Eight Bells

This great little English forebitter was first brought to my attention by Beth Colley of Canton, CT.  It is supposedly from the 1870s and it does have melodic similarity to little folk songs of that era, but I have yet to see a specific source from then.  It is closely associated with Stan Hugill who published a rendition of it in his 1963 “The Bosun’s Locker”, and Hultonclint comments that while Stan refers to it as a “whaling song” it is in the voice of a woman, citing her husband’s experiences.  He points out that it can be found in “Davis and Tozer’s third edition (1891)… with one additional verse and a slightly different melody.”  The inspiration for sailors of songs to sing came from many and varied sources, so despite its origins it is surely believable as one to have been adopted by sailors and likely even adapted for more “off colour” lyrics; I have adapted the chorus for pub singing, as one can see below.

Jos. Morneault

            F                                   C
Oh, me husband’s a saucy foretop man
          F                 C                     F
Oh, a chum of the cook, don’t ye know
     F                                              C
He put his head down the cook’s funnel
            C                                    F
An’ he shouted “Come up from below”


          F                                      Bb                                       F                   C                F
Eight bells, (eight bells!) eight bells (eight bells!). Rouse out there the watch from below!
          F                                      Bb                                       F                   C                 F
Eight bells, (eight bells!) eight bells (eight bells!). Rouse out there the watch from below!


My husband he shipped in a whaler
An’ he sailed to the far northern seas
An’ bein’ a bold-hearted sailor
He cared not for ice, sea, nor breeze

When up in the hoops he wuz dandy
At sightin’ a whale – “There she blows!”
When out in the whaleboat wuz handy
A smarter young tar never rowed!

At the end of his watch, oh his fancy
Wuz to git to his bunk quickly-O
For he wanted to dream o’his Nancy
So he shouted “Come up from below”

An’ now he’s no longer a sailor
He often wakes up in the night
Thinkin’ he’s still on that whaler
Shouts out with the greatest delight!


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