Friday 15 April 2011

2: Blood Red Roses

The great Merseyside shantyman Stan Hugill describes this halyard shanty as "a real 'Cape Horner' very popular in Liverpool ships". There are numerous well-informed and interesting debates about both the meaning and the authenticity of the phrase "Blood Red Roses" (see, for example, this discussion at The Mudcat Cafe); and some tend towards thinking it's more historically accurate to sing "Come down you bunch of roses/Come down you red red roses", etc. I'm afraid I'm not informed enough to comment on these debates, I'm just singing this as I learned it at shanty singing sessions.

Many Liverpool ships sailed around the Cape en route to Chile or Peru for the saltpetre and guano trade respectively, as well as to Australia (the picture I use here is of the Clipper Ship Red Jacket of the White Star Line in the ice off Cape Horn, making its return voyage to Liverpool from Australia). The dangers were well known; Dallas Murphy's Rounding Cape Horn tells us that at least 100 ships were lost off Cape Horn between 1850 and 1900, including Liverpool ships such as the Wasdale - and "Lost overboard at sea off Cape Horn" was a familiar turn of phrase in the obituaries of the Liverpool Mercury.

In the Roud folksong index, this is #931

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