William Hutchison (a’ Tip) SA1971.218.4
Willie was using his own manuscript song collection as he sang The Middlesex Flora, a tale of a shipwreck which according to the Scots ballad scholar William Christie could date from the 18th century, for he wrote that he was told by an old man that some sailors were heard singing it in the streets of Buckie, Banffshire, around 1780 (Traditional Ballad Airs vol. 1, 1876. p. 255). This date is doubtful, for there is a record of a vessel of 500 tons called The Middlesex Flora which was wrecked in Dundrum Bay in 1825 on a voyage to Belfast from Barcelona (E. Bourke: Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast 1105–1993, 1994). The bar at the entrance to Dundrum harbour was often a deathtrap for ships in a strong south-easterly gale as it could have been also for the S.S. Great Britain when she beached there in 1848. (Roud index no. 3810).
The earliest broadsheet we know of was published in London by the printer H. Such. Versions differ with regard to the various Irish place names and their spelling. The tune is probably of Irish origin and is almost identical to Andrew Moar’s tune for the comic song Paddy’s Leather Breeches.
As we sailed from the Downs out of fair London Towns
My boys we had pleasant fine weather;
For two days or three we had a fine sea
And our good ship she worked with great pleasure.
But there came a thick fog and our vessel did log
And as scarce could discern our mizzen;
But to our surprise a storm did arise
And the billows did foam through the ocean.
As we came down by Wales under close-reefed topsails
And the point of the land we kept under;
Hail, storm, and sleet, with lightning did meet
And tremendious loud claps of thunder.
All things we made fast to stand the sad blast
And our pilot stood close by the helm;
Captain pilot and mate at the stations did wait
And still the proud waves they were swelling.
And for the Isle of Man our course we did stand
And the wind from the south-east was blowing;
Along the spring tide our vessel did ride
And still from the south-east was snowing.
The hail and the frost ower the mountains was passed
And the snow lay on Baile Canary;
With our moon on the shore and the billows did roar
From Strangford to sweet Portaferry
The gale did increase and then you may guess
What was our most sad situation;
Our death did appear when as we drew near
To the coast of the Irish nation.
To the bar of Dundrum our good ship did come
And no-one at their post was neglecting;
Captain pilot and mate at their station did wait,
But they could not prevent her from sinking.
But soon the proud waves did beat her to staves;
Her name was the Middlesex Flora;
Away they did sweep our men to the deep
Which greatly increases our sorrow.
But think what good cries we sent to the skies
Just when our good ship split asunder;
Our mainmast so tall, overboard it did fall
And some of our good men fell under.
Just I and no more escaped to the shore
Where billows were rolling like thunder;
I am one left alive out of twenty-five
And that was a very great wonder.
But thanks be to he who ruleth the sea
And can save in the middle of danger;
I am wounded and bruised though very well used,
Though here in the middle of strangers.
Our cargo was fine, of brandy and wine
And everything costly and bonnie,
Hysen and green tea, coffee and Bohea ( Huoshang – a yellow tea from China)
And some fine silks from sweet Barcelona.
Our rich merchants’ store from the exterior
Has come from… tempest and danger,
Along the shoreside on billows did ride
And promiscuously gathered by strangers.
Our Captain James Bell likewise John Climell
And our mate he was one Thomas Taylor
Our bosun Will Wale and James and John Graham
And Will Campbell that fameous young sailor.
There was one Robert Storr and Richard Balfour,
And our pilot was one John Currow;
There was one Henry, mate, with Archibal Consett
And our foremast man was James MacMurrow.
Three hundred tons and a few swivel guns
Was the burden our good ship did carry;
Our crew twenty-five, as brave men as e’er died
And made up of young men so merry.
But alas now no more they return to the shore
To visit the girls so pretty;
Our good ship was bound for Belfast’s fair town
And belonged to fair London city.