Dixie Brown [Laws D7]
DESCRIPTION: Arriving in (San Francisco), a sailor goes on a spree and ends up broke. He is taken in by [Dixie] Brown, who alleges he owes a score and uses that as a lever to force him back to sea. The sailor warns others to avoid the sea and this sort of trap
EARLIEST DATE: 1923
KEYWORDS: sailor poverty robbery shanghaiing
FOUND IN: Canada(Mar)
REFERENCES (8 citations):
Laws D7, "Dixie Brown"
Doerflinger, pp. 107-109, "Off to Sea Once More" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Mackenzie 96, "Dixie Brown" (1 text)
Hugill, pp. 581-585, "We'll Go To Sea No More," "Go To Sea No More," "Go To Sea Once More," "Off To Sea Once More" (4 texts, 3 tunes - the last tune given the name "The Flying Cloud" and listed without a text) [AbEd, pp. 402-406]
Palmer-Sea 124, "Off to Sea Once More" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-ABFS, pp. 494-496, "Jack Wrack" (1 text, 1 tune)
Scott-BoA, pp. 140-141, "Off to Sea Once More" (1 text, 1 tune)
DT 702, GOTOSEA
A.L. Lloyd, "Off to Sea Once More" (on Lloyd9)
cf. "The Sailor's Way" (tune)
cf. "Gold Watch" [Laws K41] (plot) and references there
cf. "Jolly Sailors Bold (I)" (lyrics)
cf. "Pretty Girls of Liverpool" (lyrics)
cf. "The River Lea" (plot)
Go to Sea Once More
NOTES [633 words]: Boarding masters was a peculiar occupation which existed primarily in the late days of sail. At a time when casualties among sailors were high (due to injuries, bad diet, desertion, and incompetent skippers), a captain often needed to find new hands quickly. Hence the Boarding Master: He found sailors and gave them a place to stay in return for a fee, taken from the sailor's wages when he shipped out.
The idea wasn't inherently bad -- sailors, after all, did need some place to stay while on shore -- but the way it was implemented was pretty toxic. It was captains who hired the sailors from the boarding master, but the money was taken from the sailor's pay at a fixed rate. Thus there was every incentive for the boarding master to give the sailors the minimum amount of pay and shove them out the door as soon as they could be sobered up.
The practice was so common that rituals evolved around it, the most famous being that of "paying off the dead horse" -- the ceremony sailors performed when they had paid off the advance to the boarding master and finally were able to earn wages for themselves, usually after thirty days (for this, see "Poor Old Man (Poor Old Horse; The Dead Horse)").
There were relatively honest boarding masters, but some of the tricks they pulled were pretty dreadful. "Paddy West" tells of a boarding master who operated by teaching landlubbers to pretend to be sailors. Other boarding masters operated in complicity with captains to kidnap sailors shortly before they were paid off (see for this practice Richard Woodman, A Brief History of Mutiny,Carroll & Graf, 2005, p. 9); the idea was to avoid paying their wages. And the whole system worked because sailors in port were so good at wasting their pay anyway; see, e.g., "Gold Watch" [Laws K41] and the numerous references there to songs such as "Maggie May."
Dixie "Shanghai" Brown was a particularly notorious San Francisco boarding master, noted for not only supplying sailors for the whalers but going so far as to lure, rob, or trick sailors into his hands. Even among San Francisco boarding masters (who in this period were little better than slavers), he stood out as a particularly bad seed.
It should be noted that many versions of this song do not mention San Francisco or Brown; they simply tell of how a sailor arrived in port (often Liverpool), got drunk, spent all his money, and had to return to sea. The line "(he must) go to sea once more," however, seems highly characteristic. - RBW
There was an equally notorious Liverpool boarding master called "Rapper" Brown, whose name is often found in British versions of this song. - PJS
Perhaps more about "crimps" -- "Boarding Masters" -- is in order. "The word 'crimp,' which came into the English language in the 1630s, denoted a person actively associated with military and naval recruitment.... By the middle of the nineteenth century crimping had become a civilian occupation. The crimp was now an agent who procured seamen for captains who needed crews. His rewards were numerous. He took the seaman's advance note, if the seaman was leaving port, and discounted it for him. Any debts the seaman had were paid (lodging, clothing, liquor, etc.) and the crimp demanded a fee for himself. Sometimes the ship's captain also paid a fee (known as 'blood money') in order to obtain a crew. The crimp was often the runner of a boarding house proprietor, if not the keeper of the boarding-house himself, or a publican. He usually made a profit whether seamen were embarking, discharging or spending time ashore....
Crimping took place in Australia as it did in most of the principal ports in the northern hemisphere." [G.R. Henning, "Fourpenny Dark and Sixpenny Red" in Labour History, No. 46 (May 1984 (available online by JSTOR)), pp. 52, 54.] - BS
Last updated in version 4.4
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.