John Hughson             [Lady Franklin’s Lament]                    SA1974.13.8

Writing of this ballad in Naval Songs and Ballads (1898),  Professor C. H. Firth 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. Both Andrew Poleson and  Willie Williamson   (who sang more verses than Andrew and John) have also contributed this ballad.   Roud index no. 437.

It’s seven long years since the ship of fame
Sailed with my husband across the main
With a hundred seamen of courage stout
The nor-west passage to find out.

The nor-west passage near the pole,
Where bright lightnings flash and deep thunders roll,
It’s more than any man can do
Without undaunted courage true.

As we did sail along the deep
Snugly in my hammock I lay asleep;
I dreamed a dream I fear was true
Concerning Franklin and his bold crew.

In Baffin’s bay where the whale flesh blow
The fate of Franklin no man can know,
He left his home like many more,
He left his home to return no more.