> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > The Coast of Peru

The Coast of Peru

[ Roud 1997 ; Laws D26 ; Ballad Index LD26 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang this song about the early 19th century Pacific whale fishing in 1956 on his, Ewan MacColl's and Harry H. Corbett's album The Singing Sailor. This track has been reissued lots of times, e.g. on their albums The Black Ball Line, Shanties and Fo'c'sle Songs (Wattle Records), Haul on the Bowlin' (Stinson Records), as title track of the EP The Coast of Peru, and on the compilations Sea Songs and Shanties (Topic Sampler No 7), Chants de Marins IV: Ballads, Complaintes et Shanties des Matelots Anglais, and Sailors' Songs & Sea Shanties.

A.L. Lloyd also sang this song on the Riverside LP Thar She Blows!, and recorded it for a third time in 1967 for the album Leviathan! Ballads and Songs of the Whaling Trade. Here, he was accompanied by Alf Edwards, English concertina; Dave Swarbrick, fiddle; and Martin Carthy, mandolin.

Lloyd commented in the The Coast of Peru sleeve notes:

The English whaling ship Emilia was the first to inaugurate the Pacific sperm whale fishery in 1788, rounding Cape Horn to fish in the waters of the South Sea islands and the coasts of Chile and Peru. By the 1840s, the days of the South Seamen were numbered, bur they left behind a fine memorial in their songs, of which The Coast of Peru is perhaps the most impressive. Tumbez, mentioned in the last verse, is in the far north of Peru, on the Gulf of Guayaquil, near the equator. Its girls are remembered in several whaling songs.

and in the sleeve notes of Leviathan!:

By no means all the oldtime whaling was done in northern waters. In the 1820s, for example, more than a hundred British ships, mostly out of Hull or London, where fishing in the spermwhale grounds round the Horn off the coast of Chile and Peru and taking the long, long run across the Pacific by way of Galapagos Island and the Marquesas, to Timor. The trip would last three years. The Coast of Peru is the most important ballad of the South-Seamen. Possibly it describes the chase of a southern right whale, not a sperm. Sperms were usually harpooned by running the boat close to the whale. Right whales, who tend to fight with their tail, were more often harpooned with the “long dart” from perhaps ten yards away. Mention of the mate in the “main chains” dates the song before the 1840s.

Ewan MacColl also sang The Coast of Peru on the B-side of the musical score from the film Whaler Out of New Bedford, where he was accompanied on banjo. According to the sleeve notes, the song was “collated from a text in Colcord's Songs of American Sailormen and from another in Doerflinger's Shantymen and Shantyboys.”

Danny Spooner sang The Coast of Peru on his 2006 CD of songs of the whaling industry, The Great Leviathan. He noted:

After 1789 many British and American ships were rounding Cape Horn to hunt for the Sperm Whale. A vivid description of a whale chase, this song reminds us of the dangers of the chase and flensing at sea. It's important to note the respect these men had for the ability of the whale to do them damage. Tumbes-Tonbas on a bay near the mouth of the Guayaquil River in Ecuador was where Admiral Parker took his fleet of British whale ships after a South Pacific raid during the 1812 war with America.

Arthur Knevett sang Coast of Peru on his 2016 CD Simply Traditional. He commented in his liner notes:

A whaling song which graphically describes the hunt and killing of a sperm whale. Gale Huntington (Songs the Whalemen Sang) dates the song to the last quarter of the eighteenth century. This is corroborated by Gordon Jackson (The British Whaling Trade) when he tells us that the southern whale fishery, which includes the coast of Peru, underwent major expansion in the 1790s. I learnt this version from the singing of Bert Lloyd.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings The Coast of Peru on Whaler Out of New Bedford

Come all you young fellows who cruise round Cape Horn,
Come all you young sailormen who follow the sperm,
For our captain has told us and we hope he says true,
That there's plenty of whales on the coast of Peru.

'Twas was early one morning just as the sun rose,
That a man from the mast-head sung out: “There she blows!”
“Where away?” cried our captain, “and how do she lay?”
“Two points on our lee, sir, scarce three miles away.”

“Then call up all hands and be of good cheer,
Get your lines in your boats and your tackles fall clear.
Hoist and swing fore and aft; stand by, each boat's crew,
Lower away, lower away, as the main-yard swings to.”

Our waist-boat got down, and of course she got the start.
“Lay on me, Captain Bunker, I'm hell for a long dart.”
Now bend to your oars and make the boat fly.
But one thing we dread of, keep clear of his eye!”

Now the whale has gone down, to the wind'art he'll lay,
Whatever he done, boys, he showed us fair play.
But we fought him alongside and a lance we thrust in,
And in less than an hour he rolled out his fin.

We laid him alongside with many a loud shout.
We began cutting in and then trying out.
The whale is cut in, tried out and stowed down,
He is better to us than five hundred pound.

Now our ship she is laden, for home we will steer,
Where there's plenty of rum, boys, and plenty strong beer!
We'll spend money freely with the pretty girls ashore,
And when it's all gone we'll go whaling for more.

A.L. Lloyd sings The Coast of Peru on Leviathan!

Come all you young fellows that's bound after sperm,
Come all you bold seamen that's rounded the horn.
Our captain have told us and we hope he says true,
That there's plenty of sperm whale on the coast of Peru.

We've weathered the Horn and we're now off Peru,
We are all of one mind to endeavour to do.
Our boats they're all ready, our mastheads all manned,
Our riggin' rove light, me boys, aod our signals are planned.

It was early one mornin' we heard the brave shout,
As the man on the look-out cried out: “There she spout!”
“Where away?” says our captain, “and where do she lay?”
“Two points to our lee bow, scarce a mile away.”

Then it's, “Call up all hands, my lads, and be of good cheer.
Put your tubs in your boats, boys, have your bow-lines all clear.
Sway up on them boats now, jump in, my brave crew,
Lower away now, and after her, try the best you can do.”

Well, the waist-boat run down, and of course got the start.
“Lay on,” says the harpooneer, ”for I'm hell for the long dart.
Now bend on them oars, boys, and make your boat fly.
But one thing we dread of, keep clear of the eye.”

Oh, we gave him one iron and the whale he went down,
But as he came up, boys, our captain bent on.
And the next harpoon struck, and the line sped away,
But whatever that whale done, he give us fair play.

Oh, he raced and he sounded, he twist and he spin,
But we fought him alongside and got our lance in,
Which caused him to vomit, and the blood for to spout,
And in ten minutes' time, me boys, he rolled both fins out.

We towed him alongside, and with many a shout.
We soon cut him in and begun to try out.
Nw the blubber is rendered and likewise stowed down,
And it's better to us, me boys, than five hundred pound.

Now we're bound into Tumbez in our manly power,
Where a man buys a whorehouse for a barrel of flour.
We'll spend all our money on them Spanish gals ashore,
And when it's all gone, me boys, we'll go whaling for more.

Danny Spooner sings The Coast of Peru

Come all ye young whalermen that's rounded Cape Horn ,
Come all ye bold sailors that follow the sperm;
Our captain he has told us and we all believe it's true,
There's plenty of sperm-whales on the Coast of Peru.

'Twas early one morning just as the sun rose,
The man in our mainmast sings out, “Thar she blows!”
“Where away,!” says our skipper, “And where do she lay?!”
“Three points to yer eastward, not a mile away.!”

“Then lower yer boats, my boys, and after him we'll travel,
But if you gets too near his tail, he'll kick yer to the devil,
Lay on with yer oar boys and let yer boats fly.
But one thing we dread of, stay clear of his eye.”

Our waist-boats went down, my boys, and we made a good start,
“Lay on!” says the harpooneer, “For I'm hell for the long dart!”
The harpoon it struck and the whale sped away,
But one thing he done, my boys, he showed us fair play.

For he raced and he sounded and he stood on his fin,
But we drew him along-side and we got our lance in,
Which caused him to vomit and the blood for to spout,
And in ten minutes time, my boys, he'd rolled both fins out.

We had him turned over then and layed alongside,
Then over with our blubber hooks to rob him of his hide,
We began cutting in boys and then trying out,
And the mate in our main-chains, how loud he did shout.

But now we're bound for Tumbes in our manly power,
Where a man buys a whore-house for a barrel of tar,
We'll spend all our money on them pretty girls ashore,
And when it's all gone, my boys, go a-whaling for more.

Acknowledgements

The lyrics were copied from the Whaler Out of New Bedford and Leviathan! sleeve notes and slightly corrected to the actual singing of Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd.