44 - Leave her Johnny

Words by Traditional
Tune by Traditional

This shanty could be used at the pumps or the capstan, but had a more famous function as the last song of the voyage. Shantysingers had protected status on the ship compared to other sailors. Although they were a non ranking sailor, they made the ship far more efficient and were the main source of entertainment for the long months of sailing. They were in sufficiently short supply and sufficiently important that they could criticise the ship without being punished. Throughout the voyages, their fellow sailors would share their objections to any aspect of the journey - the destination, the food, the captain and other officers. Once the ship was warping in through the locks or sailing down the river to approach the pier head the shanty singer would let rip with this song, finally airing months of pent up frustrations. As such, every time this song was sung would have been different to match the specific anger of the ship. The verses listed below are not a command, and if you sang them all you'd be here a very long while. Rather, pick and choose your favourites. Or better still, write some yourself about whatever's grinding your gears - the patriarchy, the government, rival pubs, viola players etc.

I thought I heard the Old Man say
Leave her, Johnny, leave her
You can go ashore and take your pay
And it’s time for us to leave her

Leave her, Johnny, leave her
Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her
For the voyage was long and the winds did blow
And it’s time for us to leave her

Oh her stern was foul and the voyage was long
The winds was bad and the gales was strong

Oh the times was hard and the wages low
And the grub was bad and the gales did blow

Oh the Captain swears and the mate does too,
If you were there then you’d swear too

We swear by rote for want of more,
But now we’re through and go to shore

Oh God I hate this fucking tub,
It’s a rotten ship with rotten grub,

It’s pump or drown, the old man said,
Or else, by Christ, we’ll all be dead.

No more Cape Horn, no more stand by,
We’ll pump 'er out and we’ll leave 'er dry.

Oh a dollar a day is Jack shite pay,
To pump all night and pump all day

And the captain was bad but the mate was worse,
He could blow you down with a sigh and a curse

Oh the wind was foul and the sea ran high,
She shipped it green and none went by.

Oh the wind was foul, all work, no pay,
To Liverpool docks from Frisco Bay.

There’s maggots in the beef and grubs in the bread,
I wish the quartermaster was dead

We’d be better off in a nice clean gaol,
Will all night in and plenty of ale.

She’s poverty-stricken and parish-rigged,
And the bloomin’ crowd is fever-stricked.

Oh how I hate Theresa May,
When she’s booted out I’ll sing ‘hurray’

Oh the rats are gone and we the crew,
It’s damned high time we left 'er too.

And now it’s time to say goodbye
For the old pierhead’s a-drawing nigh