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The Banks of Newfoundland

[ Roud 1972 ; Henry H569 ; Ballad Index DTnwfndl ; trad.]

Ian Robb sang The Banks of Newfoundland in 1976 on his and Margaret Christl's Folk-Legacy album The Barley Grain for Me. He noted:

Edith Fowke says she was somewhat fooled by the title of this ballad, expecting it to be the better-known song of sailors' hardship that shares the name. Fortunately, however, Edith got round to recording Mr Abbott's version on the last day of her visit to Hull, and was surprised to hear a rarely-found song with an extremely fine tune. Old country variants of this song, with its interesting reference to lot-drawing, seem too be confined to Ireland.

John Bowden sang The Banks of Newfoundland in 2015 on his and Vic Shepherd's Hallamshire Traditions CD Still Waters. They noted:

Several unrelated songs share the title The Banks of Newfoundland, but this rare version was collected in 1957 by Canadian folk song collector Edith Fowke—surely the perfect example of homophonic nominal determinism!—from O.J. Abbott of Hull County, Quebec. Mr Abbott gave her a total of 120 songs, most of which he had learned sixty years earlier. Fowke described him as “the finest traditional singer I've had the pleasure of meeting, and I don't expect to come across many more like him.” Born in 1872 in Enfield, England, Oliver John Abbott emigrated to Canada with his family at the age of 12, and many of his songs—and his accent—show the influence of his predominantly Irish neighbours.

Although she had been told that he sang The Banks of Newfoundland, Fowke almost missed the chance to record this version. “I did not ask Mr Abbott about it for several days thinking it was the familiar version telling of a hard trip from Liverpool to New York. Fortunately we got around to it the day I was leaving and then I was delighted to hear him sing this much rarer version.”

Lyrics

Ian Robb sings The Banks of Newfoundland

Oh, you may bless your happy lots, all ye who dwell on shore,
For it's little you know of the hardships that we poor seamen bore.
Yes, it's little you know of the hardships that we was forced to stand,
For fourteen days and fifteen nights on the Banks of Newfoundland.

Our ship, she sailed through frost and snow from the day we left Quebec,
And if we had not walked about we'd have frozen to the deck.
But we being true-born sailor men as ever ship had manned,
Our Captain, he doubled our grog each day on the Banks of Newfoundland.

Well, there never was a ship, my boys, that sailed the western waves
But the billowy seas came a-rolling in and bent them into staves.
Our ship being built of unseasoned wood and could but little stand,
The hurricane, it met us there on the Banks of Newfoundland.

Well, we fasted for thirteen days and nights, our provisions giving out;
On the morning of the fourteenth day, we cast our lines about.
Well, the lot, it fell on the Captain's son, and thinking relief at hand,
We spared him for another night on the Banks of Newfoundland.

On the morning of the fifteenth day no vessel did appear,
We gave to him another hour to offer up a prayer.
Well, Providence to us proved kind; kept blood from every hand
For an English vessel hove in sight on the Banks of Newfoundland.

We hoisted aloft our signal; they bore down on us straightaway.
When they saw our pitiful condition, they began to weep and pray.
Five hundred souls we had on board when first we left the land,
There's now alive but seventy-five on the Banks of Newfoundland.

They took us off that ship, me boys; we was more like ghosts than men,
They fed us and they clothed us and brought us back again.
They fed us and they clothed us and brought us straight to land,
While the billowy waves roll o'er their graves on the Banks of Newfoundland.

John Bowden sings The Banks of Newfoundland

Oh, you may bless your happy lots, all you that live on shore,
For it's little you know of the hardships that we poor seamen bore.
Yes, it's little you know of the hardships that we were forced to stand
For fourteen days and fifteen nights on the Banks of Newfoundland.

Our ship sailed on through frost ice snow from the day we left Quebec,
And if we had not walked about we'd have frozen to the deck.
But being as true seafaring men as ever a ship had manned,
Our Captain doubled our grog each day on the Banks of Newfoundland.

there never was a ship, my boys, that sailed the western seas,
But the billowing waves washed o'er her deck and bent them into staves.
Our ship was made of unseasoned wood and she could but little stand,
And the hurricane, it met us then on the Banks of Newfoundland.

We fasted for thirteen days and nights, our provisions giving out,
And on the morning of the fourteenth day, we cast our lots about.
The lot it fell on the Captain's son, but relieving helped hand,
We spared him for another night on the Banks of Newfoundland.

On the morning of the fifteenth day no vessel did appear,
We granted him another hour for to offer up a prayer.
But Providence to us proved kind; kept blood from every hand,
For an English vessel hove in view on the Banks of Newfoundland.

We hoisted aloft our signal; they bore down on us straightaway.
When they saw our pitiful condition, they began to weep and pray.
Five hundred souls we had on board the day we left the land,
There's now alive but seventy-five on the Banks of Newfoundland.

They took us off that ship, my boys; we were more like ghosts than men.
They fed us and they clothed us and they brought us home again.
They fed us and they clothed us and they brought us save to land
While the billowing waves wash o'er their graves on the Banks of Newfoundland.

(repeat first verse)