Heart of Oak
DESCRIPTION: In praise of the British Navy that can drive off any foe: "Heart of oak are our ships, Jolly tars are our men: We are always ready. Steady, boys, steady, We'll fight and we'll conquer again and again."
AUTHOR: Words: David Garrick/Music: Dr. William Boyce
EARLIEST DATE: 1759 ("Harlequin's Invasion")
KEYWORDS: navy sailor patriotic ship nonballad
FOUND IN: Britain(England)
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Chappell/Wooldridge II, pp. 189-191, "Heart of Oak" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ashton-Sailor, #92, "Hearts of Oak" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: C. H. Firth, _Publications of the Navy Records Society_ , 1907 (available on Google Books), p. 220,"Hearts of Oak" (1 text)
Aline Waites & Robin Hunter, _The Illustrated Victorian Songbook_, Michael Joseph Ltd., 1984, pp. 212-213, "Heart of Oak" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "Bold Hawke" (context of the Battle of Quiberon Bay)
Liberty/The Liverty Song (by John Dickinson) (Lawrence, pp. 14-15, 26; Darling-NAS, p. 340)
Come Shake Your Dull Noddles [parody of The Liberty Song] (Lawrence, p. 30)
The Massachusetts Liberty Song [parody by Benjamin Church of The Liberty Song, and once printed from the same staff notation!] (Lawrence, p. 31)
NOTES: This may not, at first glance, seem a folk song -- but it is one of Great Britain's leading patriotic songs; Morison, p. 165, notes that "British throats went hoarse bawling out 'Heart of Oak"" in 1759, the year of England's greatest success in the Seven Years' War (Morison quotes the song on p. 170).
It appears that the song and the furor were inspired by the English success at Quiberon Bay, in which Admiral Hawke's British squadron demolished a French fleet and ended any possibility of France invading Britain. (Herman, p. 290. For Hawke and his various victories, see the notes to "Bold Hawke.")
The song is quite correct in describing British ships as built of oak. Oak was the preferred wood for ships because it resisted rot -- presumably because of the tannic acid found in it. It didn't last forever, but other woods usually wore out sooner; (Cordingly, p. 18).
It is ironic to note that what is believed to have been the first American pro-independence song was set to this tune; in 1768. John Dickinson published what was called the "Song for American Freedom." We do not, however, seem to know what the song was actually about; Fisher, pp. 20-21, notes that an advertisement for the song survives, but no copy of the text itself has been preserved.
According to Waites & Hunter, this was originally written by David Garrick for a pantomime called "Harlequin's Invasion." - RBW
Last updated in version 3.5
- Cordingly: David Cordingly, The Billy Ruffian: The Bellerophon and the Downfall of Napoleon, Bloomsbury, 2003
- Fisher: William Arms Fisher, One Hundred and Fifty Years of Music Publishing in the United States: 1783-1933, Oliver Ditson Company, 1933
- Herman: Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, 2004 (I use the 2005 Harper Perennial edition)
- Morison: Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, Oxford, 1965
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