“Betsy of Dundee”


The singer returns from the wars. He "from nymph to nymph resorted" but falls in love with Betsey. Her father discovers them and threatens him with transportation. When Betsey threatens to leave with the singer her father agrees to their marriage.


Broadside NLScotland L.C.Fol.178.A.2(120) commentary: "Whilst 'Betsey of Dundee' follows a common theme found in many early ballads, mainly that of love involving a returning or departing sailor, the end is something of a surprise. In most other cases, the young couple either elope and tragically die en route or the young suitor meets a grisly end at the hands of his sweetheart's father. Here, however, Betsey and the sailor appear to live happily ever after."

The broadside version -- specifically NLScotland L.C.Fol.178.A.2(120) -- is the basis for the description. Both the beginning and end are missing from Creighton-SNewBrunswick 8, leaving Creighton to conclude with reason, but incorrectly, "she probably went away with him, and was deserted." - BS

Creighton thought Angelo Dornan's version composite; she was probably right, but the broadsides show that the combination preceded Dornan. Looking at this, I can't help but think that it's a conflation of two pieces, one being perhaps "The Banks of Dundee (Undaunted Mary)" [Laws M25], the other something like "The Plains of Baltimore." There may be a bit of "Betsy Is a Beauty Fair (Johnny and Betsey; The Lancaster Maid)" [Laws M20] in there, too.- RBW


  • Bodleian, Harding B 25(178), "Betsy of Dundee ("You sailors of this nation, pray you give attention"), T. Birt (London), 1828-1829; also Johnson Ballads 161, Harding B 20(234), Harding B 11(3309), Harding B 17(24b), Firth c.26(45) [partly legible], Firth c.12(133), "Betsy of Dundee"; 2806 c.14(23), "Betsey of Dundee"
  • NLScotland, L.C.Fol.178.A.2(120), "Betsey of Dundee," unknown, c.1840


  1. Creighton-SNewBrunswick 8, "Betsy of Dundee" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Roud #2791
  3. BI, CrSNB029


Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1830 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 25(178))
Found in: Canada(Mar)