“Dumbarton's Drums”


"Dumbarton's drums, they sound so bonny When they remind me of my Johnny." The singer tells of how Johnnie, "Dumbarton's caddie," courts her. She expects that someday he will be a captain and she his lady.

Supplemental text

Dumbarton's Drums
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

From James Johnson, "The Scots Musical Museum," Volume II, #161, p.
169. As found in the 1853 edition (punctuation is somewhat uncertain,
given the state of the facsimile).

  Dumbarton's drums beat bonny O,
When they mind me of my dear Johny O.
  How happy am I
  When my soldier is by,
While he kisses and blesses his Annie O.
'Tis a soldier alone can delight me O,
For his graceful look do invite me O:
  While guarded in his arms,
  I'll fear no war alarms,
Neither danger nor death shall e'er fright me O.

  My love is a handsome laddie O:
Genteel, but ne'er foppish nor gaudy O:
  Tho' commissions are dear,
  Yet I'll buy him one this year;
For he shall serve no longer a cadie O,
A soldier has honour and bravery O,
Unacquainted with rogues & their knavery O:
  He minds no other thing
  But the ladies or the king:
For every other care is but slavery O.

  Then I'll be the captain's lady O:
Farewell all my friends and my daddy O:
  I'll wait no more at home,
  But I'll follow with the drum,
And whene'er that beats I'll be ready O.
Dumbarton's drums sound bonny O,
They are sprightly like my dear Johny O:
  How happy I shall be,
  When on my soldier's knee,
And he kisses and blesses his Annie O!

          *** B ***

As sung by Fiddler Bob Beers and his family. Transcribed by
Robert Waltz. Two recordings were consulted: Bob and Evelyn
Beers, "The Golden Skein" (Biograph 12045, 1972; hereafter "G")
and (The Beers Family and others), "The Seasons of Peace"
(Biograph 12033, 1971; hereafter S; sung by Janet Boyer, sister
of Bob Beers). 

    Dumbarton's drums, they sound so bonnie
    When they remind me of my Johnny.
    What fond delight can steal upon me
    When Johnny kneels and kisses me.

Across the fields of bounding heather
Dumbarton tolls the hour of pleasure --
A song of love that has no measure
When Johnny kneels and sings to me.

'Tis he alone that can delight me,
His graceful eye, it doth invite me,
And when his tender arms enfold me,
The blackest night doth turn and dee.

My love he is a handsome laddie,
And though he is Dumbarton's caddie,
Someday I'll be a captain's lady
When Johnny tends his vow to me.


1.3: A song ] An hour
2.4: The recordings don't reflect this, but I believe I've
     heard "dee" sung as "flee" -- a "post-Beers" instance of
     the folk process
G omits verse 3.


First appearing seemingly in the Orpheus Caledoneus (for the text, see the Digital Tradition DMBDRUM2), this was originally a rather flowery piece. Somehow it entered the Beers family tradition, which endowed it with a magnificent tune (not the same as that in the _Scots Musical Museum_) and much simpler if not particularly inspired words. It is the Beers version which has become extremely popular in pop-folk circles. - RBW


  1. Silber-FSWB, p. 281, "Dumbarton's Drums" (1 text)
  3. ST FSWB281A (Full)
  4. Roud #8669
  5. BI, FSWB281A


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1797 (_Scots Musical Museum_ #161)
Keywords: love courting
Found in: Britain(Scotland) US