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The Balaena

  • (Trad)

    Oh the wind is on her quarter, her engines working free
    There's not another whaler that sails out of Dundee
    Can beat the old Balaena, she needs no trial run
    We challenge all, both great and small, from Dundee to St. John

    The noble fleet of whalers went sailing from Dundee
    Well-manned by British sailors to work upon the sea
    On the Western Ocean Passage none with them can compare
    But the smartest ship to make the trip is Balaena, I declare

    It happened on a Tuesday, three days out of Dundee
    The gale took off her quarter-boat and a couple of men, you see
    It battered at her bulwarks and her stanchions and her rails
    And left the old Balaena, boys, a-frothing in the gale

    Bold Jackman cut his canvas and fairly raised his steam
    And Captain Guy with Erin Boy was ploughing through the stream
    And the noble Terra Nova her boilers nearly burst
    And still at the old whaling grounds, Balaena got there first

    And now the season's over and the ship half-full of oil
    Our flying jib-boom points for home towards our native soil (Klüverbaum)
    And when that we have landed, boys, where the rum is very cheap
    We'll drink success to the skipper's health for getting us over the deep

(as sung by A. L. Lloyd)

Susannes Folksong-Notizen

  • english  [1967:] Chase of right and sperm whales, Baffin Bay, 1870s.

    By the 1840s, British whaling reached a low ebb [...]. But during the 1850s the industry began to look up, for the introduction of steam power meant that whalers could push to new grounds far to the north, and then batter their way back through some fifty miles of pack ice until the open sea was reached again. The first whaling steamer set out from Hull in 1857, but the most famous whalers under steam power were those that sailed out of Dundee in the 1860s and 1870s, including the celebrated Balaena.

    One of the best-known whaling songs, perhaps because it was made relatively late in the history of the trade. Dundee was specially interested in whaling because her main industry, the jute manufacture, required whale oil. In 1873, the Dundee whaling fleet consisted of ten vessels, all equipped with steam power. Largest and proudest was Mr. R. Kinnes's Balaena, of 260 tons register, length 141 ft., with engines of 65 h.p. At that time, the fleet would leave Scotland during the first half of May, race across to Cape St. John, Newfoundland, then northabout into the Davis Strait and the right-whale grounds of Melville Bay on the north-west coast of Greenland. Around August they would be following the southerly migration of the whales to the Cumberland Sound on the east side of Baffin Land. With luck, by early November they would be back in Dundee, exulting over their success, like the men of the nuggetty old Balaena who made this song. (Notes A. L. Lloyd, 'Leviathan!')

  • english  [1986:] The history of this song is a rather confusing one. On the one hand, it would seem to have been originally composed about another Dundee whaling vessel, the Polynia, as it mentions Captain Guy, who commanded the Polynia from 1883 until it was lost in 1891. However, according to the records of the Balaena, in 1904 the ship came back from the Davis Straits with one whale, four bears, ten tons of oil and 15cwt of bone, having been commanded by a Captain Guy. Whichever ship was the original subject of the song, we are left with many fine versions.

    The Balaena, a Norwegian-built auxiliary steam whaler introduced into the Dundee fleet in 1891, was one of the last ships in the fleet to sail from the town. At the outbreak of the war in 1914, the Balaena was attached to the Hudson Bay Company, to supply munitions to Russia, but, badly overloaded, she sank during a gale in the White Sea on her first voyage.

    [...] The title [The Old Polina] is a Newfoundland mispronunciation of the name Polynia, which was a whaler and sealer from Dundee which spent the summer whaling in the North Atlantic and the winter plying the seal fishery off Newfoundland. Built in Dundee in 1861, the Polynia was a 472-ton vessel owned by the Dundee Seal and Whale Fishing Company. The skipper, Captain William Guy, commanded the ship from 1883 until it was crushed by ice in 1891, and, in the late 1890s, he became captain of the pleasure steamer running between Perth and Newburgh after retiring from deep-sea sailing.

    All the other ships mentioned in the song are Dundee whalers, who would compete with each other to make the fastest trip on "the Western Ocean Passage" - one reason being that the first ship in St. John would have the pick of the experienced whale-hunting men.

    The confusion about the original subject of the song has already been pointed out, but the probability lies with the Polynia. (Nigel Gatherer, Songs and Ballads of Dundee 53)

  • english [1993:] [ The famous Captain William] Penny commanded one of the new Dundee steamers, the Polynia, [built by Alexander Stephen & Sons, Dundee,] on her maiden voyage in 1861. (Smith, Whale Hunters 25)

    [In 1866,] the master [of the Diana] was Captain John Gravill, a veteran of fifty years in the whaling trade, who had earlier commanded the Dundee whaler Polynia. (Smith, Whale Hunters 70)

    In 1864, the Dundee whaler Polynia brought home 22 dead bears and 2 live. They were exhibited in the Greenland Yard at Dundee to raise money for the local hospital. (Smith, Whale Hunters 89)

    The ships built during Dundee's whaling years were known wherever whalermen met - the Arctic, the Polynia, the Intrepid, the Aurora, the Terra Nova and many more. The names of their captains became by-words in every house in the town, immortalised in old shanties sung ashore and at sea:

    There's the noble Terra Nova, a model with no doubt
    The Arctic and Aurora they talk so much about
    Art Jackman's flying mailboat, the terror of the seas
    Couldn't beat the auld Balaena on a passage fae Dundee

    There were men like 'Coffee Tam', Captain Tom Robertson, who got his nickname because he wouldn't allow alcohol on board his ship. Robertson, a Peterhead man, commanded the Balaena for a time and took her to Franz Josef Land to hunt Sea-horses - Walrus. In the late nineteenth century the killing of Sea-horses became popular because Walrus bull hides were greatly in demand for bicycle-making. Bicycle-makers paid 1/6 per pound for them. Their tusks fetched 2/6 per pound and the oil from them about £ 18 per ton.

    [Captain Charles Yule] took over the Resolution in 1880 and made his last voyage in the Polynia in 1883. He was known as Scotland's Grand Old Man of the Sea - and he lived to be 100.

    In 1884, Dundee's most famous whaler, the Terra Nova, was launched, a symbol of hope, it was thought, but she was the last whaler built in Dundee. Yet there were still men whose eyes turned to the North. In the year that the Terra Nova was launched, a 16-year-old Peterhead lad, John Murray, made his first trip from the Buchan port on the barque Windward. [In 1908,] Murray was given command of the Balaena - the 'auld Balaena' of shanty fame:

    And now that we are landed where the rum is very cheap
    We'll drink success to the captain for ploughing us o'er the deep
    A health tae a' oor sweethearts and tae oor wives sae dear
    Not another ship could make the trip but the Balaena I declare

    The Balaena certainly provided John Murray with the success he wanted. In 1908 he followed 'Coffee Tam' to Greenland and came back with a good catch. From then until 1911, as master of the Balaena, he killed enough whales to keep the Dundee owners happy. (Smith, Whale Hunters 91ff)

    [In the winter of 1862,] the 'auld Balaena' was one of a tiny fleet of four whalers that had gone south to find new fishing grounds in the little-known regions of the Antarctic. The other ships were the Active, under Captain 'Coffee Tam' Robertson, the Diana and the Polar Star. (Smith, Whale Hunters 100)

See also
The Old Polina

Quelle: Scotland

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