> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > The Cruel Ship's Captain

The Cruel Ship's Captain / The Captain's Apprentice

[ Roud 835 ; Ballad Index SWMS054 ; trad.]

This “gallows confession” was recorded by A.L. Lloyd around 1956 for his, Ewan MacColl's and Harry H. Corbett's album The Singing Sailor. This track has been reissued several times: on their albums Row Bullies Row, Shanties and Fo'c'sle Songs (Wattle Records) and Off to Sea Once More (Stinson Records) and on the compilation CD Sailors' Songs & Sea Shanties. Lloyd sang this song with different accompaniment 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. He commented in the latter album's sleeve notes:

Early in the 19th century a whale skipper was charged in King's Lynn with the murder of an apprentice. A broadside ballad, in the form of a wordy gallows confession and good night, appeared, and in course of circulating round the East Anglian countryside it got pared down to the bone. The poet George Crabbe was interested in the case, and took it as a model for his verse-narrating of Peter Grimes, which subsequently formed the base of Britten's opera. The opera is in three acts. The same ground is covered in three verses by a song as bleak and keen as a harpoon head.

Harry Cox sang Come All You Men Throughout This Nation (The Captain's Apprentice) in a recording made by Mervyn Plunkett in his own home in Bourne, Cambridgeshire, on October 10, 1959. This was published in 1998 on the Topic anthology We've Received Orders to Sail (The Voice of the People Series Volume 12).

Jim Moray sang The Captain's Apprentice in 2012 on his album Skulk.

The Imagined Village sang The Captain's Apprentice in 2012 too on their album Bending the Dark.

Danny Spooner sang The Captain's Apprentice on his 2014 CD Sailor's Consolation. He noted:

From the Hammond and Gardiner Collection in Marrow Bones, EFDS Publication. A captain was God aboard his ship and many exploited their position. Until the early twentieth century a death at sea did not have to be reported unless the vessel was damaged.


A.L. Lloyd sings The Cruel Ship's Captain

A boy to me was bound apprentice
Because his parents they were poor.
So I took him from St James' Workhouse
All for to sail on the Greenland shore.

One day this poor boy he did annoy me.
Nothing to him then did I say,
But I rushed him to my frozen yard-arm
And I kept him there till the very next day.

When his eyes and his teeth did hang towards me,
With his hands and his feet bowed down likewise,
And with a bloody iron bar I killed him
Because I wouldn't hear his cries.

Danny Spooner sings The Captain's Apprentice

A cabin boy to me was bound in apprentice
Because his parents were so poor.
So I took him from St James' Workhouse
All for to sail on the foreign shore.

One day this young boy he did offend me.
Nothing then to him did I say,
But I sent him to my frozen yard arm
And I kept him there till the very next day.

When his hands and his feet did hang towards me,
And his arms and his legs hung down likewise,
With a tarry gasket then I killed him
Because I would not heed his cries.

And then my crew did turn against me
Because I had done such wrong,
And down in my own cabin close-confined me,
All bound down in irons strong.

And now to Newgate jail they've brought me
And I am all condemned to die.
If I had by my own men been ruled,
I might have saved that poor boys life and mine.

So all you sea captains that goes a-sailing,
Take a warning but what has come to me;
And don't mistreat your poor apprentice boys,
Or else 'tis hanged you shall be.

Acknowledgements and Links

The lyrics were copied from the Leviathan! sleeve notes.

See also the Mudcat Café thread Origins: The Cruel Ship's Captain (Broadside?).