“Darby Kelly”


Grandfather Darby Kelly "beat a drum so neat" for Marlboro at Blenheim and Ramilie. His father drummed "when great Wolf died." The singer was with Wellington in Portugal and when "He made Nap prance right out of France"


Broadside Bodleian Harding B 11(696) notes provide the following military references for the grandfather, father, and singer, respectively: "Marlborough, John Churchill, Duke of, 1650-1722; Wolfe, James, 1727-1759; Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of, 1769-1852" - BS

Given that the earliest possible date for this song is 1814 (when Napoleon abdicated for the first time), and a date after Waterloo (1815) is more likely, it seems clear that the broadsides cited are the original publication of the song in this form. Obviously, from the dates, Darby Kelly was a drummer boy, not an actual soldier, in the War of the Spanish Succession. Nonetheless, the range of dates would better suit four or five generations than three; one wonders if there wasn't an intermediate version, in which perhaps the grandson fought in the American Revolutionary War rather than the Napoleonic Wars. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1701-1714 - War of the Spanish Succession, in which Marlborough was the chief English general for most of the war, commanding at the battles of:
  • Aug 13, 1704 - Battle of Blenheim. British/Imperial victory which saves Vienna.
  • May 23, 1706 - Battle of Ramillies. British and Imperials foil a French campaign to reinforce the Spanish Netherlands
  • 1756-1763 - Seven Years War, in which the British captured Canada from the French, largely as a result of:
  • Sep 13, 1759 - Battle of the Plains of Abraham. James Wolfe attacks Quebec City; he is mortally wounded, but Canada is taken
  • 1803-1815 - Napoleonic Wars. Many British officers commanded on land; the last and greatest was Wellington, who directed:
  • 1808-1814 - the Peninsular War, which began as a campaign to defend Portugal and eventually became a war to liberate Spain
  • June 18, 1815 - Battle of Waterloo. Final defeat of Napoleon


  • Bodleian, Harding B 12(19), "Darby Kelly", J. Pitts (London), 1802-1819; also Johnson Ballads fol. 109, Harding B 16(67a), Johnson Ballads 1557, 2806 c.18(80), Harding B 11(793), Harding B 11(794), "Darby Kelly"; Harding B 28(63), "Darby Kelly, O"; Harding B 25(469), Harding B 11(696), "Darby Kelly, O!"


  1. O'Conor, p. 155, "Darby Kelly" (1 text)
  2. BI, OCon155


Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1820 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 12(19))