DESCRIPTION: The singer dreams of William Coaker's death, rejection at Heaven, and acceptance and advancement in Hell. Coaker's plan to replace the Devil as boss is foiled; he is condemned to the furnace. The dreamer wakes before Coaker is demolished.
EARLIEST DATE: 1951 (Guigne; MUNFLA/Leach)
LONG DESCRIPTION: Coaker dies in the singer's dream. "Somehow underhanded" he got to Heaven, but is turned away by St. Peter. The Devil greets him: "I've been looking for you a long time." He talks the Devil into appointing him -- being the only Newfoundlander in Hell -- boss when the Devil leaves. When the Devil does go "out" Coaker runs an election to exile the Devil and make himself boss of Hell. Coaker loses. The Devil asks the crowd what is to be done, and they condemn Coaker to the furnace. He is headed into the furnace when the dreamer wakes.
KEYWORDS: rejection death dream humorous political Devil
FOUND IN: Canada(Newf)
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Guigne, pp. 84-87, "Coaker's Dream" (1 text, 1 tune)
Frank Knox, "The Coaker Song" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
Ned Rice, "Coaker's Dream" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
NOTES [562 words]: Guigne has a detailed review of William Ford Coaker's controversial life as a Newfoundland union organizer and politician from the turn of the century until the late 1930s. - BS
It was quite a career, and little wonder that no one trusted him at the end. Busch, p. 87, calls him "a strange, magnetic, gifted, melancholy, austere man, [who] had a greater vision in his mind than another craft union."
Coaker (1871-1938) was born in St. John's, Newfoundland, and as early as 1884 had organized local fish handlers to strike for better wages. He drifted through several jobs, and had his small business fail in the Newfoundland bank crash of 1894 (Cadigan, p. 178). Eventually he put together a real union, the Fisherman's Protective Union (FPU), in 1909. By 1913, they had nine delegates in the legislature, making them the leading opposition party (Busch, p. 88). Coaker adopted as a motto "to each his own," and organized the group to in many ways resemble the Orange Lodge, which was strong in Newfoundland. He didn't just set out to improve the fishermen's bargaining position; he wanted a complex system of government involvement and a union-based business, the Union Trading Company (Cadigan, p. 179).
After the 1914 Newfoundland Disaster (for which see "The Newfoundland Disaster (I)"), he went after Captain Abram Kean (for whom see "Captain Abram Kean"). Coaker was mostly right, I think, but Kean utterly rejected any notion of blame, and quickly became involved in litigation with Coaker (for Kean's side, see Kean, pp. 31-37 or so). Kean really did bear a lot of blame, and Coaker was mostly right, but because Kean was considered so skilled a sealing captain, Kean was not dismissed and Coaker had to give in and make partial apologies. Coaker did manage to pass some minor reforms in 1914, though (Busch, p. 88).
"Ed Roberts... suggested that Newfoundland's political history... cannot be understood without examining the contribution of William Coaker.... In contrast to most labour figures of his time, Coaker was not a socialist, though some of his comrades in the FPU were. He had more in common with the farmer-progressive movements of Western Canada and their appeals for group government and direct democracy, as the course of his political ideas eventually demonstrated. Coaker's failure to achieve lasting benefits for the 'toiling masses' of the Newfoundland outports is usually cited as the last great effort to save the country before the onslaught of the Depression" (Long, p. 12).
A lot of Coaker's ideas were laudable. A lot of them were utterly impractical, too -- and he gradually became more and more disillusioned. As Newfoundland -- which had been deeply in debt for most of his life, and had never really been properly governed -- slid into the Great Depression, the one-time radical leftist decided that Newfoundland's answer was fascism (Cadigan, pp. 203-204). Even before that, he had supported conscription, which had disillusioned many of his followers (Long, p. 27). He was quite open to the idea of Newfoundland giving up its Dominion status and again being ruled by a British commission -- which is what happened in 1934 (Cadigan, p. 208).
Coaker frankly strikes me as a rebel-without-a-cause; he wanted change, he knew things had to change, but he had no idea how to change them. And so, as often as not, he made things worse. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
- Busch: Briton Cooper Busch, The War Against the Seals: A History of the North American Seal Fishery, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1985
- Cadigan: Sean T. Cadigan, Newfoundland and Labrador: A History, University of Toronto Press, 2009
- Kean: Abram Kean, with a foreword by Sir Wilfred Grenfell, Old and Young Ahead, 1935; I use the 2000 Flanker Press edition edited and with a new Introduction (and new photographs) by Shannon Ryan
- Long: Gene Long, Suspended State: Newfoundland before Canada, Breakwater Books, 1999
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