> Peter Bellamy > Songs > St Celia’s Rocks

The Rocks of Scilly / St Celia’s Rocks / Come All You Brisk Young Seamen

[ Roud 388 ; Master title: The Rocks of Scilly ; Laws K8 ; Ballad Index LK08 ; VWML SBG/3/1/265 ; Bodleian Roud 388 ; Mudcat 79481 ; trad.]

St Celia’s Rocks, also called Come All You Brisk Young Seamen, seems to be a variant of Rocks of Scilly.

Peter Bellamy sang St Celia’s Rocks unaccompanied at the Cockermouth Folk Club in January 1991. This concert was published on his cassette Songs an’ Rummy Conjurin’ Tricks. According to the cassette’s liner notes, the song is about two hundred years old, and Bellamy learned it from the singing of Harry Cox of Norfolk. I don’t know of any recording of this song by Harry Cox, though.

Tim Radford sang The Rocks of Scilly in 2009 on his Forest Tracks album of songs collected by George B. Gardiner in 1906-07 from the Hampshire gardener George Blake (1829-1916), George Blake’s Legacy. He noted:

Gardiner mss. no. 344, and it would seem that the text for this song was collected on two separate occasions with very slight word changes, first in June 1906 in notebook no. 7 page 61 and then November 1907 in notebook no. 12 page 101. Blake’s title in the manuscript of 1906 is It’s of a Brisk Young Seaman Bold; only later is it called The Rocks of Scilly.

However, it does say that Mr. J.F. Guyer collected the tune in November 1907. Roud has it listed as no. 388 in his index and a version collected by Gardiner from George Collier of Street, near Petersfield can be found in Purslow’s Constant Lovers on page 87, Gardiner mss. no. H1135. The text and tune are different to Blake’s. In fact Blake’s tune is a version of the well-known tune: Star of County Down and its alternative titles, which Gardiner in his notes calls The Marigold. Many singers have used this tune for many different songs all across England and even North America. The chosen text here is as collected in June 1906, mainly because George seemed to have fuller texts earlier in his life, even though he was 78 in 1906.

Frank Purslow states that although the Isles of Scilly are a notorious and dangerous spot for shipping, “Whether this ballad celebrates an actual occurrence (of a shipwreck) has never been discovered as far as I know. 

I was recently asked whether it was possible for 800 sailors to have been drowned in one incident as stated here. I can only answer by pointing to the song The Loss of the Ramillies collected by Gardiner from Frederick White at Southampton workhouse in June 1906—(H384). This tells a similar story of the loss of a ship off Plymouth.

Andy Clarke and Steve Tyler sang Wreck Off Scilly as the title track of their 2013 WildGoose CD Wreck Off Scilly. Andy Clarke noted:

Baring-Gould collected this song from James Parsons of Lewdown who lived a mile from his home in Lewtrenchard in Devon [VWML SBG/3/1/265] . The reverend collected many fine songs from this very frail old farm labourer known locally as the “singing machine”.

Dave Lowry sang Wreck Off Scilly on his 2024 WildGoose album Songs of a Devon Man. Bill Crawford noted:

Collected from James Parsons [VWML SBG/3/1/265] , published in Songs of the West.


Peter Bellamy sings St Celia’s Rocks

Well, come all you brisk young sailors bold as ploughs the raging sea,
Come listen to my tragedy I will relate to thee:
How I was pressed from my own true love, she’s the girl I do adore,
Oh, pressed I was to the raging sea where the foaming billows roar.

Sometimes on deck, sometimes aloft, at other times below,
But thoughts of Polly run into me mind when the stormy winds did blow.

Now our captain, he being a valiant man, all upon the deck did stand.
“There it’s fifty pound in full reward the first man who spies the land.”
So our bosun up aloft did go to up our top so high,
He spied all round him on every side, but neither light nor land did spy.

But our captain, he stood upon the deck and some light he chanced to spy.
“Bear off, bear off before the wind, for some harbour we are nigh,
Bear off, bear off before the wind, St Celia’s Rocks to clear.
On the ocean wide we must abide till the daylight do appear.”

But the very first time our gallant ship struck, full loud our master cried,
“Oh God, Lord have mercy on us all who in the seas must die.”
Out of eighty brisk young sailors bold, only four got safe on shore.
And our gallant ship to the bottom she sank and she never did rise no more.

Now when this sad news reached Plymouth town, that our gallant ship was lost,
There was many a brisk young seaman bold for to lament our loss.
𝄆 Goodbye my dear, you must abide the loss of your sweetheart.
Since the raging seas and the stormy winds they have caused you and I to part. 𝄇

Tim Radford sings The Rocks of Scilly

It’s of a brisk young seaman bold that ploughed the raging main.
Come listen to my tragedy, while I relate the same.
It’s pressed I was from my true love, She’s the girl that I adore,
And sent I was to the raging seas, where the foaming billows roar.

We had not sailed a league on sail before a storm did rise,
May the Lord have mercy on our souls, so dismal was the skies.
Sometimes aloft, sometimes on deck and the other time below,
When the thoughts of my Polly love run in my mind when the foaming billows roar.

Our Captain being a valiant man he on the deck did stand,
“Here’s a full reward of fifty pounds for the first that could see land.”
Then up aloft our boatswain went on the main topsail so high,
He looked around on every side, neither land nor life could spy.

The very first time our ship she struck so loud against a rock,
May the Lord have mercy on our souls for the deep must be our lot.
And out of eight hundred seamen bold only four got safe on shore,
Our galliant [sic] ship to pieces went and she was never seen any more.

And when the news to Plymouth came, our galliant [sic] ship was lost,
Caused many a brisk young seaman bold for to lament her loss.
And Polly dear she must lament for the loss of her sweetheart,
’Twas the raging seas and the stormy winds caused my love and I to part.

Dave Lowry sings Wreck Off Scilly

Come all you brisk young sailors bold that plough the raging main,
A tragedy I will unfold in story sad and plain.
From my true love ’twas pressed was I the gallant ship to steer
To Indies west, each heart beat high with confidence and cheer.

A year was gone, when home at last, we turn’d with swelling sail,
When’ere the Scilly over-passed there broke on us a gale.
The boatswain up aloft did go. he went aloft so high.
More angry did the ocean grow, more menacing the sky.

To make the stripe in vain we tried the Scilly rocks to clear,
The thunder of the furious tide was filling every ear.
There came a sharp and sudden shock, each thought of wife and home!
Or gallant ship was on a rock, and swept with waves and foam.

Of eighty seamen ’prised the crew, but one did reach the shore,
Our gallant vessel, good and true, was shattered aft and fore.
Sad news to Plymouth swift did fly that our good ship was gone;
And wet with tears was many’s the eye, and many’s the widow lone.

And when I came to Plymouth sound alive, of eighty dead,
My pretty love then false I found and to a landsman wed.
O gentles all that live on land be-think the boys at sea,
Lo! here I stand with cap in hand and crave your charity.