> Steeleye Span > Songs > Captain Coulston

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.”

O.J. Abbott from Hull, Quebec, sang Captain Coldstein in a field recording made by Edith Fowke that was included in 1961 on his Folkways album Irish and British Songs From the Ottawa Valley. Edith Fowke noted:

In American Balladry from British Broadsides, Professor Laws notes: “The following broadside ballads about pirates have been recovered from tradition in America: The Flying Cloud, The Bold Princess Royal, The Bold Pirate, Kelly the Pirate I and II, High Barbary, Bold Daniels, and Captain Kidd. It is a small and select group.”

Mr. Abbott produced two ballads that seem qualified to enter this group: this tale of Captain Coldstein, and another he called The Ocean Bee. Miss Jackson, the librarian of Cecil Sharp House, informs me that she found Captain Coldston in a collection of mid-nineteenth century Irish broadsides, and from the copy she sent me it is clearly related to Mr. Abbott’s Captain Coldstein. His other pirate ballad tells of a young man who is refused by a girl because she is pledged to the captain of a ship called The Ocean Bee. The rejected suitor then takes to piracy in an attempt to sink The Ocean Bee, but his attempt is thwarted and he and his companions are taken to London and sentenced to be hanged.

Both these songs Mr. Abbott learned from Albert Tapp, a sailor from Gaspe, Quebec, who came to Ontario to work in the lumbercamps one winter.

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).

Andy Irvine recorded Captain Colston in 1982 on his and Dick Gaughan’s duo album Parallel Lines. He noted:

Can it really be that pirates would lay in wait for poverty stricken emigrant ships sailing to the new world? Captain Colston’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 noted:

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


O.J. Abbott sings Captain Coldstein

You inhabitants of Ireland that’s bound to cross the sea,
Come join with Captain Coldstein, a hero brave and free,
Come join with Captain Coldstein, that here brave and bold,
Who fought his way all on the sea and never was controlled.

From the eleventh till the twenty-first we ploughed the raging sea,
For ten long days of merriment, bound for Americay.
Our merriment being over and going to bed at night,
Our captain went all round the deck to see if all was right.

“Oh don’t go down,” our captain cried, “There is no time for sleep,
For in less than half an hour we’ll be slumbering in the deep.
The pirate ship is coming up from the wide western sea
To rob us of our property, bound for Americay.”

The pirate ship came up to us and bid us for to stand.
“Your gold and precious loading, this moment I demand.
Your gold and precious loading, this day resign to me,
Or not a soul will you ever bring into Americay.”

Then up spoke Captain Coldstein, that hero brave and bold:
“It’s in the deep we all shall sleep before we’ll be controlled.”
’Twas then the battle it began; the blood in streams it flowed,
Undaunted was our passengers, and the pirate was overthrown.

There was a lady on the deck with her true love by her side,
With courage bold she fought her way along the bulwark’s side,
Saying, “Don’t you fret my bonny boy, we’ll shortly end the strife,”
And with a pistol ball she took the pirate captain’s life.

The cries of women and children whilst in the hold they lay,
Our captain and our passengers they showed them Irish play.
The pirate ship surrendered just at the dawn of day,
And we marched them back as prisoners into Americay.

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

Andy Irvine sings Captain Colston

You landsmen all on you I call, you heroes stout and brave
That are inclined to cross the seas your homelands now to leave,
Come join with Captain Colston that hero stout and bold,
Who fought his way all on the sea and never was controlled.

We sailed away from Liverpool, the weather being fine,
Bound for New York City, boys, it was our chief’s design.
We being all Irish emigrants, the truth to you I’ll tell,
Who in distress our homes had left and to Ireland bid farewell.

On the evening of the twenty-fifth our captain he did cry,
“Clear away the deck, my boys, For a strange sail I do spy,
And all you Irish emigrants awake now from your sleep,
For in a few more hours, my boys, you’ll be slumbering in the deep.
For a pirate ship is a-coming down just from the Western Sea
For to rob us of our property going to Amerikay.”

Oh the pirate ship came up to us and ordered us to stand,
“our gold and precious cargo this moment I demand,
Your gold and precious cargo resign to me this day,
For one living soul you’ll never bring unto Amerikay.”

Then up and spoke our captain with voice both loud and bold,
Saying, “Be will slumber in the deep before we’ll be controlled,
Before that we’ll surrender our property to thee.
We’ll fight like Irish hearts of oak and gain the victory!”

So the battle it commenced and the firing did begin,
They wounded the captain’s mate and killed two of his men.
But our Irish boys were valiant and bold and our cannons loud did roar
And we killed ten of the pirate men and turned them overboard.

Oh the cries of women and children as in the hold they lay,
And our captain and his gallant crew they showed an Irish play.
The captain’s wife she came on deck, Saying, “I’ll soon end this strife!”
And with a pistol ball she took the pirate captain’s life.

And it’s to conclude and finish, the truth I’ll tell to you,
Oh we never lost a single man Excepting one or two.
And the pirate ship surrendered just at the break of day
And we brought her as a prisoner unto Amerikay.