Will Watch
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Lesley Nelson-Burns


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This broadside was a favorite with sailors. It is also known as Will Watch, the Bold Smuggler. Whall dates this version to circa 1820. Whall notes that the song is cited by Frederick Marryat in his works (1792-1848). Whall also found a version of Will Watch in an American Songbook.* According to Gale Huntington, the sequel to Will Watch (a reply by the young woman) is documented in the 1847 log of the ship Cortez.**

Rev. S. Baring-Gould collected several versions of the song and it appears in numerous broadside catalogues.*** Several of these broadsides can be found at the Bodleian Library.

One morn when the wind
from the northward blew keenly,
While sullenly roared
the big waves of the main,
A famed smuggler, Will Watch,
kissed his Sue, then serenely
Took helm, and to sea
boldy steered out again.
Will had promised his Sue
that this trip, if well ended,
Should coil up his ropes,
and he'd anchor to shore;
When his pockets were lined,
why his life should be mended,
The laws he had broken
he'd never break more.

His sea-boat was trim -
made her port - took her lading,
Then Will stood to sea,
reached the offing, and cried,
This night, if I've luck,
furls the sails of my trading.
In dock I can lay -
serve a friend to beside.
He lay to till night
came on darksome and dreary,
To crowd every sail
then he piped up all hands;
But a signal soon spied -
'twas a prospect uncheerly,
A signal that warned him
to bear from the land.

The Philistines are out,
cries Will, we'll take no heed on't,
Attacked, who's the man
that will flinch from his gun?
Should my head be blown off
I shall ne'er feel the need on't,
We'll fight while we can;
when we can't, boys, we'll run.
Thro' the haze of the night
a bright flash now appearing,
Oh ho! cried Will Watch,
the Philistines bear down.
Bear a hand, my tight lads,
ere we think about sheering.
Our broadside pour in
should we swim, boys, or drown.

But should I be popped off,
you, my mates left behind me,
Regard my last words,
see 'em kindly obeyed.
Let no stone mark the spot,
and, my friends, do you mind me,
Near the beach is the grave
where Will Watch should be laid.
Poor Will's yarn was spun out -
for a bullet next minute
Laid him low on the deck
and he never spoke more.
His bold crew fought the brig
while a shot remained in it,
Then sheered, and Will's hulk
to his Susan they bore.

In the dead of the night
his last wish was complied with,
To few known his grave
and to few known his end;
He was borne to the earth
by the crew that he died with;
He'd the tears of his Susan,
the prayers of each friend,
Near his grave dash the billows,
the winds loudly bellow,
Yon ash struck with lightning
point out the cold bed
Where Will Watch, the bold smuggler,
that famed lawless fellow,
Once feared - now forget -
sleeps in peace with the dead.

Related Links
From *Sea Songs and Shanties and
**Songs the Whaleman Sang and
See Bibliography for full information.
***Also from Steve Roud's Broadside Ballad Index.