Swiler's Song, The
DESCRIPTION: "Rise up me hearties with gaff and sculp, With hobnail rope and line." The singer repeatedly encourages his comrades in their tasks as they hunt seals. He admits that "many a hearty swiler sleeps 'round the Funks and Baccalieu," but still urges them on
AUTHOR: Words: Pat Byrne
EARLIEST DATE: 1978 (Ryan/Small)
KEYWORDS: hunting nonballad
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Ryan/Small, pp. 144-145, "The Swiler's Song" (1 text, tune referenced)
cf. "The Sinking of the Caribou" (tune)
cf. "Spancil Hill" (tune)
NOTES [226 words]: This is supposed to be sung to the tune of "The Sinking of the Caribou," which I assume is the song indexed as "The Loss of the Caribou." Which would make the actual tune be "Spancil Hill."
"Swilers" are of course sealers, and "swiles" are seals.
"Old Man Kean" is Captain Abram Kean, the only captain to take a million seals in his lifetime; for him, see "Captain Abram Kean."
The description of the fleet as a "floating hell" is pretty apt; the sealing schooners served for decades, carrying far too many men; George Allan England, in his bookVikings of the Ice: Being the Log of a Tenderfoot on the Great Newfoundland Seal Hunt (also published as The Greatest Hunt in the World), Doubleday, 1924, declared more than once that the ship he sailed on (the Terra Nova, under none other than Abram Kean) should have been "condemned" after her thirty-odd years of service, but she kept going to the ice for another two decades.
The "main patch" is the sealer's term for the area of the ice where the largest share of the harp seals went to bear their young -- the baby seals known as "whitecoats" after the color of their fur for their first few weeks.
To "sculp" is to cut off the hide and the attached fat (the fat was, for many years, the most valuable part, because it could be made into a very useful oil); the hide plus fat was itself a "sculp." - RBW
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