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When I was a bachelor about sixteen I followed a roving trade,
And many a slighting trick I played on many a comely maid;
Until my parents came to know that I would spend their store,
And they resolved that I would sail on board of a man-of-war.
When I got on board of that gallant ship then I began to steer,
Our admiral gave the word of command, saying, "Stay no longer here."
They weighed their anchor, shook out sail, and off they bore me straight,
To watch the foe in storm and gale, on board a ninety-eight.
Before we reached near Columbia's shore we had many a heavy drill,
They soon learned me an easier way for to handle an iron pill;
It was not long when fight took place, we British tars lay straight,
What would I give if I could have run from on board of the ninety-eight.
'Twas in the battle of Trafalgar where Nelson fought and fell,
'Twas in that bloody, daring battle where I done my duty well;
I done my duty, served my King, now I must bless my fate,
For damn that I'm too old to sail, for I'm almost ninety-eight.
Collected in 1958 from Everett Bennett of St. Paul's, NL, by Kenneth Peacock and published in Songs Of The Newfoundland Outports, Volume 3, pp.1012-1013, by the National Museum of Canada (1965) Crown Copyrights Reserved.
Kenneth Peacock noted that a variant of this rather rare ballad was collected in Norfolk by Vaughan Williams early in the 20th century and appeared with piano accompaniment in Folk Songs From The Eastern Counties (Novello, 1908). This text completes the third and fourth missing lines in Peacock's published second verse with those collected in 1905 by Vaughan Williams and published as On Board a Ninety-Eight in The Journal Of The Folk Song Society (1906).
A ninety-eight refers to a wooden battleship with 98 cannons in Admiral Nelson's navy. At the battle of Trafalgar there were four ninety-eights: HMS Temeraire, Dreadnought, Neptune, and Prince.