Willie Williamson                [Lady Franklin’s Lament]                      SA1972.198.3 

On this site you can hear three renderings of this ballad.  About it Professor C. H. Firth in his Naval Songs and Ballads (1898)   commented somewhat disparagingly:

“The search for the North-West Passage, namely the voyage of Sir John Franklin, and the long continued efforts to discover his fate also attracted the attention of writers of street ballads but neither Lady Fanklin’s Lament nor the  Lament on the Fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew deserve reprinting.  The last was written in 1860; ten years later the old street ballads practically became extinct”.

Firth didn’t count on the tenacity with which songs which had a special resonance for some occupations might continue to be sung a whole century later.  In the 1970s many Shetlanders had older relatives who had told them about their whaling experiences in the icy waters of Greenland and South Georgia. Possibly there were some Shetlanders among the crew of Sir John Franklin’s three ships, for they made their last call for supplies in Orkney before heading off to the north–west, never to return.

Willie’s version is the longest of the three versions recorded.  The other two are provided by John Hughson and Andrew Poleson.     Roud index no. 437.

As we were sailing along the deep,
Snug in my hammock I lay fast asleep;
I dreamed a dream I thought was true
Concerning Franklin and his brave crew.

‘Tis seven long years since that ship of fame
Sailed with my husband across the main,
With a hundred seamen of courage stout
The Nor-West passage for to find out

There was Captain Parry of High renown
Captain Flett of our own dear town,
There was Captain Brown and many more
Who have coasted long on the Arctic shore

They sailed east, they sailed west
On the coast of Greenland where they thought best;
O’er hill and dale they have explored;
O’er ice-clad mountains they vainly strode.

In Baffin’s Bay where the whale-fish blow
The fate of Franklin no man knows.
He left his home like many more;
He left his home to return no more.

Now seven long years has gone and past;
Seven long years of the biting blast
Have swept o’er the graves where those heroes fell;
Their dreadful suffering no man can tell.

“That’s about all I know of it – I think there’s more of it but I’m not so sure what the other bit is.  I might get it later on. If I do I’ll send it to you.”