this web site was intended to only illustrate the Songs and Ditties,
that have actually been recorded autobiographically. That is to say
from the mouths of Royal Navy sailors or taken directly from autobiographical
accounts. - I have on this page made an exception to that rule.
Please NOTE – On this page – Unless otherwise specifically
stated NONE of the following songs: can authoritivly be said to have
been sung by the men of the Navy. Simply because there is no corroborative
evidence to suggest that this was so. Though we can be reasonably sure
that some of the more popular would have been.
The reason that these songs are here is that the site constructed in
the late part of 2004, was aware that 2005 brings the bi-centenary of
the Battle of Trafalgar. Nationally this year will be seen as something
of a landmark in British History in general and Naval history in particular.
It seems fitting therefore to explore the songs, written in those immediate
years following his exploits. Particularly as the focus of many of the
events held during the year, will be to commemorate the death of England's
greatest military hero Horatio Nelson.
The HISTORY page will have shown that during the days
of sail, Sailors would congregate in the forebits of a ship, during the
evening watch to swap yarns, dance and sing. It is here that many of the
old long verse story ballads were either recited or sung, according to
the preference of the individual performer. Unfortunately the evidence
surrounding the usage of these items and the preference of the audience
has mostly been lost with the passing of those generations, and now only
fragmentary accounts exist as to whether any of these songs had ever seen
any sort of use aboard a Man- O-War. Such evidence as does remain extant
has been painstakingly gathered together and will be illustrated in my
forthcoming volume on Naval Songs and Ditties and will in abbreviated
form, be progressively published on this site.
Coincidental evidence, of which songs the Navy liked, survives in the
form of early Victorian songbooks, or songsters. These cast a light onto
the type of music , but it should be stressed a light that was tinted
by the compiling officers. Presuming in those 50 to 60 years the preferences
of a sailor for song had not changed. Then we see not only a liking for
sentimental and general songs on love, war and humour, but also a majority
fascination for songs of the sea, but not in general for commercial
songs about the sea such as those written by Charles Dibden (Only one
or two of his vast output ever found favour at sea.) As all songs have
to be written by somebody, and during the Napoleonic wars and before,
it was from the musical output of the theatre that many songs became fashionable
‘hits.’ Often as not it was those songs that were changed
or adulterated by the sailors themselves who adopting the tunes crafted
new words onto them. This music along with the old folk songs were the
ones actually sung aboard ship. Sometimes they were eagerly copied by
the publishers and sellers of broadsheet’s and slip songs and often
it was thisoutput sung by old sailors injured in battle and climate, on
street corner and quayside that was taken back aboard.
From such coincidental evidence we can presume that much of the broadside
and slip song music contained in the publications by Halliwell ~ Ashton
and Firth etc. (See SOURCES) would probably have seen some use at sea.
Though in the retelling many of the songs were changed and popularised.
For example the Arethusa song written for the Covent Garden production
Lock & Key was modified and changedto reflect current situation.
As such that song or tune became exceedingly popular afloat and consequently
this extremely well known tune, was then taken as the foundation for a
new song called The Death of Nelson, which quickly circulated around.
It is almost unthinkable today that any song that dwelt upon the life
of Nelson, could nave not found favour aboard ship. But I assure you only
the very best did.
In this deviation of my strict criterion, I hope this listing of all
identified songs that originate in the immediate years following his death,
will shed a unique view on the Battles, Victories and Death of our immortal
hero Horatio Nelson and serve to honour the life he gave to his
The Songs are arranged here in chronological order – Thus
providing a window on his life and Career