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The Wellerman

[ Roud - ; Ballad Index Colq010 ; Mudcat 13706 ; anon.]

Soon May the Wellerman Come is a New Zealand whaling song collected around 1966 by the New Zealand teacher and folk song compiler, Neil Colquhoun. It is printed in Rona Bailey, Bert Roth and Neil Colquhoun's book Shanties by the Way: A Selection of New Zealand Popular Songs and Ballads (Christchurch, NZ: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1967).

Weller Bros, of Sydney, Australia, and Otago, New Zealand, were the major shore-whaling company in southern New Zealand in the 1830s and 40s. They had stations at Otakau (Dunedin), Tautuku, Bluff (and others). Over the years they had several ships, which serviced these stations, most notable, being the Magnet and Joseph Weller.

The “Wellerman” referred to is the boat/skipper bringing supplies to the stations, and taking away the oil accumulated since the last visit.

Gordon Bok, Ann Mayo Muir, and Ed Trickett sang Soon May the Wellerman Come in 1990 on their Folk-Legacy album And So will We Yet. Gordon Bok noted:

From a book Chris Morgan loaned me, called (I think) Folksongs of New Zealand. It's a shore-whaler's song, made by the New Zealanders who went to live on the archipelagos to catch whales from small boats. They got their “stake” from an agent of the big companies (like the Weller Company)—hence, any agent of those companies became a “Wellerman”. They were paid in staples, not money, so many of them never made enough to return home, and ended up farming or fishing on the little islands upon which they were “set down”.

This is a fanciful tale they put together about bigship whaling: the picture of a three-master being towed on some Nantucket sleighride by a single whale has some startling implications.

The Norfolk Broads sang The Wellerman on their 2017 CD In the Valley of the Flowers. This video shows them at the Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival on 10 September 2017:

Lyrics

Gordon Bok, Ann Mayo Muir, and Ed Trickett sing Soon May the Wellerman Come

There was a ship that put to sea
And the name of the ship was the Billy of Tea.
The wind blew up, her bow dipped down,
Oh, blow, my bully boys, blow.

Chorus (after each verse):
Soon may the Wellerman come
And bring us-sugar and tea and rum.
One day, when the tonguing is done,
We'll take our leave and go.

She had not been two weeks from shore
When down on them a right whale bore.
The captain called all hands and swore,
He'd take that whale in tow.

Before the boat had hit the water
The whale's tail come up and caught her.
All hands to the side, harpooned and fought her,
But she dived down below.

No line was cut; no whale was freed,
The captain's mind was not on greed.
He belonged to the whaleman's creed:
She took that ship in tow.

For forty days or even more
The line went slack, then tight once more.
All the boats were lost (there were only four),
But still that whale did go.

As far as I know the fight's still on,
The line's not cut and the whale's not gone.
The Wellerman makes his regular call
To encourage the captain, crew and all.

The Norfolk Broads sing The Wellerman

There was a ship that put to sea,
And the name of the ship was the Billy at Tea
The wind came up, her bow dipped down,
Blow, my bully boys, blow.

Chorus (after each verse):
Soon may the Wellerman come
And bring us sugar and tea and rum.
One day, when the tonguin' is done,
We'll take our leave and go.

She had not been two weeks from shore
When down on her a right whale bore.
The captain called all hands and swore
He'd take that whale in tow.

Before the boat had hit the water
The whale's tail came up and caught her.
All hands to the side, harpooned and fought her,
She dived down below.

A line we dropped all in pursuit
She raised her tail, a last salute.
But the harpoon lodged there's no dispute
She dived down below.

For six long days and six long nights
She drove us south with all her might,
Until we were too tired to fight,
Then we let her go.

The line was cut, the whale was freed;
The Captain's mind was not on greed.
He belonged to the sailor's creed
And he let that whale go.

Links

See also Soon May the Wellerman Come on the New Zealand Folksong website