Monday, October 26, 2009

Corbitt's Barquentine

Believe it or not, the age of sail had its own soundtrack. Depending on the task at hand, groups of sailors could be heard lustily singing shanties. Each job had its own song and rhythm so that repetitive tasks could be done in an efficient manner. There was a song for hauling ropes, one for turning the capstan and even a few for relaxing with a pint of rum. These songs often follow a call and response form with a shantyman leading the other sailors.

The ship featured in the shanty transcribed at the bottom of this post is an Annapolis Royal vessel called the George E. Corbitt. This vessel of 450 tons was built in Digby in 1874 and she sailed under the Corbitt house flag for a total of fifteen voyages. The firm of AW Corbitt and Son operated from a building located on the lower part of St George Street. For those familiar with Annapolis Royal's geography, King's Theatre can currently be found in the location once occupied by AW Corbitt and Son.

The shanty itself was written by Tom Reynolds of Port Lorne. I like this particular shanty as it gives a good feel for many of the events which the sailors would have to endure. From storms, loading the ship and the discipline of the mate to cleaning the deck and a drunken spree this shanty touches on many aspects of a sailor's life. Locally, one of Reynolds' shipmates, Charles Boudreau of Victoria Beach, is credited with preserving this shanty. The version of the shanty appearing in this post can be found in Age of Sail in Annapolis County 1760-1925 by Peggy Armstrong and Marguerite Wagner.

The image in this post is not the George E. Corbitt nor is this the Corbitt wharf. I have used this image is used to illustrate the form of a barquentine. This vessel is tied to the government wharf (the predecessor of the current wharf in Annapolis Royal) which was located beside the Corbitt wharf. The Corbitt wharf would be found just to the left of this image.

All for now,

Corbitt's Barquentine

Come all you brave Annapolis boys
All I'll tell you what I've seen
on a voyage to Demerarra
in a fancy Barquentine
The thirieth day of August in 1883
The Eva Johnson took our lines
And towed us out to sea.

The two mates picked their watches
And unto us did say
If you don't know your duty, boys
She's the hottest out of the Bay
O Lord, O Lord what have I done?
So bitterly did I scream
That I should be shanghaied on board
Of Corbitt's Barquentine.

The rising sun next morning
Shone on six seamen bold,
And one big dog named Rover
Made seven hands all told
The dog was the chum of the second mate
And when his work was done,
Instead of going forward
He would lie aft in the sun.

I think they were connected
if rightly I may guess,
For neither one spoke English
But they both said yaw for yes.
The wind is to the westward now
She heads across the "Stream"
The angry waves are rolling over
Corbitt's Barquentine.

Our Captain on the quarter
While thirteen days pass by
A sail ahead to windward
One morning did espy.
Now mind your helm carefully
Don't let her swing about
And if the wind holds steady
We soon shall make her out.

It proved to be the Myrtle
With three long days of start
And with a fair and lively breeze
that drove her like a dart.
But now we exchange signals
She's to leeward on our beam
She dips her colours gracefully
to Corbitt's Barquentine.

Oh now we're shoving lumber
And the sweat like rain does pour
Awaiting for eight bells to strike
So we can get on shore.
We then go up to Taggard's Bay
Upon some drunken spree
Or else we're off a-dancin'
At some foreign "Dignatee".

But if our friends could see us
You bet that we'd be shy
For we have sweethearts fore and aft
Although they're on the sly.
Down come a yeller gal
Dressed up like a queen
Inquiring for the steward
of Corbitt's Barquentine.

Now we're loading sugar
and for Boston we are bound
We'll take our sand and canvas
And we'll wash ans scrub her down
And after that is finished
To painting we will go
We are in the hopes when this is done
We'll get our watch below.

Old Neptune he has favoured us
With a fair and lovely breeze
And like a thing endorsed with life
She bounds across the seas.
Old Scotty caught a dolphin
turned yellow, red and green
the blood lies spattered on the deck
of Corbitt's Barquentine.

Now under a goose wing tops'l
With a double reefed mains'l
With head toward the Nor'ard, boys
she rides a furious gale.
If Honest Tom was with us now
To hear those wild winds blow
He'd wish to God that he was out
Of Corbitt's Gundalow.

Our course being west, norwest my boys
If I remember right
With everything all sheeted home
She heads for Boston light.
The sun upon the State House dome
So brightly does it gleam
It glitters forth a welcome
to Corbitt's Barquentine.

Now we sight Nova Scotia's shores
With out-stretched hands exclaim
Like William Tell, "Ye crags and peaks
I'm with you once again",
Then up along the Granville shore
Majestically we sail
We pass Goat Island on our lee
All through the rain and hail.

And now we lay at anchor
Abreast this gay old town,
We'll run aloft St George's cross
and reef the Tory crown.
The people are remarking here
it is their only theme,
There lies the George E. Corbitt
She's a hansome Barquentine.


  1. Is there music to go with this shanty? It would be fun to have it recorded!

  2. I have never heard music for the shanty but the form seems to fit the tune of one that I know. I have been planning to see if one of my friends who sings with the Yarmouth Shantymen knows the tune.

  3. Here is the music


  4. Corbitt’s Barquentine
    lyrics traditional
    music Robert Billard
    F Bb F Bb F C
    Come all you brave Annapolis boys, and I’ll tell you what I’ve seen,
    F Bb F Bb C
    On a voyage to Demerara, in a fancy barquentine.
    F Bb F Bb F C
    The thirtied day of August, In Eighteen hundred and Eighty three,
    F Bb F Bb F C
    The Eva Johnson took our lines, and towed us out to sea.

    F Bb F Bb F C
    O Lord, O Lord, what have I done, so bitterly I did scream,
    F Bb F Bb F C
    “That I should be shanghaied on board, of Corbitt’s Barquentine.”

    F Bb F Bb F C
    The rising sun next morning shone on six seamen bold,
    F Bb F Bb F C
    And one big dog named “Rover”, made seven hands all told.
    F Bb F Bb F C
    The wind is to the westward now she heads across the “Stream”,
    F Bb F Bb F C
    The angry waves are rolling over Corbitts Barquentine.

    F Bb F Bb F C
    Now we sight Nova Scotia’s shores with outstreached arms exclaim,
    F Bb F Bb F C
    Like William Tell, “Ye crags and peaks I’m with you once again.”
    F Bb F Bb F C
    Then up along that Granville Shore majestically we sail,
    F Bb F Bb F C
    We pass Goat Island on our Lee all through the rain and hail.

    F Bb F Bb F C
    And now we lie at anchor abreats this gay old town,
    F Bb F Bb F C
    We’ll run aloft St George’s Cross and reef Tory Crown.
    F Bb F Bb F C
    The people are remarking here it’s their only theme,
    F Bb F Bb F C
    “There lies the “George E. Corbitt, she’s a handsome barquentine.”