Captain's Apprentice (II), The

DESCRIPTION: The captain has an apprentice from a work house. The boy offends him. He is bound to the mast, then beaten to death. The crew lock the captain in his cabin and have him arrested in port. He is convicted and held in Newgate until he is hanged.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: before 1801 (St Bride broadside S509 (see notes))
KEYWORDS: ship sailor death homicide crime punishment trial execution
FOUND IN: Britain(England(Lond,South))
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Palmer-FolkSongsCollectedBy-Ralph-VaughanWilliams, "The Captain's Apprentice" (1 text, 1 tune) (see notes)
ADDITIONAL: Maud Karpeles, Cecil Sharp's Collection of English Folk Songs (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), Vol. 2 p. 300, "The Captain's Apprentice" (1 text, 1 tune) (see notes)
E.J. Moeran, A.G. Gilchrist, Frank Kidson, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Lucy E. Broadwood, "Songs Collected in Norfolk" in Journal of the Folk Song Society, Vol. 7, No. 26 (Dec 1922 (available online by JSTOR)), #3 pp. 4-5, "The Captain's Apprentice" (1 text, 2 tunes)
Lucy E. Broadwood, Frank Kidson, A.G. Gilchrist, "Songs of Soldier and Sailor Life" in Journal of the Folk Song Society, Vol. 7, No. 27 (Dec 1907 (available online by JSTOR)), #14 pp. 66-67, "The Captain's Apprentice" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Lucy E. Broadwood, Cecil J. Sharp, G.S.K. Butterworth, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frank Kidson and A.G. Gilchrist, "Songs from Various Counties" in Journal of the Folk-Lore Society, Vol. 4, No. 17 (Jan 1913 (available online by JSTOR)), #22 pp. 335-336, "The Captain's Apprentice" (2 fragments, 1 tune) (see note)
Colin Davis, "The Captain's Apprentice," London 1951, Association for Cultural Equity Alan Lomax Collection,ref=T926R05,accessed 26 February 2017 from
Joseph Taunton, "The Captain's Apprentice" ("I took him from St. James's Workhouse"), Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection accessed 5 Mar 2017 at

Roud #835
Harry Cox, "Come All You Men Throughout This Nation" (on Voice12)
A.L. Lloyd, "The Cruel Ship's Captain" (on Lloyd9) (see notes)

StBride, Broadside S509,"A New Copy of Verses, Made on Captain Mills, now under Confinement in Newgate, at Bristol, for the murder of Thomas Brown, his Apprentice Boy" ("You Captains all throughout the nation"), unknown, n.d., obtained Mar 9, 2017 from St Bride Foundation at
NOTES [2233 words]: A.L. Lloyd's version named "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" on the CD is correctly labelled "The Cruel Ship's Captain" in the liner notes to Lloyd9.
Re Palmer-FolkSongsCollectedBy-Ralph-VaughanWilliams: also see "Songs Collected from Norfolk" in Journal of the Folk-Song Society (London: Atheneum Press, 1906 ("Digitized by Internet Archive")) Vol. II, #15 pp. 161-162, "The Captain's Apprentice" (1 text, 1 tune). That earlier text was only five verses -- instead of Palmer's seven. Palmer notes that his additional two verses were in Vaughan Williams's scrapbook "additional to those sung by Mr Carter (perhaps remembered later by him, and sent on)." I have used Palmer's seven verse text. James (see notes below) considers the two added verses to be a separate text.
Re Broadwood, Sharp, et al, "Songs from Various Counties": The second fragment is a verse "sung by a Bridgewater sailor" as the first and last of his version. The apparent full text is Karpeles's.
Re Karpeles's Cecil Sharp's Collection of English Folk Songs: Thanks to Frazer Clarke for a copy of the page. Karpeles attributes the text and tune to Joseph Laver. The Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection has the tune and full text as two separate entries collected the same date and place. The tune and first verse attributed to Joseph Laver is at ; the full text attributed to Richard Laver is at (both accessed March 7, 2017). The following is a note from Derek Schofield on March 7, 2017: "It's not the only Laver song where there is confusion about whether the name is Richard or Joseph (assuming they are the same person). In 1901 census, there is a Joseph Laver, market gardener, aged 64 (so 69, not 72 in 1906). Or a Robert Laver, an auctioner, 71 in 1901, so 76 in 1906. There's no Richard Laver."
COMPARING "CAPTAIN JAMES" AND "The Captain's Apprentice (II)"
Both "Captain James" and "The Captain's Apprentice (II)" share a pattern of verses:
-- Warning to captains not to abuse their seamen/servants.
-- The boy is apprenticed to the captain.
-- On the trip home the captain murders the boy: the remaining verses give the details.
-- The boy "offends" the captain and is tied to the mast in punishment.
-- The boy is whipped and the crew dares not help him.
-- The boy dies.
-- The crew has the captain arrested
-- The captain is tried, convicted and condemned.
With that pattern in common what justifies splitting "Captain James" and "The Captain's Apprentice (II)"?
While the texts I group as "Captain James" share lines as well as themes by verse, and the same is true of the texts I group as "The Captain's Apprentice (II)", almost no lines are shared between groups. Here are some examples of typical verses.
-- The warning is different but has no clearly differentiating aspects.
"Captain James":
Come all you noble bold commanders
That on the foaming ocean cruise
By my sad fate now take a warning
See that your poor seamen you do not abuse
"The Captain's Apprentice (II)":
You captains all throughout the nation
That has got servants at your call
O see that you never ill-use them
While you are on the raging sea.
-- The verse about the apprenticeship, when present, always gives some name to the boy in "Captain James" and always names a workhouse in "The Captain's Apprentice (II)"; conversely, "Captain James" never refers to a workhouse and "The Captain's Apprentice (II)" never names the boy. The boy and captain are both named in the title of the St. Brides's broadside, but not in the text.
"Captain James":
Richard Perry was my servant
And a sprightly lad was he
His mother did apprentice him
All for to cross the raging sea.
(Richard's last name may also be Paddy, Spry, Pavy, Peva, Peve, Farris or Ryan).
"The Captain's Apprentice (II)":
This boy was bound apprentice
Because of his being fatherless
From St. James's work house I hailed him
His mother being in distress.
-- By the same token, other verses, while agreeing in theme, are different in the details. "Captain James" is returning from Carolina; "The Captain's Apprentice (II)" is returning from the West Indies, the Spanish shore, or -- as Lloyd sings -- Greenland. The boy is tortured one day in "Captain James" and nine in "The Captain's Apprentice (II)." The whipping is "eighteen stripes" in "Captain James" and "with a shroud of rope ... because I could not bear to hear his cries" in "The Captain's Apprentice (II)." The "Captain James" crew "had me apprehended When I had got home from sea"; "The Captain's Apprentice (II)" crew "in my cabin close they confined me A prisoner brought me in the Bristol shore." In "Captain James" the condemned captain is "taken and put in [an unnamed] prison"; in "The Captain's Apprentice (II)" "In Newgate jail I'm condemned to die."
Besides the matching pattern verses each ballad may have its own set of distinct verses.
For "Captain James":
The crew is warned not to help the boy.
The boy complains of hunger after three days.
The boy complains of hunger and thirst after six days; he refuses to drink urine but is forced to drink his own blood; the boy calls on his mother.
After nine days the boy asks to be fed any morsel "the dogs would despise" or to be killed; when he refuses to eat his own excrement he gets another eighteen stripes and dies.
The crew curses the captain and he threatens to have them hung for mutiny.
The captain expects his money to save him but the boy's mother, refusing his bribe, insists on prosecuting him.
Captain James -- named in the text for the first time -- having been convicted, realizes he deserves no mercy but prays "yet some mercy show me Lord."
A final warning: may "his sad example teach others the like to shun."
"The Captain's Apprentice (II)":
The crew "earnestly me requested To let him loose but all in vain."
"Soon as the boy he did expire Then I was sorry for what I'd done."
The captain wishes he had listened to his crew: "I might have saved a poor boy's life and mine."
"Tho' murder was not my intent ... I heartily repent."
Summing up, the ballads are so different that any fragment of a verse or more is easily assigned to one or the other. I don't doubt that one ballad set the pattern for the other, [unless] a third ballad set the pattern for both. The notes to "Captain James" show that this murder scenario was common enough in the age of sail that there was plenty of material as source to be plugged into this ballad pattern. While an early date, so far, for "Captain James" is 1768 and a late date for the St. Brides text for "The Captain's Apprentice (II)" is 1801, I have no way of saying which ballad originated earlier (see Huntington-SongsTheWhalemenSang, p. 325, for Two Brothers in 1768; also see notes re Nash below).
James, writing in 1999, "investigates the possibility that the folk song The Captain's Apprentice, collected by Vaughan Williams in 1905 (fn.1), was based on events reported in 1857 on a ship based in King's Lynn.... Although earlier versions of the song are known, it is possible that the 1857 events influenced local variants of the song" (fn.2). Earlier, Lloyd wrote "Early in the nineteenth century, a whale skipper was charged in King's Lynn with the murder of an apprentice. A broadside ballad, in the form of a wordy gallows confession and good night, appeared, and in course of circulating around the East Anglian countryside it got pared down to the bone" (fn.3, fn.4).
The earliest "Captain's Apprentice" (II) broadside I have seen so far is StBride, Broadside S509,"A New Copy of Verses, Made on Captain Mills, now under Confinement in Newgate, at Bristol, for the murder of Thomas Brown, his Apprentice Boy" (fn.5). Palmer says of the St. Bride broadside, "it is without imprint probably dating from about 1800" (fn.6). Nash, who does not mention this broadside, would make the probable date before 1801. He discusses two factors that restrict the date. First, as Palmer notes, there is no imprint; second, the St Bride broadside keeps the non-final long s in words. Nash writes that the 1799 "Seditious Societies Act" imposed "severe financial penalties for those who printed books and broadsides without including their names and addresses, or with false or inaccurate imprints" (fn.7). Nash also discusses technological and stylistic changes that converged on 1800: "the generality of printers continued to use the long s until 1800. Then, within the course of this one year, the character was removed from most printers' typecases" (fn. 8).
James considers whether the Vaughan Williams's King's Lynn text reflects the King's Lynn criminal case. If so there should be significant differences between the pre-crime St Bride broadside and Vaughan Williams's text. In fact the significant differences are that the Vaughan Williams text omits lines from the broadside. As for substance, no facts of the King's Lynn criminal case are in the Vaughan Williams text (fn. 9). Among factors that do not change are that the boy is from St James's work house, that he is beaten with a rope of some sort, and that the captain is made prisoner by his crew and brought to Bristol. It is important to James that there is a St James work house in King's Lynn, but since that is already the name of the workhouse in the St Bride broadside, that does not help to make the coincidence significant.
James looks to other versions for some influence of the case on the texts of the ballad. Those versions do not make the case either. For example, the Cox, Davis, and Moeran et al texts change the name of the workhouse so that it no longer matches the King's Lynn workhouse. The destination for the Taunton text, and one of the texts from "Songs of Various Counties," is given a more specific Caribbean locale, "the Spanish Shore" (and Greenland for Lloyd's text). The Cox, Davis, and Moeran texts have the captain brought to London, but since all the texts are from England's east coast it is not surprising that they relocate the prison from Bristol Newgate in the west to London Newgate in the east. A number of texts end with the boy's death and so do not deal with the captain's imprisonment, trial and execution.
James concludes, "The Captain's Apprentice was not a completely new form of Captain James, written to commemorate the tragedy of young Robert Eastick of Lynn; that 'St James' Workhouse was not inspired, at least initially, by the King's Lynn Union; that Captain Doyle [of the King's Lynn criminal case] inherited the mantle not only of the mysterious Captain James but also of a Captain Mills who may or may not have met an ignominious end in Bristol c. 1800" (fn. 10).
(1) Palmer-FolkSongsCollectedBy-Ralph-VaughanWilliams, #53 pp. 84-86.
(2) James, p. 579.
(3) Lloyd. In another context, Lloyd wrote that he "thought he had seen the text on a broadside a long while before 1971 but no details." James speculates that, "What he saw may well have been the single broadside discovered by Mike Yates in the St Bride Institute, London." James, p. 583.
(4) Lloyd continues, "The poet George Crabbe was interested in the case, and took it as a model for his verse-narrative of 'Peter Grimes,' which subsequently formed the base o[sic] Britten's opera. The opera is in three acts. The same ground is covered in three verses by a song as bleak and keen as a harpoon head." James pointed out (James, p. 586) that Lloyd may not have known the date of the King's Lynn case, 1857, which was after Crabbe's 1810 publication. The Peter Grimes of Crabbe's poem is a fisherman whose boat can be "paddled up and down" (Crabbe, p. 310) and who is a serial murderer of apprentices from the local workhouse. It is unusual when he must sail as far as London (Crabbe, p. 304), so he is hardly the whale skipper Lloyd has him patterned after. Grimes's final sentence is to be prohibited to have a workhouse apprentice and, since no freeman would work for him, must fish alone, shunned by all who knew him. Grimes dies delirious in a Parish-bed, rather than on the gibbet. "The original of Peter Grimes was an old fisherman of Aldborough, while Mr. Crabbe was practising there as a surgeon. He had a succession of apprentices from London, and a certain sum with each. As the boys all disappeared under circumstances of strong suspicion, the man was warned by some of the principal inhabitants, that if another followed in like manner, he should certainly be charged with murder" (Crabbe4, p. 39, n.1). Crabbe's poem is relevant to "The Captain's Apprentice" in its comments on workhouses -- "Slave-shops" (Crabbe, p. 303) -- and the "Workhouse-clearing Men, Who, undisturb'd by Feelings just or kind, Would Parish-Boys to needy Tradesmen bind: They in their want a trifling Sum would take, And toiling Slave of piteous Orphans make" (Crabbe, p. 301))
(5) James refers to the St Bride text as "Captain Mills."
(6) Palmer-OxfordBookOfSeaSongs Songs, p. 84.
(7) Nash, p. 14.
(8) Nash, p. 9.
(9) In the King's Lynn criminal case the voyage was to Ceylon rather than the West Indies, the crew fed the boy and the boy committed suicide -- none of which is in any version of the ballad -- and the captain was imprisoned for only three months, rather than executed. James, pp. 585-586.
(10) James, p. 588.
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