> Brass Monkey > Songs > Flame of Fire

The Sailor’s Tragedy / A Sailor By My Right / Flame of Fire / The Dreadful Ghost

[ Roud 568 ; Master title: The Sailor’s Tragedy ; Laws P34 ; G/D 2:341 ; Ballad Index LP34 ; VWML GG/1/6/315 ; Bodleian Roud 568 ; Wiltshire 1068 ; DT DREDGHOS ; Mudcat 127864 ; trad.]

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang The Dreadful Ghost in 1977 on their Folk-Legacy album of ballads of the supernatural, Dark Ships in the Forest. They noted:

In a number of songs, a ship refuses to sail because of the presence of a Jonah, an evil-doer who must be sacrificed before the vessel can proceed. Our version of this one is Canadian, collected by Helen Creighton in the Maritimes, collated with Newfoundland texts gathered by Kenneth Peacock. Jean Ritchie, on hearing it sung, remarked that it must have been written by a woman.

Debra Cowan sang The Dreadful Ghost in 2002 at the 23rd Annual Sea Music Festival at Mystic Seaport.

Martin Carthy sang Flame of Fire in 2004 on Brass Monkey’s fifth album, Flame of Fire. He noted:

I’ve changed a couple of details in Flame of Fire and am happy to have done so. I thought it extremely unfair that one of the beguiled women has to come back from Hell with Imps to get at her betrayer so I substituted Heaven and Angels who do the same. Then they send him to hell. The song comes from Maud Karpeles’ two-volume edition of Cecil Sharp’s songs.

Tim Radford sang I Am a Sailor in 2009 on his Forest Tracks album of songs collected by George B. Gardiner in 1906-07 from the Hampshire gardener George Blake (1829-1916), George Blake’s Legacy. He noted:

Gardiner mss. no. 315 from notebook no. 6 page 79 collected on 18 June 1906 in Southampton [VWML GG/1/6/315] . It appears in Roud as no. 568 and in Laws as P34A. There is also a version in Purslow’s Wanton Seed on page 101 called The Sailor’s Tragedy with a text, augmented with Blake’s, and tune from S. Gregory of Beaminster, Dorset collected by the Hammonds. That is where my verse 11 originates.

Gardiner says of this song in his notes: “Here’s an excellent plot for a tragedy or tragic opera?” In some collections it is also called The Dreadful Ghost. The Hammonds collected three versions in Dorset, but this is the only version Gardiner collected in Hampshire. However the song seems also to have been very popular in Nova Scotia, Canada and Scotland, as several versions exist in the Fowke, Creighton and Greig-Duncan collections.

Versions of this song have also been recorded recently in North America, particularly by Tony Barrand and John Roberts, and also Debra Cowan. Blake’s tune is, according to Purslow, clearly related to The Croppy Boy, and the song is rare from the tradition (not withstanding the facts above) and that it is presumably of 17th century origin, although the collected texts seem to stem from 18th century broadsides.

Kit Hawes and Aaron Catlow sang Flame of Fire on their 2019 CD Pill Pilots. They credited Martin Carthy as their source.


John Roberts and Tony Barrand sing The Dreadful Ghost

It’s of a sailor of whom I write,
Unto the seas he took great delight,
Two maidens fair he did beguile
And those two maidens he had with child.

Oh, one of them, for public shame,
Unto some handsome grove she came,
And there, at length, for to end all strife.
She cut it there, the thread of life.

She hung herself down from a tree,
Where two men a-hunting did her see.
They got a knife and cut her down,
And on her bosom a note was found.

And this was writ in letters large:
“Don’t bury me, I do you charge,
But on the ground there let me lie,
That maids may see me as they pass by.

“Let them take warning by my fate,
And quit this folly before it’s too late.”
And while on land she plagued him so,
To the seas at length he was forced to go.

One morning on the topmast high,
A little boat he chanced to spy,
A little boat with a large crew of men,
And a female ghost who stood up then.

Down decks, down decks this young man goes,
To greet the captain in his morning clothes,
He says, “Captain, captain, stand my defence,
For I see a spirit a-coming hence.”

So up on deck this captain goes,
And there he spies this dreadful ghost,
She says, “Captain, Captain, come tell me true,
Does such a man sail among your crew?”

“It was in St. Taliens this young man died,
And in St. Taliens his body lies.”
She says, “Captain, Captain, don’t tell me so,
For he’s sailing down in your ship below.

“And if you don’t bring him up to me,
A mighty storm you soon shall see,
Which will cause both you and your gallant men to weep,
And leave you slumbering in the deep.”

Down decks, down decks this captain goes,
And brings this young man up to his foes,
And when she fixed her grim eyes on him,
It made him tremble in every limb.

“Oh, don’t you remember when I was a maid,
You caused my poor trembling heart to bleed;
Now I’m a spirit come for thou,
You baulked me once but I’ve got you now.”

Down in her boat she forced him,
Down in her boat he was forced for to go,
And as he did, we all did admire,
For the boat went down in a flame of fire.

And as she sank, she rose again,
And aye she sang this mournful strain:
“You sailors all who are left behind,
Never prove false to young womankind.”

Martin Carthy sings Flame of Fire

I am a sailor by my right,
On the seas I took great delight.
Of two girls I did recall
And both of them I got with child.

I promised I would be true to both,
Promised them on my solemn oath.
One of them became my wife
And the other took her own sweet life.

For she hanged herself all on a tree.
Two men out hunting her did see,
Ran with speed and they cut her down
And on her body a note they found.

“If on the earth just let me lie.
Everyone that do pass by,
Everyone a warning take
And see what folly this young man made.”

“While he’s on earth will I be just,
While he’s on earth shall he take no rest.”
What she said played the young man’s scorn
That on the sea he was forced to go.

One day he stood on the main mast high,
A little boat he chanced to spy.
Saw his true love draw to the side,
Two angel babies all by her side.

His true love all on the deck did stand,
Enquiring for this wicked man.
In some little town this young man died
And in that town his body lied.

“Oh captain, captain, can you say so,
For he is down in the hold below.
And if you stand in his defense,
Here is the spirit will take you hence.”

Down from the deck then the captain goes,
Brought up this young man to face his foes.
She fixed her eyes on him so grim,
It made him tremble in every limb.

“I am the spirit sent for you,
You deceived me once, but I have you now.”
And to protect both ship and men,
Into her boat they all forced him then.

Into her boat they all forced him then
All to protect both ship and men.
The boat sank in a flame of fire,
It caused the sailors all to admire.

Tim Radford sings I Am a Sailor

I am a sailor, of whom I write
And in the seas took great delight,
Two female sex I did beguile
Till at length by me they proved with child.

I promised I’d be true to both
And bound them safe all with an oath
Saying I’d marry if I had but life,
And one of them I made my wife.

The other she was left alone,
She said, “You false deluded man,
By me you’ve done a wicked thing,
You have brought me to some public shame.”

Some public shame for to prevent
Into a silent wood she went
And soon she ended up the strife:
She cut the tender thread of life.

She hung herself up to a tree,
Two men a-hunting did her see
Her flesh by birds was beastly tore,
Which grieved those young men’s hearts full sore.

They took a knife and cut her down
And in her bosom a note was found
This note was written out in large,
“Bury me not I do you charge.”

“But here on earth then let me lie
That everyone that do pass by
They may by me a warning take
And shun their folly before it’s too late.”

“Since he is false, then I’ll be just,
For here on earth he shall have no rest.”
When she said this it plagued him so
And to the seas he was forced to go.

As he stood on the main-mast high
A little boat he chanced to spy
He was thinking on that wicked deed
Which almost made his heart to bleed.

Then down on deck this young man goes
And to the captain his mind disclosed
“Captain” he said, “stand in my defense
Or some evil spirit will fetch me hence.”

The spirit all on the deck did stand
Enquiring for this wicked young man
“That young man he died long ago
He died for the loss and the love of you.”

’Twas in Kilkenny this young man died,
Tis in Kilkenny his body lies
“Captain,” she said, “now don’t say so say so,
For he is standing in your ship below.”

“And if you stand in his defense
A mighty storm I will send hence
Will cause you and your seamen to weep
I’ll have you all sleeping in the deep.”

Then down from the deck our captain goes,
Brought up this young man to face his foes
She fixed her eyes on him so grim,
Which made him tremble on every limb.

“It was well known when I was a maid
Twas first by thee I was betrayed
I am a spirit sent for thou
You deceived me once but I’ll have thee now.”

Now to protect both ship and men
Into the boat they forced him then
Which did our seamen much to admire
The boat sank down in a flame of fire.

Come all young men that to love belong
Since you have heard my mournful song
Whatever you do be true to one
Don’t you delude poor woman wrong