Soon May the Wellerman Come
DESCRIPTION: "There was a ship that put to sea, And the name of the ship was the Billy of Tea." The captain spots a whale and sets out to take it. The boats are lost, but the captain will not give up the pursuit even after forty days. The Wellerman visits with supply
EARLIEST DATE: 1969/70 (collected from Frank Woods, according to Colquhoun-NZ-Folksongs-SongOfAYoungCountry)
KEYWORDS: whaler ship hardtimes
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Colquhoun-NZ-Folksongs-SongOfAYoungCountry, p. 17, "Soon May the Wellerman Come" (1 text, 1 tune) (p. 10 in the 1972 edition)
Garland-FacesInTheFirelight-NZ, pp. 48, "(Soon May the Wellerman Come)" (1 excerpt)
Tommy Wood, "Soon May the Wellerman Come" (on NZSongYngCntry)
NOTES [318 words]: Gordon McLauchlan, editor-in-chief, New Zealand Encyclopedia, David Bateman Limited, 1984, p. 593: "WELLER BROTHERS, Edward, George, and Joseph, were among the earliest N[ew] Z[ealand]-based whalers, the first permanent European settlers on Otago Peninsula, and the first merchants to attempt to establish a trade between the South Island and England. They were recorded as having arrived in NZ from Sydney in 1831, aboard their ship carrying gunpowder and muskets, grog, whaling equipment, clothing and stores, and they quickly established whaling stations in the South Island and set up trade links between NZ and Sydney.... [Because of export duties,] by the early 1840s they had abandoned Otago.... [After suffering a lack of success in Australian land speculation,] One of the Wellers, Joseph, had died in Otago in 1835, and Edward and George disappeared from NZ following the rejection of their land claims and were not heard of again."
The Weller Brothers operation was a Sydney-based company which ran a shore-based whaling syndicate. Since they were shore-based, the ships were supplied from shore rather than carrying supplies for long trips. So the Wellerman came to bring the sailors what they needed for their work. My understanding is that it was very hard to leave the employ of the shore whalers, which would explain the plot of this song, where the whalers could not escape the captain's obsession with the whale.
When this song became an odd internet hit at the end of 2020, a number of commentators observed a similarity to a 1971 recording, "The Lightning Tree," by the Settlers. This is only a year and a bit after Neil Colquhoun reported collecting the song, and a year before he published it. The Tommy Wood recording is from about the same time. Colquhoun usually admitted to making up tunes when he did so, but could his source, but could source Frank Woods have heard the song? - RBW
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