> Lal & Norma Waterson > Songs > The Welcome Sailor

The Welcome Sailor / A Seaman and His Love

[ Roud 604 ; Master title: The Welcome Sailor ; Laws N29 ; Henry H581 ; Ballad Index LN29 ; Bodleian Roud 604 ; trad.]

Lal Waterson sang The Welcome Sailor in 1977 on her and her sister Norma’s Topic album A True Hearted Girl. This track was also re-released on the 1992 CD For Pence and Spicy Ale, in 2003 on the Watersons anthology The Definitive Collection, and in 2004 on the Watersons’ 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song.

Grace Notes (Maggie Boyle, Lynda Hardcastle and Helen Hockenhull) sang Welcome Sailor in 1998 on their Fellside CD Red Wine & Promises. Lynda Hardcastle commented:

A classic traditional song which I first heard from Lal Waterson in 1977. I enjoy listening to unison singing and there isn’t much of it about.

Bob Hudson notes:

This song, also known as A Seaman and His Love, is from a family of sailor songs referred to as the “Riley Ballads,” which includes such other famous songs as The Dark-Eyed Sailor and The Mantle So Green. Originally printed in England as broadsides, these songs spread quickly to both sides of the Atlantic. They are called the “Riley Ballads” because a sailor named Riley, or John Riley, so frequently figures in them.

Frank Harte sang The Love Token in 2001 on his album My Name Is Napoleon Bonaparte.

Richard Youngs sang The Welcome Sailor in 2007 on the anthology Migrating Bird: The Songs of Lal Waterson.

Paul and Liz Davenport sang It Was One Winter’s Night on their 2018 album Shadows in the Mist. They noted:

Collected from [Frank] Verill of Staithes by Reginald Gatty in 1910. This is a rare song and derives from a very long broadside ballad of some 60 odd verses and having the less than concise title, The Valiant Seaman’s Happy Return to His Love After Seven Years Absence. The story is a classic folk-song plot in which boy and girl meet and he tests her loyalty with a string of lies despite which they live happily ever after. The song van be found in Paul & Liz’ publication, Down Yorkshire Lanes which documents the Gatty Collection with its rare songs from South Yorkshire and Staithes in North Yorkshire.

Arrowsmith:Robb sang Welcome Home My Sailor on their 2018 CD All the Salt. They noted:

A lovely Newfoundland version of the classic broken token story, from the late singer and accordion player Dorman Ralph of Little Harbour Deep, White Bay, NL, who lived his latter years in St John’s. Ian [Robb] credits Jim Payne & Fergus O’Byrne and also Ellen Power for catching his ear with this song. The words are known in England but set to a different melody, and the tune, a variant of Monk’s Gate, is matched there to several other sets of words, but it may be that this text and tune fell into each other’s arms in Newfoundland.

Compare all these versions to The Poor and Young Single Sailor sung by Nancy Kerr on her and Eliza Carthy’s second album Shape of Scrape and to The Dark-Eyed Sailor, sung by Steeleye Span on their first album, Hark! The Village Wait, and by June Tabor and the Oysterband on their album Freedom and Rain.


Lal Waterson sings The Welcome Sailor

All in the dead of the night, darkness being over,
The moon did give no light no one could discover.
Down by a river side where ships were a-sailing,
A lovely lass I spied weeping and a-wailing.

And I boldly stepped up to her, asking what grieved her.
The answer that she gave was no one could relieve her.
“They pressed my love,” cried she, “to cross the wide ocean.
And my heart is like the sea always in motion.”

“Mark well, my love,” cried he, “mark well my story.
’Twas your true lover and I fought for old England’s glory
But by a fatal shot we both were parted.
Deep was the wound he got, though he died valiant hearted.

“And he told me before he died his heart was broken.
Take this gold ring, said he, take it as a token.
Take this ring to my love, there is no one fairer.
Tell her to be kind and to love the bearer”

She wrung her hands and cried and flew up in anger.
“Begone, young man,” said she, “For I’ll wed no stranger.”

He flew into her arms, he could stay no longer
“God bless the wind,” cried she, “that brought you over.”
“God bless the ship,” cried she, “That brought you over.”

Then they sat down and sang but my love sang the clearest
Like a nightingale in the spring, saying, “You’re welcome home, my dearest.”

Arrowsmith:Robb sing Welcome Home My Sailor

One night as I roved out, it being dark all over
The moon gave out no light, I could scarce discover.
Down by a briny beach where ships were sailing,
A comely maid I spied, weeping and wailing.

I boldly stepped to her and I asked what grieved her,
The answer that she gave was none could relieve her,
“My own true love’s last prayer was to cross the ocean
My heart is like a wave, always in motion.”

I said, “My fair young maid, mark well my story
For your true love and I fought for England’s glory
By one unlucky shot he from me was parted
And by our foe’s last shot, died broken hearted.

“He said before he died that his heart was broken
‘I’ll give you my gold ring, take it for a token
Give it to my true love there is none who’s fairer
And tell her to prove true, and wed the bearer.‘ ”

And when she heard these words, she fell distracted
She knew not what she felt, nor how she acted
She wrang and tore her hair, like one in anger
“Young man you’ve come too late, I’ll wed no stranger.”

And when I heard these words, my love grew stronger,
I fell into her arms, I could stay no longer.
We both sat down to sing, and she sang clearest,
Like a nightingale she sang, “Welcome home my dearest.”

She sang, “God bless the ship that brought you over”;
She sang, “God bless the wind that blew you over”;
She sang, “God bless the waves that tossed you over”;
Like a nightingale she sang, “Welcome home my sailor.”


Transcribed by Greer Gilman from the singing of Lal Waterson.