> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > The Whaleman's Lament

The Whaleman's Lament / The Bitter Whaling Grounds

[ Roud 2000 ; Ballad Index SWMS015 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang The Whaleman's Lament, a song about the 1820-40s Pacific sperm whale fishing, in 1967 on his Topic album of ballads and songs of the whaling trade, Leviathan!. He was accompanied by Alf Edwards on English concertina. This track was included in 2001 on the Fellside anthology of English traditional songs, Voices in Harmony. Lloyd noted on the original album:

Every crew has its notorious moaner, and in whale ships when the whales are scarce, the number of moaners multiplies. Not that there wasn't plenty to moan about, especially for the men engaged in the Southern whaling round Cape Horn and up the wet and blusterous coast of Chile. Long voyages, stale food, vast stretches of boredom punctuated with brief frenzied and perilous bursts of action; as the lyrics says: “The pleasures are but few, my boys, on them bitter whaling grounds.” This song comes from some time between the 1820s and '40s.

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang Bitter Whaling Ground in 1978 on his album Ballad Singer.

Jolly Jack sang Whaleman's Lament in 1988 on their Fellside album A Long Time Travelling.

Gordon Hall sang The Bitter Whaling Grounds to John Howson at the Red Lion, Debenham, Suffolk, on 3 December 1988. This recording was included in 2008 on Mabs Hall's and his posthumous Veteran CD As I Went Down to Horsham. John Howson and Mike Yates noted:

Usually known as The Whaler's Lament, A.L. Lloyd, eminent folklorist and one time whaler man, wrote: [see above]. This song comes from some time between the 1820s and 1840s and was published in Songs the Whalemen Sang (Huntington 1964) where it was taken from the 1856 log of the whaling ship The Catalpa. Gordon said that he first heard this song being sung by some whalers, who were getting ready to go to sea, when he was a lad in south London.

Danny Spooner sang The Whaleman's Lament on his 2006 CD of songs of the whaling industry, The Great Leviathan. He noted:

A.L. Lloyd said that of all seafaring, whaling was the hardest and most hazardous. This song, found in the log of the whale ship Catalpa 1856, attests to the truth of that comment. However, the treatment of the sailors, good or bad, would largely depend on the captain and his officers; some whale ships were happy ships, others were not.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings The Whaleman's Lament

'Twas on the briny ocean on a whale ship I did go.
I often thought of distant friends, I often thought of home.

Through dreary storms and tempests and through some heavy gales,
Around Cape Horn we sped our way, to look out for sperm whales.

They'll rob you and they'll use you; its worse than any slaves.
Before you go a-whaling, boys, you'd best be in your graves.

It's: “Do it now or, damn your eyes, I'll flog you till you're blue.”
Oh boys, I couldn't tell it all, but every word is true.

The wind do blow and the great seas grow and we strain upon the oars,
And your heart would bleed at the sperm whale's speed and it's: “Pull, you sons of whores!”

The weary chase is over and the stars begin to glow,
And it's: “Light the flares, you lubberly lot, there's tryin' out to do!”

I swore I'd not go back again once we was homeward bound,
For the pleasures are but few, my boys, on them bitter whaling grounds.

Gordon Hall sings The Bitter Whaling Grounds

Was on the briny ocean on a whale ship I did go.
I often thought of distant friends, I often thought of home.

Through dreary storm and tempest and manys the heavy gale.
Around Cape Horn we sped away, to look out for sperm whale.

They'll rob you and they'll use you, it's worse than any slaves.
Before you go a whaling boys you'd best be in your graves.

“For it's do it now or damn your hides, I'll flog you 'til you're blue.”
Oh boys I could not tell it all and every word is true.

The wind a blow and the great seas grow and you strain upon the oars.
And your heart would bleed at the sperm whales speed and it's “Pull you sons of whores!”

The weary chase is over and the stars begin to glow.
And it's, “Light the flares you lubberly lot. There's try enough to do.”

I swore I'd not go back again once we was homeward bound.
For the pleasures are but few me lads, on them bitter whaling grounds.