> Peter Bellamy > Songs > The Death of Nelson (On Board the Man o' War)
> John Kirkpatrick > Songs > Nelson Death and Victory

The Death of Nelson / Nelson's Death and Victory

[ Roud 18837 ; trad.]

George Dunn of Quarry Bank in the West Midlands sang Nelson's Death and Victory in a recording made on December 4-5, 1971 by Bill Leader on his eponymous Leader album, George Dunn. Another recording made by Roy Palmer on July 14, 1971 was included on Dunn's Musical Traditions anthology Chainmaker. The song was also printed in Palmer' 1986 book The Oxford Book of Sea Songs and its expanded 2001 edition, Boxing the Compass.

Peter Bellamy sang The Death of Nelson (On Board the Man o' War) on his privately issued cassette of 1982, The Maritime England Suite, accompanied by Dorothy Collins on piano and Ursula Pank on cello. This recording was also included on his Free Reed anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes. The latter's booklet cited Bellamy:

This is actually two songs, because the tune was too good to waste on just three verses.

and noted further:

This is based on a contemporary broadside ballad, but Peter wanted more material to fill the story out. The parallel events in Yarmouth come from the Harry Cox song called Nelson's Death.

This YouTube video shows Peter Bellamy singing The Death of Nelson and The Liner She's a Lady on a very old VHS tape:

Richard Grainger rewrote Death of Nelson to his own tune from fragments published in a Folk Music Journal in about 1973. He sang it on his 1984 Fellside album, Herbs of the Heart. The Wilson Family sang this with additional verses on their 1991 Harbourtown album, The Wilson Family Album.

John Kirkpatrick sang Nelson's Death and Victory in 2007 on his Fledg'ling album Make No Bones. He commented:

On of the fascinating things about traditional songs is that they often give an underbelly view of past events that is quite at odds with the official history imposed from above. But all classes are united in their praise and admiration for Lord Nelson—a brilliant commander, loved by his men, respected by his contemporaries, and, following his death at the moment of victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, celebrated by one and all as great national hero.

In 1971 Roy Palmer recorded a three verse version of this song from George Dunn in Quarry Bank in the West Midlands, where the singer had been born in 1887, and had lived all his life. Adding a couple of verses from a printed broadside, he included the song in The Valiant Sailor, Cambridge University Press, in 1973, which is where I started with it. I have added a simple chorus so that the offensively hearty in our midst can all rejoice together!

The Melrose Quartet sang The Death of Nelson on their 2013 CD Fifty Verses. This video shows them at Shepley Spring Festival in May 2012:

Granny's Attic sang Death of Nelson in 2016 on their WildGoose CD Off the Land. They commented:

We came across this song in Peter Bellamy’s Maritime England Suite. Peter’s verses are an amalgamation of two songs; Nelson’s Death collected from George Dunn of Quarry Bank in the Black Country, and Nelson’s Monument from Harry Cox of Norfolk. We’ve taken the liberty of pilfering a verse—with a bit of a tweak—from Bert Lloyd’s rendition of Nelson’s Death to conclude the song. We’ve seen this song called a few different things; our title does slightly give the story away but we thought it was better than A New Song and Monument to Admiral Lord Nelson Detailing His Death and Victory On Board a British Man o’ War on the 21st October 1805. That was a bit tricky to remember at gigs.

Lyrics

George Dunn sings Nelson' Death

'Twas the twenty-first of October before the rising sun
We formed a line for action, my boys, at twelve o'clock begun.
Our mast and rigging was shot away Besides some thousands in that fray
Were killed and wounded on that day
On board a man o' war.

From broadside to broadside our cannon balls did fly;
Like hailstones the small shot around our deck did lie.
Brave Nelson to his men did say, “The Lord has promised us this day.
Give them the broadside, fire away, On board the man o' war.”

And then our brave commander with grief he shook his head:
“There is no relief, there is no reprieve, brave Nelson he is dead.
It was a fatal musket ball that caused our hero for to fall.
Let him die in peace, God bless you all,
On board the man o' war.”

Peter Bellamy sings The Death of Nelson (On Board the Man o' War)

On the Twenty-First of October, before the rising sun,
We formed the line for action, my boys, at twelve o'clock begun
Brave Nelson to his men did say:
“The Lord will prosper us this day.
Give them the broadside, fire away.”
On board the man of war.

So broadside to broadside our cannon balls did fly,
Like hailstones their small shots all round our deck did lie.
Our mast and rigging they were shot away
Besides some thousand seen that fray
Was ill and wounded on that day
On board the man of war.

But then our brave commander in grief he shook his head:
There is no reprieve, there is no relief, Great Nelson he is dead.
It was a fatal musket-ball
That caused our hero for to fall
Let him die in peace, God bless you all
On board the man of war.

And the merchants of Yarmouth when they did hear it so,
They said: “Come brothers, sailors, to church now let us go.
There we will build a noble pile
All for the hero of the Nile
Who gave his life for England's isle
On board the man of war.”

Now our soldiers and sailors many noble deeds have done
While fighting in foreign many battles they have won.
If the Nile it could witness there
Or the Capes of Trafalgar declare:
There is nought with Nelson did compare
On board the man of war.

Richard Grainger sings Death of Nelson

On the Twenty-First of October, before the rising sun,
We formed a line for battle and at twelve o clock begun.
Old Nelson to his men did say:
“The lord will prosper us this day.
Set fire the broadside, fire away.”
On board a man of war.

Chorus (twice after each verse):
Let him die in peace, God bless you all,
On board a man of war.

From broadside to broadside the cannon balls did fly,
Like hailstone the small shot across our decks did fly.
Our main mast was blown away;
Besides some hundreds on that day
Were killed or wounded in the fray
On board a man of war.

And then our great commander, with grief he shook his head:
There's no reprieve, no relief, old Nelson he is dead.
It was a fateful musket-ball
That caused old Nelson for to fall.
Let him die in peace, god bless you all
On board a man of war

Links

See also the Mudcat Café threads Lyr Req: Death of Nelson and Lyr Req: On Board of a Man-of-War.