> Peter Bellamy > Songs > The Ghost Song (The Cruel Ship's Carpenter)
> Mike Waterson > Songs > The Cruel Ship's Carpenter
> Waterson:Carthy > Songs > Polly's Love
> The Halliard > Songs > Love and Murder

The Cruel Ship's Carpenter / Polly's Love / Love and Murder

[ Roud 15 ; Laws P36A ; G/D 2:201 , 2:202 ; Ballad Index LP36 ; Bodleian Roud 15 ; trad.]

Sam Larner sang this song as The Ghost Ship (as recorded in 1958-60 by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger) on the Folkways LP Now is the Time for Fishing. At least, the album notes name it The Ghost Ship though Larner himself finished his rendering with the spoken words “The Ghost Song”. The album sleeve notes commented:

British balladry has many examples of the Jonah legend, songs in which a wrongdoer aboard a ship is unmasked by supernatural means and punished (often in order to avert a shipwreck). Bonnie Annie (Child 24) and its close relative The Banks of Green Willow are venerable examples of this form. Later branches of this genealogical tree of the Jonah ballad are The Guilty Sea Captain, The New York Trader and Captain Glen. It is to the last-mentioned that The Ghost Ship would appear to owe its origins. […] The Gosport / Gospard Tragedy, another relative, but with the sea and supernatural element excised, appears to have formed the basis of the well-known American murder ballad Pretty Polly.

Jon Raven sang this ballad as Love and Murder on his album with The Halliard, The Halliard : Jon Raven, originally published in 1968 and reissued on CD in 1997.

Peter Bellamy learned The Ghost Song from the singing of Sam Larner and sang it unaccompanied in 1969 on his third solo LP, The Fox Jumps Over the Parson's Gate. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

For the best part of three hundred years the common folk have been unable to shake this melodrama out of their imagination, and ever since it appeared in print in the 1680s, it has influenced, and not infrequently formed the pattern for, a number of ballad about murdered ladies. Well-known all the way from Somerset to Aberdeen, it was printed over and again by nineteenth century broadside firms. At the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was a favourite with stage comedians and in 1805, Laurie and Whittle of London published a sheet-music version, The Sailor and the Ghost, a whimsical ballad. As sung by Mr Moody, Mr Suett and Mr R. Palmer. A comic parody in the Sam Vellerish Cockney dialect of the time, called Molly the Betrayed, or the Fog-Bound Vessel, appeared in the 1840s. In America this song has—as often—lost its supernatural element and survives as the banal crime narrative called Pretty Polly. Alongside the burlesque versions, the folk have kept the song in its original sober form, as expressed in this version, learnt from the singing of Sam Larner of Winterton, Norfolk.

Mike Waterson sang The Cruel Ship's Carpenter in 1977 on his eponymous LP Mike Waterson. This track was also included on the 1996 Topic compilation CD English & Scottish Folk Ballads. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

“Few ballads are more popular with ballad printers than this,” said Frank Kidson. It has been on the go at least since 1750 or thereabouts, when it was published and sold “at the Printing Office in Bow Churchyard, London” as The Gosport Tragedy, or, Perjured Ship Carpenter. In America it has been enormously successful under the title Pretty Polly. A comic parody appeared c. 1830, in the mock-Cockney dialect much favoured at the time; the stage version ends thus (when the murderer is unmasked):

Then Villiam turned red and then white and then green
Vhile Molly's pale ghost at his side it vos seen;
Her buzzom vos vhite, the blood it vos red,
She spoke not, but wanished, and that's all she said.

The ballad has been sung to countless different tunes. This version was got by Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle from Paddy McClusky of Lislarin, Co. Antrim, and published in The Journal of the English Folk Dance & Song Society, vol. VIII, No. 1.

Norma Waterson sang this song as Polly's Love in 1996 on Waterson:Carthy's second album Common Tongue. This track was also included in her anthology Norma Waterson: The Definitive Collection. Martin Carthy commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Jim Eldon is responsible for both Norma and her brother Mike learning Polly's Love because he sings a version which he collected in the East Riding. They both sing Jim's astounding Fair Maids are Shining first verse, and then go their own ways through this savage and riveting story.

Jackie Oates learned The Cruel Ship's Carpenter from the singing of Mike Waterson. She recorded it for her eponymous first album Jackie Oates. This track was also included on the CD BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2008.

Jon Boden sang Sam Larner's and Peter Bellamy's verses as The Ghost on June 11, 2011 in his project A Folk Song a Day. He commented in the blog:

Of all the girl-friend murdering songs this must be the one with the most inappropriate tune. Somehow that makes it all the more horrific, particularly with the unusual denouement. Don’t know of any other versions where she gets her own back. Nice.

Damien Barber and Mike Wilson sang The Cruel Ship's Carpenter in 2011 on their CD The Old Songs, giving their source in their liner notes:

Another song gotten many years ago from the brilliant Mike Waterson, who in turn got the song from another fine singer from the East Riding of Yorkshire, Jim Eldon.

Lyrics

Peter Bellamy sings The Ghost Song

Now the queen she wants sailors to sail on the sea
Which made pretty Polly stood up for to plead,
Sayin', “William, dearest William, don't you go off so sea;
Please remember the vows that you made unto me.”

But 'twas early next morning before it was day
When he went to his Polly, these words he did say,
Sayin', “Oh Polly, pretty Polly, you must come 'long with me,
Before we are married my friends for to see.”

So he led her through groves and through valleys so deep
Which made pretty Polly to sigh and to weep,
Sayin', “William, dearest William, you have led me astray
On purpose my innocent life to betray.”

“Oh yes, dearest Polly, 'tis true all you've said,
For all this long night I've been digging your grave.”
And the grave it being open and the spade standing by,
Which made pretty Polly to weep and to cry.

“Oh pardon, dear William, my innocent life.
And I'll never regret for to be your dear wife.
I'll travel old England over all to set you free,
Please remember the vows that you made unto me.”

“But no pardon, no pardon, no pardon I'll give.”
And with that he drew out a long daggered knife.
He stabbed her to the heart and the blood did down flow,
And into a grave her fair body did throw.

Now be buried her securely in Upwall quite sound
He's not thinking the body would ever be found.
Then he went on board for a sailor to go,
Not thinking this murder would ever o'erthrow.

But 'twas early one morning before it was day
Then our captain came up and these words he did say,
“Our ship she is in mourning and cannot sail on,
There's a murder on board what has lately been done.”

Then up jumped one sailor, “And indeed, that's not me”,
Then up jumped another, the same he did say,
Then up jumped bold William to stamp and to swear,
Sayin', “Indeed, that's not me, sir, I'll vow and declare.”

Then he hastened to the forecastle with speed
There he met pretty Polly which made his heart bleed.
She ripped him, and she stripped him, and she tore him in three,
Because he had murdered her baby and she.

Mike Waterson sings The Cruel Ship's Carpenter

Fair ones are shining on foreign earth and town—
There lived a lovely damsel whose name it was Miss Brown.
She courted handsome Willie, her darling for to be:
His trade long and steady, a ship's carpenter was he.

It were early one morning before the break of day,
A voice come to the window, and thus to her did say,
Saying, “Rise up, lovely Mary, and come along with me
Before we are married, some friends for to see.”

And he led her through the fields and through the valleys oh so deep,
Till at length lovely Mary began for to weep,
Saying, “Willie, handsome Willie, you have led me astray
Through fields and through valleys, my life to betray.”

“It's truth that you say to me, it's just the truth you say,
For late late last night I was a-digging your grave,
Your grave that is open and a spade standing by,
And down into the grave your fair body must lie.”

And he stabbed her, he stabbed her till the red blood it did flow
And into the grave her fair body he did throw.
And he's buried her so neatly and he's covered her so sound,
Expecting this murder would never be found.

It were early one morning before the break of day,
Up has come the captain, and this to all did say:
“There's murder on shipboard has lately been done:
Our good ship lies in mourning and cannot sail on.”

Then up spoke one sailor, “Indeed, sir, not I.”
Up spake another, “And the same I do deny.”
Then up spake young Willie, to damn, curse, and swear:
“Indeed sir, not I, sir, I vow and declare.”

But as he was a-going and turning around,
He spied lovely Mary, she was dressed all in brown.
Why, she's snatched at him and she's catched him, and she has tore him in three,
Saying, “That's for the murder of my baby and me.”

Norma Waterson sings Polly's Love

Fair maids are a-shining over valley and town.
There once was a young girl her name it was Miss Brown.
A young man came a-courting her dear for to be,
And he was by trade a ship's carpenter was he.

Well, the king he needed sailors for to go off to sea.
This made the young maiden to cry and to say,
“William, O William, do not leave me here,
Remember the vows you have made to your dear.”

But it was early the next morning before it was day
He's gone to his Polly, these words he did say,
“Polly, O Polly, you must come along with me,
Before we get married, my friends for to see.”

Then he's led her through the groves and through the valley so deep.
This caused poor Polly to cry and to weep,
“William, O William, you've led me astray
On purpose to take my own sweet life away.”

“No pardon will I give you and there's no time to stand'.
And there in a moment drew a knife with his hand
He stabbed her poor body till red blood did flow
And into a grave her poor body did throw.

Then he's covered her body so safe and secure.
He thought none would find her, of that he was sure.
Then he went on board ship to sail the world around
Before that his murder would ever be found.

It was early one morning before it was day
The captain came to him, these words he did say,
“There's a murderer on board and it's lately been done.
Our ship she's in mourning and cannot sail on.”

And up stepped one sailor, “Indeed, sir, not I”,
And up stepped one other, “Indeed, sir, not I”,
And up stepped young William to storm, curse, and swear,
“Indeed, sir, not I, sir, I vow and declare.”

And as he was a-turning from the captain with speed
His mad, pretty Polly it's made his heart bleed.
She's ripped him, she's stripped him, she's tore him in three,
Crying, “That's for the murder of my baby and me.”

Jon Raven sings Love and Murder

In Worcester town and in Worcestershire
A youthful young damsel she lived there;
A young man he courted her to be his dear
And him for his trade was a ship's carpenter.

The king wanted men for to go upon sea
Which caused this damsel to sigh and to say,
“Oh Billy, oh Billy. don't you go to sea,
Oh don't you remember what you promised me.”

Early, early one morning before it was day
He went to his Polly these words he did say,
“Oh Polly, oh Polly, you must go with me
Before we are married my friends for to see.”

He led her through woods and the valleys so deep
Which caused this maiden to sigh and to weep,
“Oh Billy, oh Billy, you've led me astray
On purpose my innocent life to betray.”

“It is true, it is true, these words you have said,
For all this night I've been digging your grave.”
The grave being open and she standing by
Which caused this maiden to sigh and to cry.

“Oh Billy, oh Billy, please pardon my life,
I never will covet for to be your wife.
I'll travel the country to set you free
If that you will pardon my baby and me.”

“No pardon here is, there's no time for to stand,”
With that he had a sharp knife in his hand.
He stabbed her heart till the blood it ran through
And into her grave her fair body he threw.

He covered her up so safe and secure,
Thinking no-one could find her of that he was sure.
He went upon board for to sail the world round
Before this murder ever was found.

Early, early one morning before it was day
Our captain came up and these words he did say,
“There's a murder on board which has lately been done.
Our ship is in mourning we cannot sail on.”

Oh then up steps one and, “Indeed it's not me,”
Then up steps another and, “Indeed it's not me.”
At length up steps Billy and this he did swear,
“Indeed it's not me, I vow and declare.”

As he was turning from the captain with speed
He met with his Polly which made his heart bleed.
She ripped him, she tore him, she tore him in three
Because that he murdered her baby and she.

Acknowledgements and Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Info Req: Polly's Love (Waterson-Carthy).

Thanks to Greer Gilman for the transcription of The Cruel Ship's Carpenter, to Michael E. Hishikawa for the transcription of Polly's Love and to Garry Gillard for the transcription of Love and Murder.