MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada
Twelve Ghostly Fishermen
Morris Houlihan NFLD 1 Tape 5A Track 2
Pouch Cove Audio:
Ballad / ghosts

Leach: (speaks) Alright.

(speaks) Wait now till I think of the first of that again.

You may smile if you've a mind to but I pray you'll lend an ear
We been men and boys together well on for fifty years
I sailed around the ocean from Western Bank to Grand
I been in herring vessels sailed out of Newfoundland

Now I saw storms I tell you boys when things looked pretty blue
But somehow or another was lucky and pulled through
I ain't no brag nor coward I won't say worse than then
I was never easier frightened than most of other men

As we lay ashore one evening twas on a summer's night
I never will forget it in all my mortal life
I was standing on my grand dog watch and I felt a chilling dread
Came over me as if I heard a calling from the dead

When o'er the rail came climbing so slowly one by one
A dozen ghostly seamen just wait 'til I am done
Their faces looked with seaweed looked ghastly in the night
And each man took his station as if he had the right

These were the same poor fellows, as you may understand
That our old ship ran over one night on George's Bank
The trip before the other they were off on George's then
Ran down another vessel, sank her and all her men

They sailed her into harbour where every mother's son
Can tell you the same story the same as I have done
The trip before the other we were out on George's Den
Ran down another vessel sank her and all her men

These were the same poor fellows may God now rest their souls
That our old ship ran over one night on George's shoals
So now you have my story the same as I have seen
I never believed in spirits but I always will again

Female voice: (speaks) That's a very good one.


Sources: Mercer 180 ("The Spirit Song on George's Bank"), Leach 244, ("The Ghostly Fishermen"), Greenleaf 227 ("The Ghostly Seamen,") Peacock 873, 874 ("The Ghostly Sailors"); cf. Laws D16 ("The Ghostly Crew"); Roud 1822.Leach also recorded this from Pat Murphy of Flat Rock (as "The Ghostly Fishermen"). Recorded on Songs From the Out-Ports of Newfoundland (1966, Folkways FE 4075), as track A4.

History & text notes: In the liner notes of the Folkways recording listed above, Leach writes the following:

In the early 1870s the schooner Haskell, anchored on George's Bank, parted her cable in a heavy gale and crushed into the schooner Johnston, anchored near by. The Johnston was cut in two and sank almost immediately with the loss of all hands. The next year the Haskell was again fishing on Georges. On the first night, according to stories told around Gloucester, twenty-six seamen came climbing out of the deep and pullin gthemselves over the chains came aboard. They immediately took stations and began to work the ship. They were members of the crew drowned by the Haskell the year before.

The Gloucester poet, Harry L. Marcy in 1874 wrote a ballad based on this story. The ballad was published in "Ballads and Songs of the Sea," Gloucester, 1874. From this printed version the ballad went into oral tradition with, as one would expect, many folk changes.

Tune notes: An abba melody in 4/4 metre, in a major/mixolydian (no seventh degree of the scale) mode.

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