The hidden talents of the Record Office team have been stirred… inspired by the Sir John Franklin story some of our staff members have specially recorded some traditional music to accompany our new online exhibition for Google Arts and Culture.
The tradition of singing, or chanting, of sea shanties and ballads aboard ships flourished during the 19th century. Long journeys at sea and repetitive hard work were alleviated by the singing of hauling and working songs, alongside tales of tragedy and loves lost documented in tunes and laments. ‘Handsome Molly’ is an old-time banjo and fiddle tune with a maritime theme, and this fantastic version has been recorded for us by ukulele player and singer Mark Psmith (our records manager!).
‘I wish I was in London
Or some other seaport town
I’d set my foot on a steamboat
And sail the ocean round
While sailing around the ocean
While sailing around the sea
I think of Handsome Molly
Wherever she may be’
Folk music has long taken inspiration from historical tales, and what better than a story that meets such a haunting end as that of Franklin and his crew. ‘Lady Franklin’s lament’ is a traditional folk ballad, which first appeared as a broadside ballad around 1850. It speaks from the perspective of a sailor on board a ship, who dreams about Lady Franklin and her plight to find her lost husband.
‘We were homeward bound one night on the deep
Swinging in my hammock I fell asleep
I dreamed a dream and I thought it true
Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew
With a hundred seamen he sailed away
To the frozen ocean in the month of May
To seek a passage around the pole
Where we poor sailors do sometimes go’
This version was recorded by folk singer and musician Ewan D Rodgers and features vocals and whistle playing by Clare (our assistant conservator!).