Cruel Ship's Carpenter, The (The Gosport Tragedy; Pretty Polly) [Laws P36A/B]

DESCRIPTION: The carpenter gets the girl pregnant. They meet, allegedly to plan their wedding. He announces he spent the night digging her grave, then murders her. He flees to sea; her ghost follows to demand justice. His crime is revealed, and the man dies
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1767 (Journal from the Vaughn)
KEYWORDS: homicide burial ghost pregnancy betrayal sailor
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South),Scotland) US(Ap,MA,SE) Canada(Mar,Newf)
REFERENCES (31 citations):
Laws P36A, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter A (The Gosport Tragedy)/The Cruel Ship's Carpenter B (Pretty Polly)"
Williams-Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 318, "Johnny, the Ship's Carpenter" (1 text)
Roud/Bishop-NewPenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs #117, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" (1 text, 1 tune)
Greig/Duncan2 201, "The Gosport Tragedy" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
Carey-MarylandFolkloreAndFolklife, pp. 59-61, "The Gospels of Libby" (1 text, with the title being a clear corruption of "Gosport City")
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 64, "The Gosport Tragedy" (3 texts plus 1 excerpt and mention of 1 more; Laws lists the "A" text as P36A, and the rest as P36B, but "D" and probably "C" are "Pretty Polly (II)")
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore4 64, "The Gosport Tragedy" (3 excerpts, 3 tunes; the "C" version is probably "Pretty Polly" and the others Laws P36B)
Morris-FolksongsOfFlorida, #183, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" (1 text)
Cox/Hercog/Halpert/Boswell-WVirginia-A, #17A-C, pp. 73-78, "Pretty Polly," "Come, Polly, Pretty Polly" (2 texts plus an excerpt, 2 tunes; the "A" text is the full "Cruel Ship's Carpenter" version; "B" is the short "Pretty Polly (II)"; the "C" fragment is too short to tell but has lyrics more typical of the latter)
Creighton/Senior-TraditionalSongsOfNovaScotia, pp. 114-120, "The Ship's Carpenter" (4 texts, 2 tunes)
Fowke/MacMillan-PenguinBookOfCanadianFolkSongs 70, "The Ship's Carpenter" (1 text, 1 tune)
Peacock, pp. 404-406, "The Ship's Carpenter" (1 text, 1 tune)
Karpeles-FolkSongsFromNewfoundland 27, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" (1 text, 1 tune)
Mackenzie-BalladsAndSeaSongsFromNovaScotia 29, "The Gaspard Tragedy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 698-700, "The Gosport Tragedy" (2 texts, but the second goes with "Pretty Polly (II)")
Leach-HeritageBookOfBallads, pp. 147-148, "Pretty Polly" (1 text, 1 tune) on p. 203
Cambiaire-EastTennesseeWestVirginiaMountainBallads, pp. 74-75, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter (Pretty Polly)" (1 text, with the moralizing ending in which the ship sinks but no ghost)
Scarborough-ASongCatcherInSouthernMountains, pp. 128-134, collectively titled "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" but with individual titles "Pretty Polly," "Dying Polly," "Pretty Polly," "Pretty Polly," "Pretty Polly," "Oh, Polly!" (6 texts; 5 tunes on pp. 395-398; of these only the "C" text has a ghost; in "D" and "E" there is no ghost but Willie's ship sinks; the others by our criteria are versions of "Pretty Polly (II)")
Sharp-EnglishFolkSongsFromSouthernAppalachians 49, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" (21 texts, 21 tunes -- but many of them, being fragmentary, could as easily be classified under "Pretty Polly (II)")
Sharp/Karpeles-EightyEnglishFolkSongs 36, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" (1 text, 1 tune)
Karpeles-TheCrystalSpring 77, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" (1 text, 1 tune)
Huntington-SongsTheWhalemenSang, pp. 129-131, "The Ship Carpenter" (1 text, long but broken off just before the murder, 1 tune)
Leach-FolkBalladsSongsOfLowerLabradorCoast 20, "Pretty Polly" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Manny/Wilson-SongsOfMiramichi 92, "The Ship's Carpenter" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ashton-RealSailorSongs, #86 insert, "The Gosport Tragedy or The Perjured Ship-Carpenter" (1 text)
Forget-Me-Not-Songster, pp. 232-235, "The Gosport Tragedy" (1 text)
Olson-BroadsideBalladIndex, ZN1429, "In Gosport of late there a damsel did dwell"
ADDITIONAL: John Ashton, _A Century of Ballads_, Elliot Stock, London, 1887; reprinted 1968 by Singing Tree Press, pp. 101-105, "The Gosport Tragedy, or The Perjured Ship Carpenter" (1 text)
Leslie Shepard, _The Broadside Ballad_, Legacy Books, 1962, 1978, p. 149, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" (reproduction of a broadside page with "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" and "Death of Lord Nelson")
Frank Harte _Songs of Dublin_, second edition, Ossian, 1993, p. 24, "Miss Brown" (1 text, 1 tune, short enough that it might be any of several murder ballads, but some of the material seems characteristic of this song)

Roud #15
Harry Cox, "In Worcester City" (on Voice17)
Din Dobbin, "Pretty Polly" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
Sam Larner, "The Ghost Ship" (on SLarner02)
Joshua Osborne, "The Ship's Carpenter" (on PeacockCDROM) [one verse only]
Mike Waterson, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" (on ESFB2)

Bodleian, Harding B 28(267), "Love and Murder" ("In Worcester town, and in Worcestershire"), W. Armstrong (Liverpool), 1820-1824; also Harding B 25(1156), Harding B 28(285), Harding B 28(24), "Love and Murder"; Harding B 11(3053A), "Polly Love" or "The Cruel Ship-Carpenter"; Johnson Ballads 458, Harding B 11(3057), Harding B 11(3058), Harding B 11(3056), Harding B 11(49), Firth c.13(205), Harding B 25(1520), "Polly's Love" or "The Cruel Ship Carpenter[!]"; Harding B 15(74b), Firth c.13(290), "The Cruel Ship Carpenter"; Harding B 11(824), "The Cruel Ship-Carpenter"; Harding B 3(33), "The Gosport Tragedy" or "The Perjured Ship-Carpenter"; Harding B 3(34), "The Gosport Tragedy" or "The Perjured Ship Carpenter"
cf. esp. "Pretty Polly (II)" (a much-reduced form of this ballad which as now sung has a different plot)
cf. "The Sailor and the Ghost [Laws P34A/B]"
cf. "Pat O'Brien" [Laws P39]
cf. "Captain Glen/The New York Trader (The Guilty Sea Captain A/B)" [Laws K22] and references there
cf. "Willie Was As Fine a Sailor"
cf. "The Fog-bound Vessel" (parody of this)
Willie and Nancy of Yarmouth
NOTES [167 words]: Although there is no clear dividing line between the full ballad "The Gosport Tragedy" and the drastically shortened form "Pretty Polly," the latter has now clearly taken on a life of its own. I tend to distinguish them by the presence or absence of the ghost.
Beth S. H. Brooks, "'Pretty Polly': A History of a Folk Song," article in Missouri Folklore Society Journal, Volume 27-28 (cover date 2005-2006, but published 2015), pp. 125-145, on p. 127 gives a sketch genealogy of the history of this song, starting with a 1720 broadside, "The Gosport Tragedy, or, The Perjur'd Ship-Carpenter," which was the direct source of "The Gosport Tragedy." This split into two lines of descent, the smaller family being Laws P36A, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter," the larger being "Pretty Polly," including Laws P36B. Brooks then classified some fifty versions of "Pretty Polly" into a "Standard Version" (18 examples), those with an "Altered Tune" (14 examples), and those with "Altered Lyrics" (18 examples). - RBW
Last updated in version 6.0
File: LP36

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