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The Loss of the ‘Ramillies’

[ Roud 523 ; Master title: The Loss of the ’Ramillies’ ; Laws K1 ; G/D 1:28 ; Ballad Index LK01 ; trad.]

Walter Pardon sang The Loss of the ‘Ramillies’ in a recording by Bill Leader, Peter Bellamy and Reg Hall in his home on 12 December 1974. This was included in 2000 on his posthumous CD A World Without Horses.

Tony Engle recorded Jumbo Brightwell singing The Loss of the ‘Ramillies’ in the singer’s home in Leiston, Suffolk in spring 1975. This recording was released on Jumbo Brightwell’s LP Songs From the Eel’s Foot and later included on the Topic anthology We’ve Received Orders to Sail (The Voice of the People Volume 12).

John Kirkpatrick sang The Loss of the ‘Ramillies’ in 2009 on Brass Monkey’s sixth album, Head of Steam. He noted:

This song tells the true story of the wreck of HMS ‘Ramillies’ in February 1760, with the loss of over 700 men. A ferocious hurricane along the South coast caused a huge amount of damage on land and sea, and in the appalling conditions the crew lost their bearings while trying to make for the shelter of Plymouth Sound, and the vessel broke up on the rocks at the inlet which is still named after the incident today—Ramillies Cove.

Three completely different songs about this event have been identified, and although this particular one seems never to have had the benefit of being printed as a broadside to boost its circulation, the fabulously catchy tune has made sure that this is the one that turns up most frequently amongst traditional singers. John first spotted it in Roy Palmer’s 1973 book The Valiant Sailor, which includes a version just recently collected by Alan Bruford in the Orkneys, in 1971, from Peter Pratt, aged 92.

Roy Palmer’s book was accompanied by an LP with the same name, The Valiant Sailor. On it, Roy Harris sang The Old Ramillies.

Marilyn Tucker and Paul Wilson sang The Ramble-ay on their 2009 Wren Trust album of songs of sea and shore, On the Tide. They noted:

From Joseph Elliot of Todber, Dorset, who in the early 20th century spent six months of the year fishing off Newfoundland, and six months back home in Dorset, so no surprise that this song turns up on both sides of the Atlantic. The story tells of a real shipwreck, The Ramiliies, which sank off Plymouth in a great storm in 1760.

Lisa Knapp sang The Loss of the Ramillies on her EP supporting the 2017/18 Save fRoots crowdfunding campaign, The Loss of the Ramillies. She noted:

From the singing of Walter Pardon of East Anglia, whom I’ve long admired; he recorded this version on the [posthumous] CD A World Without Horses. He sings this song in such a plain, unadorned way yet conveys this grave and tragic event with such dignity. A true story of the shipwreck of HMS Ramillies which lost its bearings during a violent storm in 1760 just off the Cornish / Devon coast culminating in the loss of 700 men.


Jumbo Brightwell sings The Loss of the ‘Ramillies’

(The first two lines of each verse were sung twice)

Now/Oh, it happened to be on a certain day,
When the Ramillies she at her anchor lay.
Why, the very night a gale came on,
Our ship she from her anchors run.

Oh, the rain came down in a dreadful shock,
(And) The seas came over our fore top.
And she never stay more revere
Nor make way enough for us to steer.

For/Oh, the mast and the mainsails were all struck,
And everything complete and snug.
Our canvas being so neatly spread,
Thinking we should weather the old Ram’s Head.

When/Oh, our boatsman cried, “Young fellows all,
Listen you unto me while I pipe my call.
Launch you out your boats our lives for to save,
Or the sea this night must be our grave.”

So/Oh, it’s overboard our boats were tossed,
Some they got in, but others they were lost.
For they were some in one place and some in the other
While the watch down below they were all smothered.

When the news it came to Plymouth Sound
That the Ramillies was lost and most of her men,
All Plymouth Town was flooded with tears
At the hearing of this sad affair.

So come all you pretty girls wherever you may be,
Who lost your true love in the Ramillies,
For there was only three left to tell the tale
How the ship she behaved in the dreadful gale.

Brass Monkey sing The Loss of the Ramillies

It happened to be on a certain day,
The ship Ramillies at her anchor she lay;
That very same night came such a storm,
The old Ramillies from her anchor was torn.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Weep, pretty maidens, weep with me,
Weep for the sailors of the Ramillies

With close-reefed tops’ls quickly spread
We thought we could weather the old Ram Head;
But the rain came down such a dreadful shock
With the sea running high over our fore-top.

Our captain piped, “All hands ahoy,
Listen to me while I pipe and cry:
Come launch your boats your lives to save
Or else the sea it will prove your grave.”

So overboard our boats we tossed,
Some jumped in but soon were lost.
There were some in one place, some in another,
And the watch down below by the waves were smothered.

When this sad news reached Plymouth town,
The Ramillies lost and her men all drowned,
Just three were saved to tell the tale
How the ship behaved in that dreadful gale.

And Plymouth town it flowed with tears
For those on the shore ’t was the worst of fears.
So pray for the sailors you adore,
Pray for the safe return to shore.