This song was written about the action between the HMS Nymphe and the French Frigate Cleopatre in June 1793. As a song its language is so much simpler than some of the grandiloquent ‘high-brow’ poems which were written at the time about Pellew’s exploits and would have had an appeal and accessibility to a whole different range of listeners.
“The beautiful working-songs and shanties of the merchant ships had no place in the Royal Navy, which was a silent service. But even so, there was music aboard a man-of-war: when grog was served out the ship’s fifer or fiddler played ‘Nancy Dawson’ or ‘Sally in our Alley’; when the men were drummed to quarters it was to the tune of ‘Heart of Oak’; and when the anchor was being weighed the fiddler sat on the capstan and struck up ‘Drops of Brandy’. And then of course there were the songs and ballads the sailors sang, particularly on Saturday night at sea. This is a homemade ballad, one of the many composed and sung by sailors.”
From “Men-of-War -Life in Nelson’s Navy” by Patrick O’Brian, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1974.
Come all you British heroes, listen to what I say;
‘Tis of a noble battle that was fought the other day;
And such a sharp engagement we hardly ever knew;
Our officers were valiant and our sailors so true.
The La Nymphe was our frigate and she carried a valiant crew,
With thirty-six twelve pounders, that made the French to rue.
At Daylight in the morning the French hove in sight;
Captain Pellew he commanded us in this fight.
Full forty eighteen-pounders we had for to engage;
The French they thought to confound us, they seemed so much enrag’d.
Our Captain cried, “Be steady boys, and well supply each gun;
We’ll take this haughty Frenchman, or force her for to run!
The action then began, my boys, with shot on every side;
They thought her weight of metal would soon subdue our pride.
I think the second broadside her captain he was slain,
And many a valiant Frenchman upon the decks were lain.
We fought her with such fury, made every shot to tell,
And thirteen brave seamen in our ship there fell,
Tho’ forty-five minutes was the time this fight did last,
The French ship lost her tiller and likewise her mizen mast.
Then yard arm and yard arm we by each other lay,
And sure such noble courage to each other did display;
We form’d a resolution to give the French a check,
And instantly we boarded her off the quarter-deck.
Her colours being struck, my boys, she then became our prize,
And our young ship’s company subdued our enemies,
Altho’ they were superior in metal and in men.
Of such engagements you may seldom hear again.
And now in Portsmouth Harbour our prize is safely moored.
Success to all brave sailors that enter now on board;
A health to Captain Pellew, and all his sailors bold,
Who value more their honour than misers do their gold.
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