> June Tabor > Songs > Admiral Benbow
> Louis Killen > Songs > Brave Admiral Benbow

Admiral Benbow

[ Roud 3141 ; Ballad Index AshS019i ; Bodleian Roud 3141 ; trad.]

Dave and Toni Arthur sang Admiral Benbow in 1969 on their Topic album The Lark in the Morning. They commented in their sleeve notes:

John Benbow, the son of a tanner, was born in 1653. From being a butcher's apprentice, he rose to be Vice-Admiral in command of the West Indian Fleet in 1702. The song concerns Benbow's engagement with the French Fleet under Admiral Du Casse. The English Fleet outnumbered the French seven to four, but only Captain Waldon of the Ruby agreed to fight alongside Benbow's flagship. The five captains who refused to fight were later court-martialled, and two of them executed. The Ruby was early disabled, and Benbow chased the French singlehanded. During the action Benbow was fatally wounded by chain-shot. He died in Port Royal on November 4th, 1702 and was buried at Kingston, Jamaica.

The version sung here is from Chappell's Old English Popular Music and is in a different metre from the usual one. The tune is a variant of Love Will Find Out the Way, first published in 1651. Originally, it circulated in the world of fashion, but after 1680 it seems to have passed almost exclusively into the keeping of agricultural workers. Chappell collected it from hop-pickers in the mid nineteenth century, and Lucy Broadwood found it in Sussex in 1898.

Swan Arcade sang Admiral Benbow in 1973 on their eponymous Trailer album, Swan Arcade.

Strawhead sang Admiral Benbow on their 1977 Traditional Sound album Farewell Musket, Pipe & Drum.

A famous story of heroism on the high seas, telling of the admiral's encounter in 1702 with his French adversary Du Casse. The fine tune survived in many forms into this century. Although the text lacks the full story of the other Benbow ballad, “Come all you seamen bold, lend an ear …”, the tune is more than adequate compensation.

Barry Skinner sang Admiral Benbow in 1978 on his Fellside album with Geoff Lakeman, Bushes & Briars. This track was also included in 1999 on the Fellside anthology of shanties and songs of the sea, Rolling Down to Old Maui. His liner notes commented:

Vice-Admiral John Benbow engaged the French Fleet under Admiral Du Casse in the West Indies in 1702. The French Fleet were outnumbered seven to four, but five captains refused to join Benbow. Benbow was fatally wounded, but he lived long enough to see the captains court-martialled and two, Kirby and Wade, executed. John Benbow was a real people's hero; a working-class lad made good, because he was the son of a tanner and started his career as a butcher's apprentice. The song was a favourite of broadside printers, sailors and, not surprisingly, lasted well in the maritime-conscious West Country.

White Hart sang Admiral Benbow in 1979 on their Traditional Sound album In Search for Reward.

June Tabor sang Admiral Benbow in 1980 on her and Martin Simpson's album A Cut Above.

Jim Mageean & Johnny Collins sang Admiral Benbow at The Herga Folk Club on Monday February 8, 1982, which was issued in the same year on the Sweet Folk All album Live at Herga!.

Louis Killen sang Admiral Benbow with an additional verse about Benbow's deserting subordinate captains Kirkby and Wade on his 1997 CD A Seaman's Garland: Sailors, Ships & Chanteys Vol. 2. He commented in his liner notes:

Finally, songs of heroes and battles were great favourites. The Bold Princess Royal's triumphant flight from pirates is beloved by England's east coast sailors. This version comes from herring fisherman, Sam Larner. The death of Admiral Benbow, who started his naval career as an ordinary seaman, is celebrated in several songs, as is Paul Jones' battle with the Serapis, which was fought off Flamborough head in Yorkshire.

The Wilson Family sang Admiral Benbow in a 1996 live recording on their 1997 CD Stocking Tops. They commented:

This is one of our swan songs—the swans in question being the magnificent Swan Arcade. Benbow was an extremely popular admiral tough, contrary to our introductions, there is no historical reference to suggest that his objections to weevily biscuits was because he was a vegetarian.

Barry Lister sang Admiral Benbow in 2006 on his WildGoose CD Ghosts & Greasepaint. He noted:

Dave Lowry found this in Exeter Library but can’t remember in what! It certainly appears in The British Tar in Fact and Fiction, according to the late Dave Stevenson of ‘The Songwainers’.

See also the related Admiral Benbow [Roud 227].

Lyrics

June Tabor sings Admiral Benbow

We sailed from Virginia and thence to Fayall
Where we watered our shipping and then we weighed all.
Full in view on the seas, boys, seven sails we did espy;
We mannéd our capstans and weighed speedily.

Now the first we come up with was a brigantine sloop
And we asked if the others was as big as they looked;
Ah, but turning to windward, as near as we could lie
We saw there were ten men of war cruising by.

We drew up our squadron in very nice line
And boldly we fought them for full four hours time;
But the day being spent, boys, and the night a-coming on
We left them alone till the early next morn.

Now the very next morning the engagement proved hot
And brave Admiral Benbow received a chain shot;
And as he was wounded to his merry men he did say,
“Take me up in your arms, boys, and carry me away!”

Now the guns they did rattle and the bullets did fly,
But brave Admiral Benbow for help would not cry;
“Take me down to the cockpit, there is ease for my smarts,
If my merry men see me, it would sure break their hearts.”

Now, the very next morning by break of the day
They hoisted their topsails and so bore away;
We bore to Port Royal where the people flocked much
To see Admiral Benbow carried to Kingston Church.

Come all you brave fellows, wherever you've been,
Let us drink to the health of our King and our Queen,
And another good health to the girls that we know,
And a third in remembrance of great Admiral Benbow.

Louis Killen sings Brave Admiral Benbow

Oh, we sailed to Virginia and thence to Fayall
Where we watered our shipping and then weighed all.
Then in view on the seas, boys, seven sails we did espy;
Oh, we mannéd our capstan and weighed speedily

The first we come up with was a brigantine sloop
And we asked if the others were as big as they looked.
Then turning to windward as near as we could lie
We found there was ten men of war cruising there by.

Oh, we drew up our squadron in a very nice line
And boldly we fought them for full four hours time;
Then the day being spent, boys, and the night coming on
We left them alone till the very next morn.

The very next morning the engagement proved hot
And brave Admiral Benbow received a chain shot.
And when he was wounded to his men he did say:
“Take me up in your arms, boys, and carry me away!”

Oh, the guns they did rattle and the bullets did fly,
But Admiral Benbow for help would not cry:
“Take me down to the cockpit, there is ease for my smarts,
If my merry men see me, it would sure break their hearts.”

And there Captain Kirkby proved a coward at last
And with Wade played at bo-peep behind the main-mast
And there they did stand, boys, and shiver and shake
For fear that those French dogs their lives they should take.

The very next morning at the break of the day
They hoisted their tops'ls and so bore away;
We bore up for Port Royal, where the people flocked much
To see Admiral Benbow carried to Kingston Church.

Come all you brave fellows, wherever you be,
And drink to the health of our King and our Queen.
And another good health to the girls that we know,
And a third in remembrance of brave Admiral Benbow.

Oh, yes, drink up a health, boys, to the girls we do know
And a third for remembrance of brave Admiral Benbow.

Acknowledgements

The lyrics are from the Mudcat Café thread Admiral Benbow (from June Tabor).