> Peter Bellamy > Songs > The British Man-of-War

The British Man-of-War

[ Roud 372 ; Ballad Index FSC013 ; trad.]

Walter Pardon sang A British Man-o'-War in a recording made by Bill Leader in 1974 that was released a year later on his Leader album, A Proper Sort. An alternate take was issued in 2000 on his Topic anthology, A World Without Horses.

Peter Bellamy sang The British Man-of-War unaccompanied in 1975 on his American LP Peter Bellamy and later in 1982 on his privately issued cassette The Maritime England Suite. He commented in the first album's notes:

In the early 1840's, Britain was engaged in the shameful “Opium Wars” with China, and it seems probable that this song dates from that time. This particular version of the seldom-collected piece comes from Walter Pardon; the tune is closely related to High Germany.

The Old Swan Band sang The British Man-of-War on their 1979 Free Reed album Old Swan Brand. Their liner notes commented:

A song Mel [Dean] has been singing for some years, though how, when and where he learnt it is lost in the mists of time. We all enjoy the broken token being a torn hanky!

The Halliard recorded British Man-of-War in 2005 for their CD Broadside Songs.

The Dollymops from the Isle of Wight sang British Man of War in 2013 on their WildGoose CD Wight Cockade. They noted:

As published by W.H. Long in his Dictionary of Isle of Wight Dialect (1886). The Man o’ War is, of course, a fighting ship, but the term also reflects the jingoistic machismo of the departing sailor. A relatively common song in the tradition, so, we decided to set it to an uncommon tune. In this instance it’s The Indian War, from Orkney, as reproduced in Roy Palmer’s book The Rambling Soldier (1985).

Lyrics

Walter Pardon sings A British Man-o'-War

As I walked out one morning, so careless I did stray,
I overheard a sailor bold to his young lady say:
“Oh, Susan, lovely Susan, I soon must leave the shore
To cross the briney ocean on a British man-o'-war.”

Pretty Susan fell a-weeping and this to him did say:
“How can you be so venturesome to throw yourself away?
For 'tis when I am twenty-one I shall receive my store,
Jolly sailor, do not venture on a British man-o'-war.”

“Oh, Susan, lovely Susan, the truth to you I'll tell:
The British flag insulted is; Old England knows it well.
I may be crowned with laurels but, like a jolly tar,
I'll face the wars of China on a British man-o'-war.”

Young Henry took his handkerchief and cut it fair in two,
Said he, “One half you keep for me; the same I'll do for you.
Though the bullets may surround me and cannons loudly roar,
I'll fight for fame and Susan on this British man-o'-war.”

“Oh, Susan, lovely Susan, the time will quickly pass,
Let's go down to the ferry house and take a parting glass.
My shipmates they are waiting to row me from the shore,
For 'tis old England's glory on a British man-o'-war.”

A few more words were spoken, then her love let go her hand;
The jovial crew they launched the boat so merrily from land.
Young Henry waved his handkerchief while far away from shore,
Pretty Susan blessed her sailor on a British man-o'-war.

Peter Bellamy sings The British Man-of-War

As I walked out one morning, so careless I did stray,
I overheard a sailor bold say to his lady gay:
“Oh, Susan, lovely Susan, I soon must leave this shore
To cross the briney ocean on a British man-of-war.”

Young Susan fell a-weeping and this to him did say:
“How can you be so venturesome to throw yourself away?
For 'tis when I am twenty-one I shall receive my store,
Jolly sailor, do not venture on a British man-of-war.”

“Oh, Susan, lovely Susan, the truth to you I'll tell:
The British flag insulted is; Old England knows it well.
Well, I may be crowned with laurels, love, but like a jolly tar
I will face the wars of China on a British man-of-war.”

Then young Henry took his handkerchief, he cut it clean in two,
Says he, “One half you keep for me; I'll do the same for you.
I may be crowned with laurels, love, but like a jolly tar
I will fight for fame and Susan on a British man-of-war.”

“Oh, Susan, lovely Susan, the time will quickly pass,
So let's go down to the ferry house and share a parting glass.
For my shipmates they are waiting there to row me from the shore,
'Tis for old England's glory and a British man-of-war.”

So a few more words were spoken, then her love let go her hand;
The jovial crew they rowed the boat so merrily from land.
And young Henry waved his handkerchief when far away from shore,
Pretty Susan blessed her sailor on the British man-of-war.

Oh as I walked out one morning, right careless I did stray,
I overheard a sailor bold say to his lady gay:
“Oh, Susan, lovely Susan, I soon must leave this shore
For to cross the briney ocean on a British man-of-war.”