“Bound Down to Newfoundland”


Young Captain Stafford Nelson of the Abilene falls sick. Unable to get up on deck, he cannot navigate the ship, and none of the other sailors know the coast. Unable to reach Halifax, they wind up in Arichat, where the captain dies


In Greenleaf/Mansfield the schooner is Mary Ann and the illness, which kills all but two, is smallpox. - BS

This story has interesting similarities to the story of the clipper _Neptune's Car_, though that ship sailed around Cape Horn rather than in Canada. The story has been widely retold; I found versions in the February 2005 issue of _American History_ magazine, in Lincoln P. Paine's _Ships of the World: An Historical Encylopedia_ (Houghton Mifflin, 1997), p. 356, andin A. A. Hoehling's _Ships that Changed History_ (1992; I used the 2007 Barnes & Noble edition), pp.11-12.

Shortly before the _Car_ was to set sail from New York to San Francisco in 1857, her first mate broke her leg. Captain Joshua Adams Patten was forced to sail with a mate hired by the shipping company.

It turned out to be a bad decision; the mate may have been a ringer (Patten was racing two other ships around the Horn). Whatever his reasons, he seems to have tried to slow the ship's passage. Patten had him arrested.

But that left Patten as the only qualified navigator aboard -- and he was suffering from tuberculosis (so Paine and _American History_; Hoehling calls it a "mysterious" ailment). He tried to work two shifts, and eventually collapsed.

In a sense, the story of _Neptune's Car_ was happier than this song. Salvation came in the form of Patten's wife, a teenager who was pregnant for the first time -- but whom Joshua Patten had taught navigation on a previous voyage. With the help of the crew and the second mate, she took over the ship, brought her through Cape Horn, and eventually got it to San Francisco. It was a slow passage, but they made it.

Her name? Mary Ann.

But if the Neptune's Car made it to port, the story then reverts to what is found in this song: The captain did not survive. Joshua Patten, who was barely 30, died in mid-1857, and Mary Ann Patten, not yet 25, had contracted his tuberculosis and died in 1861. (The ship itself outlived them; _Neptune's Car_ was still in service, under the British flag, in 1870.)

The source of this song? Probably not. But one wonders if there might not have been a _Neptune's Car_ song which mixed with the Greenleaf/Mansfield version. - RBW


  • Bodleian, Harding B 11(588), "The Loss of the Mary Ann" A. Ryle and Co. (London), 1845-1859; also Firth c.13(58)=Harding B 16(132b), "The Loss of the Albion," unknown, no date


  1. Laws D22, "Bound Down to Newfoundland"
  2. Greenleaf/Mansfield 156, "The Schooner Mary Ann" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Peacock, pp. 905-906, "Bound Down for Newfoundland" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Doerflinger, pp. 201-203, "Bound Down to Newfoundland" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Lehr/Best 73, "The Schooner Mary Ann" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Creighton-NovaScotia 104, "Banks of Newfoundland" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Creighton-Maritime, pp. 195-196, "Bound Down to Newfoundland" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Mackenzie 87, "Newfoundland" (1 text)
  10. Roud #647
  11. BI, LD22


Author: Captain Cale White
Earliest date: 1928 (Mackenzie)
Keywords: sea wreck disease death
Found in: Canada(Mar,Newf)