“Heart of Oak”


In praise of the British Navy that can drive off any foe: "Heart of oak are our ships, Jolly tars are our men: We are always ready. Steady, boys, steady, We'll fight and we'll conquer again and again."


This may not, at first glance, seem a folk song -- but it is one of Great Britain's leading patriotic songs; Samuel Elliot Morison (_The Oxford History of the American People_, p. 165) notes that "British throats went hoarse bawling out 'Heart of Oak"" in 1759, the year of England's greatest success in the Seven Years' War (Morison quotes the song on p. 170).

It appears that the song and the furor were inspired by the English success at Quiberon Bay, in which Admiral Hawke's British squadron demolished a French fleet and ended any possibility of France invading Britain. (See Arthur Herman, _To Rule the Waves_, p. 290. For Hawke and his various victories, see the notes to "Bold Hawke.")

The song is quite correct in describing British ships as built of oak. Oak was the preferred wood for ships because it resisted rot -- presumably because of the tannic acid found in it. It didn't last forever, but other woods usually wore out sooner; see David Cordingly, _The Billy Ruffian: The _Bellerophon_ and the Downfall of Napoleon_ (Bloomsbury, 2003), p. 18. - RBW

Same tune

  • Liberty (Darling-NAS, p. 340)

Cross references

  • cf. "Bold Hawke" (context of the Battle of Quiberon Bay)


  1. Chappell/Wooldridge II, pp. 189-191, "Heart of Oak" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. ADDITIONAL: C. H. Firth, _Publications of the Navy Records Society_ , 1907 (available on Google Books), p. 220,"Hearts of Oak" (1 text)
  4. BI, ChWII189


Author: Words: David Garrick/Music: "Dr. Boyce"
Earliest date: 1759 ("Harlequin's Invasion")
Found in: Britain(England)