“The Rambling Soldier (I)”


Soldier (sailor) describes the joys of rambling the countryside (of England): "I once was a seaman stout and bold, Ofttimes I plowed the ocean... For honor and promotion." In some versions he brags that he has a license to ramble, granted by the king.


Sharp notes that on the older broadsides, the rambler was a soldier; in the newer ones, he is a sailor. - PJS

Sharp may be right about which version is the older. The Bodleian broadsides give no clear-cut answer; however, Harding B 16(221a), "Rambling Soldier" lists the tune as "Rambling Sailor"; it also lists the author as John Morgan. - BS

In Brown's version (which is only two stanzas), it appears that he is a sailor who later enlists in the American Revolutionary army. This may be a rewrite, but the text it too short to be sure.

Ord's text says that the sailor has been granted a license to beg *because he has lost a limb.* Ordinarily I would consider this a significant enough distinction to split the songs, but the rest is the same; the lost limb appears (or fails to appear, perhaps) in only a single line. Perhaps a mixture with something like "The Forfar Soldier," or even a case of an injured veteran adopting the piece to his own case? - RBW

Cross references

  • cf. "The Rambling Comber"


  • Bodleian, Johnson Ballads 256, "The Rambling Sailor" ("I am a sailor stout and bold, long time I have ploughed the ocean"), J. Catnach (London), 1813-1838; also Firth c.12(275), Johnson Ballads 1230, Harding B 11(1670), Firth b.25(378), Harding B 11(3226), Harding B 11(4288), Harding B 15(250b), Johnson Ballads 966, Johnson Ballads 559, Harding B 20(142), Firth b.34(302), "[The] Rambling Sailor"; Harding B 11(3228), "The Rambling Soldier" ("I am a soldier blithe and gay"), W. and T. Fordyce (Newcastle), 1832-1842; Firth b.26(329), Harding B 11(835), Harding B 16(221a), Harding B 11(3227), Harding B 15(251a), Harding B 15(251b), Harding B 15(252a), Harding B 20(143), Harding B 17(251a), "Rambling Soldier"


  • Chris Willett, "The Rambling Sailor" (on Voice12)


  1. BrownIII 367, "The Jolly Soldier" (1 fragment plus mention of 1 more)
  2. Sharp-100E 43, "The Rambling Sailor" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Meredith/Anderson, pp. 174-175, "The Rambling Sailor" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Ord, p. 326, "Dicky Johnston, or, The Roving Sailor" (1 short text)
  6. Roud #518
  7. BI, ShH43


Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1839 (broadside, Bodleian Johnson Ballads 256)
Found in: US(SE) Britain(England,Scotland) Australia