What is not so well-known, but which can easily be demonstrated, is that the printers themselves were often inadvertently folk song collectors in that they published songs that were taken from oral tradition. As one would expect some of the ballads they printed didn't survive long enough in the oral tradition to have been collected by the late 19th century collectors. Nevertheless we can safely assume that some of them had been part of oral tradition before they were printed on broadsides, even if that is where some of them originated. The hacks who churned out a few doggerel stanzas for the printers also had their ears to the ground and had a good idea what would sell. During the Napoleonic Wars a good sea battle with us on the winning side and lots of jingoism was a surefire bet. The printer wasn't concerned about the sources (no copyright), in fact the major source of 'fresh' material was another printer's sheets. They printed each other's output unscrupulously with little regard for accuracy which often accounts for the slight differences in syntax between one printer's version and another's.
The main point of this article is to present an example of a ballad from the oral tradition of the late 18th/early 19th century which occurs on broadsides. Both versions given here come from the same collection, York Publications in the British Library, mostly ballads printed by Kendrew of York, c.1800 to 1820, although the first version (YP 80) was printed by J Harrop of Alston, Cumberland, and the second (YP 32) by Storry of York. It is probable that the Harrop version is earlier but possibly both derive from an even earlier version. There are two other versions without imprint in the Harding Collection (Bodleian Library) shelfmarks B25 (1820 and 1822).
The Harrap version gives the ship's name as the 'Amazon' which is quite a common name for ships of the period. For instance there were three frigates of that name from 1773 to 1818. A 32-gun frigate was built in 1773 and broken up in 1794. In 1795 a 36 was built but was wrecked in the skirmish that destroyed the French fleet which tried to land an army in Ireland in December 1796. In 1799 a 38 was built which was broken up in 1818. There is sufficient detail contained in the four versions to pinpoint the events described, but one would have to scour the naval records at Admiralty House to do this.
|A New Song Called|
The Spanish Snow *
On the fourteenth of April as I hear people say,|
Our good like ship was launch'd on that very day,
Bound to the stormy ocean where cannons they did roar,
And I left my parents weeping all on our native shore.
Like lions bold undaunted we sailed away for sea,
We cruised all the live long night and nothing could see,
Till about the hour of one o' clock a Spanish ship we spied,
Stand to your guns my brave boys our noble captain cry'd.
Each man unto his quarters so firmly did repair,
We knocked down our cabins and got our decks quite clear,
We engaged full four hours till this ship she run away,
That's bravely done our captain cry'd but soon we'll make her stay.
As soon as the bold Amazon found that this ship did run away,
She hoisted up her top-sails and after her did stray,
So closely she pursued her til early the next day,
And a French bold privateer came bearing down that way.
She hailed us in French my boys and asked from whence we came,
And where was our country or where did we belong.
The answer that we gave to them it was a quick reply,
If you are foes we'll let you know we're true bred English boys.
As soon as the bold privateer found we were English men,
She hoisted up French colours and gun at us let fly,
We both bore down together where thundering cannons roar,
And sunk this bold privateer all on our native shore.
But in this cruel combat our captain he was slain,
And so was our lieutenant and many of our men,
And the rest of our bold sailors fought knee deep in blood,
And like bold Alexander through smook [sic] and fire we stood.
* A snow was a two-masted square-rigged vessel with a fore and aft
trysail rather like a brigantine.
|The Second of April|
A New Song
On the second of April the truth I am going to say,|
Our good ship launch'd along that very day,
Bound to the watery ocean, where thund'ring cannons roar,
We left our parents weeping all on our native shore.
Like lions bold we ventur'd, and put her out to sea,
But nothing we could spy till early the next day,
About nine in the morning a Spanish Ship we espy'd,
And now my lads, stand to your guns, our noble Captain cry'd.
We down to our quarters and for action did prepare,
We knock'd down our cabin and kept our decks quite clear;
We fought them four glasses, when the Spaniard run away,
O, bravely done, our Captain cry'd, we soon will make them stay.
We crowded all our sail, and after them did steer,
And early the next day, met a French privateer,
She bore down upon us, and bid us for to stand,
She hail'd us what country, we answer'd with England.
This bold privateer, with colours hoisted high,
To fight Old England's Sons, her bullets she let fly;
A dreadful battle ensu'd both decks were spatter'd with blood
But our Cannon we play'd so fast, we sunk her in the flood.
All in this dreadful conflict our Captain he was slain,
Likewise our Lieutenant, and many of the same;
But the rest of our crew with hearts stout and good,
And like bold Alexander we in fire and smook [sic] stood.