> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Tom’s Gone to Hilo

Tom’s Gone to Hilo / My Johnny’s Gone to Hilo

[ Roud 481 ; Henry H53d ; Ballad Index Doe030 ; DT TOMMYHLO , TOMMYHL2 ; Mudcat 15683 ; trad.]

Stan Hugill wrote in his book Shanties From the Seven Seas:

Tom’s (or Johnny’s) Gone to Hilo was a tops’l halyard song, and one which never found favour with the afterguard, as it took too long to hoist a yard to it on account of the slow and lethargic way in which it was sung by a good shantyman. It was rather difficult to sing correctly, but even so it was popular with the crowd, particularly for heavy lifts.

Paul Clayton sang Johnny’s Gone to Hilo in 1956 on his Tradition album Whaling and Sailing Songs From the Days of Moby Dick. He noted:

This halyard shanty is frequently called Tommy’s Gone to Hilo. Other versions which state that “Hilo Town is in Peru” lend support to the belief that the reference is to the Peruvian port of Ilo, and that the shanty may have been popularized in the nitrate trade.

Cyril Tawney sang Tom’s Gone to Hilo on the 1960 HMV album of British sea songs old and new, recorded at Cecil Sharp House, London, by Peter Kennedy, A Pinch of Salt.

Peggy Seeger and A.L. Lloyd sang Tom’s Gone to Hilo in 1962 on their and Ewan MacColl’s musical score from the film Whaler Out of New Bedford.

In the same year, Ewan MacColl sang Tom’s Gone to Hilo on his and A.L. Lloyd’s album A Sailor’s Garland. On the same album were two other songs referring to the same port, Hilo Somebody and Hilo John Brown. A.L. Lloyd commented on the album’s liner notes:

Tom left home on a ship bound for the nitrate port of Ilo, Peru. The Liverpool judies had treated him roughly, while the Valparaiso girls were kind, at it looked as if Tom wasn’t going to return. His defection seemed to strike a mood of tender sentiment in the teak-tough hearts of seamen, for though this tops’s halyard shanty has several tunes, they are all of melting nostalgic character. Perhaps the men on the rope wished they were in Tom’s shoes. The slow tempo of Tom’s Gone suited the crew when the pull was heavy, but it was no favourite with the officers, who liked to hear the shanties going brisker.

Bob Davenport sang Tom’s Gone to Hilo in 1964 on the Topic anthology of sea songs and shanties, Farewell Nancy. This album was reissued with bonus tracks in 1993 on CD as Blow the Man Down. Again, A.L. Lloyd commented in the liner notes:

“Hilo” was probably the port of Ilo, in southern Peru, well-known to sailors working ships in the nitrate trade. Nearly every shanty collector since the days of Captain R.C. Adams (who published a version in 1879) has found at least one set of this mournful but much-loved song. It’s arguable whether the tune is Irish or Negro in origin. The words sung here come from a version given by Stan Hugill “from the singing of Bill Dowling of Bootle”.

Kate MacGarrigle, Martha Wainwright and Lili Lanken with Anna MacGarrigle, Rufus and Loudon Wainwright, Chaim Tannenbaum and Dana and Sylvan Lanken sang Johnny’s Gone to Hilo in 1998 on The McGarrigle Hour. The liner notes commented:

Kate and Anna and Friends have [been] known to unwind after a show in a nearby pub and spontaneously burst into a cappella song. A longtime staple of the after hours repertoire, they began singing Johnny in their live show sometime in the ’80s but had never recorded it until now. It is believed this sea chantey dates from the mid-19th century when American sailors made regular voyages to Ilo, Peru, to pick up their cargo of nitrite. Or delivering boatloads of missionaries to Hilo, Hawaii. Whatever, it’s a beautiful song for group singing.

Bob Webb sang Ilo Man on his 2000 album of songs of the sea, Bank Trollers.

Jon Boden sang the McGarrigles’ version of My Johnny’s Gone to Hilo as the 17 October 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Bob and Gill Berry sang Tom’s Gone to Hilo in 2006 on their WildGoose CD BitterSweet. They noted:

We don’t do many shanties or sea songs as our adopted county of Wiltshire doesnt have much in the way of a coastline! However this one has been in Gill’s repertoire ever since she started singing and we love the way the harmonies work. It’s a darned fine song and a good prelude to the following couple of songs.

Marilyn Tucker and Paul Wilson sang Tom’s Gone to Hilo on their 2009 Wren Trust album of songs of sea and shore, On the Tide. They noted:

Tom’s Gone is from Somerset’s most famous shanty singer John Short, known as Yankee Jack, who was remarkable for the number of songs he sang t Cecil Sharp and for the status he achieved locally, including an obituary in The Times.

Jackie Oates sang Tommy’s Gone in 2011 on the anthology of songs collected from John Short by Cecil Sharp, Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 1: Sea Songs of a Watchet Sailor and Sam Lee sang Tom’s Gone to Ilo on Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 2. The liner notes commented on Tom’s Gone to Ilo:

The shanty was popular and widespread, appearing in pretty well every collection. Both Terry and Fox Smith comment that the game was to take Tommy around the world to as many three-syllable ports as you could remember without getting stuck for a rhyme. The modern consensus, anticipated by Tozer, Colcord and Hugill, is that the Hilo referred to is the Peruvian port of Ylo (or Ilo), rather than the Hawaiian port of Hilo which was only so named after the shanty was born.

It is always nice when you find a description of the circumstances in which a specific shanty might be used, and Doerflinger quotes Dick Maitland as saying this was used “after a heavy blow, getting more sail on the ship. The decks are full of water and the men cannot keep their feet. The wind has gone down but the seas are running heavy. A big comber comes over the rail; the men are washed away from the rope. If it wasn’t for the man at the end of the rope gathering in the slack as the men pull, all the work would have to be done over again.” Hugill also gives us a glimpse of usage—“a tops’l halyard song, and one which never found favour with the afterguard, as it took too long to hoist a yard to it on account of the slow and lethargic way it was sung by a good shantyman. It was rather difficult to sing correctly, but even so it was popular with the crowd, particularly for heavy lifts.”

We have sought to use a different set of verses to those we’ve used for Tommy’s Gone Away, although in actual use all the verses would have been interchangeable.

… and on Tommy’s Gone Away:

Sharp, Terry and, of course, Hugill are the only collectors to have published Tommy’s Gone Away, and all regard it as a version of Tom’s Gone to Ilo/Hilo/Ylo. Definitely not a short-haul shanty. Sharp and Terry both had it from Short: Hugill says, “My version from South Wales seaman who had served in the copper trade.” This becomes interesting, because another very close version of Tommy’s Gone Away is in the Carpenter collection having been collected at Barry Docks, South Wales. So is this particularly shanty a Bristol Channel and/or copper trade version? (Short did sail in the copper trade, on the Conference to Callao in 1867/68—and he had been familiar with the Bristol Channel since a boy). Whatever its ‘location’ in the period when Carpenter and subsequently Hugill were amassing material, Sharp’s notes from Short (who was learning it up to half a century earlier) say the shanty was “Used not only for pulling, but, at New Orleans, for screwing the cotton for loading to set the bales in—screwing it up into a very small compass.” Short evidently used similar verses for both Tom’s Gone to Ilo and Tommy’s Gone Away—we have sought to use different locations in the two recordings.

Jackie’s arrangement offers a really melancholic feel to the song—perhaps as many a seaman would have wished the girl they left behind to feel!

Jackie Oates also sang Johnny’s Gone to Hilo in 2011 on the CD Songs From the Shed: The Woodworm Project.


Peggy Seeger and A.L. Lloyd sing Tom’s Gone to Hilo

My Tommy’s gone, what shall I do?
    Away Hilo!
He’s harpooneer on a whaling crew,
    Tom’s gone to Hilo!

It’s good-bye, Sal, and good-bye, Sue,
In four years we’ll come back to you

Then fare you well New Bedford Town,
To southern waters we are bound

Now pull away and show her clews,
One more pull and that will do

Bob Davenport sings Tom’s Gone to Hilo

Tommy’s gone on a whaling ship,
    Away to Hilo!
Oh, Tommy’s gone on a damn long trip,
    Tom’s gone to Hilo!

He never kissed his girl goodbye,
He left her and he told her why

She’d robbed him blind and left him broke,
He’d had enough, gave her the poke

His half-pay went, it went like chaff,
She hung around for the other half

She drank and boozed his pay away,
With her weather-eye on his next pay day

Oh Tommy’s gone and left her flat,
Oh Tommy’s gone and he won’t come back

The McGarrigles sing Johnny’s Gone to Hilo

My Johnny’s gone, what shall I do?
    My Johnny’s gone to Hilo.
And if he says so I’ll go too,
    My Johnny’s gone to Hilo.
    Hilo-a Hilo,
    My Johnny’s gone and I’ll go too,
    My Johnny’s gone to Hilo.

My Johnny’s sailed away to sea,
A mermaid’s lover he’ll surely be

My Johnny’s sailed from off of these shores,
I’ll never see my Johnny no more

Jackie Oates sings Tommy’s Gone Away

Tommy’s gone, what will I do?
    Tommy’s gone away.
Tommy’s gone, what will I do?
    Tommy’s gone away.

Tommy’s gone to Liverpool,
To Liverpool that noted school.

Tommy’s gone to Baltimore
To dance upon that sandy floor.

Tommy’s gone to Mobile Bay,
To screw the cotton all the day.

Tommy’s gone to Singapore,
Tommy’s gone forevermore.

Tommy’s gone to Buenos Aires,
Where the girls have long black hair.

Tommy’s gone forevermore,
Tommy’s gone forevermore.