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The Little Cabin Boy

[ Roud 1168 ; Master title: The Little Cabin Boy ; Ballad Index FSC056 ; trad.]

Jim ‘Brick’ Harber sang The Cabin Boy and the Lady Gay at The Plough, Three Bridges, Sussex, to Brian Matthews on 10 February 1960. This recording was included in 2011 of the Musical Traditions anthology of songs from Sussex country pubs, Just Another Saturday Night. Rod Stradling commented:

Thomas Maccueen heard this song from a Mrs MacConechie in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, in 1827, and Sharp collected it from Edmund Jupp of Southwater, Sussex, in 1908. Beyond that, only George Edwards of the Catskill Mountains, New York state, is known to have sung it. There are no further mentions of this song in the Roud Index—except for Brick Harber, who gives another powerful and compelling performance here. This is a man who I dearly wish I had met.

Harry Upton sang two lines from The Little Cabin Boy on his 1978 Topic album Why Can’t It Always Be Saturday?. and on his 2015 same-titled Musical Traditions anthology Why Can’t It Always Be Saturday?. Rod Stradling noted:

These couple of lines come from a song called The Little Cabin Boy, a version of which was collected in Sussex from the singer Jim ‘Brick’ Harber by Ken Stubbs, who included it in his book The Life of a Man (1970). Norman Cazden, an American collector, also noted a set from the singer George Edwards, which he included in two books, Abelard Folk Song Book Pt. 2 (1958) and Folk Songs of the Catskills (1982).

Peggy Seeger sang The Little Cabin Boy in 1986 on her and Ewan MacColl’s album Blood & Roses Volume 4. She noted:

Child does not list this ballad. Cazden, in Folksongs of the Catskills, calls it a “rare example of broadside balladry”, and proceeds to allot almost all of his exhaustive note on the song to tracing its tune. While there are a number of broadside ballads in which a rich lady lays her love on a poor man, I have not yet found one which has the economy of language and absence of sentimentality that this one has.
(From the singing of George Edwards, Catskills singer).

Alasdair Roberts sang The Cabin Boy on the Furrow Collective’s 2018 album Fathoms. They noted:

Our version of this song is a composite of two geographically distinct sources. Alasdair first encountered it in a North American variant entitled The Little Cabin Boy sung by Peggy Seeger, which in turn is based on a version from George Edwards of New York State, as printed in Folk Songs of the Catskills. He later discovered a Scottish variant recorded from Mrs MacConechie, a tailor’s wife from Kilmarnock, in Andrew Crawfurd’s Collection of Ballads and Songs, originally collected by Thomas Macqueen in 1827; our recording of the song draws on both of these variants.


Jim ‘Brick’ Harber sings The Cabin Boy and the Lady Gay

Oh it’s of a rich lady so gay
And she was a beautiful bride
’Til she fell in love with a little cabin boy
And denièd both lord, duke and knight.

O it’s “William, dear William,” says she,
“Will you stay along with me on the shore?”
“You must go to the captain of our gallant ship
And ask him for my liberties.”

Then it’s straight to the captain she went
Down on her bended knees, o she fell.
“O captain”, said she, “will you let your cabin boy
Stay home on the shore along with me?”

“Oh no, you young lady!” said he,
“Such things can never be.
For you looks more fitting for some lord, duke or I
To embrace your sweet company.”

Then it’s back to young William she went
With a wet and a watery eye
“O,” saying “dearest William, the best of friends must part
And so must you, love, and I.”

Then it’s straight on board young William went
Left his Polly a-weeping there on the shore.
Young William got lost, and the rest of his ship’s crew,
And never was heard of any more.

Then it’s home to her father’s house she went
And she threw her fair body on the floor
And when her father woke and he rose up in the morn
He lamented at the death that he had found.

Then soon was a funeral put out
And everything so neatly prepared
There was six jolly sailors, all dressèd well in blue
To carry this fair body down.

Peggy Seeger sings The Little Cabin Boy

Twas of a lady gay
A lady of beauty bright
All for the love of a little cabin boy
She forsake both lord and knight.

Away to Billy she go,
“Billy, coo,” says she;
“I don’t want no lord or knight
My mind is bound to thee.”

“If I your bed may gain, love,
If you my arms would fill:
You must go to the cap’n of the ship
And gain his right good will.”

Away to the cap’n she go,
“Cap’n, coo,“ says she;
“Pretty little Billy, your little cabin boy,
Can he tarry on shore with me?”

“What, and you a lady so gay,
And you ask me for a boy?
More fitting you be for a lord or knight
Your sweet body for to enjoy.”

“No matter for that,” says she,
“Billy do please me well;
Were his body down deep in the sea,
It’s I would love him still.”

“Away with this talk of love,
Come no more to me.
Poor little Billy, my little cabin boy,
Can’t tarry on shore with thee.”

It was in yon garden green,
On green and grassy ground,
Early, early when the men arose,
This lady’s body they found.

Now Billy is on the/etc/sudoers.d/sp sea,
And the waves toss to and fro,
Cryin’ like a little sea-bird,
From east to west he go.

Till the winter wind di blow,
And the stormy sea did roar;
Then little Billy, her little cabin boy,
Was heard and seen no more.

Alasdair Roberts sings The Cabin Boy

It’s of a lady gay
And a lady fair and bright
She’s fallen in love with a little cabin boy
And slighted lord and knight.

“Will you tarry on shore wi me, my boy?
Will you tarry on shore wi me?
I dinnae want any lord or knight,
My mind is bound to thee.”

“Gin your love for me is great,
Mine is greater still.
But ye maun to my captain gae
And speir for his goodwill.”

So she’s to the captain gane,
“Grant me my Will,” said she,
“Gie to me your little cabin boy
To tarry on shore wi me.”

“And you a lady gay
And you ask me for a boy?
Better it be some lord or knight
Your sweet body to enjoy.”

So she’s to her true love gane,
“Oh Billy, coo,” said she,
“The nearest and dearest of lovers we maun part
And sae maun you and I.”

Now Billy is on the sea
And the waves toss to and fro,
Crying like a little sea bird
From East to West he goes.

But they hadn’t sailed a league on the sea
A league but barely four
Till the gallant ship and her men were lost
And Billy was never seen more.

It was in yon gairden green,
On green and grassy ground,
Early when her faither he arose
This lady’s body he found.

Six maids dressed all in black
And six dressed all in green,
Her faither and mother a-mourning gaed
For she died for her cabin boy sae young.