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Captain Bover

[ Roud 3147 ; Ballad Index StoR090 ; Mudcat 28144 ; trad.]

Captain Bover can be found in John Stokoe’s book Songs and Ballads of Northern England, Walter Scott Ltd, London and Newcastle upon Tyne, 1899. Stokoe noted:

This beautiful fragment was picked up by Mr Thomas Doubleday from a woman singing it in the streets, All attempts to recover more of it have been fruitless. Captain Bover was commander of the press-gang on the Tyne for many years, but appears to have carried out harsh laws as leniently as he could to be effective. He died 20 May 1792.

The High Level Ranters sang Captain Bover on their 1976 Topic album Ranting Lads. They noted:

This song is about a notorious press gang captain who was regarded locally with considerable dread. He gained the approval of the local authorities, however, and was given the honour of a burial in St. Nicholas Cathedral, Newcastle in 1782.

Carolyn Robson sang Captain Bower in 1981 on her Dingle’s album Banks of Tyne. She noted:

Captain Bover is a medley which starts and ends with this short song about an 18th century commander of a Tyneside press-gang. Captain Bover died in 1782 and is buried in Saint Nicholas’ Cathedral, Newcastle. The song was collected by Thomas Doubleday who unfortunately managed to find only one verse.

The following tune, Here’s the Tender Coming, is another well-known Tyneside press-gang song, this time arranged for dulcimer.

The Croquet Light is a navigational light at the mouth of the River Croquet. This tune was written by David Denton and Phil [Ranson] learned it from Davie himself. It is the only one of the cycle which is not a press-gang song and is not to be confused with a tune of the same name written by the late Jack Armstrong.

There are words to the last tune, Liberty for Sailors, also a press-gang song, but I think it is clearly meant as a tune and the words are very much an afterthought.

Ray Fisher sang Captain Bover and The Weary Cutters in 1982 on her Folk-Legacy album Willie’s Lady. She commented:

I introduce [The Weary Cutters] with a single verse which was taken down by Mr Thomas Doubleday, of Newcastle; he was unable to recover any more of the ballad. Captain John Bover, who died in 1792, had indulged in “harsh and tyrannical measures” [quoted from Northumbrian Minstrelsy] in order to furnish the British Navy with “pressed” men.

Corrina Hewat and Kathryn Tickell sang Here’s the Tender Coming and Captain Bover in 2006 on the latter’s CD Strange But True. Corrina Hewat commented:

Press Gangs were greatly feared on Tyneside, as they used cruelly harsh and oppressive measures to recruit seamen, inevitably meeting with resistance and resulting in riots and bloodshed. Even the keelmen of Sandgate, Newcastle, highly skilled and sought-after boatmen who handled the movement of coal from the riverside to ships on the River Tyne, were not safe and lived in constant fear of the ‘Regulation Officer’ Captain Bover and his Press Gang who operated on the Newcastle quayside. Captain Bover died in 1792 and was commander of the Press Gang on the Tyne for many years. Evidence suggests that he did his best to carry out a harsh job as leniently as he could, but this was probably of little comfort to those affected.

Graham and Sam Pirt sang Here’s the Tender Coming and Captain Bover in 2008 on their Fellside CD Dance ti’ Thee Daddy.

Unthank | Smith sang Captain Bover on their 2023 album Nowhere and Everywhere. Rachel Unthank noted:

A press-gang song. Captain Bover was a notorious captain who pressed men to join the Navy either by violence or trickery and was much feared on the River Tyne. I learnt it from The Keelers of which my Dad is a member and always thought it would make a great duet.


Ray Fisher sings Captain Bover

Whaur hae ye been, my canny hinny?
Whaur hae ye been, my winsome man?
Whaur hae ye been, my canny hinny?
Whaur hae ye been, my winsome man?

I’ve been tae the nor’ard, cruisin’ back and for’ard,
I’ve been tae the nor’ard, cruisin’ sair and lang.
I’ve been tae the nor’ard, cruisin’ back and for’ard,
But I daur not gang ashore for fear of Bover and his gang.