The Union From St. John's (Collected by Kenneth Peacock) with lyrics
See also: The Union From St. John's (Anita Best and Pamela Morgan)
And also: The Wreck Of The St. John (Collected by MacEdward Leach)
Ye landsmen that live on the land,
Come listen to what I write;
While ploughing on the raging main,
I always took delight.
You'll stay on shore with your pretty girls,
Telling to them fine tales;
But the hardest labour that ever you done,
Was to plant and reap your fields.
'Twas the eighteenth day of November last,
The heaviest gale came on;
The heavens above looked angry,
And the clouds overcast the sun.
The winds being south-by-east, my b'ys,
With heavy showers of hail;
The night being so dark as a dungeon,
'Twas on the lee shore she fell.
Our captain he gave orders,
His orders for to obey;
He said, "You had better get forward, my b'ys,
Your foresail to lower away."
We tried to reef our mainsail,
But that could not be done;
It's under a three-reef foresail, my b'ys,
Five lengths of a sea she run.
Two hours in that condition,
We had no means to stay;
To see the seas come tumbling down,
A wreck she continued to lay.
Once more she slowly rises,
Which causes all hands to say:
"God bless our little vessel, my b'ys
Once more she heads the sea."
About two o'clock in the morning,
We received a dreadful shock;
The vessel on her beam-ends lay,
Three miles below Bellow's Rock.
We boarded the wreck in the morning,
What a pitiful sight to behold!
Three frozen seamen lashed to the pumps,
While six in her cabin lay cold.
They're all as hardy young fellows,
As ever you could find;
Like heroes brave they fought the waves,
Like British heroes died.
She is the Union from St. John's,
Right well I know her mould;
And every time as I think on this,
It makes my blood run cold.
She is the Union from St. John's,
Right well I know her name;
And every night as I lay on my bed,
I hear these young widows complain.
But now they're gone, God bless them,
My b'ys, your day is done;
A widow may weep for her husband dear,
While a mother her darling son.
####.... Author unknown. Traditional Newfoundland ballad ....####
Collected in 1958 from Arthur Nicolle of Rocky Harbour, NL, by Kenneth Peacock and published in Songs Of The Newfoundland Outports, Volume 3, pp.978-980, by The National Museum Of Canada (1965) Crown Copyrights Reserved.
A variant was collected in 1951 from Francis O'Brien of Trepassey, NL, and published as The Wreck Of The St. John in MacEdward Leach And The Songs Of Atlantic Canada © 2004 Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA).
Two variants were collected, one in 1976 from Moses Harris of Lethbridge, and one in 1980 from Pius Power, Sr. of Southeast Bight, NL, by Genevieve Lehr and Anita Best and published as #112, The Wreck Of The Union in Come And I Will Sing You: A Newfoundland Songbook, pp.190-193, edited by Genevieve Lehr (University of Toronto Press © 1985/2003).
Genevieve Lehr noted that an American broadside ballad The Wreck Of The Brig Union was discovered by Fannie Hardy Eckstrom and Mary Winslow Smyth and printed in their book Minstrelsy of Maine in 1927. According to them, the song was written in the early 1800s. However, the ship could possibly have been from Newfoundland since there were two (and possibly more) wrecks recorded of ships named the Union from Newfoundland around that time. Lehr also noted that Mr. Power's version is the closest of the two to the original broadside, which has Mount Desert's Rock instead of Mount Bernard Rock. Mr. Power learned the song from his Uncle Dave Brewer when he was but a child of nine or ten. 'When Uncle Dave got a drop in, this was the song he would always sing ... it was the only one he had.'
GEST notes that the Moses Harris variant dates the gale as 18 November, the same as Arthur Nicolle's variant, while Pius Power, Sr. dates the gale as 14 January. The date does not correspond, so whether or not it pertains to the Union in this song is questionable, but a page-long column in an old St. John's newspaper, entitled Memorable Springs and Other Information, Seal Fishery, has the following to say concerning the year 1833: "Celebrated for the loss of the schooner Union, Capt. Jno. Delaney, with a picked crew of 28 men from Trinity; built by Charles Newhook of New Harbour for Jno. B. Garland, merchant; capsized while under full sail. April 23rd, the schooners Active and Avon took some of her seals and towed her for 2 days, but had to let her go."
Source: Monograph entitled Newhook Master Shipbuilders by N. C. Crewe, Research Officer, Newfoundland Archives, St. John's, 28 May 1965.
See more songs about Newfoundland and Labrador shipwrecks.