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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Old Limericks

The august Maritime History Discussion List (marhst-l @ Queen's University, Canada) was entertained recently by an OT (off maritime topics) question.

Between the Woods and the Water: on Foot to Constantinople from the Hook of Holland - The Middle Danube to the Iron GatesA member was reading Patrick Leigh Fermor's entertaining (and rather enigmatically titled) picaresque, Between the woods and the water, on foot from Constantinople the Middle Danube to the Iron Gates, when he came across the final line of what seemed to be a limerick.

"What ho, when they lifted the lid!" it read.  "Where does it come from?" he asked.

And, as usual, he got instant information:

The first candidate was "The Careful Buyer."

There was an old man of Madrid,
Who went to an auction to bid;
He bought, if you please,
A case of old cheese-
But oh, Gosh! when they lifted the lid!

This, it seems, comes from The Limerick up to date Book, composed and collected by the whimsical Ethel Watts Mumford.  (San Francisco, Published by Paul Elder and Company, 1903.)

Candidates numbers two and three are similar rhythmical meditations:

There was an old man of Madrid
Who went to an auction to bid.
In the first lot they sold
Was an ancient commode -
And, my god, when they lifted the lid!

...or this rendition broadcast on radio 21 July 1984:

There was an old man of Madrid
Who went to an auction to bid

The first one they showed
Was an ancient commode
What ho, when they lifted the lid!


Bookman Beattie said...

Great fun !

Joan Druett said...

Isn't it ever! I remember limericks mostly from my junior university years, but most of them were only marginally publishable, even by the relaxed standards of today.

Buck said...

The sad and strange part about limericks being unpublishable is that so many are lost to us. The same fate has befallen many sea shanties as well.

Joan Druett said...

How true! I have a lovely old copy of Whall's Sea Songs and Shanties, where they are obviously bowdlerized. But the internet may be different? I got a big surprise the other day when I googled "ship Venus." I was hunting up the latest info on the brig Venus that was pirated by a couple of women back in 1806 (apparently, according to a post on marhst-l, a record has turned up in Peru), and got a few sites that lifted my eyebrows into my hair. I suspect they might be modern adaptations, though, rather than the original rude versions -- not that I hung around to read them.

Anonymous said...

The brig Venus was captured by the Spanish off the Coast of Chile on 4 January 1807 . The Capitan was one Benjamin Barnet Kelly, the same man that pirated the ship with second mate Richard Edwards, seaman Joseph Redmonds, boys Thomas Ford and William Evans, a Malay cook, soldier Richard Thompson and convicts Richard Thomas Evans, John William Lancashire, Catherine Hagerty and Charlotte Badger.

Joan Druett said...

Do you have a copy of the newspaper report? What is odd is that the Sydney papers reported (9 April 1807) that the colonial brig Commerce had made port that Kelly and Lancashire had been captured by whaling captains and were on the way to London for trial. Then the colonial schooner Mercury arrived with the report that the brig Venus had been seized by a Maori party on the Coromandel peninsula, and burned. All the crew saved Redmonds (perhaps) had been murdered and presumably eaten. This last comes from p.3 of Ingram's NZ Shipwrecks. He didn't source it, and it sounds as if he was wrong. The information about Kelly's arrest seems right, though. Perhaps whoever was in charge when the brig was captured by the Spanish gave his name as Kelly.

Anonymous said...

On 4 January 1807 the Venus, a 45 ton fragata, was detained near Carampangue, southern Chile. In command was one Captain Kelly!
In the course of questioning Kelly told his inquisitors an imaginative tale. He had entered the Pacific via Cape Horn as navigator aboard the Pelican. The Venus had been “acquired” in Australia with the intention of returning to San Juan, South America to pick up seal hunters the Pelican had left behind. Six native women on board he described as female crew, replacements for men lost during a pirate attack. They were more likely to have been Maori women the Venus had kidnapped from the New Zealand coast. After an eventful voyage the storm battered Venus had reached the island of Juan Fernandez.
In the end, the Venus was seized by the Spanish authorities and sold at auction. Her crew were held as prisoners in barracks built for them by de Guzman in Concepcion. Kelly, the mastermind of one of colonial Australia's most intriguing escapes, was last seen sailing off to Lima in a merchant convoy. He has not been heard of since.