Mermaid, The [Child 289]

DESCRIPTION: A group of sailors see a mermaid (meaning that they can expect a shipwreck). Various crew members lament the families they are leaving behind. The ship sinks.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1765?
KEYWORDS: mermaid/man ship sea wreck
FOUND IN: Britain(England(All),Scotland(Aber)) US(All) Canada(Mar,Newf) Ireland
REFERENCES (54 citations):
Child 289, "The Mermaid" (6 texts)
Bronson 289, "The Mermaid" (42 versions)
BronsonSinging 289, "The Mermaid" (5 versions: #2, #25, #30, #35, #40)
GreigDuncan1 27, "The Mermaid" (8 texts, 3 tunes) {A=Bronson's #16, B=#2, C=#6}
Ord, pp. 333-334, "The Mermaid" (1 text plus a fragment)
SharpAp 42, "The Mermaid" (3 texts plus 1fragment, 4 tunes) {Bronson's #17, #41, #24, #14}
Lomax-Singing, pp. 151-152, "The Mermaid" (1 text, 1 tune) {compare Bronson's #41}
BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 363-368, "The Mermaid" (3 texts plus a fragment and a version from the Forget-me-not Songster, 1 tune) {Bronson's #25}
Flanders-Ancient4, pp. 271-280, "The Mermaid" (4 texts plus a fragment, 3 tunes) {E=Bronson's #39}
Belden, pp. 101-102, "The Mermaid" (1 text)
Randolph 39, "The Wrecked Ship" (3 texts, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #42, #40}
AbrahamsRiddle, pp. 83-85, "Merrimac at Sea" (1 text, 1 tune, which is mostly this although the first verse probably floated in from somewhere else)
Davis-Ballads 48, "The Mermaid" (8 texts plus 4 fragments, the last of which may not be this song; 2 tunes entitled "The Stormy Winds," "The Mermaid"; 1 more version mentioned in Appendix A) {Bronson's #22, #12}
Davis-More 44, pp. 344-349, "The Mermaid" (3 texts, 1 tune)
BrownII 48, "The Mermaid" (2 texts)
BrownSchinhanIV 41, "The Mermaid" (1 excerpt, 1 tune)
Chappell-FSRA 23, "The Mermaid" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #9}
Morris, #175, "The Mermaid" (1 text)
Hudson 26, p. 127, "The Mermaid" (1 short text)
Moore-Southwest 57, "The Ship A-Raging" (1 text, 1 tune)
Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 189-190, "TheMermaid" (1 text)
Creighton-Maritime, p. 26, "The Mermaid" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton/Senior, pp. 106-107, "The Mermaid" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #31}
Mackenzie 16, "The Royal George" (1 text)
Blondahl, p. 90, "Black Friday" (1 text, 1 tune)
Smith/Hatt, p. 38, "Then Turn Out You Jolly Tars" (1 fragment)
Mackenzie 16, "The Royal George" (1 text)
Thomas-Makin', pp. 34-35, (no title) (1 fragment)
Leach, pp. 673-674, "The Mermaid" (1 text)
Friedman, p. 404, "The Mermaid" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Stout 8, pp. 14-15, "The Mermaid" (1 text plus a fragment)
FSCatskills 71, "The Mermaid" (1 text, 1 tune)
ThompsonNewYork, pp. 216-217, "(The Murmaid)" (1 text)
Thompson-Pioneer 9, "The Mermaid" (1 text)
Musick-Larkin 33, "The Saillers" [sic] (1 text)
Niles 62, "The Mermaid" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Vaughan Williams/Lloyd, pp. 70-71, "The Mermaid" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #36}
RoudBishop #13, "The Mermaid" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #4}
Williams-Thames, p. 84, "While the Raging Seas Did Roar" (1 text) (also Wiltshire-WSRO Ox 224)
Cohen/Seeger/Wood, pp. 98-99, "Waves on the Sea" (1 text, 1 tune)
Botkin-NEFolklr, pp. 562-563, "The Mermaid" (1 text, 1 tune)
Harlow, pp. 147-149, "The Mermaid" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hugill, pp. 560, "The Mermaid" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Shay-SeaSongs, p. 124, (no title) (1 fragment, almost certainly of this song)
Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 71-73, "The Mermaid" (1 text, 1 tune)
LPound-ABS, 11, pp. 26-27, "Three Sailor Boys" (1 text)
JHCox 33, "The Mermaid" (1 text)
Ashton-Sailor, #41, "The Mermaid"; #42, "The Seaman's Distress" (2 texts)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #1422, p. 96, "The Mermaid" (1 reference)
Silber-FSWB, p. 93, "The Mermaid" (1 text)
BBI, ZN2143, "On a Friday morning we set sail"
DT 289, MERMDFRI* MERMAID3* WAVESSEA* MERMAID5*
ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #413, "One Friday Morn" (1 text)
Henry Randall Waite, _Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges_ first edition 1868, expanded edition, Oliver Ditson, 1876, part III, p. 47, "The Mermaid" (1 text, 1 tune)

ST C289 (Full)
Roud #124
RECORDINGS:
Emma Dusenberry, "The Mermaid" (AFS, 1936; on LC58) {Bronson's #40}
William Howell, "The Mermaid" (on FSBBAL2)
Bascom Lamar Lunsford, "The Mermaid Song" (on BLLunsford01) {cf. Bronson's #32}
New Lost City Ramblers, "Raging Sea" (on NLCR02)
Ernest Stoneman & His Blue Ridge Corn Shuckers, "The Raging Sea, How It Roars" (Victor Vi 21648, 1928) {Bronson's #20}

BROADSIDES:
Bodleian, 2806 c.17(273), "The Mermaid" ("One Friday morning we set sail"), W. Armstrong (Liverpool), 1820-1824; also Harding B 11(3641), Harding B 11(3642), 2806 c.17(272), Harding B 11(2228), Harding B 11(2519), Firth c.12(413), 2806 c.17(271), 2806 c.17(275), Harding B 11(2404), Harding B 11(2603), Harding B 11(2403), "The Mermaid"; 2806 c.13(248), Firth c.12(414), Harding B 11(3146), "The Mermaid" or "The Gallant Ship"
LOCSinging, sb20297a, "The Mermaid," H. De Marsan (New York), 1864-1878

CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "Three Times Round" (verse form and some lines)
ALTERNATE TITLES:
The Sinking Ship
Oh, the Lamp Burns Dimly Down Below
The Stormy Winds Do Blow
The Gallant Ship
NOTES: Legend has it that a ship that sees a mermaid will be destroyed. (Some versions say that all aboard are to be drowned as well, but they could hardly drown at the time; else how would anyone know what destroyed the ship?) Ord also notes that it was considered unlucky for ships to sail on a Friday -- and most versions do seem to involve sailing on that day.
One of the verses of this, "three times around went our gallant ship," seems to have circulated independently as a nursery rhyme; see, e.g., Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #862, p. 322.
It is often stated that mermaids were sailors' mistaken impression of manatees or dugongs (so, e.g., Benet, p. 715; Jones-Larousse, p. 300; Pickering, p. 193). But Cordingly, pp. 165-166, makes the noteworthy points that, first, manatees and dugongs aren't very attractive. Second, and even more decisive, dugongs live in the Indian Ocean and in the coastal areas of Indonesia and Australia -- areas European sailors would not have seen. Similarly, manatees are found in Florida, the West Indies, Brazil, and the Congo. Neither mammal is found anywhere near European waters.
In a side note, Dawkins, p. 216, notes that the Afrotheres, which includes the order of Sirenia (dugongs and manatees) are the most remote of all placental mammals from modern humans, having split off from the human lineage more than 100 million years ago. Thus the dugongs and manatees are, logically, the mammals least likely to attract human male interest.
Dawkins himself comments on p. 222 that the sailors "who first spotted the likeness must have been at sea for a very long time." He adds two rather interesting points. First, "Sirenians are, with whales, the only mammals that never come on land at any time." In other words, you will not see a manatee or dugong "sitting on a rock," as in this song. Second, "Their vegetarian died requires an immensely long gut and a low energy budget. The high-speed aquabatics of a carnivorous dolphin contrast dramatically with the lazy drifting of a vegetarian dugong: guided missile to dirigible balloon." Thus the Sirenians neither look nor act anything like mermaids.
If there is any physical reason for the Sirenians being identified with mermaids, it may be because of the way they nurse their young. Binney, p. 206, makes the interesting point that "While sucking their single young the [female Sirenians] cradle the babies to their breasts with one flipper in the manner of human mothers."
Simpson/Roud, p. 234, make the interesting observation that mermaids seem to have been originally tailless -- an elaboration of the siren legend. (Hence the name Sirenia for the order containing the dugongs and manatees.) Which makes sense -- how could a warm-blooded mammal like a mermaid (and it is obvious that they are mammalian!) have a cold-blooded, scaled fish tail? A dolphin's tail, maybe, but a fish's tail?
To be sure, one of the earliest documented sightings, by two of Henry Hudson's crew in his Northeast Passage exploration of 1608, described a creature with a porpoise's tail -- although with the coloration of a mackerel. The skin of the creature's upper body was very white, the hair very dark. Hudson noted the sighting, but did not see the alleged creature himself (Mancall, p. 58).
Cordingly, p. 168, does note an upsurge in alleged mermaid sightings "during the age of exploration," and cites mentions from seemingly hard-headed observers as Hudson's crew. Possibly the dugongs and manatees helped along the transition from siren to creature half-human half-fish -- but even this would be hard to prove. Maybe the sailors were seeing Sirenians -- or maybe their long absence from home made them particularly lusty, and the scurvy they probably experienced made them particularly imaginative. He also notes, p. 169, some instances of people allegedly keeping mermaids. It would be nice if someone had kept a skeleton....
In any case, we see our first half-human half-fish creature in mythology before Europeans reached the seas where the sirenians are found: The demon Melusine/Melusina, who, when first seen, was a beautiful woman Sunday through Friday, but who hid on Saturdays because her half-fish form was revealed (Cordingly, pp. 166-167; Jones-Larousse, p. 298,) Also, CHEL1, p. 354, notes a fourteenth century book which declares that "flatterers are like to nickers (sea-fairies), which have the bodies of women and the tails of fish" and sing sailors to sleep. - RBW
Creighton-Maritime moves the locale to New York City: "board bill on Fifth Avenue," "sweetheart in Madison's Square," and the wreck [took place] as "we neared Jersey flats, Sandy Hook was on our lea." - BS
Mackenzie's "The Royal George" ("O the Royal George turned round three times") would seem to have adapted "The Mermaid" to the sinking of the Royal George, "flagship of Admiral Kempenfelt, ... on 29 August 1782 with the loss of eight hundred lives, including Admiral Kempenfelt himself." (source: "The Loss of the Royal George" at The Cowper and Newton Museum web page at the Milton Keynes Heritage Association site). You can see William Cowper's poem on the subject at Charles W. Eliot, editor, English Poetry Vol II From Collins to Fitzgerald (New York, 1910), #314, pp. 533-534, "Loss of the Royal George." - BS
I note parenthetically that Keegan, p. 51, spells the name "Kemenfelt." This may be a printing error, however, as the name is used only once, with reference to the revised signal system he invented. Dupuy/Johnson/Bongard gives his dates as 1718-1782, and says of him, "Am intelligent and learned officer, Kempenfelt was noted as a scientist, scholar, and author, known both for his oncern for his men's health and welfare, and for his scholarly approach to naval issues; his success at Ushant showed initiative, daring, and a clear grasp of strategy and tactics."
The Royal George itself, according to Paine, p. 439, was ordered in 1749 but not finished until 1759; she was a first rate battleship, said to be the "first warship to exceed 2,000 tons burden." She fought under Hawke at Quiberon Bay (for which see "Bold Hawke").
Put in the reserve in 1763 with the conclusion of the Seven Years' War, she was put back in commission in 1778 as the French and Americans made war on Britain. She was taking on supplies at Spithead "when on August 29 Royal George was being heeled at a slight angle to make some minor repairs below the waterline. At the same times, casks of rum were being loaded aboard and the lower deck gunports were not properly secured. At about 0920 the ship suddenly rolled over on her beam ends, filled with water, and sank, taking with her 800 people,including as many as 300 women and 60 children who were visiting the ship." - RBW
Bibliography Last updated in version 4.1
File: C289

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