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Captain Coulston

[ Roud 1695 ; Henry H562 ; Ballad Index HHH562 ; Bodleian Roud 1695 ; trad.]

According to the Digital Tradition, “[t]his song probably originated as just a pirate ballad and was turned into an emigration ballad in the 19th century, which explains the slightly confused story.”

Joe Heaney sang The Tennis Right (Captain Coulston) in 1964 to Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. This recording was released in 2000 on his Topic anthology The Road from Connemara.

Steeleye Span sang Captain Coulston in 1971 on their LP Ten Man Mop or Mr Reservoir Butler Rides Again. The record's cryptic sleeve notes commented:

Pirates nonplussed, Brigid Tunney declared Queen of Hearts … celebrating again, this time with a slip jig … next year we're going to Blackpool … memo to Martin—next time use the Strat

They performed this song live on BBC radio on John Peel's Sunday Concert on 15 September 1971. This programme was included as bonus CD on the 2006 reissue of Ten Man Mop.

Paddy Tunney sang Captain Coulson on his 1976 Topic album The Flowery Vale. and on the 1998 Topic anthology We've Received Orders to Sail (The Voice of the People Volume 12). It was also recorded by Andy Irvine and Dick Gaughan as Captain Colston on their 1982 duo album Parallel Lines. Andy Irvine noted:

Can it really be that pirates would lay in wait for poverty stricken emigrant ships sailing to the new world? Captain Coulston's wife was well able to deal with them anyway. I heard this from the great Brigid Tunney, the best singer I ever heard and filled out the story from a longer version sung by Peter Donnelly of Castle Caulfield, Co. Tyrone.

Kevin Mitchell sang Captain Coulston on his and Ellen Mitchell's Musical Traditions anthology Have a Drop Mair. He commented in the album's booklet:

I learned the tune and words several years ago, but I have augmented the story from the Sam Henry collection.


Steeleye Span sing Captain Coulston

Come and join with Captain Coulston, that hero stout and bold
Who fought his way all on the sea and never was controlled
For six long weeks in the summer gales we sailed upon the sea
All bound for New York City, that city fair to see.

The captain and his lady they came on deck each day
To help us with our merriment, going to Amerikay
The merriment being over we're going to bed one night
The captain he came upon deck to see if all was right.

He said my boys do not go down you need not think on sleep
For in a few hours more we shall be slumbering in the deep
For a pirate ship is coming down upon the western sea
to rob us of our property going to Amerikay

The pirate ship came up to us and ordered us to stand
Your gold and precious loading this moment I demand
Your gold and precious loading resign to me this day
Or not a soul you'll ever bring unto Amerikay

The battle it commenced, brave boys, and blood in streams did flow
While undaunted did our passengers the pirate overthrow
The cries of women and children lying in the hull below
While the captain and his passengers the pirate did overthrow

The pirate ship surrendered just by the break of day
And we brought her as a bounty unto Amerikay