From the album Full Circle
The strongest part of the English folk-heritage music tradition is by far sea songs of one variety or another, particularly shanties. Unlike songs of the land, sailors never stopped singing songs of the sea, and so they remained widely known and were passed down. Middle-class Victorian ‘collectors’ were unable to secrete them away in private libraries, which is what happened to much of the remainder of English traditional song music and dance. A consequence of continual wars and battles is that death and destruction tend to dampen the desire among common English soldiers to sing, play or dance their folk-heritage. Among the millions of English dead they became largely irrelevant and English folk-heritage almost died out. Then along came a few middle-class academics who ‘saved’ them for posterity, and in so doing stole them permanently from the common, ethnic English people to whom they belonged. Even a hundred years later countless thousands of English songs and tunes are housed in private and academic collections, inaccessible by the English people.
Anyway, back to the song. This is a ballad about what happens when sailors are on the sea for months, even years at a time. They quickly begin fantasizing about sex, frankly. And one of the frequent fantasies was thinking up ways of getting a woman secretly on board for a bit of nookie. In this case the curvaceous boy surprises the captain, but when his wife comes on board too it causes a bit of a stir.
English Folk Heritage
It's of a pretty female as you shall under/stand
She had a mind for roving unto some foreign/ land.
Attired in sailor's clothing she boldly did appear
And engaged with a captain to serve him/ for a year.
She engaged with the captain a cabin boy to/ be.
The wind was in their favour and they soon put to/ sea.
The captain's lady being on board, she seemed in great/ joy,
So glad the captain had engaged a handsome/ cabin boy.
So nimble was this pretty maid, and done her duty/ well,
But mark what happened after, the song itself shall/ tell.
The captain with the pretty maid did often sport and toy
For he soon found out the secret of the handsome cabin boy.
Her cheeks appeared like roses, and with her side-locks curled
The sailors often smiled and said, he looks just like a girl
By eating captain's biscuits it did her colour destroy,
And the waist did swell of pretty Nell, the handsome/ cabin boy.
T’was through the Bay of Biscay our gallant ship did/ plough,
One night among the sailors there was a pretty/ row.
They tumbled from their hammocks it did their peace des/troy,
It was all about the groaning of the handsome/ cabin boy.
"Oh doctor, oh doctor," the cabin boy did/ cry,
The sailors swore by all that's good the cabin boy would/ die.
The doctor ran with all his might, a-smiling at the/ fun,
For to think that a sailor lad should have a daughter/ or a son.
Now when the sailors all heard the joke, they all began to/ stare,
The child belonged to none of them, they solemnly declared.
The lady to the captain said, "My dear, I wish you/ joy,
For t’was either you or I betrayed the handsome/ cabin boy."
Then each man took his tot of rum, and drank success to trade
And likewise to the cabin boy, who was neither man nor maid
Let’s hope the wars don't rise again, our sailors to destroy
And here's hoping for a jolly lot more like the handsome cabin boy