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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 and in 2004 on his Tradition Bearers CD Jewels.

John Bowden sang Banks of Newfoundland with a chorus by Martin Carthy, Jez Lowe, Roy Harris and Paul Adams on the 1986 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.

Danny Spooner sang The Banks of Newfoundland on his 2002 CD Launch Out on the Deep. He noted:

The North Atlantic in winter can be a frightening bit of water. For the packet rat life was tough. The weather was often murderous with big seas, freezing winds and ice on the sails and in the rigging. Companies drove the skippers, skippers drove the mates and the mates drove the sailors. This forebitter has been collected from various sources. I got this one from Freddy Graves, a roads-man on the Thames.

Sheafknot sang Banks of Newfoundland on the 2004 Lancaster Maritime Festival anthology Beware of the Press-Gang!!.

Peter Shepheard sang Banks of Newfoundland in 2005 on Shepheard, Spiers & Watson's Springthyme They Smiled As We Cam In. He noted:

This is one of my favourite songs and I seem never to have tired of it since I first recorded it from St Andrews fisherman Tom Gordon in 1966. He learned it in turn from a man who had sailed on the whaler fleet out of Leith in the early 1900s. This is the only version I have come across that is modernised into the steam boat era—and incidentally dated in the text to 1906.

The Grand Banks of Newfoundland were famed for their productivity although the fishery has recently declined possibly caused by overfishing or by changes in water temperature brought about by global warming. The harsh winter weather made the task very hard and the men were only too happy to “bid farewell to the Virgin Rocks of Newfoundland” and bring the season to a close with a trip past Sandy Bay and on to New York.

A version of Willie Scott singing Banks of Newfoundland was included in 2006 in Alison McMorland's Scott biography Herd Laddie o' the Glen.

Mark Dunlop sang The Banks of Newfoundland in 2008 on his CD Islands on the Moon.

False Lights sang The Banks of Newfoundland live at Folk East Festival, Suffolk, on August 17, 2014, which was released in the same year on their CD Live at Folk East. They also recorded it for their 2015 CD Salvor.

Siobhan Miller sang Banks of Newfoundland on her 2017 album Strata. This is one of the nominees for the best traditional track at the BBC 2 Folk Awards 2018.

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.”

Chris Foster 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 nor'westers that blow on the Banks of Newfoundland..

Chorus (after each verse):
So we'll rub her round and scrub her round
With holy stone and sand,
And say farewell to the virgin rocks
On the Banks of Newfoundland.

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

We had one Lynch from Ballinahinch, Jimmy Murphy and Mike Moore,
And it was in the winter of sixty-two that them sea boys suffered sore.
For they'd sold their clothes in Liverpool and pawned them out of hand,
Not thinking of cold nor'westers that blow on the Banks of Newfoundland.

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

O and now we are off Sandy Hook, my boys, and the land's all covered with snow,
And the tug boat will take our hawser and for New York we will tow.
And when we get into the Black Ball Dock the boys and girls will stand
And bid adieu to the virgin rocks 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.

Peter Shepheard sings Banks of Newfoundland

Come aa ye men and fair young lads, come aa ye sports beware,
As ye go steamboat sailing, old dungaree jackets wear;
And aaways wear a life belt, or keep it close at hand,
For there blows a cold nor-westerly wind on the Banks of Newfoundland.

’Twas in the year of nineteen-six that we did suffer sore,
We had on board some fair young lads, some Swedies and some more;
We pawned our clothes in Liverpool, we pawned them every hand,
Never thinking of the nor-westerly winds on the Banks of Newfoundland.

And we had on board a fair young maid, Bridget Wellford was her name,
To her I promised marriage, on me she had a claim;
She tore her flannel petticoats to make mittens for my hands,
For she could not see her true love perish on the Banks of Newfoundland.

One night as I lay sleeping I had a sad old dream,
I dreamt I was back in Scotland beside a flowing stream;
And by my side a fair young maid and a bottle in my hand,
But I woke up broken hearted on the Banks of Newfoundland.

And now we’re off for Sandy Bay where the high hills covered in snow,
Our steam boat she’s so hell-of-a fast, by New York we will go;
We’ll rub her up and we’ll scrub her down with holystone and sand,
And we’ll bid farewell to the Virgin Rocks and the Banks of Newfoundland.

We’ll rub her up and we’ll scrub her down with holystone and sand,
And we’ll bid farewell to the Virgin Rocks 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.