William Hutchison (Creadieknowe) SA1972.100.1
This rather literary poem was composed by the London poet and playwright John Gay (1685-1732), and a bass singer Leveridge fitted them to a tune. Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge remarked, “I never heard this song sung by sailors, or even alluded to by them. Notwithstanding it’s being so well-known ashore,” (quoted in Christopher Stone’s Sea Songs and Ballads, 1906). He didn’t bargain for the relish with Whalsay men might seize on any song connected with a sailor’s life. The words were composed around 1729 by the London poet and playwright John Gay (1685-1732) and were promptly set to music by Richard Leveridge, a leading singer on the London stage. They were printed in the same year by John Watts in The Musical Miscellany. Willie’s tune is remarkably close to that printed by Watts as are many versions collected not only in England but also as far afield as Nova Scotia and the southern USA. – a testament to its popularity both orally and in print despite Admiral Bridge’s comment. Roud lists 133 sources in his folksong and ballad index. Willie breaks off after verse three but you can hear a longer version rendered by John Hughson.
All in the downs the fleet lay moored
Their streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came on board
Saying, “Where shall I my true love find?
Tell me oh jovial sailors, tell me true
Does my sweet William, Does my sweet William
Dwell amongst your crew?”
William who high upon the yard
Rock’d by the billows to and fro;
Soon as that well-known voice he heard
He sighed and cast his eye below;
The cord slides swiftly thro’ his glowing hands
And quick as lightning, and quick as lightning
On the deck he stands.
Oh Susan, Susan, lovely dear
My vows shall ever true remain:
Let me kiss off that falling tear
We only part to meet again.
Change aye you list, you winds, my heart shall be
The faithful compass, the faithful compass
That still points to thee.
“I’m not sure o’ the words…”