The East Indiaman

Here’s a “roof-raiser” that is most recently associated with the wonderful singer/song-writer Tom Lewis and one he recorded on his album “Mixed Cargo”. He tells of having learned this song from Johnny Collins, who in turn had collected it from Keith Kendrick, and who had found it in a BBC publication for songs to be sung at school “Sing Together” (one issue of many published annually, it seems, under the same name for the same purpose but featuring different sings each time). It is unknown as to who actually composed this song although it is attributed to “an old Royal Navy tar” and was entitled “The Illy Ally Oh”.  There is already a children’s nursery rhyme song that the Clancy Brothers pointed out from their youth in which the “illy ally oh” was a metaphor for the sea. “There’s a big ship sailing on the illy ally oh; the illy ally oh; the illy ally oh…”  Some sources point to the “ally” as the Atlantic Ocean specifically.  Perhaps in order to make the distinction is why Tom refers to it as “The East Indiaman”.

Jos. Morneault


Many’s the time I’ve sung this song when the wind’s been blowing half-a-gale,
Hoisting up a yard or shaking out a reef or hauling on the sheets of a sail,
I’ve shipped on board of a man-of-war, in the Merchant Service too,
I’ve fought for m’ King and m’ country while I’ve sailed on the ocean blue.

Illy, ally, illy, ally, oh – cheerily, boys, cheerily,
Bend your backs and give a pull, cheerily I say (I say!),
With a long pull and a strong pull we’ll haul away together, boys,
Belay every inch of that, belay, boys, belay.

On a bright May day we sailed away on a big East India ship,
Though it’s many, many years ago, m’ boys, I’ll not forget that trip,
We said “goodbye” to Portsmouth quay, to Susan, Kate and Jane,
And we hadn’t been a’sailing but an hour or more when we joined in the old refrain:

Now I’m back from the sea again, gonna’ put down m’ roots on the shore,
Have a bit of a spell with m’ long-haired gel, she’s the one I do adore,
But there’s no doubt, should a war break-out, and seamen be required again,
I’ll join with m’ crew, m’ duty for to do and we’ll join in the old refrain.