> Folk Music > Songs > Mr Tapscott

Mr Tapscott / Heave Away My Johnny / Yellow Meal

[ Roud 15778 ; Henry H827 ; Ballad Index Doe062 ; VWML CJS2/10/2877 ; trad.]

Cecil Sharp collected the capstan shanty Mr Tapscott from the Watchet sailor John Short on 20 April 1914.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang Heave Away My Johnnies in 2000 on their CD Across the Western Ocean. They noted:

Also known as The Irish Emigrant, this is another shanty from the collection of Hugill, who remarks that it is an example of a brake-windlass shanty, which in actual use on a ship was sung to a varying rhythm. The first line was fairly slow, as the brakes or levers were pulled down to waist level, end the next line faster as a second movement brought them down to knee level. Similar versions of the shanty appear in Colcard and Doerflinger. The ‘Tapscott’ referred to in the song was William Tapscott, Liverpool agent for the Black Ball Line (and also, for a time, of the Red Cross Line).

Sam Lee sang Mr Tapscott, accompanied on chorus by Keith Kendrick, Barbara Brown and Tom Brown, in 2011 on the anthology of sea songs collected from John Short by Cecil Sharp, Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 1. The accompanying notes commented:

This shanty text is more widely known as The Irish Girl, The Irish Emigrant or Yellow Meal and the texts are fairly consistent—however, this text is one of only two instances where we have deliberately changed any words: we were not prepared to use the ‘N’ word—nor did Sharp, although he noted it, so we have used his text for the ‘Foulton Ferry’ verse.

Short’s tune is, of course, more widely known as carrying New York Gals or Can’t You Dance the Polka (which are, arguably, text variants of Jack-All-Alone (a.k.a. Patrick Street/Barrack Street)—which used the tune of the polka Larry Doolan (a.k.a. The Irish Jaunting Car)—published 1852). The tune was also used for the American Civil War song The Bonny Blue Flag (1861) and subsequently for The Southern Girl’s Reply.

The text has also been recorded, as a shanty, sung to Heave Away, Me Johnny (to which Short sang Banks of the Sweet Dundee). The ‘Henry Clay’, ‘The Kangaroo’ and the ‘Joseph Walker’ are ships mentioned in variant texts and certainly the ‘Henry Clay’ appeared on posters advertising Tapscott’s emigrant services.

This shanty may have had a special appeal to Short: ‘Tapscott’ was William Tapscott from a Minehead (Somerset) family that had lived in the town (a neighbour to Watchet) from at least the mid-1770s. William was an American packet ship broker, with offices on Regents Road, Liverpool, and Eden Quay, Dublin. He worked in conjunction with his brother James, who looked after the New York end of the business, and specialized in selling pre-paid passages to successful immigrants who now wished to bring their families to America. They were agents for the Black Ball Line and, at one period, also for the Red Cross Line of American packets. Together, they fleeced the unsuspecting. The Tapscott brothers were systematic villains, whose frauds began with their advertisements: although Taspcott advertised that his passages were on ships of over 1000 tons, and even as much as 2000 tons, in fact most were barely 600 tons.

As their wealth increased the Tapscotts set up their own shipping line. Cheap emigrant passages was the name of the game—but conditions were atrocious and the food poor (the ‘yellow meal’, i.e. corn grits, of the alternative title). In 1849 William Tapscott was adjudged bankrupt, and in the same year was charged with fraud, concerning the money of shareholders in the business. He was found guilty and sentenced to three years’ penal servitude. The line’s eponymous ship, the 1593 ton William Tapscott, was eventually wrecked at Bude on the North Cornwall coast on 29 March 1881 whilst on a trip from Pernambuco to Cardiff in ballast. Her figurehead, salvaged from the sea, now resides in the Bude museum.

Foulton Ferry is in New York, and Castle Gardens was the New York dis-embarkation point for emigrants to America where they were ‘processed’ and unwanted immigrants sent back.


John Roberts and Tony Barrand sing Heave Away My Johnnies

Oh as I walked out one summer’s morn, down by the Salthouse Docks,
   Heave away, my Johnnies, heave away,
I met an emigrant Irish girl conversing with Tapscott,
   And away my bully boys, we’re all bound to go.

“Good morning Mister Tapscott.” “Good morning, my gal,” says he,
“It’s have you got any packet ships all bound for Amerikee?”

“Oh yes, I’ve got a packet ship, I have got one or two,
I’ve got the ‘Jinny Walker’ and I’ve got the ‘Kangaroo’.

“I’ve got the ‘Jinny Walker’, and today she do set sail,
With five and fifty emigrants and a thousand bags of meal.”

The day was fine when we set sail but night had barely come
That every emigrant never ceased to wish himself at home.

That night as we was sailing through the Channel of Saint James,
A dirty nor’west wind come up and blew us back again.

We snugged her down and laid her to with reefed main topsail set,
It was no joke, I tell you, ’cause our bunks and clothes was wet.

It cleared up fine at break of day, and we set sail once more,
And every emigrant sure was glad when we reached America’s shore.

So now I’m in Philadelphia and working on the canal,
To sail again in a packet ship I’m sure I never shall.

Oh, but I’ll go home in a National Boat that carries both steam and sail,
With lashings of corned beef every day and none of your yellow meal.

Sam Lee sings Mr Tapscott

As I was a-walking down by the Clarence Dock,
I overheard an Irish girl conversing with Tapscott.

Chorus (after each verse):
And away you santy, my dear Annie,
Oh you santy, I’ll love you for your money

“Good morning Mister Tapscott, good morning, sir,” says she,
“O have you got a ship of fame to carry me o’er the sea?”

“O yes, I have a ship of fame, tomorrow she sets sail,
She’s lieing in the Waterloo Dock taking in her mail.”

The day was fine when we set sail but night has scare begun
A dirty nor’west wind came up and drove us back again.

Our captain, being an Irishman, as you shall understand,
He hoisted out his small boat on the banks of Newfoundland.

’Twas at the Castle Gardens fair they landed me on shore,
And if I marry a Yankee boy I’ll go to sea no more.

I went down to Foulton Ferry but I could not get across,
I jumped on the back of a ferryboat man and rode him like an hoss.

My father is a butcher, my mother chops the meat,
My sister keeps a slap-up shop way down on Water Street.