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

[ Roud 835 ; Ballad Index SWMS054 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang this “gallows confession” in around 1956 on 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. It was published in 1998 on the Topic anthology We've Received Orders to Sail (The Voice of the People Series Volume 12).

Jon Rennard sang The Captain's Apprentice in 1971 on his Traditional Sound Recordings album The Parting Glass.

Peter Bellamy sang The Cruel Ship's Captain live at at Wensum Lodge in Norwich which was broadcast by the BBC as We Have Fed Our Sea on Folk on 2 in two parts on December 28, 1982 and February 15, 1983. He privately issued this on his cassette The Maritime England Suite.

Patterson Jordan Dipper sang The Captain's Apprentice in 2002 on their WildGoose CD Flat Earth. They noted:

Our fondness for the darker songs is represented here by The Captain's Apprentice. A salutary tale of cruelty to a child, justice and retribution, this version comes from Roy Palmer's book A Touch on the Times.

Brian Ferry sang The Cruel Ship's Captain in 2006 on the anthology of pirate ballads, sea songs and chanteys, Rogue's Gallery.

Elle Osborne sang The Captain's Apprentice on her 2011 CD So Slowly Slowly Got She Up.

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.

Faustus sang Captain's Apprentice in 2013 on their Navigator album Broken Down Gentlemen

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.

Lyrics

Harry Cox sings Come All You Men Throughout This Nation

Come all you men throughout this nation,
I will have you warning take by me.
Don’t be like me—ill-treat your servants—
When you sail on the raging seas.

This boy was bound to me apprentice.
This boy was bound to me, I say,
From St. George's workhouse I hailed him,
For this poor boy he was fatherless.

One day this boy he did offend me
And little to him I did say.
To the mizzen top I hauled him
And kept him there all that long day.

His hands, his feet, they were exhausted.
His arms, his legs, they were likewise.
With my marl spike I cruelly gagged him,
Because I could not bear to hear his cries.

With my long line I cruelly beated him.
So cruelly I can't deny.
Through my cruel and bad ill-treatment
The very next morning this poor boy died.

So now my men they do reject me.
To think that I had done so wrong!
In my cabin they closely confined me,
And brought me to London in a iron strong.

So now my trial do come over,
And here lay I condemned to die.
If I had a been my men had been ruled,
I might have save a poor boy's life and mine.

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?).