowke from Owen McBride of Ontario, which begins, One morning as Jack walked the beach up and down, but I don't have any further details. Meanwhile, here are some additional references:

The DT set, THE FIRESHIP, credits no source of any kind, but has the same first line as the example in Silverman's The Dirty Song Book (1982), and may derive from that book, or perhaps from a commercial recording (of which there have been several; a couple of American "songwriters" even copyrighted it at some point). More information, together with an early version of the story from c.1620, Watton Town's End, is given in this earlier discussion: Fireship/One of the Roving Kind

Also in the DT: THE ROVING KIND  Modernised text as recorded by Guy Mitchell.

There is also some discussion in this thread: She Had A Dark & A Rovin Eye

There is an entry at the Traditional Ballad Index:

Fire Ship, The

There are a couple of broadside editions at Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads; here is one:

Covent garden ramble Printed between 1819 and 1844 by J. Pitts, 6 Great St, Andrew street 7 Dials [London].

21 Apr 02 - 04:53 PM (#695045)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Celtic Soul

We sing the one you're looking for Paulo...*we* call it "Ratcliffe Highway", but it is not one of the ones listed in the digitrad here under that name.

As soon as I can get with the guy who sings lead, I will see if I can get a bit more info on where he found it.

21 Apr 02 - 06:50 PM (#695111)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Snuffy

Paola was quite specific about where she heard it: here are the details of the CD from Topic. Available from The Chantey Cabin for £12.00 +p&p.

1 Louis Killen : The Wild Goose
2 Ian Campbell : Lovely Nancy
3 Ewan MacColl : The Black Ball Line
4 Cyril Tawney : The Nightingale
5 Harry H Corbett : Blow the Man Down
6 Louis Killen : Heave Away My Johnny
7 Sam Larner : The Lofty Tall Ship
8 Ian Campbell : Row Bullies Row
9 Louis Killen : The Flying Cloud
10 Cyril Tawney : The Fireship
11 Bob Davenport : Tom's Gone to Hilo
12 The Watersons : Greenland Whale Fishery
13 Louis Killen : The Ship in Distress
14 Ian Campbell : Lowlands Low
15 Bob Hart : Cod Banging
16 Cyril Tawney : One Morning in Spring
17 Louis Killen : Hilo Johnny Brown
18 A.L.Lloyd : The Bonny Ship The Diamond
19 Louis Killen : The Bold Princess Royal
20 Bob Davenport : Billy Boy
21 Bob Roberts : Windy Old Weather
22 Cyril Tawney : The Bold Benjamin
23 Ian Campbell : The Hog-Eye Man
24 Louis Killen : Good Bye, Fare Thee Well
I'll have to buy this one at the next opportunity.

WassaiL! V

21 Apr 02 - 07:01 PM (#695119)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Malcolm Douglas

So she was, as you rightly point out; my brain is full of cotton wool today, evidently. Too much coffee and not enough fresh air, perhaps. My apologies for the confusion!

21 Apr 02 - 07:05 PM (#695122)
From: GUEST,Paul D.

Hello, Paola...

I sing this song with the "Pyrates Royale", and I learned it from a recording, which I think was by Louis Killen, although it certainly could have been by Cyril Tawney. I can't seem to find my recrding of it just at the moment, but the words I sing go like this:


As Jack walked one morning, Point Beach up and down,
He spied pretty Polly of merry Portsmouth Town.
As soon as Jack seen her most beautiful face
He highs his three tops'ls and to her give chase.


T'me riggin gray!
Come rattle my riggin on down!
Come rattle my riggin down Ratcliffe Highway!

Jack hailed her in Dutch and the signal she knew
She backed her main tops'l and for him heaved-to.
And Jack lowered his jolly boat, and pulled along side,
He found madam's gangway was open, and wide!


Jack entered her cabin, and swore "Damn her eyes!"
What was she but a fireship rigged out in disguise!
Set fire to Jack's rigging, likewise to his hull,
Now away to the hospital Jack has to skull.


Set fire to Jack's rigging, likewise to his hull;
Now away to the hospital Jack has to skull,
With his helm hard a-starboard, as he sailed along;
His ship-mates cried after him "Your yardarm is sprung!"


Now, Jack he's reached home to Portsmouth at last.
He lies on the lower deck among the low-class.
He lies on his back, and he cries out "O, Lord!"
"Wasn't that a stiff breeze when I sprung me main yard?"

Line Breaks
-Joe Offer-

21 Apr 02 - 08:27 PM (#695168)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Celtic Soul

Thanks, Paul, for coming in personally and posting those...I was having the devil of a time trying to piece it together from hearing you sing it. :D

22 Apr 02 - 08:28 AM (#695480)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: GUEST,paolait

Thank you very much,Paul D. ! This is exactly what I was looking for. In the CD where I've heard it it ( which is the one Masato and Snuffy have writen about) it was sung by Cyril Tawney, If there is a version sung by Louis Killen, I really would like to hear it! Thank you to Malcom Douglas too for all the intresting links. Paola (who is she, indeed)

22 Apr 02 - 08:42 AM (#695485)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Charley Noble

Paul D. -

Are you sure the last line of the first verse runs "He highs his three tops'ls and to her give chase."? It would make more sense if it ran:

He HOISTS his three tops'ls and to her give chase.

Otherwise, this is a fine version of "Fireship."

Charley Noble, Roll & Go

22 Apr 02 - 08:52 AM (#695492)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: greg stephens

Can't recall how Cyril tawney pronounced th line, but a lot of the old boys pronounce "hoist" as in bank heist...which would sound pretty much like highs when sung:the t would get lost between the two s's.There's still plenty ofpeople in England who pronounce boil and oil as bile and that old American usage as well?

22 Apr 02 - 03:08 PM (#695809)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Mad4Mud

I am just reading the Patrick O'Brian Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series and in it they make mention of a fireship. Am I right in assuming a "fireship" is a strumpet with the pox?

22 Apr 02 - 05:28 PM (#695927)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Celtic Soul

Mad4Mud, a "Fireship" is one of 2 things.

The first is literally a ship set a-fire, and run into an enemies ship for the purpose of taking her out.

The second is a lady with certain venerial conditions.

This is my understanding anyway...someone correct me if I have been given bad information.

22 Apr 02 - 05:29 PM (#695929)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Charley Noble

Mad4Mud- Yep! Enjoy your reading; it's a fine nautical series. I've always wondered whether the expression "Kicking up Bob's a-dying" (shoreside frolics and alarms) was traditional or invented by O'Brian.

22 Apr 02 - 06:58 PM (#696003)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Gareth

Confirm - a Fireship was a 'Poxed Doxy'- apart from the historical nautical vessel.

But I was under the impresion that the Ratcliffe Highway was in Londons Docks, not a million miles from Wapping High St., and Execution Dock - Don't tell me it was there in Pompey as well.


22 Apr 02 - 07:09 PM (#696015)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Herga Kitty

Do Americans skull (like skedule)? - and only Brits scull?

22 Apr 02 - 07:47 PM (#696036)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: artbrooks

Herga Kitty: if you mean row, Americans do pronounce the word the same as a head bone...skull. But we'd pronounce scull (as its spelled) the same way. How you?

22 Apr 02 - 08:11 PM (#696053)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)

Joe added line breaks but he didn't correct anything else, erga (If the English say shedule why don't they say shool?). Why do many English drop the "h" while Americans drop it only when pronouncing the letter (aiche)? No one seems to know when or why the differences showed up. What is the Irish word for schedule- is Irish and Scottish immigration to blame? (Thread creep of the worst kind).
Greg, bile, ile and heist for hoist used to be common in the eastern states as well as parts of England. These old usages are needed for a number of 19th C. songs. Uniform general education has wiped out much of the old pronunciation, but I remember the days of col ile lamps in rural areas. Words ending in a often have an added r in the northeast, but this came over from a section of England.

22 Apr 02 - 08:56 PM (#696104)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Celtic Soul

Well, if you're going to creep, might as well do it with gusto!

Why, if we speak "English" here in the states, do we use *completely different words* for some things? What's with the "Lift/Elevator" thing? And "Nappies/Diapers"? How about "Jumper/Sweater"? Whassup with that?

Man, when we drift, we drift. :D

17 May 02 - 01:35 AM (#712086)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Chris Amos

I remember this song, I used to sing I in my youth, and so I was glad to be reminded of it. I took to singing it while doing the washing up (it's how I learn all my songs). The following exchange took place when my wife (a potter not much given to music) came into the kitchen,

Spouse: What's this, another of your dirges?

Self: Humph.

Spouse: What's this one about? "Waggle my Willie down Wadcliffe Highway"

Collapse of stout party.


17 May 02 - 09:52 AM (#712276)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Bat Goddess

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .

Cyril Tawney's recordings are listed and available from his website at


17 May 02 - 02:12 PM (#712451)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: The Walrus at work


The origin of the "dropped H" is from a time when French pronounciation was the fashion (as in Honour, hour, heir), this later changed when the fashion changed to more "Germanic"(hard H) pronounciation gained favour (however, there are throw backs as in the, slightly archaic, usage "an historian" and "an hundred").
What I cannot understand is why the Americans insit on the hard "H" on everything EXCEPT the word "herb".
It has been argued that the "dropped h" in "working class usage" started not as lazyness, but merely as an inability to change with fashion (I don't buy that myself, but, as they say, "you pays your money...").


17 May 02 - 02:15 PM (#712455)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: MMario

?? of yur examples the only ones I know that are pronounced with a hard "h" are Historian and Hundred.

And I hain't one to drop my haitches.

17 May 02 - 06:01 PM (#712567)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: The Walrus

I sould have said that this still exist in a small "rump" of words (Honour, hour, heir etc) but for most words were supeceded by the Germanic hard H (Hanger, Hacksaw etc).

I'm now sure when the change came about, but does this mean that 'Amlet could tell an "'Awk from an 'Andsaw" ?


18 May 02 - 03:36 PM (#713011)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Genie

Ciao, Paolo! Benvenuto al 'Gatto! Piacevole per averceli con noi. (I hope I didn't mangle that too badly.)


Celtic Soul, thanks for clarifying the double entendre in "The Fireship." I never quite 'got' that song before!

MMario, "...but Esau is an hairy man, while I am a smooth man..."

14 Apr 03 - 04:37 PM (#933409)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: GUEST,lighter

Possibly the earliest publication of the "dark and rolling eye" version in its modern form with music is in "The Songs My Mother Never Taught Me," by John Jacob Niles and Douglas Moore (N.Y.: Macaulay Co. 1929). American silors seem to have known it in WW I.

14 Apr 03 - 06:08 PM (#933451)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship

Ed Cray, 1992, "The Erotic Muse," has the verse in a version "learned prior to the 1930s," from M. Stubblefield (Univ. Utah State archives),

She had a dark and a rolling eye,
Cold (sic) black cock and lily-white thighs.
She had a dark and lolling eye,
She had a tapering thigh.

This version has lines from the "House of the Rising Sun" as well.

As you go down in Brooklyn town, they call her the Rising Sun,
And many a chap she's given the clap, and among them me, for one.

14 Apr 03 - 06:27 PM (#933466)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship

"Covent Garden Ramble," in the Bodleian Library, has the line "She'd a black and rolling eye." The copy is 19th century, but the song is much earlier. See Randolph, #58, "A Dark and Rolling Eye," p. 239, in "Roll Me In Your Arms."
The copies in the Bodleian won't come up for me today.

15 Apr 03 - 01:38 AM (#933701)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: Gurney

Paola, I've been waiting for someone to tell you, the phrase 'double meaning' is perfectly correct, but the English usually use French. 'Double entendre.' Just to confuse foreigners.

01 May 13 - 01:48 AM (#3510602)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Fireship
From: GUEST,K in Florida

The Fireship. Is an old song, probably of naval origins, in which the swab loses both possessions and health.

See link to tune:

The Fireship

    As I walked out one evening upon a night's career,
    I spied a lofty clipper ship and to her I did steer.
    She hoisted up her sig-a-nals which I so quickly knew,
    And when she saw me bunting up she immediately hove to.
    She had a dark and a roving eye, and her hair hung downs in ring-a-lets.
    She was a nice girl, a decent girl, but one of the rakish kind.

    "Oh sir, won't you excuse me for staying out so late,
    And if my parents heard of this, then sad would be my fate.
    My father, he's a minister, a good and righteous man,
    My mother she's a Methodist; I do the best I can."
    She had a dark and a roving eye, etc.

    I eyed that girl both up and down for I'd heard such talk before,
    And when she moored herself to me I knew she was a whore.
    But still she was a pretty girl; she shyly hung her head.
    "I'll go along with you, my lad," was what to me she said.

    I took her to a tav-er-in and treated her with wine.
    Little did I think that she was one of the rakish kind.
    I handled her, I dandled her, and much to my surprise,
    Turns out she was a fireship rigged up in a disguise.

    So up the stairs and into bed I took that maiden fair.
    I fired off my carronade into her thatch of hair.
    I fired off a broadside until my shot was spent,
    Then rammed that fireship's waterline until my ram was bent.

    Then in the morning she was gone, my money was gone too.
    My clothes she'd hocked, my watch she stole, my seabag bid adieu.
    But she'd left behind a souvenir, I'd have you all to know.
    And in nine days, to my surprise, there was fire down below.

    So come all you good whaler boys that sail the wintry seas,
    And come all you good sailor boys, a warning take by me:
    Beware of lofty clipper ships, they'll be the ruin of you,
    For she not only made me walk the plank, she set fire to me mainmast, too.