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Jack Williams the Boatswain

[ Roud 1906 ; Master title: Jack Williams ; Laws L17 ; Ballad Index LL17 ; Bodleian Roud 1906 ; GlosTrad Roud 1906 ; Wiltshire 268 ; trad.]

Benji Kirkpatrick found Jack Williams the Boatswain in Roy Palmer’s Book of British Ballads and sang it on Dr Faustus’s 2006 Fellside album, Wager. Palmer noted in his book:

Jack Williams ‘went a-robbing night and day’ to support a ‘lady gay’ who spurned him as soon as he fell foul of the law. Most versions conclude with his bitter despair as he faces the gallows, but here he miraculously escapes.


Faustus sing Jack Williams the Boatswain

I am a boatswain by my trade, Jack Williams is my name;
And by a false deluding girl I was brought to grief and shame.
At St Catherine’s stairs I did resort, where most people did me know,
And on a girl I fixed my mind, and it proved my overthrow.

I went a-robbing night and day to maintain her fine and gay;
And what I got I valued not, but took to her straightway.
At length to Newgate I was sent, bound down in prison strong,
With heavy chains about my legs: she longed to see them on.

I sent a letter to my love, some comfort for to find;
Instead of proving kind to me she proved very unkind.
She in a scornful manner said, “I’ll shun thieves’ company.
So as you have made your bed, down on it you may lie.”

I thought these sayings very hard when I’d spent all my store,
To find she’d no more regard for me now I am low and poor.
All in this lonesome cell I lie, no better I deserve;
Which makes my blood run cold when thinking how I’m served.

I am a boatswain by my trade and a waterman also;
I maintained her like a lady gay, in fine silks from top to toe,
But if ever I gain my liberty a solemn vow I’ll make.
I’ll shun all harlots’ company for that base strumpet’s sake.

The assizes is over, the sentence passed, and hanged I must be;
It grieves my parents to the heart to think on my misery.
But fortune has proved kind to me, that you may plainly see,
I broke the gaol and scaled the wall, and gained my liberty.