This is a short-haul chantey most often sung by Tim. It was collected from “Dick” Maitland, a resident of Sailor’s SnugHarbor, by William Main Doerflinger and published in his book “Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman”. There are many variations which abound; Tim’s is below. We are indeed aware that Napoleon was first exiled to the Italian island of Elba, but escaped in 1815, returned to power, lost this next war and was then exiled to Ste-Helena… But folk songs do not always reflect history accurately! Dick Maitland commented on it – “On British ships this was usually sung in sort of a jeering tone – as you know, the British and the French never did get on well together!”
The song is, as most work songs, meant to be sung at a slow tempo, with the pull by the hands when they utter the words “yah!” and again on the syllable “çois!”, but when Tim presents it at our venues, he performs it as really all chanteys are performed – up tempo for the audience.
Call and response, the chorus part in italic…
Boney was a warrior – Way, hey, yah!
A warrior and tarrier – John Fran-çois!
Now Boney fought the Rooshians – Way, hey, yah!
The Austrians and Prooshians – John Fran-çois!
Now Boney marched to Mos-ciow – Way,
And lost his army in the snow – John
We met him in Trafalgar’s bay –
And blew his topmast clean away –
He met the Duke of Wellington –
That day his downfall had begun –
We sent him off to Saint Helena –
But Boney he came back again –
We forced him into ex-ile –
He died on Saint Helena’s isle –