> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > The Trim-Rig Ducksie
> Martin Carthy > Songs > Ramblin' Sailor
> Tony Rose > Songs > Rambling Sailor
> Louis Killen > Songs > The Trim-Rigged Doxy

The Rambling Sailor/Soldier / Young Johnson / The Trim-Rigged Doxy

[ Roud 518 ; G/D 7:1477 ; Ballad Index ShH43 ; Bodleian Roud 518 ; Wiltshire Roud 518 ; trad.]

Ralph Vaughan Williams recorded Peter Verral of Monks Gate, Horsham, Sussex, singing The Rambling Sailor on May 2, 1907. This phonograph recording was included in 1998 on the EFDSS anthology A Century of Song.

Chris Willett sang The Rambling Sailor in a recording made by Bill Leader and Paul Carter in a pub near Paddock Wood, Kent in 1962 on the Willett Family's Topic album The Roving Journeymen: English Traditional Songs sung by Traditional Singers. This track was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology We've Received Orders to Sail (The Voice of the People Series Volume 12). The original album's notes commented:

Of broadside origin, the song deals with the free and easy dealings of the sailor Young Johnson with women—an attitude popularly supposed to be typical of sailors and soldiers.

Chris Willett learnt all his songs from his father. The text here is a little jumbled but surely of broadside origin. Whether old Mr Willett got it directly from a broadside or obtained it from a singer who had learnt the song from print is not clear. A similar text, noted by Baring-Gould at Widdecombe, Devon, is in James Reeves's Everlasting Circle.

The tune used here is practically identical with that collected by Cecil Sharp from George Wyatt of West Harptree, Somerset. The song has several tunes, nearly all of them Mixolydian, like this one, and mostly excellent. According to Baring-Gould, this melody was used as a West Country hornpipe. An Irish variant of it, called The Roving Soldier, is in Joyce's Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909).

A.L. Lloyd sang this song as The Trim-Rig Ducksie in 1962 on his and Ewan MacColl's album A Sailor's Garland. He commented in the album's liner notes:

This wry and saucy song is also known as The Rambling Sailor. In fact it began life as The Rambling Soldier, and as such was a favourite song with fairground singers in the 18th century. In 1818, perhaps capitalising on the wave of popularity enjoyed by British tars in the years following Trafalgar, the ballad-sheet printer James Catnach (father of the more famous Jemmy) published an altered version of the song, with the saucy soldier now become a sailor. The song's unbuttoned text seems to have worried the folk song collectors. The Rev. Baring-Gould, H.E.D. Hammond and Cecil Sharp all obtained several versions of it, but found its wit and point “not very choice”, and suppressed most of the text as unfit for polite ears. Less polite country singers remain devoted to the song, whose swinging mixolydian melody is also that of a West Country hornpipe.

Martin Carthy sang Ramblin' Sailor in 1966 on his Second Album. He commented in the album sleeve notes:

Also known as Young Johnson, this is a typical story of a sailor home from a long voyage and a rather frisky whore who robs him of all his possession, leaving him with a physical reminder of the exchange; or, as Measure for Measure puts it, “Impiety makes a feast of him.”

Tony Rose sang Rambling Sailor with very similar verses at the Cheltenham Folk Club in 1967. This recording was included in his posthumous CD Exe.

Louis Killen sang this as The Trim-Rigged Doxy in 1970 on the South Street Seaport Museum's album 50 South to 50 South and in 1995 on his CD Sailors, Ships & Chanteys. He commented in the former album's liner notes:

This forebitter was originally a landsman's song called The Rambling Soldier which told the tale of a young man who had a commission from the king to wander the country seducing young ladies. In the sailor's version he gets his comeuppance with a dose of the dreaded social disease.

Tim Hart sang a version of The Rambling Sailor with quite a different story line on Maddy Prior's and his first duo album Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 1. Both versions share the first verse and half another one though. The record's sleeve notes comment:

Existing in many variations, this song is closely related to the Rambling Soldier and it is pure conjecture as to which came first. Here the sailor obtains money from the first girl, spends it on the second girl and resumes his rambles without remorse.

The Tees-side Fettlers sang The Rambling Sailor in 1974 on their Traditional Sound Recordings album Ring of Iron.

Tony Hall sang The Trim-Rig Doxie in 1977 on his Free Reed album Fieldvole Music.

Roy Harris sang The Rambling Soldier as the title track of his Fellside album of 1979, The Rambling Soldier: Life in the Lower Ranks 1750-1900 Through Soldier Songs which accompanied his book of the same name.

Cyril Tawney sang The Rambling Sailor on his 1992 Neptune cassette In Every Port; this was also included in 2003 on his CD Nautical Tawney: Songs of the Old Seafarers.

Dave Burland sang The Rambling Sailor in 1996 on his CD Benchmark; this was also included in 2009 on the Folk for M.S. charity album Generosity.

John Spiers and Jon Boden recorded Rambling Sailor in 2001 on their Fellside CD Through & Through, and with Bellowhead in 2005 on E.P.onymous. Jon also sang it as the July 13, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He commented in the original CD's liner notes:

One of the lesser-known royal appointments. Moralists may take comfort from the fact that the protagonist gets his comeuppance eventually—albeit in a different version of the song (see Trim-Rigged Doxy). This is based on the version sung by Tim Hart.

This is an early Bellowhead performing Rambling Sailor at Celtic Connections in 2005:

Andy Turner sang The Rambling Sailor, as the March 24, 2012 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Pete Wood sang The Rambling Sailor on his 2014 CD Young Edwin. He noted:

A classic theme of a sailor being robbed by “a lady of the night”. It has a particularly jaunty tune, a variant of an Irish hornpipe called The Chanter's Tune.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings Ramblin' SailorTony Rose sings Rambling Sailor

Oh, I am a sailor brisk and bold,
Long time I've sailed the ocean.
Oh, I've fought for king and the country too,
For honour and promotion.
So now, my brother shipmates, I bid you all adieu,
No more will I go to sea with you;
But I'll ramble the country through and through
And I'll be a rambling sailor.

I am a sailor brisk and bold,
Long time I've sailed the ocean.
And I've fought for my king and the country too,
For honour and promotion.
But now, my brother shipmates, I bid you all adieu,
No more will I go to sea with you;
But I'll ramble the country through and through
And I'll be a rambling sailor.

Oh, it's off to a village then I went
Where I saw lassies plenty;
Oh, I boldly stepped up to one of them
To court her for her beauty.
Oh, her cheeks, they were like the rubies red;
She'd a feathered bonnet a-covering her head.
Oh, I put the hard word on her but she said she was a maid,
The saucy little trim-rigged doxy.

Now it's off to the village then I went
Where I saw the lassies plenty;
And I boldly stepped up to one of them
To court her for her beauty.
Oh, her cheeks, they were like the roses red;
She'd a fine feathered bonnet all on her head.
I put the hard word on her but she said she was a maid,
The saucy little trim-rigged doxy.

“Oh, I can't and I won't go along with you,
You saucy rambling sailor.
Oh, my parents, they would never agree
For I'm promised to a tailor.”
But I was hot shot eager to rifle her charms.
“A guinea,” says I, “for a roll in your arms.”
The deal was done and upstairs we went,
Myself and the trim-rigged doxy.

“Oh, I can't and I shan't and I won't go with you,
You saucy rambling sailor.
For my parents they would never agree
For I'm promised to a tailor.”
But I was hot shot eager to rifle her charms.
“A guinea,” says I, “for a roll in your arms.”
The deal was done and upstairs we went,
Myself and the trim-rigged doxy.

Oh, it was haul on the bowline, let your stays'ls fall,
We was yardarm to yardarm bumpin'.
My shot locker empty, asleep I fell
And then she fell into robbin';
Oh, she robbed all my pockets of everything I had,
She even stole my new boots from underneath the bed,
And she even stole my gold watch from underneath my head,
The saucy little trim-rigged doxy.

Well it's haul on the bowline, let the stays'ls fall,
We was yardarm to yardarm bobbin'.
And my shot locker empty, asleep I fell
And soon she fell to robbin';
Now she robbed all my pockets of everything I had,
She even stole my new boots from underneath the bed,
And she even stole my gold watch from underneath my head,
The saucy little trim-rigged doxy.

And it's when I awoke in the morning bright,
Oh, I started to roar like thunder.
My gold watch and my money too
She bore away for plunder.
But it wasn't for my watch nor my money too,
For them I don't value but I tell you true,
I think her little fire-bucket burned my bobstay through,
That saucy little trim-rigged doxy.

But it's when I awoke in the morning bright
I started to roar like thunder.
For my gold watch and my money too
She bore away for plunder.
Now it wasn't for my watch, and nor my money too,
For them I don't value but I tell you true,
I think her little fire-bucket burned my bobstay through,
The saucy little trim-rigged doxy.

Tim Hart sings The Rambling SailorBellowhead sing Rambling Sailor

Oh, I am a sailor brisk and bold
That oft have sailed the ocean,
I've travelled the country far and near
For honour and promotion.
My shipmates all, I'll bid you adieu;
I may no longer go along with you.
I'll travel the country through and through
And they call me the rambling sailor.

I am a sailor brisk and bold
Long time I've sailed the ocean.
I travelled the country through and through
For honour and promotion.
Oh, my shipmates all, I'll bid you adieu;
I may no longer go along with you.
I'll travel the country through and through
And I'll be the rambling sailor.

And if you want to know my name,
My name it is Young Johnson.
I've got a commission from the King
To court all girls as handsome.
With my false heart and flattering tongue
I'll court them all both old and young;
I'll court them all but I marry none
And they call me the rambling sailor.

And if you want to know my name,
My name it is Young Johnson.
I've got a commission from the King
To court all girls as handsome.
With my false heart and flattering tongue
I'll court them all both old and young;
I'll court them all but I marry none
And I'll be the rambling sailor.

Well first I come to Plymouth town
And there were lasses many.
I boldly stepped unto a one
To court her for her money.
Says I, “My dear, be of good cheer,
I will not leave you, do not fear.
I'll travel the country far and near
And they call me the rambling sailor.”

Well first I came to Portsmouth town
And there were lasses many.
I boldly stepped unto one
To court her for her money.
I says, “My gal, be of good cheer,
I will not leave you, do not fear.
I'll travel the country far and near
And I'll be the rambling sailor.”

And next I come to Portsmouth town
And there were lasses plenty.
I boldly stepped unto a one
To court her for her beauty.
Says I, “My dear, what do you choose
Here's ale and a wine and a rum punch too.
Besides a pair of silks I ensure
If you travel with the rambling sailor.”

And then I come to Plymouth town
And there were lasses many.
I boldly stepped unto one
To court her for her beauty.
I says, “My gal, what do you choose?
Here's ale and a wine and a rum punch too.
Besides a pair of silks I ensure
If you travel with the rambling sailor.”

And then I rose up with the dawn
Just as the day was peeping.
On tiptoe down the stairs I went
And I left my love a-sleeping.
And if she waits until I come
She may lie there till the day of her doom;
I'll court some other girl in their room
And they call me the rambling sailor.

And then I rose up with the dawn
Just as the day was peeping.
On tiptoe down the stairs I went
And I left my love a-sleeping.
And if she waits until I come
She may lie there till the day of her doom;
I'll court some other girl in their room
And I'll be the rambling sailor.

Acknowledgements

Garry Gillard transcribed Martin Carthy's singing, with thanks to Wolfgang Hell and Neil Spurgeon.