THIS SONG WASN’T SET DOWN IN PRINT till 1910, but is believed to have been popular in the music halls from 1840-1870. Sailors loved the music halls, and songs sung there often included sections like …
With a big bow wow, tow row row
Fal dee rall dee di do day.
The reason for this, my tongue twister challenged friends, is it was easy to sing along with. You didn’t have to know the words.
Though in its finished form it contains inaccurate nautical references, earlier truths can be gleaned from the lyrics. The reference to the ring-tail set all bout the mizzen peak is a dead give away that someone knew what they were saying, for you see, Boston Harbour is the tale of a clueless captain, thrown over by a desperate crew. The mizzen peak was designed for light winds, so you’d never set off with it out in a devil of a gale.
You learn stuff from folk music.
From Boston Harbour
Traditional music hall song, England, c. 1840-1870
From Boston harbour we set sail,
And the wind was blowin’ the devil of a gale,
With the ring-tail set all about the mizzen peak,
And the dolphin striker plowin’ up the deep
Then up steps the skipper from down below,
And he looks aloft, boys, and he looks allow,
And he looks alow and he looks aloft,
And it’s tighten up your ropes, boys, fore and aft.
Then it’s down to his cabin he quickly falls,
To his poor old steward then he bawls,
“Fix me a glass that will make me cough,
‘Cause it’s better weather here than it is up aloft.”
While it’s we poor seamen that are up on the decks,
With the blasted rain falling down our necks,
And not a drop of grog will he afford,
For he damns our eyes with every other word.
Now there’s just one thing we all do crave,
That he will find a watery grave,
We will heave him down into some dark hole,
Where the sharks’ll have his body and the Devil have his soul.
Now the old bugger is dead and gone,
And damn his eyes, he’s left a son