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The Whaleman's Lament

[ 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 album Leviathan! Ballads and Songs of the Whaling Trade. He was accompanied by Alf Edwards on English concertina, and he noted:

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.

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.


A.L. Lloyd sings The Whaleman's Lament

'Twas on the briny ocean on a whale ship I did go.
I often thought of distand 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.


The lyrics were copied from the Leviathan! sleeve notes.