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The Indian Lass

[ Roud 2326 ; Master title: The Indian Lass ; Ballad Index CrNS051 ; Bodleian Roud 2326 ; GlosTrad Roud 2326 ; Wiltshire 605 , 846 ; Mudcat 26336 ; trad.]

Everyman’s Book of British Ballads Marrow Bones The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs Songs of the Midlands Songs of the Ridings Traditional Tunes Vaughan Williams in Norfolk

Velvet Brightwell sang The Indian Lass to A.L. Lloyd at The Eel’s Foot in 1938/9. This recording was included in 2000 on the Veteran CD of traditional singing and music from The Eel’s Foot, Good Order! Ladies and Gentlemen Please. His son William ‘Jumbo’ Brightwell sang The Indian Lass in 1975 on his Topic LP of traditional songs and ballads from Suffolk, Songs From the Eel’s Foot. This recording was also included in 2007 on the Musical Traditions anthology of Keith Summers’ recordings in Suffolk, A Story to Tell. Keith Summers and Mike Yates noted on the Topic album:

Broadside printers, ever eager to sell their wares, were quick to exploit the unusual and exotic in their stall ballads. How many rural labourers, I wonder, dreamed of chasing buffalo on the American plains or of swimming naked with an aborigine girl in a cool Australian river, solely as a result of hearing about such events in a village sing-song? Frank Kidson, who noted several sets of The Indian Lass in Yorkshire, felt that the song narrated in simple language “the joys of a sailor’s life ashore”. More likely, however, it reflected the fertile imagination of some printer’s hack who produced the song for James Catnach who included it in his 1830 catalogue. The song seems to have begun life as an account of a meeting in the American backwoods between a pioneer and a Red Indian girl. Later it was adapted, perhaps by Pacific whalermen, with its scene changed to the South Seas. Jumbo’s version has bits of both sets in it.

A.L. Lloyd recorded this song in 1956 for his Riverside LP English Street Songs. It was also included in 2008 on his Fellside anthology Ten Thousand Miles Away. He noted:

Engravings of the early 19th century often show a handsome curly-headed sailor, with dashing clothes and light dancing pumps, beguiling a dark, feathered girl of Greek proportions with the aid of a string of beads or a watch. The dark girl is of doubtful nationality—she may be African, or a South Sea Islander, or conceivably an idealised Redskin queen. So with the charmer in this ballad, American singers like to think of her as another Pocahontas, but to most English folk singers she is firmly and indubitably a Sandwich Islander from Maui, a haven often visited by whaling ships of the 18th and early 19th century. The ballad may have begun its circulation as a fo’c’sle song, but its mark is definitely that of the broadsheet.

Mr and Mrs Albert Simms from Toronto, Ontario, sang The Young Spanish Lass in February 1958 to Edith Fowke. This song was printed in her Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs. The recording was included in 1975 on the book’s companion on the Leader label, Far Canadian Fields.

Nic Jones sang The Indian Lass in 1971 on his third Trailer LP, The Noah’s Ark Trap.

Bernard Wrigley sang The Indian Lass on his 1971 Topic album The Phenomenal B. Wrigley. A.L. Lloyd noted:

One for Enoch Powell, this. The song is as common in America (where singers tend to think the girl is a Red Indian) as it was in England (where singers usually had an East Indian in mind). Whatever sort of Indian, she’s a sweet and welcoming girl, a model of hospitality to those of another race than her own. Bernard got the version from Marrow Bones, a compilation from the MS collection of H.E.D. Hammond.

Nick Dow sang The Indian Lass in 1990 on his album of traditional songs from Dorset, A Dorset Garland.

Stan Hugill sang The Indian Lass in 1991 on his 85th birthday session in Aberdovey. It was released in 1993 on his Veteran Tapes cassette Sailing Days.

Battlefield Band sang The Indian Lass on their 1995 Temple album Threads. They noted:

This song comes to us from the legendary Nic Jones, via Sandy Still, on of Alistair [Russell]’s former musical partners. It’s a lesser known song along the lines of The Lakes of Pontchartrain. The words come from an old Victorian broadside; the tune from we know not where. A version can be found in the Maritime Province of Canada. Nowadays we view the Victorian era as one of racist colonialism, but songs like this show us that, on a personal level, real emotion resulted from many inter-racial liaisons.

Bob Bray sang The Indian Lass on the 2005 Musical Traditions anthology Songs From the Golden Fleece. Rob Stradling commented:

Words to this song of male fantasy, or very good luck, came from a Midlands collection that Jon Scaife set to his own haunting tune. A few changes here and there to give the song the romantic character it deserves and a lovely song with a contemporary ring emerges from the page. I often find that an old song needs no more than the slightest tweak to live a thoroughly modern life, and this is one such … there are many more!

Danny Spooner sang The Indian Lass in 2013 on his CD Gorgeous, Game Girls and in 2014 on Sailor’s Consolation. He noted:

I got this version from the EFDS publication Marrow Bones (1965) but later found a version in Joanna C. Colcord’s book Songs of American Sailormen (1924), where it’s called The Lass of Mohea. She said it was popular among the Arctic whalers. Here a lonely sailor is comforted by a beautiful young woman and left with a lasting memory of something grand.


Jumbo Brightwell sings The Indian Lass

Now as I was a walking down a far distant shore
I walked into an alehouse to spend half an hour.
And whilst I sat smoking and all taking my glass
By chance there stepped in a young Indian lass.

She sat down by the side of me and she squeezed my hand
“You are a young sailor not one of this land.
I have got good lodgings if along with me you’ll stay
While my fortune I will share it without no delay.”

So with a drop of good liquor boys she welcomed me in
And all that night long this was her tune.
And all that night long, my boys, why this was her tune:
“You are a young sailor so far from your home.”

Now we tossed we tumbled into each others arms
I embraced this charming damsel; I embraced her sweet charms.
A night of enjoyment ’til the time passed away
I did not go and leave her until nine that next day.

Now the day being appointed for our ship to set sail
This loving young Indian on the beach did revail.
When I took my handkerchief and all wiped her eyes
“Oh do not go and leave me young sailor,” she cried.

Now we whipped up our anchor, straight away we did steer
We’d a fair and a pleasant breeze which soon parted our view.
And if ever I get over, and sat a taking my glass
I will drink a success to this young Indian lass.
Indian lass.

Nic Jones sings The Indian Lass

As I was a-walking on a far distant shore,
I called at an ale house to spend half an hour.
And as I sat smoking, beside me a glass,
By chance there came by a young Indian lass.

This lovely young Indian on the place where she stood,
I viewed her fair features and I found they were good.
She was neat, tall and handsome and her age was sixteen;
She was born and brought up in a place called New Orleans.

She sat down beside me and she squeezed my hand,
“Kind sir, you’re a stranger, not one of this land,
And if you’ve no lodgings, with me you shall stay;
And dearly I’ll love you by the night and by the day.”

Well, we tossed and we tumbled in each other’s arms
And all of that long night I enjoyed her charms.
As I embraced her, oh, this was her tone:
“You are a young sailor so far from your home.”

“Oh kind sir,” said this Indian, “I pray you to stay
And you shall have my fortune without more delay.
Oh don’t go leave me to cross the wide seas,
For I have enough both for you and for me.”

But the day was appointed that we were to sail
To cross the wide ocean and leave her awhile.
She says, “When you’ve over in your native land
Remember that young Indian that squeezed your hand.”

And so early next morning we were going to sail;
This lovely young Indian on the beach she did bewail.
I took out my handkerchief and wiped her eyes,
“Oh don’t you go and leave me, my sailor,” she cries.

But we weighed up our anchor and away then we flew
And a sweet pleasant breeze parted me from her view.
And now that I’m over and taking my glass
I’ll drink a good health to the Indian lass.

Stan Hugill sings The Indian Lass

I was a-roving for pleasure one day,
Away from my whale ship through the woods I did stray.
So tired and worn I lay down in the grass,
When who should chance by but a slim Indian lass.

This lovely Kanaka, bare-breasted she stood—
I viewed her sweet features and I found they were good;
She was quite tall and handsome, and her age ’bout sixteen:
She was truly the daughter of some Indian queen.

She sat down beside me and seiz’ed my hand:
Says she, “You’re a stranger from a far foreign land.
May father’s an ali’i and a chieftain he be
Of all this fine island, which is called Kay Mau-ee.”

With the flowers in her hair and round her neck twined,
She stood there before me, confusing my mind;
“O, do not go sailing across the South Sea,
But stay here forever on the isle of Mau-ee!”

“O, no, my dear Indian, that can never be,
For I have a sweetheart in my own countree;
And I’ll not forsake her, to her I’ll return,
Though my heart for my Indian savage does yearn.”

Our ship she lay anchored out in the bay,
With her tops’ls half hoisted and her anchor aweigh;
I kissed that girl dearly and left her alone,
Returned to my sweetheart, t’other side of Cape Horn.

Now I’m safely anchored on my own native shore,
With my sweetheart and my family all around me once more;
But of all who pass by me, oh, none do I see,
That compares with the Indian lass of Mau-ee!

Bob Bray sings The Indian Lass

When I was a young man I rambled from home,
I called in to an alehouse to spend half a crown.
As I sat smoking, taking a glass,
By chance there come in a young Indian lass.

This lovely young Indian on the floor where she stood,
I viewed her fair features and, oh they were good;
She was slender and handsome, her age but sixteen.
She was born and raised in the town New Orleans.

She sat down beside me and squeezed my hand.
She says, “You’re a stranger, not one of this land.
I have fine lodgings if you with me would stay,
And dearly I would love you, by night and by day.”

And with a glass of good liquor she’s invited me in.
She says, “You are welcome to share anything.”
And as I embraced her, oh this was her tune:
“You are a young sailor and far from your home.”

Oh, we tossed and we tumbled in each other’s arms,
And all that long night I enjoyed her sweet charms;
And with the sweetest enjoyment all the night passed away
And I did not leave her ’til late the next day.

But the time it was appointed that we were to sail;
This lovely young girl on the beach did bewail.
She says, “When you’re home in your own native land,
Think on the young Indian that squeezed your hand.”

And now I’m safe landed on my own native shore,
My friends and relations all round me once more;
There’s none that goes by me, none that goes past
Is fit to compare to that young Indian lass.