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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.


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 Saint 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.

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?).