“Blow the Man Down”


A tale of a sailor's adventures. Perhaps he serves under a difficult captain; perhaps he meets a girl (and "[gives] her my flipper") who spends his money or sells him off to sea; perhaps his heroic exploits in port earn him a night (or more) in prison


Hugill defines six versions of this: a) The Flash Packet (from Ratcliffe Highway); b) The Sailing of the Blackballer; c) The Flying Fish Sailor or Policeman - where a sailor is mistaken for a "Blackballer" or "packet rat" (whom the crews of clippers generally considered to be a lower form of marine life); d) The Fishes (i.e. "Song of the Fishes/Blow Ye Winds Westerly"); e) The Milkmaid (i.e. "Rolling in the Dew"); and f) Bungyereye (i.e. "Quare Bungo Rye"). - SL

The David Pryor recording ["Roll 'Im On Down"; see the "Same Tune" field] is actually a boat-launching song with different lyrics but the same tune and structure. - PJS

Some versions of this song mention that "Kicking Jack Williams commands the Black Ball." Williams was a historical figure, known for driving his crews hard; he commanded the American clipper _Andrew Jackson_ (launched 1855 as the _Belle Haxie_ and given a new name after changing owners). In 1859-1860, Williams caused the _Jackson_ to make the fastest clipper trip ever, "pilot to pilot," from New York to San Francisco -- 89 days 4 hours. (The record for fastest trip, anchor to anchor, is held by the _Flying Cloud_, but circumstances were somewhat different in that case.)

The above information comes from Lincoln P. Paine's _Ships of the World_ (entry on the _Andrew Jackson_, which cites this song). Shay, however, quotes Robert Greenhalgh Albion's _Square Riggers on Schedule_, which states that the only Captain Williams who served on the Black Ball Line was a different John Williams, commanding the _Pacific_. If so, it appears the two have been conflated. - RBW

Same tune

  • Roll 'Im On Down (sung by David Pryor on AFS 507 B, 1935; on LC08)
  • Ane Madam (File: Hugi215)

Cross references


  • Almanac Singers, "Blow the Man Down" (General 5016A, 1941; on Almanac02, Almanac03, AlmanacCD1)
  • Noble B. Brown, "Blow the Man Down (I)" (AFS, 1946; on LC27)
  • Woody Guthrie, "Blow the Man Down" (Commodore 3006, n.d. -- but this may be the same recording as the General disc by the Almanac Singers)
  • G. Lotson, "Blow the Man Down" (AFS A-397, 1926)
  • Richard Maitland, "Blow the Man Down (II)" (AFS, 1939; on LC27)
  • Minster Singers, "Blow the Man Down" [medley w. "Rio Grande"] (Victor 61148, n.d., prob. c. 1903)
  • Pete Seeger, "Blow the Man Down" (on PeteSeeger07, PeteSeeger07a) (on PeteSeeger23)


  1. Doerflinger, pp. 17-22, "Blow the Man Down" (5 texts, 2 tunes. The first text is influenced by "Ratcliffe Highway"; the fourth is "The Three Ravens" (!); the last is largely "The Salt Horse Song")
  2. Colcord, pp. 53-59, "Blow the Man Down" (3 texts, 1 tune. First text is what Hugill would call the Blackballer version; second text is the Flying Fish
  3. Sailor; third is along the lines of Ratcliffe Highway)
  4. Harlow, pp. 92-95, "Blow the Man Down" (2 texts, 1 tune. Both texts are related to Ratcliffe Highway)
  5. Hugill, p. 122, "Goodbye, Fare-Ye-Well" (1 text, version C of "Homeward Bound") [AbrEd, p. 105]; p. 200, "Knock a Man Down" (1 text, 1 tune -- quoting Sharp-EFC) [AbrEd, p. 155]; pp. 203-214, "Blow the Man Down" (6 texts plus several fragments, 1 tune. The first text is a sanitized "Ratcliffe Highway" version; the fourth is the "Song of the Fishes," the fifth is a version of "Rolling in the Dew," and the seventh is "Quare Bungo Rye.") [AbrEd, pp. 158-167]
  6. Sharp-EFC, XXXIX p. 44-45, "Knock a Man Down" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Bone, pp. 77-82, "Blow th' Man Down" (2 texts, 1 tune; the second text may have a bit of "Cruising Round Yarmouth" in it)
  8. Linscott, pp. 128-131, "Blow the Man Down" (1 text, 1 tune)
  9. Shay-SeaSongs, pp. 38-39, "The Black Ball Line" (1 text, 1 tune); pp. 39-40, "Blow the Man Down, I" (1 text); p. 40, "Blow the Man Down, II" (1 text plus an alternate chorus)
  10. Smith/Hatt, p. 21, "Blow the Man Down" (1 text)
  11. Mackenzie 107, "Blow the Man Down" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  12. Randolph-Legman I, pp. 459-460, "Blow the Man Down" (1 text, 1 tune)
  13. Thomas-Makin', p. 31, (no title) (1 text, short, perhaps not this song but with the key line in modified form and too short to link to anything else)
  14. Lomax-ABFS, pp. 491-493, "Blow the Man Down" (1 full +2 partial texts, the second seemingly being actually "Brian O'Lynn (Tom Boleyn)", 1 tune)
  15. Fahey-Eureka, pp. 52-53, "Radcliffe Highway" (1 text, 1 tune)
  16. Sandburg, pp. 404-405, "Blow the Man Down" (1 text, 1 tune)
  17. Darling-NAS, pp. 310-311, "Blow the Man Down" (1 text)
  18. Arnett, pp. 54-55, "Blow the Man Down!" (1 text, 1 tune)
  19. PSeeger-AFB, p. 39, "Blow The Man Down" (1 text, 1 tune)
  20. Silber-FSWB, p. 90, "Blow the Man Down" (1 text)
  21. Fuld-WFM, pp. 146-147, "Blow the Man Down"
  23. ADDITIONAL: Captain John Robinson, "Songs of the Chantey Man," a series published July-August 1917 in the periodical _The Bellman_ (Minneapolis, MN, 1906-1919). "Blow the Man Down" is in Part 3, 7/28/1917.
  24. Roud #2624
  25. BI, Doe017


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1917
Found in: US(MA,NE,So,SW) Canada(Mar) Bahamas