Showing posts with label folk song. Show all posts
Showing posts with label folk song. Show all posts

Friday, June 19, 2015

Johnny Poker - A Boat Hauling Song

I’m currently typing the notes from the Asset Mapping workshop Dale led in Champney’s West and I came across the song Johnny Poker.  It is noted as a traditional song that people would sing when they pulled boats up.  Sometimes people would pull back on the boat so they could hear the Johnny Poker song.

The version which is written in the notes is:
“To my jolly poker
We will start this heavy joker
Haul boy haul” [everybody pulls]

The notes say there are 4-5 versions of the song.  I did a quick search and came across a version by Stuffed Squid set to music.  I’ve added the video here and you can check out the page with the lyrics and some background information here.

Do you know a version of Johnny Poker? Let us know in the comments or send an email to


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sailing in the Boat Till the Tide Runs High

Children Playing Circle Games VA 93-50
International Grenfell Association photograph collection
Photo: Courtesy of The Rooms
While researching children’s ring games last week I came across a game which I had never heard before.  The game “Sailing in the Boat (Ship) Till the Tide Runs High” is found in three sources on Memorial University’s DAI.  It is first found in a fictional short story written in 1950 and published in the Atlantic Guardian in which the youth of the community Come Again Harbour play a ring game to the tune:
Sailing in the ship ‘til the tide runs high,
Waiting for the pretty girls to come by and by, […] 
Choose your partner now today,
Give her a kiss and send her on her way.  
The other two sources mention the game being played in a community hall in Lumsden and the song being sung at the third annual Newfoundland picnic in Lynwood City Park, California in 1956.

I did a quick google search to see what I could come up with and I came across a couple of references to the ring game with more complete versions of the song.  The following version is from Otto Tucker and is found in Newfoundland author Robin McGrath’s book All In Together:
Sailing in the boat ’til the tide runs high, 
Sailing in the boat ’til the collar flags fly, 
Sailing in the boat ’til the tide runs high, 
Waiting for the pretty girls to come by and by. 
Choose your partner now today, 
Choose, oh choose her right away, 
I don’t care what the old folks say. 
Oh what a horrible choice you’ve made, 
And she can no longer stay. 
Since she can no longer stay, 
Give her a kiss and send her away.

There are a number of versions with different lyrics.  Here is William Wells Newell’s version from his book Games and Songs of American Children:
Sailing in the boat when the tide runs high,[x3]
Waiting for the pretty girl to come by'm by.

Here she comes, so fresh and fair,
Sky-blue eyes and curly hair,
Rosy in cheek, dimple in her chin,
Say, young man, but you can't come in.

Rose in the garden for you young, man,[x2]
Rose in the garden, get it if you can,
But take care not a frost-bitten one.

Choose your partner, stay till day, [x3]
And don't never mind what the old folks say!

Old folks say 'tis the very best way, [x3]
To court all night and sleep all day.

Folklorist Emelyn E. Gardner references the following version from the Michigan area in her article Some Play-party Games in Michigan written in 1920:
Sailing in the boat when the tide runs high, [x3]
Waiting for a pretty girl to come by and by.

Oars in the boat, and it won't go round [x3]
Till you kiss the pretty girl that you just found.

Do you have memory of this song?  Have you ever played the game yourself? Which version did you sing? Let us know where you are from, what song you sung or game you played.  Send an email to

I’ll leave you with the following YouTube clip I found of “Sailing in the Boat” sung by Elizabeth Austin and a group of women in Old Bight, Cat Island, Bahamas recorded by Alan Lomax and Mary Barnicle in 1935.  


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

King William was King George’s son

I wrote an article in The Telegram a while back about traditional Newfoundland children's singing games.  It included a version of "King William was King George’s son." 

Colin Burke, now of Port au Port, sent me his version, which was sung in St. Jacques, Fortune Bay, circa 1950-1952.

King William was King George’s son,
Of all the royal race he’d won.
Upon his breast a star he wore
Pointing to the government’s door *
Come choose you east, come choose you west,
Come choose the one that you love best.
Down on this carpet you must kneel
As the grass grows in the field,
Kiss your partner if you please
Now you may rise up off your knees.

Burke notes: 
* (or maybe government store, which is what I seemed to hear)I was about six or seven years old, and there was a “government store” at the government wharf.

The King William in question is probably William IV (William Henry; 21 August 1765 – 20 June 1837) - King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of Hanover from 26 June 1830 until his death, the third son of George III. The image above is William in dress uniform painted by Sir Martin Archer Shee, c.1800, from the book The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson

UPDATE: 6 March 2015

Gloria Marguerite Bobbitt from Harrington Harbour, on Quebec's Lower North Shore, writes:

The people from Newfoundland must have brought the song/game over to Harrington Harbour when they came over here. We always played it in the summer time. Here is our version. 

King William was King George's son,
Upon the royal racy run,
Upon his breast he wore a star,
In the kissing time of war.
Come choose to the east,
Come choose to the west,
Choose the very one you love best.
Upon this carpet you must kneel,
As sure as the grass grows in the field,
Kiss your partner as your sweet,
Now you may stand upon your feet.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Help find the missing words to "Here we go down, Sir Johnny Brown"

I recently wrote an article for The Telegram on singing games we used to play, about three traditional games: "Little Sally Saucer," "King William was King George's Son," and "Ring Around the Rosie." You can read more on "Little Sally" on author Leslie Lindsay's blog.

This morning, I received a response from Rosemary Thorne. Thorne now lives in St. John's, but was born in the early 1960s in Thornlea, Trinity Bay. She remembers playing Little Sally Saucer and Ring Around the Rosie.

Another song game she remembered was "Here we go down, Sir Johnny Brown," but she could not remember all the lyrics to the first verse of the song. Here is what Thorne remembers:

Here we go down, Sir Johnny Brown
This is the way to London town
.... here
.... by
Don't you hear your true love cry

On the carpet (carver?) here she stands
Take your true love by the hand
[Take] the one that you love best
Pick her out from all the rest

What a heck of a choice you made
You better be home and in your bed
Since you can no longer stay
Give her a kiss and send her away.

A quick internet search reveals little on "Sir Johnny Brown," but does turn up this fabulous query to the "Correct Manners" section on Page 13 of the Ottawa Citizen, for Monday, 1 February 1926:

Is the letter in question addressed to a real child named John Brown, or would Sir Johnny Brown be a name known to a child, presumably through some version of the rhyme related by Thorne? Does anyone have a memory of this rhyme or song? Any thoughts on the missing words? And who exactly is Sir Johnny Brown, Esq? 

Email me at if you have a lead! And I'll have none of your "monkey-shining," please.

update 9 Feb 2015:

I found this counting-out rhyme, from Indiana, printed in 1888 in "The Counting-Out Rhymes of Children: Their Antiquity, Origin, and Wide Distribution - a study in Folk Lore" by Henry Carrington Bolton (noted American chemist, bibliographer of science, lecturer, folklorist, photographer, and one of the founders of the American Folklore Society):

Oh! Johnny Brown
He went to town
Three score miles and ten;
He went at night
By candle light
And never got home again.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Flying Cloud - a recitation by Patrick O'Neill, Conche

The Clipper Ship "Flying Cloud" off the Needles, Isle of Wight, by James E. Buttersworth, 1859-60. 
Source: Wikimedia Commons.  
While they share the same name, this is a different vessel from the one in the recitation below.

In June of 2000, I was in the community of Conche on Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula, doing work on heritage buildings for the Heritage Foundation of NL. I had the luck to meet Mr. Patrick "Uncle Paddy" O'Neill. He was introduced to me by his niece, Joan Woodrow, and while we were talking, he started to do a recitation of an old ballad called "The Flying Cloud", which he had learned from a man named Pat Bromley around 1941.

Using spare tape and an old tape player Mr. O'Neill had, I made a very rough recording of the traditional ballad, which I've transcribed below.  Uncle Paddy is no longer with us, but his version of the lyrics live on! I've seen it described as an anti-piracy ballad. If you have comments, leave them below, or email me at

The Flying Cloud

as remembered by Patrick O'Neill, Conche
June 2000
recorded and transcribed by Dale Jarvis

My name is Edward Anderson,
As you might understand,
I belong to the county Waterford
In Ireland’s heavenly land.

My parents raised me tenderly,
And taught me to be wise.
'Twas little they thought I’d die in scorn
In Cuba's sunny skies.

My father bound me to a trade
In Waterford's fair town,
He bound me to a cooper there
By the name of William Brown;

I served my master faithfully
For eighteen months or more,
Then took a voyage on the Ocean Queen,
To Valparaiso's shore.

It happened in Valparaiso,
I met with Captain Moore,
Commander of the clipper Flying Cloud,
Sailing out of Baltimore;

He asked me for to join him
On a slaving trip to go,
To the western shores of Africa
Where the sugar cane do grow.

The Flying Cloud was a clipper barque,
Five hundred tons or more,
Could easily sail with any ship,
Sailing out of Baltimore.

Her sails were white as the driven snow,
And on them showed no speck,
Seventy-five brass cannon guns
Were mounted on her deck.

Her medicine chest and magazine
Were stored away below,
And a Long Tom between her spars,
On a swivel used to go.

I often saw that clipper barque
With the wind abaft the beam,
---------- set,
Take sixteen from the reel.

After three weeks sailing
We arrived on Africa’s shore
Fifteen hundred of those slaves
From their native land we bore.

We forced those slaves to walk our deck
And stowed them down below,
With eighteen inches to each one
Was all allowed to go.

Your heart would ache all for their sake
You could see those slaves
Better far for those poor souls,
If they were in their graves.

The plague and fever came on board,
Swept half of them away,
We dragged their bodies out on deck
And threw them in the sea.

Another three weeks sailing
We arrived on Cuba’s shore.-
We sold them to a planter,
To be slaves forevermore;

The rice and coffee fields to hoe
Beneath the burning sun,
To wear away their wretched lives
Till their sad career was run.

And when our money was all spent,
We came on board again,
Captain Moore from his cabin came
And spoke to all his men:

"There's gold and plenty to be had
If you come with me again,
We’ll run the pirate flag aloft,
And scour the Spanish Main.

We have the fastest sailing ship
As ever skimmed the seas,
Or ever set her eye for a course
Before a lively breeze.”

We all agreed except five men;
He told those five to land:
Two of them were Boston boys
Two more from Newfoundland;

The other was an Irish chap
Belonging to Tramore,
I wish to God I’d joined those men
And went with them on shore.

We robbed and plundered many a ship
Down on the Spanish Main,
Caused many a widow and orphan
In sorrow to complain.

We forced their crews to walk a plank
That hung out over the rail,
The saying of our captain was,
The dead man tells no tales.

We were often chased by man-o'-wars
Both east, north, west, and south
But none of them, try how they would
Could catch the Flying Cloud.

We were often chased by man-o'-war
Who would try to round us to,
To overhaul the Flying Cloud
Was more than they could do.

Until a British man-o’-war
A frigate hove in view
He fired a shot across our bow
A signal to heave-to.

We faced our yards and crowded sail
And ran before the line
A chain-shot struck our mizzen mast
And soon we fell behind.

The deck was cleared for action
As she raced up alongside,
And soon across our snow-white deck,
There flowed a crimson tide.

We fought till Captain Moore was killed
And thirty of our men,
A bombshell struck our ship afire,
We had to surrender then.

The rest of us were brought to land
And into prison cast.
Tried and were found guilty,
To be hung at last.

Farewell to sweet Waterford,
And the girl that I loved dear,
No more will I kiss her ruby lips,
Her sweet voice no more will hear.

Farewell my aged parents,
I now must meet my doom.
I’ll swing aloft the yardarm high
Cut in my youth and bloom.