Sir William Gower / William Glenn / Captain Glenn / The New York Trader
This song is listed in A.L. Lloyd and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Penguin Book of English Folk Songs as The New York Trader.
Tony Rose sang it in 1976 as Sir William Gower on his third album, On Banks of Green Willow. He commented in the album's sleeve notes:
It was a common superstition, possibly originating with the story of Jonah, that the presence of an evil-doer on board a ship might imperil both vessel and crew, unless the guilty party were sought out and thrown overboard. Such is the theme running through The Banks of Green Willow and Sir William Gower, both of which were collected by Cecil Sharp in Somerset.
Fairport Convention recorded Sir William Gower a few years earlier than Tony Rose for their LP Angel Delight. Their BBC session recording broadcast March 27, 1971 on “Folk on One” was included in the 4 CD box Live at the BBC.
Nic Jones recorded this ballad as William Glenn with somewhat different verses in 1978 for his album From the Devil to a Stranger. Another version was included in 2001 on his compilation CD Unearthed where it is called Captain Glenn. He also sang it in a BBC Radio 1 John Peel session recorded on April 19, 1977 and broadcast April 26, 1977.
John Wesley Harding also sang this ballad on his Nic Jones tribute album, Trad Arr Jones.
Bryony Griffith sang William Gower in 2011 on her and Will Hampson's CD Lady Diamond. They learned it “from the singing of Tony Rose and Cecil Sharp's collection of English Folk Songs.” and coupled it with the tune The Tankard of Ale “from the manuscript of Joshua Jackson, North cornmiller and musician, by Bowen & Shepherd for Yorkshire Dales Workshops.”
Tarras sang New York Trader in 2011 on their CD Warn the Waters.
False Lights sang William Glenn on their 2018 CD Harmonograph. They noted:
Learned from Nic Jones' version on From the Devil to a Stranger, with some extra lines based on Tony Rose's recording under the name Sir William Gower. It was a common superstition that an evil-doer onboard could endanger the whole crew, and the best solution was to find the guilty party and throw them overboard to calm the storms they had caused.
|Tony Rose sings Sir William Gower||Bryony Griffith sings William Gower|
A bold young seaman, stout and strong,
Our captain's name was William Gower
A bold sea captain named William Gower
Our captain in his cabin lay
This captain in his cabin lay
Our captain woke in an awful fright
The captain woke in a shivering fright
"Oh, it's bosun, bosun, let no-one know
Saying, "Bosun, bosun, let no-one know
"I killed my master, a merchant there,
"For, I killed my neighbour back on the land,
"Oh, it's on my servant I laid the blame,
"And on a poor young sailor I laid the blame,
Early next morning the storm did rise
Then the sea burst over both fore and aft
At this our bosun he did declare
This news, this news did enrage the crew
When this was done, oh, a calm was there
Nic Jones sings William Glenn
Oh it's of a ship and a ship of fame
Launched off the stocks, bound to sail the main;
With one hundred and fifty brisk young men
Well picked and chosen every one
And William Glenn was the captain's name.
He was a fine and a tall young man
As fine a sailor as sailed the sea;
And we were sailing to New Barbary.
On the first of April, then we set sail,
Blessed with a fine and a prosperous gale.
And we were bound for New Barbary
With all of our whole ship's company.
We hadn't been sailing a league or two
Till all of our whole ship's jovial crew,
They all fell sick but sixty-three
As we were sailing to New Barbary.
One night the Captain then he did dream,
A voice came to him and said to him:
“Prepare yourself and your company
For tomorrow night you must lie with me.”
This woke the captain in a terrible fright,
It being the third watch of the night.
And aloud for the bosun then he did call
And to him told his secrets all.
“Bosun,” he said, “it grieves my heart
To think I've played a villain's part:
A man I slew in Staffordshire
And all for the sake of his lady fair.
And of the ghost of that I am afraid
That has in me such terror bred.
So keep the secret within your breast
And pray to the lord that he gives you rest.”
We hadn't been a sailing a league but three
Till raging grew the roaring sea.
There rose a tempest up in the skies
Which did our seamen much surprise
And the main mast sprung by the break of day
Which made our rigging all but to give way;
And did our seamen much affright
The terrors of that awful night.
And then the bosun he did declare
That the captain was a murderer.
This so enraged the whole ship's crew
That overboard our captain threw.
Our treacherous captain he being gone
Immediately there came a calm
And the winds abated and so did the sea
And we went sailing to New Barbary.
And when we came to the Spanish Shore
Our good little ship for to repair,
The people there were amazed to see
Our dismal case and such misery.
Now seamen all wherever you may be
I pray you take a warning from me:
As you love life won't you have care
And never go sailing with a murderer.
Acknowledgements and Links
Thanks to Garry Gillard for transcribing the lyrics from Tony Rose's singing.