In fair Worcester town and in fair Worcestershire
A beautiful damsel she once lived there.
A young man he courted her all for to be his dear,
And he by his trade was a ship's carpenter.
Early one morning before it was day,
He went to his Polly, these words he did say:
'O Polly, O Polly, you must go with me,
Before we are married my friends for to see.'
He led her through woods and through valleys so deep,
Which caused this poor maiden to sigh and to weep:
'O Billy, O Billy, you have led me astray
On purpose my innocent life to betray.
'O Billy, O' Billy, Oh pardon my life,
I never will covet for to be your wife;
I'll travel the whole world to set myself free,
If you will pardon my baby and me.'
'There's no time for pardon, there's no time to save,
For all the night long I've been digging your grave.
Your grave is now open and the spade is standing by';
Which caused this young damsel to weep and to cry.
He covered her up so safe and secure,
Thinking no one could find her, he was sure.
Then he went on board to sail the world round,
before the murder could ever be found.
Early one morning before it was day,
The captain he came up and these words he did say:
'There's a murderer on board and he must be known.
Our ship is in mourning, we cannot sail on.'
Then up steps the first man, 'I'm sure it's not me';
Then up steps the second, 'I'm sure it's not me';
Then up steps bold William to stamp and to swear:
'I'm sure it's not me sir. I vow and declare.'
Now as he was turning from captain with speed,
He meet with his Polly, which made his heart bleed.
She ripped him and tore him, she tore him in three,
Because that he murdered her baby and she.
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Source: Everyman's Book Of Brittish Ballads, ed. Roy Palmer
Tune and verses 4, 5 and 8 (substantially) sung by George Dunn (1887-1975), Quarry Bank, staffordshire; collected by Roy Paler, 21.6.1971 (Folk Music Journal, 1973, p. 289). Remainder of text from a broadside printed by Bloomer of Birmingham.
Promising marriage, a carpenter seduces a woman. When she becomes pregnant, he murders her, and joins the navy as a ship's carpenter. After the crew see the ghosts of the woman and her baby, the carpenter confesses to the murder, and raving, distracted dies. This is the gist of the thirty-three verses of a seventeenth-century broadside ballad, 'The Gosport Tragedy, or the Perjured Ship Carpenter', versions of which remained popular until recent years. Cecil Sharp commented that this was 'one of the few supernatural folk-ballads that are still popular with country singers' (1907)Palmer subsequently made another recording of George Dunn (3rd December 1971) in which he remembered a bit more of the song. This can be heard on the Musical Traditions CD George Dunn: Chainmaker (MTCD317-8, 2002). The full text of the accompanying booklet, including text transcriptions and biographical details, can be seen at Musical Traditions Records: George Dunn
A wildly popular ballad in its day, found in tradition pretty much everywhere English is spoken.
At Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads:
The Gosport tragedy; or, the Perjured ship carpenter
Polly's love, or The cruel ship carpenter
Love and murder
There was also a stage parody:
Molly the betray'd or, The fog-bound vessel
At the Max Hunter Folk Song Collection:
Pretty Polly Come Go Along With Me As sung by Ollie Gilbert, Mountain View, Arkansas on June 25, 1969.
Pretty Polly As sung by Sara Jo Bell, Harrison, Arkansas on August 25, 1969.
Pretty Polly As sung by Harrison Burnett, Fayetteville, Arkansas on August 18, 1960.
Molly Girl As sung by Mrs. Ed Newton, Gainesville, Missouri on June 10, 1958.
Molly, Pretty Molly As sung by Fran Majors, Wichita, Kansas. Summer, 1963.
Roud: 15 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six
Laws: P 36 A/B
Related Songs: House Carpenter (easily confused with)