MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada

Pretty Polly

Din Dobbin NFLD 2 Tape 13 Track 1
St.Vincent's Audio:

(Beginning of song missing)

_________ before we get married our friends to go see

He led her through roads and through valleys so neat
Which caused pretty Polly to sigh and to weep
Sayin' Willie dear Willie you lead me astray
Perhaps my poor innocent life to betray

It's true yes true it's true what you say
For this whole long night l have been digging a grave
She walked straight along til her grave she did spy
Which caused Pretty Polly to weep and to cry

Oh pardon please pardon oh pardon she cried
For l will not covet for to be your bride
I’ll roam this wide world o'er for to set you free
If you only will pardon this baby and me

No pardon no pardon no time for to stand
He instantly taking a knife in his hand
He pierced her dear breast while her heart’s blood did flow
Which caused him to that cold grave her body he threw

He covered her over well safe and so sound
Not thinking this murder would ever be found
On board of the Bedford he entered straightway
His lofty ship lay in Portsmouth bound out on the sea

Charlie Stewart was our bosun a seaman so bold
One night it was late he walked aft to the hold
When a beautiful damsel to him did appear
And she bore in her arms a baby most dear

He bein' merry in liquor he thought to embrace
Wit’ transports of j'y which he held in his face
She frew a one side and then vanished away
He made haste to our Captain he made no delay

Our Captain soon summonsed our jolly ships crew
And said my dear sailors l fear one of you
Have murdered some fair one before ye came 'way
And now she is haunting us here on the sea

Then up speaks young Willie I’m sure it ain't me
And up speaks another I’m sure it ain't me
And up speaks another indeed it ain't me
Till discourse it went through the whole ship's company

Whoever it may be it's the truth he'll deny
I’ll hang him out here on the yardarm so high
But if he confesses his life we won't save
But I’ll land him all on the first Island I’ll make

Young Willie he quickly fell on his knees
The blood in his face did immediately freeze
God help me God help me for what l have done
God help me l fear my poor soul it's undone

Young Willie he rushed to the cabin with speed
He met this pretty fair maid which made his heart bleed
She ripped him she stripped him she tore him in three
Because he had murdered her baby and she

Turning round to the crew these words she did say
Now since l have taken this murder away
Good luck may attend you and you aIl agree
And send you safe home to your own counteree


Sources: (Also known as The Cruel Ships Carpenter, Ship’s Carpenter and Molly Lovely Molly.) Laws P36A/B; Roud 15; Brownll 64, (The Gosport Tragedy); Creighton/Senior pp. 114-120 (The Ship’s Carpenter); Fowke/MacMillian 70 (The Ship’s Carpenter); Karpeles, 1971: 115 (The Gosport Tragedy); Karpeles- Newfoundland 27, (The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter); Leach, 1965: 74, 76 (Pretty Polly; The Gosport Tragedy); Mercer 1979, 111 (The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter); Peacock, 1965: 404 (The Ship’s Carpenter; The Perjured Ship’s Carpenter); Sharp/Karpeles 80E 36 (The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter).
Broadside versions are Bodleian, Harding B28:267 (Love and Murder), W. Armstrong (Liverpool) 1820-1824; More extensive broadside sources are available from the Traditional Ballad Index (
From the Memorial University Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA) Song Index and Song Annotation Collection: Burke, Anne MUNFLA 78-274; Tallman, Richard MUNFLA 74-222; Firestone, Melvin MUNFLA 64-17.

History: The earliest known publication date appears in the 1767’s Journal of Vaughn.

Text: Willie murders his pregnant lover before he sets to sea. She begins to haunt the ship while holding her baby. As the crew is slain one by one the Captain calls the crew together to find the murderer. He says he will drop the killer off at the first island they encounter. Eventually Willie confesses to the murder of his lover. On the way back to his cabin, the ghost kills Willie and then wishes the crew safe journey.

Tune: The text is through composed and the melody repeats with each verse. The meter is freely felt in 6/8. The key is E major with a range of a minor 9th from E-flat to E.

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