The Stowaway (Kenneth Peacock)

From Liverpool across the Atlantic
When the good ship sailed over the deep,
With the stars up above bright and shining
And the waters beneath us asleep.

Not a bad-tempered man was among us,
Not a jollier crew ever sailed,
Except the first mate, a bit of a savage,
Not a better seaman ever sailed.

One day he came up from below deck,
Clasping a lad by the arm,
A poor little ragged young youngster,
Who had ought to been home with his mom.

Then the mate asked the boy pretty roughly,
"How dare you to be stowed away,
A-cheating the owners and captain
And sailing along without pay?"

He said in a voice clear and whining,
"My step-father brought me on board.
He hid me away down below deck,
'Cause to keep me he could not afford.

"He told me this good ship would take me
To Halifax town oh so far;
He said, now the Lord is your father,
Who dwells where the good angels are."

"It's a lie," said the mate, "not your father,
But some of those bait-suckers here;
Some soft-headed, milk-hearted sailor,
Speak up, tell the truth, do you hear?"

The boy had a face bright and shining,
And a pair of blue eyes like a girl's;
He looked at this cruel first mate, lads,
And shook back his long shiny curls.

Then the mate drew a watch from his pocket,
As if he was drawng a knife,
Said, "In ten minutes more you don't tell it,
Here's a rope and good-bye to your life."

Eight minutes passed by all in silence,
Then the mate said, "Speak up, say your say."
With his eyes slowly filling with tear-drops
And flattering said, "May I pray?"

The little chap knelt on the deck there,
With his hands tightly clasped o'er his breast;
He must ofttimes done it at home, lads,
At night time when going to rest.

When soft came those first words: 'Our Father'
Low and clear from this dear baby's lips,
At first they were heard just like thunder
By every true man on that ship.

Every word of the prayer he went through it,
'Forever and ever. Amen.'
For all the bright gold of the Indies
We would not have hurt him again.

Off the deck was the lad sudden lifted
And clasped to the mate's rugged breast;
His husky voice whispered, "God bless you."
With his lips to his forehead he pressed.

"Do you believe me now?" said the youngster,
"Believe you?" - the mate kissed him once more -
"You have laid down your life for the truth, lad,
I will believe you for now and evermore."

####.... Author unknown. Variant of an undated broadside ballad, The Little Hero, by an unknown publisher, archived at the Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads, shelfmark: Harding B 11(2162) ....####

Collected by Kenneth Peacock in 1959 from Kenneth Pink [1938-?] of Rose Blanche, NL, and published in Songs Of The Newfoundland Outports, Vol 3, pp.890-891, by the National Museum of Canada (1965) Crown Copyrights Reserved.

Kenneth Peacock noted that athough he was unable to find a printed source for this incredibly sentimental ballad, its 'literary' origin is unmistakable. The pseudo-religious prayer scene suggests that the ballad is the work of some over-zealous missionary. Whenever one of these hell-fire evangelical sects moves into an outport, one of their first propaganda ploys is the distribution of edifying songs to supplant the sinful material the people and their ancestors have been singing for hundreds of years. Fortunately, they seldom succeed. But when the religious life of a community has been competely taken over by one of these sects, traditional music disappears down the drain. When queried about the music their parents (and they themselves) used to sing, the people invariably reply: "Oh, we never sing those songs any more."

A similar variant was collected in 1951 from Cyril O'Brien [ca.1902-?] of Trepassey, NL, and published in MacEdward Leach And The Songs Of Atlantic Canada © 2004 Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA).

A twelve-verse variant was published as From Liverpool 'Cross The Atlantic in Ballads And Sea Songs Of Newfoundland, #51, by Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf and Grace Yarrow Mansfield (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1933; Folklore Associates, Hatboro, PA, 1968) but the tune is different.


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