Sealing Fifty Years Ago
DESCRIPTION: "'Four hundred sail of shipping fine Could then be seen at anchor Awaiting time to fall in line And for a sou'west spanker." Fifty years ago, they caught 600,000 seals a year; now, they catch half as much "with hearts not half so gay."
AUTHOR: James Murphy
EARLIEST DATE: 1901 (The Duke of York Songster and Christmas Advertiser)
KEYWORDS: hunting nonballad hardtimes recitation
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Ryan/Small, p. 63, "Sealing Fifty Years Ago" (1 text)
NOTES [198 words]: The "Terry" of this song is probably Captain Terrance Holleran, for whom see "Captain Bill Ryan Left Terry Behind." No steam sealer had a captain named "Holley" -- but there might well have been a sailing skipped by that name; as the song correctly notes, there had been about 400 sealing schooners around 1850, when the seals were still present in such large numbers that even small ships could collectively bring in half a million pelts a year. By 1901, when this song was published, just nineteen steamers went to the ice, and their total haul was less than 350,000 (see Levi George Chafe, Chafe's Sealing Book: A History of the Newfoundland Sealfishery from the Earliest Available Records Down To and Including the Voyage of 1923, third edition, Trade Printers and Publishers, Ltd., 1923 (PDF scan available from Memorial University of Newfoundland), p. 63), even though the steamers were much better at bringing in seals than the old sealing schooners.
It's not as clear to me that the sealers were actually less happy on the steamers than in the age of sail, but certainly there were fewer of them, making it harder to get a sealing job, which presumably led to competition. - RBW
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