Monday, August 6, 2012

Literature: "Cans of Grog"

When sailing orders do arrive
Bold Jack he takes his leave
My dear sweetest Pol he cries
I pray now do not grieve.

Thy Jack will take his daily can
Of grog and drink to thee
In hopes that thou will n'er forget
Thy sailor who's at sea.

But should thou false or fickle prove
To Jack who loves thee dear
No more upon my native shore
Can I with joy appear.

But restless as the briny main
Must heartless heave the log
Shall trim the sails and try to drown
My sorrow in cans of grog.

~ Cans of Grog; a sea chanty dating back to the late 18th or early 19th century

Header: Foam Study by my dear friend Munin


Capt. John Swallow said...

Interesting ditty...and the use o' "Can" is interesting - a euphemism perhaps? Grog would (I assume) be carried in barrels as was virtually everything else...or mixed into one from it's parts.

Came across an extra couple o' verses c/o and reprinted from "Songs the Whaleman Sang" & also from "Steve Roud's Broadside Ballad Index"

Can of Grog was printed on broadsides, one of which appeared in Edinburgh Musical Miscellany (1792). This version was sung on the whaling ship Ann in 1772. It doubtless dates earlier.

//When up the shrouds the sailor goes
And ventures on the yard
The landsman who no better know
Believe his lot is hard
Bold Jack with smiles each danger meets
Weighs anchor heaves the log
Trims all the sails belays his sheets
And drinks his can of grog

If to engage they give the word
To quarters he'll repair
Now winding in the dismal flood
Now quivering in the air
When waves 'gainst rocks to rend and roar
You'll n'er hear him repine
Though he's on Greenland's icy shore
Or burning beneath the line //

Capt. John Swallow said...

Just found this rather salty version o' "Can O' Grog" by a group called Rapp Scallion...good feeling for it!

Pauline said...

Excellent points and a fine song to boot; thankee, Captain.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this was originally sung as mugs rather than cans and changed at some point in the modern era - perhaps the Victorian when tins or cans were indeed common aboard ship. No proof of it, but it kind of seems appropriate...

Capt. John Swallow said...

Here's an interesting tidbit in the history o' grog that I was unaware of (the end - the beginning is more common knowledge). Borrowed from the aforementioned

In 1850 the Admiralty's Grog Committee, which had been appointed to investigate problems associated with the ration, released a report which confirmed the relationship between drunkenness and discipline problems, and recommended the ration be eliminated altogether. As before, they recommended giving seamen compensation by way of of increased pay. However, Effective January 1, 1851, the Admiralty rather than ending the rum ration, merely decreased it. The rum ration became one half gill, or one eighth of a pint. Because of the decrease in amount, an effort was made to improve the quality. Rum brokers experimented with blending and blending formulas eventually became closely guarded secrets.(4)

Although the American Navy ended the rum ration on September 1, 1862, the ration continued in the Royal Navy. Toward the end of the nineteenth century temperance movements began to change the attitude toward drink. The days of grog slowly came to an end. On January 28, 1970 the "Great Rum Debate" took place in the House of Commons, and July 30, 1970 became "Black Tot Day," the last pipe of "Up Spirits" in the Royal Navy.(5)

The history of grog does not end there, however. An American purchased the rights to the forumula for grog and royalties from the sale of grog are donated to the Royal Navy's Sailor's Fund.

Timmy! said...

Funny song, Pauline and lots of interesting information in the comments thatnks to Captain Swallow. I too assumed that the term can was a euphemism for mug, but perhaps it was just a change in the wording made later... A good question.

Pauline said...

These chanties evolved - and continue to do so to some extent - over time. For instance, some of The Corsairs' wording does not match the historical wording used for each song. It only makes sense to make the story in the song more recognizable to the audience, even if that's only you and your mates aboard ship. Just a thought...

Blue Lou Logan said...

That a shanty would become a broadside on land seemed odd to me, but really this isn't a shanty in the sense of a work song so much as a sea song of the same ilk as "Hearts of Oak" or "Don't Forget Your Old Shipmate." "Jack (Tar)" and the grog ration itself imply a Brit naval origin as well. It could have then been known to the public as a another song of pride for HM's Navy.

Pauline said...

I agree with your assessment regarding the type of song we're dealing with, Lou. This one has more in common with "Spanish Ladies" than the heave away/haul away songs used for working a ship.

Salty Walt said...

A more traditional rendering of the song "Bold Jack" can be found here:

Track 3.
Give a listen.

Pauline said...

Thank you for adding to this post, Walt; excellent stuff!