On Board the Kangaroo
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Lesley Nelson-Burns


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This capstan shanty was printed on broadsides during the mid to late 1800s. It is also known as Bristol Sea Shanty, but it was sung in Liverpool and was well-known in Ireland. Hugill states the tune is definitely Irish. The song is also known as On Board OF the Kangaroo, Aboard the Kangaroo and The Good Ship Kangaroo.*

Notes from the Grieg-Duncan Folksong Collection, Volume 6, indicate the song was composed by Harry Clifton (1824-1872) (known as "Handsom Harry Clifton), a singer and songwriter of comic songs who performed in music halls. It was published in 1856.**

There were several ships named Kangaroo. They included a schooner built at Douglas in 1867, and others from Halifax, Nova Scotia and St. John's, Newfoundland. There was also a sailing steamer named Kangaroo.**

According to a source in Hugill, it was common for sailors to buy their wives a washing tub so they could earn extra money while the sailor was at sea. Hugill remembers his grandmother talking about sailors' wives "takkin' in o' washin'" being common in Plymouth, where she was from.

O, once I was a waterman
And lived at home at ease,
And now I am a mariner
And plough the angry seas.
I thought I'd like seafaring life,
So bid my love adieu,
And shipp'd as cook and steward boys,
On board the Kangaroo.

My love she was no foolish girl,
Her age it was two score,
My love was not a spinster,
She'd been married twice before;
And they could not say it was her wealth
That stole my heart away.
For she was a laundry starcher
At three-and-six a day.

Oh think of me! Oh think of me!
She mournfully did say,
When you are in a foreign land,
Three thousand miles away;
And take this lucky farthing,
'Twill make you bear in mind
The loving, faithful, trusting heart
You leave in tears behind.

Cheer up! Cheer up! my own true love,
Don't weep so bitterly,
But she sobbed and sighed and choked
And cried and couldn't say goodbye.
I won't be gone so very long,
Maybe a month or two,
And when I do come back again,
Of course I'll marry you.

Our vessel it was homeward bound
From many a foreign shore.
And many a foreign present
Unto my love I bore;
There were tortoises from Teneriffe
And toys from Timbuctoo,
A Chinese rat and a Bengal cat
And a Bombay cockatoo.

Paid off, I sought her dwelling
In the suburbs of the town,
An ancient dame upon a line
Was hanging out a gown.
Where is my love? She's married, sir,
About six months ago,
To a man who drives a hardware van
For Johnny Fox and Co.

Farewell to Dixon's soap suds
From the famous brand called Crown,
To Reckitt's Blue, well known to you,
And Crean's Scouring Brown;
I'll seek some far and distant clime,
I can no longer stay,
For my heart is now so shattered
I must live on China tay.

Related Links
From Burl Ives Irish Songs and
* Shanties from the Seven Seas
See Bibliography for full information.
**Also from The Mudcat Cafe.