The Cruise of the Calabar (1)


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Come all ye dry-land sailors bold, and listen unto my song,
There's only forty verses, so it won't detain you long.
It's all about the history of this here British tar
Who sailed as a man before the mast on the fighting Calabar.

The Calabar was a clipper flat, stern fashioned both fore and aft,
The rudder it stuck away out behind, and the wheel was a bloody great shaft,
With half a gale to swell her sails, she could make two knots an hour
She was the smartest craft on the whole canal, tho' only one horse-power.

The skipper he was a strapping youth, he stood about four foot two,
His nose was red and his eyes were black, and his hair was Prussian blue.
He wore some leather medal, he'd won in a terrible war,
And his wife was passenger, mate and cook on the fighting Calabar.

We sailed away with a favouring gale, the weather was all sublime;
But just in the Straits of Rochdale levy, you can't pass two at a time;
Another craft ran into us, and it gave us a serious check,
It stove in the starboard paddle-wheel box, and destroyed the hurricane deck.

While hugging the shore of Rochdale, lads - a very dangerous part
We ran slap right into a lump of coal, that wasn't marked down on the charts.
To save ourselves from sinking, and to save each precious life,
We hauled the main deck overboard, and included the Captain's wife.

Then all became confusion, while the stormy winds did blow,
The bo'sun slipped on an orange peel, and he fell in the hold below,
The Captain cried "It's a pirate's junk and on us she do gain,
Next time I'm going to Manchester, lad, I'll take the bloody train".

So we got our ammunition out, to meet the coming foe,
Our cutlasses and our boarding pikes, our Gatling guns also
Slap on all speed, the Captain cried, for we are sorely pressed.
And the engineer replied from the bank, the horse is a-doing his best.

Thick and fast the heroes fell, in torrents the blood was spilt,
Great numbers was falling before they was hit, to make sure they wouldn't be killed.
And at last when the pirate surrendered her flag, the crew being all on their backs,
We found she was a sister ship, with a cargo of cobbler's wax.

The ship is in the marine stores now, the crew in the county jail
I'm the only survivor left to tell of the terrible tale
If I could release that ship I'd sail her up the bar
And be admiral of the whole blooming fleet, on board of the Calabar
There are numerous versions of this song with the vessel called the 'Calibar' or 'Calabar'. The version above is from a recording by Nick Dow. The recording, I believe, was a originally a radio programme which was then made available as a cassette tape called 'Reflections on the Canal'. According to Nick's researches the 'Cruise of the Calibar' was written as a dialect song by Lancashire born Johnny Greenwood in 1870 and versions derived from this often bear little resemblance to the original; verbal transmission, i.e. the 'folk process', having taken effect. Canal boaters/singers often altered the locations from the Rochdale Canal originals and the story became increasingly more absurd.

The version below is very similar and comes from 'Canal Songs' by Jon Raven. The recording is of Cyril Tawney. Additional different versions are listed on other web-pages on this site.

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Come all ye dry-land sailors bold, and listen to my song,
There are but forty verses, so I'll not detain you long.
'Tis all about the history of this here British tar
Who sailed as man before the mast on board the Calabar.

The Calabar was a clipper flat, copper-fastened fore and aft,
The rudder stuck away out behind, the wheel was a great big shaft,
With half a gale to swell each sail, she made ten knots an hour
Being the smartest craft on the canal, tho' only one horse-power.

Our vessel ploughed the waters of the Liverpool Canal,
Being under close reefed topsails, the glass foretold a squall.
'Twas in Oldhall-street basin where we beat about in the surf,
Bound for the Port of Sandhills Bridge with a cargo of Irish turf.

Our captain was a strapping youth, his height was four feet two,
His eyes were black, his nose was red, his cheeks a Prussian blue.
He wore a leather medal that he won in the Crimean war,
His wife was pilot and passenger's cook on board the Calabar.

We started with a favouring breeze, the weather being sublime;
But just in the Straits of Burlington Bridge, where two can't pass at a time;
We were struck amidships by another flat, that gave us a serious check,
She stove in our larboard paddle-box, and destroyed our hurricane deck.

Then all became confusion, while the stormy winds did blow,
Our bo'sun slipped on an orange peel, and fell in the hold below,
The Captain said, press on all speed, for on us she does gain,
The next time I'm bound for Wigan, boys, by jabers, I'll go by train.

We got our arms all ready, boys, to meet the coming foe,
Our grappling irons and boarding pikes, and Armstrong guns also
Turn on all speed, the Captain cried, for we were sorely press'd.
Our engineer cried from the bank, the horse is doing his best.

Oh! think how fast the heroes fell, in torrents the blood was spilt,
Numbers falling before they were touched, to make sure they wouldn't be kilt.
When the enemy struck up her flag, our crew were laid on their backs,
We found that she was a sister flat, with a cargo of cobbler's wax.

While huddling ashore hear Athol Bridge - a very dangerous part -
We ran bow on to a cob of coal, that wasn't marked on the chart.
To keep our vessel from sinking, and to save each precious life,
We threw the cargo overboard, including the Captain's wife.

I've told you how the Captain's wife, was thrown in the briny deep;
She haunts our vessel every night, and the devil a wink we sleep.
Her spirit, dressed in mourning, boys, along the deck does trot,
The only thing that lays her ghost, is a noggin of gin made hot.

The version below, entitled 'The Calabar', is from Sam Henry's "Songs of the People".

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Come all ye dry-land sailors and listen to my song,
It has only forty verses, so I won't detain you long.
It's all about the history of this here British tar
Who sailed as a man before the mast on board of the Calabar.

Our vessel ploughed the waters of the Strabane Canal,
Being under close-reefed topsails, for the glass foretold a squall,
It was nor'east of the shipyard we were beating in the surf.
On our way to the Carrigans Harbour with a cargo of good black turf.

The Calabar was a clipper flat, copper-fastened fore and aft,
Her rudder stuck out far behind, her wheel was a great big shaft,
With half a gale to swell each sail, she'd make two knots an hour,
Being the smartest craft on the whole canal, though only one horse-power.

Our captain was a strapping youth, his height was four feet two,
His eyes were black, his nose was red, his cheeks a Prussian blue,
He wore a leather medal that he'd won at the China war,
And his wife was pilot and passenger cook aboard of the Calabar.

We started with a fav'ring gale, the weather being sublime
But just right under Derry Bridge, where you can't pass two at a time,
We were struck amidships by a scow that gave us a serious check,
For it stove in the larboard paddle box and shattered the hurricane deck.

Next day we ran short of buttermilk---it was all the captain's fault---
So the crew were laid up with scurvy, for the herrings were terrible salt.
Our coloured cook said the meat was done, there wasn't a bap on the shelf;
"Then we'll eat the soap," the captain cried, "let no man wash himself."

While hugging the shore near Sandy Brown's, a very dangerous part,
We ran bow on to a bank of mud that wasn't marked down on the chart,
Then to keep the vessel from sinking and save each precious life,
We heaved the cargo overboard, including the captain's wife.

Then all became confusion while the stormy wind did blow,
Our bo'sun slipped on an orange peel and fell in the hold below,
"A pirate ship," our captain cried, "and on us she does gain;
When next I go to Strabane, my boys, by Jove I'll go by train."

We got our arms all ready to meet the coming foe,
Our grappling irons, boarding pikes and Armstrong guns also
"Turn on full speed," the captain said, "for we are sorely pressed,"
But the engineer replied from the bank, "The horse is doing his best."

Oh, thick and fast the heroes fell, in streams the blood was spilt,
Great numbers fell before they were touched, to make sure they wouldn't be kilt,
At last when the enemy struck her flag, her crew being laid on their backs,
We found she was another scow with a cargo of cobbler's wax.