Archibald MacMechan's Ballad of the Rover

This ballad was written by Archibald MacMechan, an English professor in Halifax in the 1920s, based on the style of old sea ballads. MacMechan didn't provide a melody for it, although a certain traditional rhythm is suggested by the words. I have heard that a band in Western Canada has actually recorded it. Historically, it relates quite accurately a battle that the Liverpool privateer brig Rover fought on the coast of Venezuela in 1800. As remarkable as it may seem, Rover defeated four Spanish warships and captured the largest one without losing a man. The engagement was written up in the British Naval Chronicle in February of 1801. It makes an interesting comparison to Stan Rogers' Barrett's Privateers, a gloomier and less truthful, but far more famous interpretation of privateering

The Ballad of the Rover

Come all you jolly sailor lads, that love the cannon's roar,
Your good ship on the bring wave, your lass and glass ashore,
How Nova Scotia's sons can fight you presently shall hear,
And of gallant captain Godfrey in the Rover privateer

She was a brig of Liverpool, of just a hundred tons;
She had a crew of fifty-five and mounted fourteen guns;
When south against King George's foes she first began to steer,
A smarter craft ne'er floated than the Rover privateer.

Five months our luck held up and down the Spanish Main;
And many a prize we overhauled and sent to port again;
Until the Spaniards laid their plans with us to interfere,
And stop the merry cruizing of the Rover privateer.

The year was eighteen hundred, September tenth the day,
As off Cape Blanco in a clam all motionless we lay,
When the schooner Santa Rita and three gunboats did appear,
Asweeping down to finish off the Rover privateer.

With muskets and with pistols we enaged them as they came,
Till they closed in port and starboard to play the boarding game;
Then we manned the sweeps, and spun her round without a thought of fear.
And raked the Santa Ritta from the Rover privateer

At once we spun her back again; the gunboats were too close;
But our gunners they were ready, and they gave the Dons their dose.
They kept their distance after tat and soon away did sheer,
And left eh Santa Ritta to the Rover privateer.

We fought her for three glasses and then we went aboard,
Our gallant captain heading us with pistol and with sword;
It did not take us very long her bloody decks to clear,
And down came the Spanish colours to the Rover privateer

We brought our prizes safe to port - we never lost a man;
There never was a luckier cruise since cruising first began;
We fought and beat four Spaniards - now did you ever hear
The like of Captain Godfrey and the Rover privateer?

Source: Three Sea Songs Archibald MacMechan, (Halifax: T.C. Allen, 1924)

Copyright Dan Conlin 1998 Last Modified Feb. 13, 1999