The Sheffield Canal

Come, all ye dry-land sailors bold, and listen unto me,
For I’ve a terrible tale to tell of the perils of the sea,
Of shipwrecks and disasters that unto me befell,
From Sheffield down to Rotherham on the Sheffield Ship Canal.

The captain was an overman’s son come from a fine abode,
A mansion fine in spacious ground ’alfway down Alfred Road;
His mother waved a fond goodbye as we bravely sailed away,
For the shores of darkest Rotherham wi’ a cargo o’ coal and clay.

We sailed for darkest Rotherham on a cowld and frosty morn,
Gripped in the teeth of a raging gale blown down from Arbourthorn;
The captain’s eyes they swept the deck, but no sign of the crew;
They were all blind drunk in the forrard hold on a barrel o’ Stones’s brew.

We’d just come up to Porthouse Lane when the good ship sprang a leak,
“And stir your stumps and man the pumps!” cries Captain tongue-in-cheek;
“Stir your stumps and man the pumps!” for we are sorely pressed;
When the engineer from the bank called out, “The old ’oss is doing her best!”

“Avast, ye swabs!” the skipper cried, “I see the Tinsley light.
If we’re not held up at Holmes’s Lock we’ll see Rotherham tonight .
I’ll flay the hide from off the back of any man who shirks.”
Then a fog came down and swamped the ship at the back of Tozer’s works.

Then Rotherham Quays came into view, the fog was clearing now;
The mate from the crow’s nest shouted out, “She’s off the starboard bow!”
But lined up on the landing stage were Sheffield cops galore;
The crew to a man, to the port side ran, and swam for the opposite shore.

Now the skipper roams the Rotherham pubs in search of his scurvy crew,
As he sups his ale he tells the tale of how his ship got through,
Of how he left his native home that fateful winter’s day
For the shores of darkest Rotherham wi’ a cargo o’ coal and clay.



The tongue-in-cheek ballad of a comical voyage aboard a ship has numerous variants and versions all over the English-speaking world. Some describe a daft sea journey and others an equally ridiculous canal trip. Some are related to each other and are simply relocalised adaptations of one another. There are so many that sorting out their relationships would be a whale of a task. The one we have here was obviously inspired by The Cruise of the Calabar from the late nineteenth century which has numerous versions. Even our song here has lots of versions in its Sheffield form, but this one from the singing of the Sutherland family of Sheffield was sent us by our good friend Ray Padgett.