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Banks of Newfoundland

[ Roud 1812 ; Laws K25 ; Ballad Index LK25 ; trad.]

Stan Hugill commented in his book Shanties from the Seven Seas:

Still in the realms of convict ships and transportation, we have next the old forebitter often used as a capstan song, The Banks of Newf'n'land. Its convict connection is the fact that it was really a parody of an older forebitter, itself originally a shore ballad called Van Diemen's Land, a song often sung in Liverpool and as a forebitter often heard in Liverpool ships.

Ewan MacColl sang The Banks of Newfoundland in 1957 on his and A.L. Lloyd's album of sea songs, Blow Boys Blow. Lloyd commented in the liner notes:

In winter, the westward run from Liverpool to New York was a hard trip for packet ships, through heavy ships, contrary winds, sleet and snow. The large crews were kept busy reefing as the gales increased or piling on canvas whenever the wind abated. The mate drove the men, the skipper drove the mate, and the company drove the skipper. The Banks of Newfoundland sets out the picture of a hard Western Ocean crossing before the days of steam.

Willie Scott sang The Banks of Newfoundland in a recording made by Bill Leader in his studio in Elland, Yorkshire, on February 13, 1976. It was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology My Ship Shall Sail the Ocean (The Voice of the People Series Volume 2).

Chris Foster sang Banks of Newfoundland in 1977 on his Topic album Layers.

John Bowden sang Banks of Newfoundland with a chorus by Martin Carthy, Jez Lowe, Roy Harris and Paul Adams, and accompanied by John Bowden, concertina; Jez Lowe, cittern; and Martin Carthy, guitar, in 1986 on the Fellside anthology A Selection from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. The album's sleeve notes commented:

From John Farr, Gwithian, Cornwall; recorded in 1926 by J.E. Thomas. Although Sharp collected a version in 1915 which he described as a capstan shanty, the song seems to have been more commonly used as a forebitter and fo'c'sle song. In both text and melody there are remarkable similarities to some sets of the earlier transportation ballad, Van Diemen's Land. Mr Farr's text was almost identical to the one from Sharp's informant and so a few phrases plus the “holy-stoning” chorus have been borrowed. The tune is related to some Irish sets of The Lowlands of Holland.

Dan Milner sang Banks of Newfoundland with Louis Killen joining in on chorus in 1989 on his Topic album Irish Ballads & Songs of the Sea.

Warp Four sang The Banks of Newfoundland in 1996 on their CD with Liam Clancy, One Hundred Years Ago.

Siobhan Miller sang Banks of Newfoundland on her 2017 album Strata.

Lyrics

Ewan MacColl sings The Banks of Newfoundland

Me bully boys o' Liverpool, I'll have you to beware,
When ye sail in the packet ship, no dungaree jumpers wear;
But have a big monkey jacket all ready to your hand,
For there blows some cold nor'westers on the Banks of Newfoundland!

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
We'll scrape her and we'll scrub her
With holystone and sand,
And we think of them cold nor'westers
On the Banks of Newfoundland.

There was Jack Lynch from Ballynahinch, Mike Murphy and some more,
I tell ye where, they suffered like hell on the way to Baltimore;
They pawned their gear in Liverpool and they sailed as they did stand,
And there blows some cold nor'westers on the Banks of Newfoundland.

The mate he stood on the fo'c'sle head, and loudly he did roar:
“Now rattle her in, my lucky lads! We're bound for America's shore!
Go wash the mud off that dead-man's face and heave to beat the band,
For there blows some cold nor'westers on the Banks of Newfoundland!”

So now it's reef and reef, me boys, with the canvas frozen hard,
And it's mount and pass every mother's son on a ninety-foot tops'l yard.
Never mind about boots and oilskins, but haul or you'll be damned!
For there blows some cold nor'westers on the Banks of Newfoundland.

And now we're off the Hook, me boys, and the lands are white with snow,
But soon we'll see the pay table and have all night below;
And on the docks, come down in flocks, them pretty girls will stand,
Saying, “It's snugger with me than it is at sea on the Banks of Newfoundland.”

John Bowden sings Banks of Newfoundland

O you Western Ocean labourers I would have you all beware,
That when you're aboard of a packet-ship, no dungaree jumpers wear,
But have a big monkey jacket always at your command,
And think of the cold Northwesters on the Banks of the Newfoundland.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
So we'll rub her round and scrub her round
With holystone and sand,
And say farewell to the Virgin Rocks
On the Banks of the Newfoundland.

As I lay in my bunk one night, a-dreaming all alone,
I dreamt I was in Liverpool, 'way up in Marylebone,
With my true love beside of me and a jug of ale in hand,
When I woke quite broken-hearted on the Banks of Newfoundland.

We had one Lynch from Ballinahinch, Jimmy Murphy and Mike Moore;
It was in the winter of sixty-two, those sea-boys suffered sore,
For they'd pawned their clothes in Liverpool and sold them out of hand,
Not thinking of the cold Northwesters on the Banks of Newfoundland.

We had one female passenger, Bridget Reilly was her name,
To her I promised marriage and on me she had a claim.
She tore up her flannel petticoats to make mittens for our hands,
For she couldn't see the sea-boys freeze on the Banks of Newfoundland.

And now we're off Sandy Hook, my boys, and the land's all covered with snow.
The tug-boat will take our hawser and for New York we will tow;
And when we arrive at the Black Ball dock the boys and girls will stand,
We'll bid adieu to the packet-ships and the Banks of Newfoundland.

Acknowledgements and Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Add: The Banks of Newfoundland (2).

John Bowden's words are based on The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, eds. Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd (Penguin, 1959), but were changed to his actual singing.