“Davy Lowston”


"My name is Davy Lowston, I did seal, I did seal." Lowston and crew are left to hunt seal; the which is to retrieve them is wrecked. After much privation, the survivors are rescued by the Governor Bligh. Lowston advises against sealing


This song is a mostly-true story, though there has been a lot of confusion along the way. The best summary seems to be from "The Story of David Lowston, a pre-colonial NZ song," an article by Frank Fyfe published in the Journal of New England Folklore in 1970 and now available online at the New Zealand folklore web site.

All dates in what follows are somewhat uncertain. I'm going to leave out all the "probablies" and just summarize.

It was in 1809 that the brig _Active_, Captain John Bader (corrupted to Bedar in the song, probably for metrical reasons) advertised for hands. The _Active_ sailed from Sydney on December 11, 1809; on February 16, 1810, a party of ten sealers under David Lowrieston was left on an island off New Zealand. They had relatively few supplies; Bader promised to return soon with more, but the _Active_ was never seen again.

The sealing crew had to survive by hunting seals and digging up roots; they seem to have been amazingly inept, watching two boats destroyed, but despite their privations (and the implication of the song), none of them actually died. They were rescued by the _Governor Bligh_, and arrived in Sydney on December 15, 1813.

The rest of Fyfe's speculation must be taken with a grain of salt. He believes the song to be based on "Captain Kidd," and there are obvious resemblances of form. However, "Davy Lowston" as it was collected (from an American, of all things) is not sung to "Captain Kidd," and while several of the musical phrases are similar, others are strikingly different.

Indeed, "Davy Lowston" cannot be sung to the usual "Captain Kidd"/"Wondrous Love" by any amount of squeezing, as the following analysis will show; I print the common text of "Davy Lowston," and note the differing number of syllables in "Captain Kidd."

My name is Davy Lowston (1 extra syllable in DL; could perhaps be adapted -- though Fyfe argues that the original was "My name is David Lawrieston," which would never fit no matter what squeezing applied)

I did seal, I did seal (compatible)

My name is Davy Lowston, I did seal. (compatible)

Though my men and I were lost (1 extra syllable in DL; could be adapted)

Though our very lives it cost (1 fewer syllable in DL, hard to adapt)

We did seal (2 fewer syllable in DL, no adaption possible)

We did seal, we did seal. (compatible with some versions of Captain Kidd).

I allow the possibility that "Davy Lowston" is derived from Captain Kidd, or one of its folk relatives, but it's far from certain. - RBW

Cross references


  2. BI, DTdavylo


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1967 (Bailey & Roth, Shanties by the Way)
Found in: New Zealand