“The Fate of the Nancy Bell”


An old sailor recounts the aftermath of a shipwreck. 10 survivors wash up on an island and after a month, proceed to draw lots as to who will be eaten by the rest. At the end the narrator is rescued as he is finishing off the last of the others.

Supplemental text

Fate of the Nancy Bell, The
  Partial text(s)

          *** A ***

The Yarn of the Nancy Bell

From Geoffrey Grigson, The Penguin Book of Ballads, #105, pp.
322-325. As published in Bab Ballads.

'Twas on the shores that round our coast
  From Deal to Ramsgate span,
That I found alone on a piece of stone
  An elderly naval man.

His hair was weedy, his beard was long,
  And weedy and long was he,
And I heard this wight on the shore recite,
  In a singular minor key:

'Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
  And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And a bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite,
  And the crew of the captain's gig.'

(20 additional stanzas)


Harlow's version leaves out the first seven verses of the original. - SL

Grigson claims that this piece was early set to music and gives the impression that it became traditional. That it was set to music is clear; that it was highly popular is also clear (_Granger's Index to Poetry_ lists no fewer than 20 anthologies containing it, which is a higher total than I can recall for any folk piece). But I've seen no evidence, apart from Harlow, that it was actually traditional. - RBW


  1. Harlow, pp. 194-196, "The Fate of the Nancy Bell" (1 text)
  2. PBB 105, "The Yarn of the Nancy Bell" (1 text)
  3. ST Harl194 (Partial)
  4. BI, Harl194


Author: William Schwenck Gilbert (1836-1911)
Earliest date: 1866 (_Fun_ magazine)
Found in: Britain US