“Saltpetre Shanty (Slav Ho)”


Shanty. "To ol' Callyo we're bound away, (Slav ho!/Oh Roll!) (repeat) We're bound away from Liverpool bay, them puntas o' Chili will grab our pay. Ch: Oh rooooll, Rock yer bars! Heave 'er high-o, rock 'er, oh, rooooll!"


See also notes to "Drei ritten am Thor." Robinson gives an alternate refrain with imitative Spanish words "Slav Ho! Slavita, vraimentigo slee-ga, Slav Ho!" which Colcord quoted and used to launch her explanation of how one song ends up being a new one. Her supposition being as follows:

Two ships, say, German and British, are moored near each other. The English shantyman hears the German sailors singing an old folk song. He doesn't understand the words, but likes the tune and starts humming or playing it to himself. Then (quoting from Colcord) "he let it lie fallow till some words occurred to him would fit it. Naturally, they concerned the part of the world in which he found himself, and it mattered not at all to him that literary landsfolk reserve the term 'Spanish Main' for an different part of the world altogether. When it came to the chorus, he wanted some good rousing nonsense-syllables, and again he borrowed-this time from the Spanish tongue that he heard daily. The sailor was always immensely tickled by the sound of a foreign, particularly a Latin, language, and was given to clumsy paraphrases of it." - SL

For more on saltpeter, and how it made ports like Callao and Ilo very important, see the notes to "Chamber Lye" and "Tommy's Gone to Hilo." - RBW

Same tune

  • Drei Reiter Am Thor (File: Colc096)

Cross references


  1. Colcord, p. 97, "Slav Ho!" (1 short text, 1 tune-quoting Robinson)
  2. Hugill, p. 518, "Saltpetre Shanty" (1 text, 1 tune) [AbEd, p. 377]
  3. ADDITIONAL: Captain John Robinson, "Songs of the Chantey Man," a series published July-August 1917 in the periodical _The Bellman_ (Minneapolis, MN, 1906-1919). "To the Spanish Main--Slav Ho!" is in Part 4, 8/4/1917
  4. Roud #4692
  5. BI, Colc097


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1917
Keywords: shanty ship travel
Found in: Britain