“The Cruel Ship's Carpenter (The Gosport Tragedy; Pretty Polly)”


The carpenter gets the girl pregnant. They meet, allegedly to plan their wedding. He announces he spent the night digging her grave, then murders her. He flees to sea; her ghost follows to demand justice. His crime is revealed, and the man dies


Although there is no clear dividing line between the full ballad "The Gosport Tragedy" and the drastically shortened form "Pretty Polly," the latter has now clearly taken on a life of its own. I tend to distinguish them by the presence or absence of the ghost. - RBW

Cross references


  • Bodleian, Harding B 28(267), "Love and Murder" ("In Worcester town, and in Worcestershire"), W. Armstrong (Liverpool), 1820-1824; also Harding B 25(1156), Harding B 28(285), Harding B 28(24), "Love and Murder"; Harding B 11(3053A), "Polly Love" or "The Cruel Ship-Carpenter"; Johnson Ballads 458, Harding B 11(3057), Harding B 11(3058), Harding B 11(3056), Harding B 11(49), Firth c.13(205), Harding B 25(1520), "Polly's Love" or "The Cruel Ship Carpenter[!]"; Harding B 15(74b), Firth c.13(290), "The Cruel Ship Carpenter"; Harding B 11(824), "The Cruel Ship-Carpenter"; Harding B 3(33), "The Gosport Tragedy" or "The Perjured Ship-Carpenter"; Harding B 3(34), "The Gosport Tragedy" or "The Perjured Ship Carpenter"


  • Harry Cox, "In Worcester City" (on Voice17)
  • Sam Larner, "The Ghost Ship" (on SLarner02)
  • Mike Waterson, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" (on ESFB2)


  1. Laws P36A, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter A (The Gosport Tragedy)/The Cruel Ship's Carpenter B (Pretty Polly)"
  2. BrownII 64, "The Gosport Tragedy" (3 texts plus 1 excerpt and mention of 1 more; Laws lists the "A" text as P36A, and the rest as P36B, but "D" and probably "C" are "Pretty Polly (II)")
  3. JHCoxIIA, #17A-C, pp. 73-78, "Pretty Polly," "Come, Polly, Pretty Polly" (2 texts plus an excerpt, 2 tunes; the "A" text is the full "Cruel Ship's Carpenter" version; "B" is the short "Pretty Polly (II)"; the "C" fragment is too short to tell but has lyrics more typical of the latter)
  4. Creighton/Senior, pp. 114-120, "The Ship's Carpenter" (4 texts, 2 tunes)
  5. Fowke/MacMillan 70, "The Ship's Carpenter" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Peacock, pp. 404-406, "The Ship's Carpenter" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Karpeles-Newfoundland 27, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Mackenzie 29, "The Gaspard Tragedy" (1 text, 1 tune)
  9. Leach, pp. 698-700, "The Gosport Tragedy" (2 texts, but the second goes with "Pretty Polly (II)")
  10. Cambiaire, pp. 74-75, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter (Pretty Polly)" (1 text, with the moralizing ending in which the ship sinks but no ghost)
  11. Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 128-134, collectively titled "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" but with individual titles "Pretty Polly," "Dying Polly," "Pretty Polly," "Pretty Polly," "Pretty Polly," "Oh, Polly!" (6 texts; 5 tunes on pp. 395-398; of these only the "C" text has a ghost; in "D" and "E" there is no ghost but Willie's ship sinks; the others by our criteria are versions of "Pretty Polly (II)")
  12. SharpAp 49, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" (21 texts, 21 tunes -- but many of them, being fragmentary, could as easily be classified under "Pretty Polly (II)")
  13. Sharp/Karpeles-80E 36, "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" (1 text, 1 tune)
  14. Huntington-Whalemen, pp. 129-131, "The Ship Carpenter" (1 text, long but broken off just before the murder, 1 tune)
  15. Leach-Labrador 20, "Pretty Polly" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  16. Manny/Wilson 92, "The Ship's Carpenter" (1 text, 1 tune)
  17. BBI, ZN1429, "In Gosport of late there a damsel did dwell"
  19. ADDITIONAL: Frank Harte _Songs of Dublin_, second edition, Ossian, 1993, p. 24, "Miss Brown" (1 text, 1 tune, short enough that it might be any of several murder ballads, but some of the material seems characteristic of this song)
  20. Roud #15
  21. BI, LP36


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1767 (Journal from the Vaughn)
Found in: Britain(England) US(Ap,SE) Canada(Mar,Newf)