Warlike Seamen (The Irish Captain)
DESCRIPTION: Singer's ship sails for the coast of Ireland. They encounter a French ship. They report that they're from Liverpool and they will show the Frenchmen what they're made of. They badly damage the French ship,which surrenders; they drink the captain's health
EARLIEST DATE: 1904 (Reeves/Sharp-TheIdiomOfThePeople)
LONG DESCRIPTION: Singer, a sailor on an English ship with an Irish captain, sails for the coast of (Africa/Ireland). They encounter a French ship, which hails them and demands to know their name and port. They reply that they're from Liverpool (their ship is the, "London", "Lion" or "Marigold") and they will show the Frenchmen what they're made of. They fire the cannons, and the French ship, badly damaged, surrenders; they land in Plymouth and drink the captain's health
KEYWORDS: pride battle fight navy violence ship drink France sailor
Oct 11, 1746 - Battle between the British "Nottingham" and French "Mars"
FOUND IN: Britain(England(Lond,South))
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Reeves/Sharp-TheIdiomOfThePeople 57, "The London, Man of War" (1 text)
Palmer-FolkSongsCollectedBy-Ralph-VaughanWilliams, #70, "Liverpool Play" (1 text, 1 tune)
Copper-ASongForEverySeason, pp. 284-285, "Warlike Seamen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Frank-NewBookOfPirateSongs 29, "Liverpool Play" (1 text, 1 tune)
Bob & Ron Copper, "Warlike Seamen (The Irish Captain)" (on LastDays)
cf. "The French Privateer" (plot, lyrics)
cf. "The Brooklyn" (plot, lyrics)
cf. "The Dolphin" (plot, lyrics)
cf. "The Terrible Privateer" (plot)
cf. "General Armstrong" (form)
NOTES [949 words]: While the second half of this song is identical to that of "The French Privateer," their openings are different, so I've split them. - PJS
Roud lumps them, naturally, and throws in "The Dolphin" (and perhaps others) for good measure.
There is a discussion of this on mudcat.org, which suggests the following:
The captain was not Irish and was not Somerville; he was Philip Saumaurez, and he apparently wrote an early version of this song to praise his own exploit. He was killed in 1747 while serving under Admiral Hawke (for whom see "Bold Hawke"). Thus, although not nearly as popular as, say, "The Dolphin," it would appear that this was the original of the family.
The fight between H.M.S. Nottingham and the French Mars took place on October 11, 1746 (i.e. during the War of the Austrian Succession/The War of Jenkins's Ear).
The de Sausmarez family was from Guernsey (one of the Channel Islands); Philip and his relatives anglicized this as "Saumarez" (Rousham, p. 1).
Saumarez had already gathered a fair bit of attention before the events in this song, though. In 1740, as a lieutenant, he was part of George Anson's long, deadly, but highly profitable voyage around the world, including some time as acting commander of the 8-gun sloop Tryal (Herman, p. 257; Williams, p. 37). After Anson combined his decimated crews on a single ship, it was Saumarez who led the (tiny) boarding party from Anson's Centurion that took over the damaged Spanish treasure ship the Nuestra Senora de Covadonga (called that Cobadonga by Rousham and Heaps, based presumably on Saumarez's spelling), in the process capturing almost a million pounds' worth of treasure (Herman, p. 259). Saumarez then commanded the Covadonga as the British took her back to port in China Williams, p. 166). In human terms, the voyage was a disaster (Anson had lost roughly three-fourths of his 1900 men, mostly due to starvation, death, or the unexplained loss of their ships) -- but it made both Anson and Saumarez famous. It also won Saumarez promotion to captain (despite a squabble between Anson and the Admiralty over whether Anson had the right to make the appointment; Williams, p. 203). That entitled him to command of a major ship. He was made captain of the Nottingham, the ship mentioned in this song; according to Williams, p. 209, it was a 60-gun ship of the line.
"Philip Saumarez was perhaps the most capable and talented of [all Anson's subordinates]... In 1746 he was given his own command in the Nottingham and captured the Mars, one of the most prized French men-of-war, off Cape Clear [on the south coast of Ireland]" (Heaps, p. 258).
"The gruelling hardships of the four year circumnavigation of the Centurion thoroughly exhausted all who survived. When Saumarez had at last recovered a measure of his health... he went on to serve with unusual distinction and commanded his own vessel, the Nottingham, in the war with France. He captured the great French warship the Mars and achieved other notable victories in the short time left to him. In 1747 a cannon ball struck him down as he fought against the French fleet off Finisterre. He was 34 years old" (Heaps, pp. 16-17).
If Saumarez had a fault, it was craving attention -- e.g. he wrote a letter to Anson (although he may not have sent it) arguing that his seamanship on the Tryal had not gained enough recognition (Williams, p. 47). "He was obsessed with the idea of distinguishing himself" (Heaps, p. 16). He sounds like a man willing to blow his own horn. To be fair, he seems to have backed up his fame-seeking:
"In 1746 he was in command of the 60-gun Nottingham. In an engagement of[f] Cape Clear, he captured the Mars, a French man-of-war with 64 guns. The Lords of the Admiralty complimented him for this act of courage and seamanship" (Rousham, p. 45).
Saumarez was credited with designing the first official uniform for British naval officers (Heman, p. 261). "Yet Philip Saumaraz would never wear the uniform he designed. He had died the year before, commanding his ship Nottingham in a furious gun duel off Cape Finisterre against a more heavily armed armed ship of the the line, a French ship this time not Spanish, the 74-gun Intrepide" (Herman, p. 262). According to the surgeon who examined his body after his death, he was dying anyway, despite being not yet forty; something -- probably the privations he had suffered on Anson's voyage -- was causing a deformity and wasting of the lungs (Williams, p. 209).
The Samaurezes were a noteworthy naval family; a relative, James Saumarez (1757-1836) became an admiral and was made a peer. Another Samauraz, James, would be a naval captain in the Napoleonic era. The British named a World War I destroyer leader and a World War II destroyer Saumarez after the family (Wragg, p. 198; Worth, p. 114).
it is interesting that the captain in the Copper Family version of the song is named Somerville; apparently one of the Somervilles (another famous naval family) wrote about the Saumarezes in the 1930s, but I have not seen the work involved.
Although this song has wandered far from its origins in Saumarez's own poem, it still has some images that remind me of Saumarez's writings. For example, Rousham, pp. 40-41, prints some parts of his account of the battle with the Cobadonga:
Our first broadside had a good effect both with his men and rigging.
After near an hour's space we... could observe the officers running about confusedly as if they were preventing the desertion of their men from their quarters.
[T]he ship was surprisingly shattered in her hull, masts, and rigging; the mainmast was half shot through, and few of the shrouds left standing. - RBW
Last updated in version 6.0
- Heaps/Saumarez: Leo Heaps, Log of the Centurion (Based on the original papers of Captain Philip Saumarez on board HMS Centurion, Lord Anson's flagship during his circumnavigation 1740-44), Macmillan, 1973
- Herman: Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, 2004 (I use the 2005 Harper Perennial edition)
- Rousham: Sally Rousham, editor, The Greatest Treasure: Philip Saumarez and the voyage of the Centurion, Guernsey Museums & Galleries, 1994
- Williams: Glyn Williams, The Prize of All the Oceans, 2000 (I use the 2001 Viking Penguin paperback)
- Worth: Richard Worth, Fleets of World War II, Da Capo, 2001
- Wragg: David Wragg, Royal Navy Handbook 1914-1918, Sutton Publishing, 2006
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