The Dead Horse Shanty


"...The custom of 'burying the dead horse,' observed in many sailing ships, has been rarely remarked upon. Except to the few seamen employed, it had little significance; certainly no geographical or classical significance. It was but the occasion on which the first month's sea service had been completed, and the seaman, having dissipated his advance of one month's pay, felt himself free of debt. His outlook on the matter was artless. His creditor, tailor or boarding-house master, who had cashed his 'month's advance note,' was living in affluence on the proceeds while he, the seaman, was the 'horse' supporting the creditor in indulgence!

"...The crowd aboard would stage a celebration. A hatch or grating, on which a dummy figure clothed in discarded rages of attire was placed, would be dragged aft by all hands, to exaggerated lusty pulls - that moved the grating no more than an inch or two at each affected strain. On completion of the exploit, the grating and its burden hauled aft to the cabin door, it was expected that an earnest of further payment in the shape of a bottle or two would be tendered by the master. The figure was then unlashed, three cheers were given, and the dummy was cast overboard."

-David Bone, Capstan Bars

Lyrics from Capstan Bars, by David Bone

I say, old man, your horse is dead.
An' we say so, an' we hope so!
I say, old man, your horse is dead.
Oh! Poor old Man!

One month a rotten life we've led.
An' we say so, an' we hope so!
While you lay on y'er feather bed.
Oh! Poor old Man!

But now th' month is up, ol' turk.
An' we say so, an' we hope so!
Get up, ye swine, an' look for work.
Oh! Poor old Man!

Get up, ye swine, an' look for graft.
An' we say so, an' we hope so!
While we lays on an' yanks ye aft.
Oh! Poor old Man!

An' yanks ye aft t' th' cabin door.
An' we say so, an' we hope so!
An' hopes we'll ne-ver see ye more.
Oh! Poor old Man!


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