Keeper of the Eddystone Light, The

DESCRIPTION: The singer's father, the keeper of the Eddystone Light, had three children by a mermaid. Now he is gone (deserted? eaten by cannibals?). The boy meets his mother, who asks of her children; they live the troubled lives of half-humans
AUTHOR: J. London (source: 1866 sheet music)
EARLIEST DATE: 1866 (sheet music; said to have been performed by Arthur Lloyd)
KEYWORDS: humorous father mother mermaid/man animal reunion
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Bronner/Eskin-FolksongAlivePart1 7, "Keeper of the Eddystone Light" (1 text, 1 tune)
Grigson-PenguinBookOfBallads 120, "The Keeper of the Eddystone Light" (1 text)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 27, "Eddystone Light" (1 text)

Roud #22257
cf. "Caviar Comes from Virgin Sturgeon" (theme)
NOTES [312 words]: The Eddystone Light is famous for representing a revolutionary design. It was the first lighthouse designed as a smooth cylinder -- important because it would help the lighthouse survive heavy seas and storms. Most later lighthouses, of course, have followed this design.
The song seems to have had a curious history. The earliest version I know apart from the sheet music is in a Harvard songbook from 1889, and it closely resembles "The Man at the Nore" as learned by Cyril Tawney from fellow sailors (the chorus runs "A jolly story lightly told, How the winds they blew and the waves they rolled, Down at the bottom of the deep blue sea You'll find the proof of my veracity." This fits the "Man at the Nore" tune but cannot be sung to the "Yo Ho Ho" melody. The verses also match "The Man at the Nore").
[Credit to Malcolm Douglas and John Patrick for digging up the sheet music and Harvard songster.]
But "The Man at the Nore" is now very rare, despite an excellent tune. Most people know the "Yo ho ho!" version, perhaps because it was popularized by Burl Ives. This version is among the most-parodied songs of all time. I know of "The Keeper of the London Zoo," "The Keeper of the Asteroid Light," and I've heard hints of others.
Is it possible that one of these is a deliberate rewrite of the other? Collections in tradition are few (apart from Tawney's), making it a bit unlikely that such drastic changes came about due simply to oral transmission.
Richard Dyer-Bennet has been credited with creating the final verse of the common version ("The phosphorus flashed in her seaweed hair..." -- bad science, incidentally, since there is almost no free phosphorus in the ocean; it's a necessary chemical for life, but not very common; every atom finds a home in some creature's DNA. Many ocean creatures are, of course, phosphorescent -- but not due to phosphorus). - RBW
Last updated in version 5.0
File: PBB120

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 2022 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.