> Folk Music > Songs > Thomas and Nancy / In Bristol There Lived a Fair Damsel

Thomas and Nancy / In Bristol There Lived a Fair Damsel

[ Roud 3232 ; Laws K15 ; Ballad Index LK15 ; Bodleian Roud 3232 ; Wiltshire 684 ; DT TOMNANCY ; trad.]

Elizabeth Bristol Greenleaf collected Thomas and Nancy in 1920 from Bryant Galliott at Sally’s Cove, Newfoundland. It is printed in her and Grace Yarrow Mansfield’s 1933 book Ballads and Sea-Songs of Newfoundland.

Anita Best sang In Bristol There Lived a Fair Damsel at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2006. This recording was included in the following year on the festival’s anthology Some Rants o’ Fun (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 3). The album’s booklet noted:

Anita learnt this song from her cousin Lily in her younger days at home in one of the fishing outports of Newfoundland—on Merasheen island in Placentia Bay. It is a rare traditional song (Roud 916) which probably has its origin in England in the early 1800s with versions also known from Nova Scotia, Ontario, Gloucestershire and from Ireland.

Finest Kind sang Thomas and Nancy on their 2010 album For Honour & for Gain. They noted:

In the spring of 1920, Elisabeth Bristol of New York City arrived by skiff in the tiny community of Sally’s Cove on the northwest coast of Newfoundland. Bristol was 24 years old, three years out of Vassar College, and she had volunteered to teach for the summer at the local school. She spent her first evening at her lodgings receiving people who dropped by to “see the teacher.” As she settled into bed afterwards, something magical happened. “There floated in on the fragrant air,” Bristol wrote home, “the most beautifully haunting melody I think I have ever heard, sung by three or four rough heavy boys’ voices, swelling out on the climaxes and indistinguishable in between. I hopped up and peeped out in time to see them swaying along in rhythm, clumping in their rubber boots. This is Sally’s Cove, unless I am mistaken, wild, rough, and untrained, but with a most moving melody.” Eight years later Bristol, now Mrs. Greenleaf, returned to Newfoundland to collect songs in a more formal way. In Sally’s Cove, she asked for the song she’d heard that first night. This time, she wrote it down.


Anita Best sings In Bristol There Lived a Fair Damsel

In Bristol there lived a fair damsel,
And she being a beauty most bright;
A sailor he loved her fond company,
Far dearer than he loved his own life.

Now when her old father he heard it,
Unto his fair daughter did say,
“I’ll send you straight way to the country,
And I’ll send your fond sailor to sea.”

The bosun’s loud whistle was sounding,
Causing Thomas and Nancy to part;
She fell on the beach broken hearted,
While the tears from her blue eyes did start.

Thomas pressed this fair maid to his bosom,
While the tears down her face fast they fell;
He kissed her pale lips and they parted,
And he bid her a loving farewell.

Now his boat reached the port and returning,
Like a seabird she danced o’er the foam;
While Thomas lay on his soft pillow,
Dreamt of Nancy, his parents and home.

There was lightning and loud claps of thunder,
There was lightning flashed over the main;
A rock split our good ship asunder,
And the crew met a watery grave.

To the beach, to the beach Nancy oft had visited,
She beheld a most terrible sight;
’Twas the corpse of her Thomas they carried,
To the place where they oft time had played.

Next day there were two loyal lovyers,
And they both were cut down in their bloom;
It was said that they loved one another,
They were both buried into one tomb.

Finest Kind sing Thomas and Nancy

When the bosun’s loud whistle keeps sounding,
Causing Nancy and Thomas to part,
As she stood on the beach broken-hearted,
The tears from her blue eyes did start.

“O Thomas, o Thomas,” cried Nancy,
“When you’re roving far over the foam,
Think of Nancy your loyal true lovyer,
Think of Nancy and your paryents and home.”

Our good ship sailed over the ocean,
Like a seagull went over the foam,
And Thomas lay on his down pillow,
Dreamed of Nancy and his paryents and home.

Our good ship sailed over the ocean,
Like a seagull on the billows was tossed,
And the rocks broke our good ship in sunder,
And our good ship and the cargo was lost.

As Nancy was roaming the bide-way
In the place where she oft roved before,
She saw the cold corpse of her Thomas
A-floating along by the shore.

She kissed his pale lips to her sorrow,
And she kissed them again to her grief,
And before the sun rose on the morrow,
To you, Nancy, death brought relief.

Come all you young maids that goes courting,
That never object any grief,
Be like Nancy, that loyal true lovyer,
That died with her Thomas so brave.