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Diego’s Bold Shore

[ Roud 2006 ; Ballad Index SWMS030 ; GlosTrad Roud 2006 ; Mudcat 47281 ; text: log of the Bark Midas, New Bedford, 1861; tune: Joseph McGinnis, arr. Eliza Carthy]

This song seems to have been one of the traditional whalemen’s favourite songs. Eliza Carthy sang it in 2002 on Waterson:Carthy’s fourth album, A Dark Light, accompanying herself on piano and with Ben Ivitsky on viola. The recording was reissued in 2003 on the Eliza Carthy anthology The Definitive Collection. Martin Carthy commented in the original recording’s sleeve notes:

It is to Vic Gammon that I personally owe thanks for pointing me to Diego’s Bold Shore, a truly remarkably poem/song printed in Songs the Whalemen Sang by the indefatigable Gale Huntington (1964, reprinted Dover, 1970) and which I passed to Liza. This book is a work of extraordinary patience, collecting together from 19th century whalemen’s personal logs examples of the sort of things which these sailors would jot down, whether it be songs, poems, drawings or anything else which took their fancy. Gale Huntington says that, on the evidence of these logs, this song was by far the whalemen’s favourite song. These men of the 1850s, ore thereabouts, who had signed on for such voyages, were always gone from home for months and, very often, years and, if the picture printed in this song may seem on occasion slightly romantic, there is, running through it, a vein of pure gold along with that tiny hint of the hardships involved and clues as to their state of mind during rare moments of relaxation. Whaling was a massively different enterprise a hundred and fifty years ago, but that should not tempt anyone into any roseate reflections about people “only taking what they needed” or “ensuring sustainability”. The fact is that risking their lives as a matter of course, they exploited and were dreadfully exploited in their turn. Returning from such voyages, their pay had necessarily taken into account various “expenses” calculated by The Company and was shrunk accordingly. Rather like being signed to a Major Label really. The Bold Shore itself is, I think, the Diego Ramirez group, which lies south of Terra Del Fuego. Must have been quite a sight.

John Roberts sang Diego’s Bold Shore in 2007 on his Golden Hind CD Sea Fever. He noted:

I first heard Diego’s Bold Shore sung by Eliza Carthy in concert at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Later I found out that it is in Gale Huntington’s book Songs the Whalemen Sang. How could I have missed it?

Francy Devine sang Diego’s Bold Shore on his 2014 album My Father Told Me. He noted:

This was a favourite among whalers. I first heard it sung by Eliza Carthy on the Waterson:Carthy album A Dark Light (2002). Martin Carthy thanks Vic Gammon for pointing out the song in Gale Huntington’s Songs the Whalemen Sang (Dover Publications, 1967). The ‘bold shore’ is on the Islas Diego Ramirez, one hundred kilometres south-west of Cape Horn. A Mudcat Café contributor said the song was taken from the log of the barque Midas from New Bedford in 1861 with a tune supplied by Joseph McGinnis. Despite totally supporting the ban on whaling, the brutal, unremitting life of nineteenth century whaling crews fascinates. This song, romantic and nostalgic, must have sounded wonderful in a smoky galley or bunk after months at sea.


Eliza Carthy sings Diego’s Bold Shore

Has a love of adventure, a promise of gold
Or an ardent desire to roam
Ever tempted you far o’er the watery world
And away from your kindred and home?
With a storm beaten captain, free hearted and bold,
And a score of brave fellows or two,
Inured to the hardship of hunger and cold
And a fearless and jolly good crew?

Have you ever stood watch where Diego’s bold shore
Looms up from the Antarctic wave,
Where the snowy plumed albatross merrily soars
Over many a mariner’s grave?
Have you heard the masthead’s man sing out, “There she blows!”,
Seen the boats gaily leave the ship’s side,
Or the giant fish breach ’neath the harpooner’s blows
Till the blue sea with crimson was dyed?

Have you seen the foam fly, when the mighty right whale,
Thus boldly attacked in his lair,
With a terrible blow of his ponderous tail
Sent the boat spinning up in the air?
Or where the green isles of the evergreen glades
Are teeming with dainties so rare,
Have you ever made love ’neath the cocoa’s green shade
To the sweet sunny maids that dwell there?

Let those who delight in the comforts of home
And the joys of a warm fireside,
Who dream it a peril the ocean to roam
In the cots of their fathers abide.
Though not a day nearer we reckon our death,
Though daily we sport o’er our graves.
No sweeter they’ll slumber beneath the green sod
Than we in the boisterous waves.

Have you ever joined in in the boisterous shout
Reaching far through the heaven’s blue dome,
When rich in the spoils you have purchased so dear
You have hoisted your topsails for home?
Or when the dark hills of Columbia arose
From out the blue waves of the main,
Have you ever relived the unspeakable joy
Of meeting with loved ones again?