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The Bonny Ship the ‘Diamond’

[ Roud 2172 ; G/D 1:11 ; Ballad Index FSWB094 ; DT BDIAMOND ; Mudcat 45251 ; trad.]

John Ord: Bothy Songs and Ballads Peggy Seeger, Ewan MacColl: The Singing Island Norman Buchan and Peter Hall: The Scottish Folksinger

Blow the Man Down Fresh Handmade Sound: From Source to Sea Auld Hat New Heids Tae the Green Woods Gaen She Rises The World of Folk Vol. 2

The Bonny Ship the ‘Diamond’ is a song about the West Greenland right whale fishing in the 1820s.

Ewan MacColl sang The Bonny Ship the ‘Diamond’ in 1957 on his and A.L. Lloyd’s Riverside album Thar She Blows! (reissued in the 1960s on the Washington label as Whaling Ballads).

A.L. Lloyd recorded The Bonny Ship the ‘Diamond’ again in 1967 for his album Leviathan! Ballads and Songs of the Whaling Trade, where he was accompanied by Alf Edwards, English concertina; Dave Swarbrick, fiddle; Martin Carthy, mandolin; and Trevor Lucas and Martyn Wyndham-Read singing chorus. This track was included in the Topic Sampler No. 6, Folk Songs: A Collection of Ballads & Broadsides and on the French compilation Chants de Marins IV: Ballads, Complaintes et Shanties des Matelots Anglais. Lloyd noted on Leviathan!:

Sad events lie behind this most spirited of whaling songs. By the 1820s the relativity milder northern waters were fished clean, and whalemen were having to search in more distant corners of the Arctic, notably round the mighty and bitter Melville Bay in Northwest Greenland. In 1830, a fleet of fifty British whaleships reached the grounds in early June, a month before they expected. But the same winds that had helped them also crowded the Bay with ice floes and locked most of the fleet in, including the Diamond, the Resolution, the Rattler (not Battler) of Leigh (not Montrose), and the Eliza Swan. Twenty fine ships were crushed to splinters and many bold whalermen froze or drowned. The Eliza Swan was among those that got free and brought the sad news home. Our song must have been made only a season or two before that tragedy for the Diamond’s maiden voyage was only in 1825. One wonders if the man who made the song was up in Melville Bay, the year of the disaster, and whether he was lost with his ship.

Rory and Alex McEwen sang The Bonny Ship the Diamond on the 1963 Hullabaloo ABC Television programme broadcast on 28 September 1963.

Nigel Denver sang Bonny Ship the Diamond in 1964 on his eponymous Decca album Nigel Denver. The album’s noted commented:

A tale of the sea, about a ship bound for Greenland on a whaling voyage and its eventual return to Peterhead and …

We’ll make the cradles for to rock,
And the blankets for to tear,
And every lass in Peterhead
Sing hush-a-bye my dear.

The Watersons sang The Bonny Ship the ‘Diamond’ in 1965 in their BBC TV documentary, Travelling for a Living:

Brian Roberts and Norman Cross sang The Bonny Ship the Diamond live at Folk Union One in 1969. This recording was included in the same year on the privately issued album Blue Bell Folk Song.

The Clancy Brothers with Louis Killen, with Tom Clancy in lead, sang The Bonny Ship the ‘Diamond’ in 1972 on their album Save the Land.

John Roberts sang The Diamond in 1973 on the National Geographic Society’ album Songs & Sounds of the Sea. He also sang The Bonny Ship the ‘Diamond’ in 2007 on his Golden Hind CD Sea Fever. He noted:

The Bonny Ship the Diamond is another whaling song, this time from Scotland. This version was popularised by singer, author and folklorist A.L. Lloyd, who collected it in Liverpool in 1937.

Rod Paterson sang The Diamond on The Easy Club’s 1985 album Chance or Design.

Blowzabella sang The ‘Diamond’ in 1988 on their Plant Life album A Richer Dust.

Peter Hall sang The Diamond Ship on the 1995 Greentrax CD of “songs from the Greig-Duncan Collection as performed at the Edinburgh International Festival”, Folk Songs of North-East Scotland.

Louis Killen sang The ‘Diamond’ in 1997 on his CD A Seaman’s Garland. He noted:

[…]Another kind of fishing, that of the great whale, is described in the song, The Diamond. I am grateful to Geordie Proctor for giving me an entirely different rhythmic approach to this song.

Roger McGuinn sang The Bonny Ship the Diamond in 2001 on his Appleseed CD Treasures From the Folk Den.

Shepheard, Spiers & Watson sang The Bonny Ship the ‘Diamond’ in 2005 on their Springthyme CD They Smiled As We Cam In.

This version of the well known whaling song was learnt from the singing of Peter Hall who may have taken it from the Greig-Duncan manuscripts where there are eight texts with tunes although none is quite the same as this.

The Diamond was built in Québec in 1801 and brought into the Aberdeen fleet in 1812. The Aberdeen Journal of 18 March 1812 reports: “The fine new Ship Diamond, Gibbon [that is, with Captain Gibbon in command] sailed on Thursday last, for the Davis’ Straits Whale Fishery.” When she arrived back in August she had a catch of eleven fish. The ship went on a yearly voyage until 1819 when she was caught in the early autumn ice and lost while staying too late in the season. Fortunately the crew were all saved.

Bob Fox sang Diamond in 2006 on his Topic CD The Blast.

Jim Malcolm sang The Bonny Ship the Diamond on his 2011 CD Sparkling Flash. He noted:

I recorded this song live in Peterhead with Phil Cunningham, Fraser Fifield and Norman Chalmers, for the BBC series ‘Scotland’s Music’ and the YouTube clip was very popular. When it disappeared from YouTube I had many requests to record it myself. So here it is.

Jeff Warner sang Bold Harpooner in 2011 on his WildGoose CD Long Time Travelling. He noted:

Stuart Frank, Curator at the New Bedford (Massachusetts) Whaling Museum, found this song in the papers of George Piper who sailed in the whaler Europa out of Martha’s Vineyard in 1868. An almost identical chorus is quoted in Moby Dick, chapter 40:

So be cheery my lads! Let your hearts never fail
While the bold harpooner is striking the whale!

The Ballina Whalers sang The Diamond in 2012 on their EP Lowlands.

Alistair Ogilvy sang Bonny Ship the ‘Diamond’ in 2012 on his Greentrax CD Leaves Sae Green.

The Salts sang Bonny Ship the Diamond on their 2013 album She Rises.

Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith sang The Bonny Ship the ‘Diamond’ in 2014 on their Fellside CD Let the Wind Blow High or Low.

Alex Cumming and Nicola Beazley sang Bonny Ship the Diamond on their 2016 CD Across the Water. They noted:

This song tells of The Diamond which regularly fished for whale in the waters between Greenland and Canada in the 1800s. The Diamond, along with other British whaling ships, was crushed by ice due to high winds. We learnt this song from the singing of Ewan MacColl.

Mawkin sang Diamond Ship on their 2018 album Down Among the Dead Men. They noted:

A song about the famous whaling ship “Diamond” that along with twenty other fine ships was crushed to splinters [by pack ice] and many of the bold whalermen froze or drowned to death. James [Delarre] first heard this sung by the incomparable Mike Waterson and fell in love with the chorus.


A.L. Lloyd sings The Bonny Ship the ‘Diamond’

The Diamond is a ship, my lads, for the Davis Strait she’s bound,
And the quay it is all garnished with bonny lasses ’round.
Captain Thompson gives the order to sail the ocean wide,
Where the sun it never sets, my lads, no darkness dims the sky.

Chorus (after each verse):
And it’s cheer up my lads, let your hearts never fail,
For the bonny ship, the Diamond, goes a-fishing for the whale.

Along the quays of Peterhead, the lasses stand around,
Their shawls all pulled about them and the salt tears running down.
Now don’t you weep, my bonny lass, though you be left behind,
For the rose will bloom on Greenland’s ice before we change our mind.

Here’s health to the Resolution, likewise the Eliza Swan,
Here’s a health to the Battler of Montroseand the Diamond, ship of fame.
We wear the trousers of the white, the jackets of the blue,
When we return to Peterhead, we’ll have sweethearts anoo

Oh, it’ll be bright both day and night when the whaling lads come home,
In a ship that’s full of oil, my boys, and money to our name.
We’ll make the cradles all to rock and the blankets for to tear,
And every lass in Peterhead sing, “Hushabye, my dear.”


A.L. Lloyd’s lyrics were copied from the Leviathan! sleeve notes.