Lyrics for The Great Leviathan: Traditional Songs of Whaling

The Whale-catchers

On the twenty third of March me boys,
We hoisted our sail,
Crying, ‘Heaven above protect us
With a sweet and a pleasant gale.'
We never was down-hearted
Nor let our courage fail,
As we bore away up to Greenland
Looking out for the Greenland whale,
Looking out for the Greenland whale.

And when we came to Greenland
Where the bitter winds do blow,
We tacked about all in the north
Among the frost and snow.
Our fingertips was frozen off
And likewise our toenails,
As we crawled about all on the deck
Looking out for the Greenland whale. (repeat)

And when we come to the Davis Strait
Where the icebergs float with snow,
We tacked about both night and day
Till we heard the whale fish blow.
And when we get that whale fish boys
Then homeward we will steer;
We'll make the valleys ring me boys
To the drinking of strong beer.
We'll make them lofty alehouses
In London town to roar.
And when our money is all spent
To Greenland go for more brave boys. (repeat)

The Weary Whaling Grounds

Oh if I had the wings of a gull me boys
I would spread them and fly home.
I would leave old Greenland 's icy grounds
For of Right whales there are none.
And the weather's rough and the winds do blow
And there's little comfort here.
I'd sooner be snug in a Deptford pub,
A-drinking of strong beer.

Oh! A man must be mad or want money bad
For to venture catching whales,
For we all may be drowned when the fish turns around,
Or our heads be smashed by his tail.
Though the work seems grand to the young green hand
And his heart is high when he goes,
In a very short burst he'll as soon hear a curse
At the cry of ‘There she blows.'

‘All hands on deck now for Christ's sake!
Move quickly if you can.'
And he stumbles on the deck so dizzy and sick
For his life he don't give a damn.
And high overhead the great flukes spread
As the mate gives the whale the iron.
And soon the blood in a purple flood
From the spout-hole comes a-flying.

These trials we bear for nigh four year
Till the flying jib points for home;
We're supposed for our toil to get a bonus on the oil
And an equal share of the bone,
But we go to the agent to settle for the trip
And we find we have cause to repent,
For we've slaved away four years of our lives
And we've earned about three pounds ten.

The Coast of Peru

Come all ye young whalermen that's rounded Cape Horn ,
Come all ye bold sailors that follow the sperm;
Our captain he has told us and we all believe it's true,
There's plenty of sperm-whales on the Coast of Peru .

‘Twas early one morning just as the sun rose,
The man in our mainmast sings out, ‘Thar she blows'
‘Where away,' says our skipper, ‘And where do she lay?'
‘Three points to yer eastward, not a mile away.'

‘Then lower yer boats me boys and after him we'll travel,
But if you gets too near his tail, he'll kick yer to the devil,
Lay on with yer oar boys and let yer boats fly.
But one thing we dread of, stay clear of his eye.

Our waist boats went down me boys, and we made a good start,
‘Lay on' says the harpooneer, ‘For I'm hell for the long dart.'
The harpoon it struck and the whale sped away,
But one thing he done me boys, he showed us fair play.

For he raced and he sounded and he stood on his fin,
But we drew him along-side and we got our lance in,
Which caused him to vomit and the blood for to spout,
And in ten minutes time me boys he'd rolled both fins out.

We had him turned over then and layed alongside,
Then over with our blubber hooks to rob him of his hide,
We began cutting in boys and then trying out,
And the mate in our main-chains, how loud he did shout.

But now we're bound for Tumbes in our manly power,
Where a man buys a whore-house for a barrel of tar,
We'll spend all our money on them pretty girls ashore,
And when it's all gone me boys, go a-whaling for more.

Talcahuano Girls

Oh I've bin a sea-cook and I've bin a clipperman.
I can dance, I can sing, I can walk the jib-boom.
I can handle a harpoon and cut a fine figure
Whenever I get in a boat standing room.

Chorus. We'll rant and we'll roar like true born young whalermen,
We'll rant and we'll roar on deck and below;
Until we see bottom inside the two sinkers
And straight up the channel to Westcombe we'll go.

I was in Talcahuano last year in a whaler
And I bought some gold watches from the girls in the bay,
I bought me a pipe and they called it a Meersham,
But it melted like butter on an ‘ot shiny day.

There's plenty of girls in old Talcahuano,
There's plenty of damsels as fine as you wish;
There was one little darling a-chewing terbacca,
Just like a young kitten a-chewing fresh fish.

Farewell to you gals of old Talcahuano,
Farewell to you maidens of far off Maui.
Oh, don't you be sorry, don't be melancholy,
I can't marry you all - or in chokey I'll be.

Rolling Down to Old Maui

It's an ample share of toil and care we whaler-men undergo,
Through many the blow of frost and hale and bitter squalls of snow;
Those horrid isles of ice-capped tiles that deck the Polar Sea.
But now we're bound from the Arctic Grounds rolling down to Old Maui.

Once more we're blown by the northern gales and bounding o'er the main,
And the green hills of these tropical isles we soon shall see again.
Though for many a day we've toiled away in the cold Kamchatka Sea,
We will think of that as we laugh and chat with the girls of old Maui.

Our stun's'l booms are carried away, our main-mast it is sprung,
And a howling gale is after us, thank Christ our whaling's done,
Even now those big-brown eyes look out and scan the raging sea
For our tattered sails running ‘fore the gale, rolling down to old Maui.

Pique la baleine

Pour retrouver ma douce amie,
Oh mes bouées! Ouh la, ouh la la,
Pour retrouver ma douce amie,
Oh mes bouées! Ouh la, ouh lala.

Pique la baleine joli baleinière
Pique la baleine je veux naviguer (repeat)

Aux mille mers j'ai navigué…
Des mers du nord aux mers du sud…
Je l'ai retrouvé quand je me noyé…
Dans les grands fonds elle m'espérait…
Tout deux ensemble on a pleuré…
En couple à elle, je me suis couché…

The Wounded Whale

Low as the sun from the ocean bed is rising,
Clear on the waters a glimmering light throws;
Now from the masthead the lookouts are crying,
“Clear on yer lee-beam, a whale, there she blows.”

Wake all your sleepers, your larboard and your starboard men,
Main-yard a-back, and yer boats clear away,
Hard on our lee-beam, see the wide waters gleam,
Foaming, and billowing, in glorious array.

Now see old leviathan in vastness a-lying
Making of the ocean a sumptuous bed,
While high above him the seabirds are flying
Combing each billow that he breaks with his head.

High, wide and swimming, great flukes gently driving,
Stately and slowly he sinks in the main.
Now peak your oars awhile, rest from your weary toil,
Watching and waiting his rise once again.

Now row hearties row for the pride of your nation,
Lean on yer oars and let the reeking sweat flow.
Now for the blood let it have circulation,
Forward, on your thwarts, give way all ye know.

Now see how our boats advance, bravely and dancing
Flying like feathers over the dark blue main,
Harpooner, stand, give him some, send both your irons home.
Stern all, trim the boat, let the line run free.

Gallied and sore, fins and flukes in commotion,
Black skin and boats contending the spray,
While loud and shrill screams the horn of the ocean,
Wounded and lost, he brings to in dismay.

Now, haul line every man, gather in all you can,
Lances and spades from the thwarts clear away;
Now peak your oars again while fast each boat remains,
Safely and surely, we'll hold him at bay.

Wounded and lost but with strength undiminished,
See how he lashes his great flukes in the air,
But a lance in the life and the struggle is finished,
See now he sinks, with his chimney on fire.

Now loud and shrill hear the cries of our sailors,
Mocking the whale in his terrible hour,
Watch him as he dies, see the blue signal flies.
Here he goes, fin out, the contest is o'er.

The Whale-man's Lament

Twas on the briny ocean, on a whale-ship I did go,
I often thought of distant friends, I often thought of home.

All through some bitter weather and through some heavy gales,
Around Cape Stiff we made our way, to lookout for Sperm Whales.

They'll rob yer and they'll use yer, it is worse than any slave,
Before ye go a-whaling boys, yer'd best be in your graves.

It's do it now or damn your eyes, I'll flog ye till you're blue,
Oh boys I cannot tell it all, but every word is true.

The winds do blow and the big seas go and we strain upon the oars,
And your heart would bleed at the sperm whale's speed and it's pull ye sons of whores.

When the weary chase is over and the stars begin to glow,
Then it's light the flares ye lubberly lot, there's trying out to do.

I swore I'd not go back again once we were homeward bound,
For the pleasures are but few me boys on them bitter whaling grounds.

The Waterwitch

A neat little packet from Hobart set sail
To cruise the wide oceans for the monster sperm whale;
To cruise to the wide oceans where the stormy winds blow,
Bound away in the Waterwitch to the west'ard we'll go.

Bound away, bound away, where the stormy winds blow
Bound away in the Waterwitch to the west'ard we'll go.

Oh ‘twas early one morning just as the sun rose
The man from her mast head cries out, “There she blows.”
‘Where away' cries our skipper and springing aloft,
‘Three points off yer lee bow and scarce three miles off.”


We sailed off the west wind and came up a pace,
The whale boats was lowered and set for the chase,
Get yer lines in the boats see yer box line is clear
And lower her down boys and after him steer.


We fought him alongside, the harpoon thrust in,
In just over an hour he rolled out his fin.
The whale was cut in boys, tried out and stowed down,
He's worth more to us, boys, than five hundred pound.


When the ship she gets full boys to Hobart we'll steer
Where there's plenty of pretty girls and plenty good beer,
We'll spend our money freely with the girls on the shore,
And when it's all gone go a-whaling for more.


The Loss of Mahoney

Far outward bound one night on the deep
Slung in me hammock I fell asleep,
I dreamed a dream which I thought was true
Concerning Mahoney and his boats crew.
Off yon green Island, out far from here,
Where we lost Mahoney and his boat’s gear.

Here’s Cap’n Kennedy of Hobart Town,
And Cap’n Reynolds of high renown
And Cap’n Robertson and many, many more,
They’ve long been cruising Macquarie’s shore.

They cruised east and they cruised west,
Round the South West Cape where they thought best,
But no tide nor tale could they see or hear,
Concerning Mahoney or his boat’s gear.

In Recherche Bay where the Black Whale blow,
The fate of Mahoney they all do know,
They say he’s gone like many, many more,
He left his home to return no more.

As we drew nigh unto Hobart’s shore
I met a maiden in deep deplore,
She was sobbing, sighing saying “Pity Me,
I’ve lost my brother young Bob Mahoney;
I’ve lost my brother no more I’ll see,
I’ve lost my brother young Bob Mahoney.”

Davy Lowston

Oh me name is Davy Lowston. I did seal, I did seal.
Oh me name is Davy Lowston. I did seal.
Though me men and I were lost, though our very lives it cost,
We did seal, we did seal, we did seal.

We were set down in Open Bay, were set down, were set down.
We were set down in Open Bay, were set down.
We were left, we gallant men, never more to sail again,
Never more, never more, never more.

Our Captain John Bedar he set sail, he set sail.
Oh yes, for old Port Jackson he set sail.
“I’ll return men without fail,” but she foundered in a gale
And went down, and went down, and went down.

We cured ten thousand seals for the fur, for the fur.
We cured ten thousand seals for the fur.
Brackish water, putrid seal, and we all of us fell ill,
For to die, for to die, for to die.

So come all you lads who sail upon the sea, upon the sea.
So all you jacks who sail upon the sea.
Though the schooner ‘Governor Bligh’ took on those who did not die
Never seal, never seal, never seal.

The Queensland Whalers

I’ve sailed the North Atlantic where ice blows in the breeze
And roamed the Dutch West Indies in the calm blue sunny seas.
When I think of ships and seamen my thoughts return again
To a season spent in Moreton Bay with Queensland whaling men.

Sing ho you Queensland whalers who have cut the sugar cane
And roved the herds of cattle o’er the dry and dusty plain.
You’ve dug the ore at Isa, laid countless miles of rail,
And now you’ve come to Moreton Bay to catch the humpback whale.

For men who’ve chased the brumbies, caught bullocks by the tail,
It really is no problem to catch a humpback whale.
Just spur your iron seahorse, put the gun through rigging struts
And when he runs from the coral scrub you belt him in the guts.

The man up in the crow’s nest, as whaling legend goes,
Looks out across the water and then cries, ‘Thar she blows.’
But here in sunny Queensland you’ll sometimes hear them shout,
‘There goes a bloody beauty, mate, so get your finger out.’

From Moreton to Caloundra bronze whaler sharks abound,
They wait lie dingos in the scrub for a wounded beast that’s down.
But their taste for blood and savagery it never could compare
With the bite the Inland Revenue took from our bonus share.

When fuel tanks are running low we’d sail to Brisbane town
And at the nearest boozer our sorrows we would drown
With beer and fiery whisky and plonk of vintage rare.
We’d steer a steady zigzag course without a blasted care.

Hooray, the season’s over and we can all return
To treat our wives and sweethearts and have a little fun.
We’d like cattle drovers, we’ll roar like whaling men
And when the season starts next year you’ll find us back again.

The Wee Pot Stove

How the bitter winds they blew when the whaling fleet’s at rest
In Leith Harbour’s sheltered bay, safely anchored ten abreast.
And the whalers at the station, as from ship to ship they go,
Carry little bags of coal with them and a little iron stove.

Chorus In the wee dark engine room,
Where the chill seeps in yer soul,
How we huddled round that wee pot stove
That burned oily rags and coal.

Fireman Paddy worked wi’ me on the engines stiff and cold,
A stranger to the truth was he, there’s not a lie he hasn’t told.
He would boast of his goldmines and the hearts that he had won,
And his bawdy sense of humour rang just like a ray of sun.

We laboured seven days a week wi’ cold hands and frozen feet,
Weary days and lonely nights, making grog and having fights;
Whale meat and wholemeal sausage and fresh penguin eggs a treat,
And we’d stagger home each evening, through blinding rain and sleet.

But then one day we saw the sun and the factory ships return,
See your old friends, sing a song, hope the season won’t be long.
Then it’s homeward bound when it’s over, we will leave this icy cove.
But I always will remember, that little iron stove.

The Ballina Whalers
Harry Robertson, Australia

In ‘56 I sailed on board a ship called Byron One,
She carried trawler men on deck and a harpoon whaling gun.
With a tractor as a whale winch, the ship an old Fairmile,
Twin diesels turned the props aroon, we whaled the Aussie style.

Heigh Ho ye trawler men come on, forget the snapper and the prawn,
And it’s out of Ballina we’ll sail a-fishing for the hump back whale.

So keep a sharp lookout me lads, for the whale is on the run,
And we’ll chase him into Byron Bay and kill him with our gun.
The harpoon and the line fly true, bedding deep into the whale,
And she split the timbers of the ship with a flurry of her tail.


The rigging struts were snapped in two, we reeled beneath the blow,
But the gunner fired a killer shot and the humpback sank below.


Now make her tail fast to the bow, we’ve got no time for bed.
For four and twenty hours each day we kept that factory fed.
The flensing men upon the land, some had been jackaroos,
But they skinned the blubber off them whales like they’d skinned the kangaroos.


One hundred whales, then fifty more, to the factory we did send,
Till a message said ‘Knock off me lads.’ The season’s at an end.
Back into Ballina we sailed, tied up and stowed the gear,
Then all hands headed for the pub and we filled ourselves with beer.

The Last of the Great Whales

My soul has been torn from me and I am bleeding,
My heart it has been rent and I am crying
As the beauty round me fades and I am screaming.
I am the last of the great whales and I am dying.

Last night I heard the cry of my last companion.
The roar of a harpoon gun and I was alone,
Reflecting on the days, when we were thousands.
But now I swim alone, the last leviathan.

This morning the sun arose, crimson in the north sky,
The ice was the colour of blood and I heard the wind sigh,
I rose to take my breath, it was my last one,
From a gun came the roar of death and now I am undone.

And now we all are gone, there’ll be no more hunting.
The big-feller is no more, no use lamenting.
Which race will be next in line, all for the slaughter,
The elephant or the seal, your son or daughter.

New: 10 May, 2008 | Now: 20 December, 2018 | garrygillard [at] gmail [dot] com