MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada
The Ghostly Fishermen
Pat Murphy NFLD 1 Tape 11 Track 9
Calvert Audio:
Ballad / ghosts

Ye smile as ye have a mind to I pray you lend an ear
We were men and boys together long for fifty years
I been tossed upon the ocean in summer pleasant breeze
Likewise at early seasons and fishing in the bays

Down south in early seasons most anywhere to pay
I been on different voyages from Western banks to Grand
I sailed in herring vessels bound down to Newfoundland

I had seen storms I'll tell you boys when things looked rather blue
And somehow or another a lucky hand pulled through
I ain't no brag nor coward I won't say more than that
I was never easier frightened or worst of other men

As we lay offshore one evening being on a summer's day
I never will forget it in all my mortal days
I was standing at my Grand dog watch I felt a thrilling dread
Crept over me as if I heard one calling from the dead

When over her rail came climbing so slowly one by one
A dozen ghostly seamen just wait till I am done
Their face being pale with seaweed shone ghastly through the night
And each man took his station as if they had a right

Oh, we cruised around those foggy banks for the space of that long night
And rather than I'd say so till the day has shown it's light
When these twelve ghostly spirits to the rail again
And vanished in an instant before the sons of man

Now we sailed right on to harbour and every mother's son
I will tell you that sad story the same as I have done
The trip before the other we were out on George's Dan
Run down another vessel sank her and all her men

These were the same poor fellows may the Lord now rest their souls
That our old craft ran over that night on George's shoal
But now you have heard my story (speaks) the same as I have seen
And I never believed in spirits but forever will again


Sources: Mercer 180 ("The Spirit Song on George's Bank"); Leach 244 ("The Ghostly Fishermen");  Greenleaf 227 ("The Ghostly Seamen,"); Peacock p. 873 ("The Ghostly Sailors"); Laws D16 ("The Ghostly Crew"); recorded by Morris Houlihan, Flat Rock, NL in 1950 for Folkways (FE 4075); Taft 18; Roud 1822.

History: Attributed to Harry L. Marcy

Text notes: the ghosts of sailors appear on a fishing vessel one night. They operate the ship until it is in sight of land, and then they disappear.

Tune notes: In 4/4 metre, but with an extended second beat in some measures, this "abba" melody is performed freely. The pitch material is a major scale but the quality is modal since the tonic is always approached from above and since the "b" lines end on the second degree of the scale. Leach also recorded this from Morris Houlihan of Flat Rock (as "Twelve Ghostly Fishermen").

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