Article MT237

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No. 36: Sally Munro1

Sally Munro might appear to have the thinnest representation in printed terms of all extant abduction ballads.  The story concerns one James Dixon (sic), a blacksmith, who courted Sally Munro and found parental opposition - it is the mother in broadside ballads who was most vigorously opposed, there being no mention of the father at all - before eloping with his girl and sailing out of Newry until the ship, bound for Quebec, foundered and Sally was drowned. 

There are brief comparisons and contrasts to be pointed out.  Sally's demise is paralleled by a similar death in abduction ballads in John Reilly.  On the other hand, Mary Neill, as has been shown on this site, was - in the narrative and unlike Sally - rescued.  We may also note that in Sally Munro James Dixon was not chased and captured and imprisoned as was Willie Reilly.  The piece appears as if it was Dixon himself who recounts the tale and this first-person feature can be found in John Reilly and in Erin's Lovely Home but only in part in Charming Mary Neill and not at all in the Willie Reilly stories.

The ballad would appear to have been founded on fact.  Roy Palmer's notes to the song reveal that a James Dickson (apparently the correct historical spelling) and a Sally Munro (ditto) did sail from Newry, aboard (oddly) the ship Newry, in 1830, and that the ship was wrecked off Bardsey Island, itself just off the Lleyn Peninsula, North Wales.2  In fact, The Times carried a full report of the shipwreck on 'the night of Friday last, the 16th instant, on the coast of Caernarvonshire, about four miles to the northward of Bardsey Island'.  What does not appear in the ballad is the fact that three hundred people were saved out of a total of nearly four hundred 'Irish emigrants, chiefly labourers, workmen, and small farmers, with their families'.3

Copy of the ballad was, it seems, limited in distribution.  Not a single London printer was involved.  Instead, in a meagre showing, there is a northern bias - Fordyce in Newcastle, Harkness in Preston and Sanderson in Edinburgh.  The Poet's Box in Glasgow had it in stock.  There are also copies without imprint. 

It may be that the existence of text in northern geographical contexts had some influence on the numbers of sung versions found, there being nine, for example, in Greig's collections (as opposed to but one surviving sung version in the south of England).  The use of a variety of tunes as will be discussed below to go with a consistent narrative might suggest a dissemination through printed text.

Fordyce copy comes on two guises.  The one simply has the title Sally Monroe and the other the name plus the claim that it is A New Song4.  First and second copy both begin begin:

Come all you young females, I pray you attend
To these few verses that I have here penn'd:
I tell you of hardships that I did undergo,
With my bonny lassie, call'd Sally Monroe.
The 'I' in the ballad is introduced as 'James Dickson' (sic), a blacksmith by trade, 'born and bred' in Ayr.  He became acquainted with his Sally in Belfast and sent her a letter, presumably a declaration of love, by a 'comerade' who proved false and went, instead, to the girl's mother.  This 'comerade' also told the mother to beware of Dickson, 'For I had a wife in my own country':
For two months or better I ne'er heard a word,
From the bonnie lassie that I once ador'd,
It was early one morning, down by Sandey Row (sic),
Where, who did I meet but young Sally Monroe.
The reference to 'Sandey Row' comes and goes in broadside and sung form.

The boy, at any rate, persuades her to go to Newry with him in order to get married, she having no objections.  Then there is a significant development in the narrative (in this copy of the ballad the transition from marriage to a voyage away from home is very abrupt) for:

It was from Warren's Point our ship Newry lay,
With four hundred persons ready for sea,
We all paid our passage for Quebec also,
There happy was I with young Sally Monroe.
In Fordyce there is no mention of shipwreck.  Instead we have a final stanza in which the protagonist admits that he took Sally from her parents and that his conscience would be checked 'until my dying day' and, although he did not set out to injure her, nevertheless 'All my life I will mourn for young Sally Monroe'.  From this we can only guess that misfortune had over come the girl.  The lament itself figures in all broadside copy.

Harkness it is who has more details (a further copy looks to be exactly the same)5.  His three opening stanzas in which we should note the spelling, 'Monro', are much as Fordyce had them, beginning with 'Come all you young females, I pray you attend …', introducing himself as James Dixon (sic), 'a blacksmith by trade' who was 'born and bred' in Ayr, where he 'got acquainted with Sally Monro'.  The protagonist sends a letter to his love by 'a comrade, I thought him a friend', but he, instead of delivering the letter, tells the girl's mother of the relationship between James Dixon and Sally Monro. 

In the fourth stanza we might just remark 'ain country' as a possible example of a printer attempting to reproduce a particular vernacular:

He told her old mother to be beware of me,
He said I'd a wife in my ain country,
O then said her mother, now since it is so,
He ne'er shall enjoy his young Sally Monro …
And it is worth underlining that marriage features as it did in Charming Mary Neill - that is, before any voyage that now follows according to Harkness narrative. 

In the next stanza, corresponding to Fordyce copy but with an odd alliance of naming (my italics):

'Twas at Warren's point the ship Monro lay,
With four hundred passengers ready for sea,
Then we paid our passage for Quebec also,
And there I embarked with young Sally Monro.
Evidently there was no problem in adding two more passengers to the ship's complement.  The ship sailed on '14th of April' 'And bore down the channel with a pleasant gale' (the conventional expression for fair winds) until that night 'nigh Baradar we drew' (sic), though the place was hidden by a mist:
Here dreading no danger we met a great shock,
'Twas all on a sudden she struck on a rock,
Three hundred and sixty who were down below,
Were drowned - and so I lost my Sally Monro.
The final two stanzas lament the loss, ending - 'All my life I shall mourn for Sally Monro'.

Clearly, Harkness has extended the boundaries of the story.

Sanderson copy6 has the Harkness storyline with additions and ongoing changes in phrasing - 'that I have here pen'd'; the spelling 'Sally Munro'; at Warren's Point, importantly, 'the ship Newry lay' (my italics); but the essence parallels Harkness until, after the ship sailed:

On the second evening there came on a fog,
There on the Welch coast our fine vessel did log;
In Caernarvon Bay, while all merry below,
And amongst the rest was my Sally Munro.
'Caernarvon Bay' is at least a recognisable location.  In Sanderson copy, however, 'two hundred and sixty' were drowned; not, as in Harkness, 'three hundred and sixty'.

Sanderson ends his copy, as did Harkness, with Sally's drowning and James Dixon's (sic) lament for her.

One copy without imprint parallels Fordyce very closely in embracing the truncated storyline (though it has 'pen'd' in its first stanza).  Another is like copy from Harkness - bar the odd change as in 'Munro', 'pene'd', 'Dixson's my name', 'Carnarvon', 'Bardsey' (getting closer to actuality), 'two hundred and sixty' below not 'three hundred and sixty' as in Harkness and, finally, 'that I really did so' rather than, as in Harkness and with much more sense, 'It was not to injure her that I did so'.7

A third copy without imprint is the only one to appear in eight-line stanzas.8  The storyline is intact - the names given being 'Sally Munro' and 'James Dixon'; inclusive of the blacksmith's journey from Ayr taking him to Belfast where he encountered his sweetheart in Sandy Row; the friend betraying his confidences; the mother opposing any relationship; the lovers travelling to Newry where they married and then embarking at Warren's Point on the ship Newry and sailing on the '14th of April'; the encounter with fog in 'Caernarvon bay'; the shipwreck with 'two hundred and sixty', including Sally, down below; and the lover's lament.

A fourth copy9, on a full sheet where the name 'James Wright', from Edinburgh, appears as seller, parallels Sanderson just a tad more than it does Harkness, with the ship's name given as 'Newry', for instance; but yet spells the principal name as 'Munro'.  So close are the Harkness, Sanderson and this copy that it is tempting to see the same hand behind them all.  It would not be unreasonable to suppose that the ship's name as 'Monro' was a printer's error.  On the other hand, the substitution of 'maid' in Harkness for 'lassie' at one point is not quite so simply explained.  'Three' hundred instead of 'two' is, likewise a figure over which questions may lay.  The narrative itself, in all three cases, is absolutely commensurate.  In the face of this evidence, if one cannot say with certainty that the same printer issued the three copies, yet it is absolutely clear that the same storyline is being promoted, perhaps with copying, one printer from another.

The Poet's Box 10 copy, issued at a relatively late date in 1854, offers some perspective:

Thousands above thousands of times has this melancholy and affecting verse been enquired for at the Box, but the Poet was unable to procure a copy until now, and that at considerable trouble.  The sad fate of the young bride was truly harrowing and must have given deep cause for grief to her manly and noble lover.
But it is hard to accept the flummery.  One wonders about the understanding of abduction and its consequences proposed here, let alone of character; and whether this was an individual response or a widely-held kind at a particular period in time.

Text does have differences in comparison with other copy: 'pen'd' in stanza one, 'my own country' (not 'ain' as in both Harkness and Sanderson and one copy without imprint, that sold by James Wright); and then 'O, then said her mother, now since he be so'; 'lov'd so dear' as opposed to 'loved' … there are one or two more such; but the narrative is exactly as previously encountered with the specific 'Bardsey' worth noting; remarkably like Sanderson copy overall.

Finally, the Poet's Box copy suggests a tune: Life is but a Fleeting Vision.

Altogether, as regards broadside issue of Sally Munro, we encounter a compact history.  The narrative is extensive except on Fordyce and one other copy. 

And a pedigree of sorts can be assembled.  There are two Fordyce copies.  One has 'W and T Fordyce' on it, the other, simply, 'Fordyce'.  The given address is the same on both copies - 48 Dean Street, Newcastle - and the British Book Trade Index pinpoints this address to 1834.  Successive printings, though, are evident; and this may indicate an extended period for printing.  And one should note that the piece is actually entitled Sally Munroe A New Song.  This ought to imply previous copy although no such copy has yet been found - that is, prior to Fordyce and the two examples.  Presumably, then, this represents a printer's trick to drum up sales. 

Sanderson was printing in High Street in Edinburgh from 1824 on but can be a little more closely associated with the issue of a ballad despite gaps in known activity and bearing in mind retrospective printing practice as discussed previously in this series: he was at Anchor Close, High Street in 1832-1834 and 243 High Street in 1835-1836, these two periods representing a likely period for issue.  Furthermore, other Sanderson addresses did not specify High Street; and Sanderson stopped printing altogether after 1836. 

The bulk of Harkness copy was issued between 1840 and 1866, there being no earlier dates available, so that here it is possible that he followed precedent in some ways, perhaps using Sanderson copy.  All the same, the event had taken place some years earlier, allowing time for initiation, growth and dissemination, whether printed or oral.

A general period of issue beginning in the heyday of ballad-printing during the 1830s and 1840s is clear enough but it does not look as if ballads appeared exactly contemporary with the event itself, c 1834 being the best shot at a printing date. 

As to sung versions, George Gardiner obtained a version from George Blake, at St Denys, Southampton, in 190611 that was entitled Charles Dickson and there is a clear change in tone brought about, one imagines, by oral dissemination - especially by the use of a particular tune pattern:

My name it is Charles Dickson, a blacksmith by my trade,
In this little town I was born (and) I was bred,
From this town to Belfast a-working I did go,
'Twas there I fell in love with young Sally Munro.
In Mr Blake's version as we have it, there is a stanza involving the passing of the letter to a friend and his devious response, followed by a stanza where Charles Dickson encounters Sally 'by Sandy Row' and then, in a not entirely clear convolution of the story, the following stanza appears:
Then she said to her old mother, “Pray be aware of he,
For he have got a wife in his own counterey,”
Then said her old mother, “Since I have found it so,
You never shall enjoy my young Sally Munro.”
And that is all.  The manuscript notebook, the written-up version and the published version all accord.  For Gardiner, at this time, there does not appear to have been any other material with which to compare this version so it is no wonder that his title is as it is.  On other manuscript material, Gardiner takes pains to record other people's discoveries but here there are no references.  This, surely, underlines a sense of infancy in recording, an intimation of the pioneer nature of collecting; and, literally, an absence of corroborative material.  Finally, the appearance of the protagonist's name as 'Charles Dickson' indicates oral contribution, all printed copy employing the first name, 'James'.  It is notable (below) that other sung versions have the same forename as here - 'Charles'.

George Blake's tune, strictly speaking in ABCD form but with only a few differences between A and C and B and D, is a grand, rolling one.  Certainly, it is in a four-four time, which we find elsewhere, but has no real resemblance to any other tune.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Alfred Williams' manuscript version, collected some eight or more years after Gardiner's Blake version, from the singer Daniel Morgan, was published in Wilts and Gloucs Standard12 and described by Williams as 'An old Irish ballad, of uncertain date' - which it is clearly not (nor - what is more - are there any printings from Ireland).  Daniel Morgan's version is entitled 'Sally M'Roe' and begins 'My name is Tom Dixon', who was born and bred in Newry (not, as in printed copy, James Dickson nor born in Ayr).  A second stanza, in comparison with printed versions, jumps a few details and offers oral interpolation:

Now it was some two years or more since from her I heard,
Not one word from that bonny girl I once loved so dear,
But abroad as I was walking, down by some shady grove,
Who should I meet there but young Sally M'Roe.
We note the years rather than months of absence as it is in other copy and the phrase 'bonny girl' (no 'lassie' here).  One might also think the phrase 'shady grove' to have been a singer's attempt to make sense of an imperfectly glimpsed source, a falling back on known convention.  Further, as an individual aspect, it is the girl who persuades the boy to go 'along with me' to Newry to marry - the only example of this reversal of roles - and 'Then we'll cross the heaving ocean, and none shall ever know' that they are married.  The remaining stanzas echo but do not follow printed versions - there is a 'river' journey (no river in any other version, sung or printed) where friends, in another manifestation of conventional phrasing, are left behind 'to sorrow and complain' and, similarly, down whose cheeks tears fell; and on a Sunday morning (without fog), 'about six o'clock', the ship 'she sprang a leak' and then dashed 'against a rock'.  No one, not even Sally, could be saved.  The final stanza consists of the familiar lament.

The piece has become somewhat generic in character, there being no geographical details with which to ground the piece. 

Sam Henry's later version, got from a John Elliott,13 falls into some sort of line with that noted from Daniel Morgan.  The location of Dickson's birth in printed copy, for instance, has been shifted from Scotland:

My name it is James Dickson, a blacksmith to trade,
I'm from the County Antrim along the banks of Braid;
Away unto Belfast a-roving I did go,
Where I fell in love with young Sally Munro.
The narrative proceeds:
I wrote my love a letter and to her it did send,
I sent it by a com-e-rade I took to be a friend,
Instead of being a friend, he turn-ed out a foe,
And he never gave my letter to young Sally Munro.
It is made clear in this version that the 'com-e-rade' 'went unto her mother and told lies upon me' and that Dickson was portrayed as having 'a wife in my ane counteree'.  The inclusion of 'ane counteree' looks simply to have been an attempt to reproduce an Ulster vernacular pronunciation, and this can be paralleled in the broadside versions of Harkness (“ain country') and Sanderson ('ain country') as discussed above.  The extra syllable bespeaks oral pronunciation.

A further stanza has been collated - in comparison to known structure - with reference to the meeting in Sandy Row, hand and heart lines (very visible too in Scottish sung versions and in broadside printings) and Sally's agreement 'along with you to go.' Sam Henry added a note to the effect that 'The extra lines in verse four are to be sung to the last two lines of the air.  This is a common feature in Ulster folk song.' Whether this assertion is true or not is one matter; equally, there could be lines missing. 

Then narrative takes a distinctive turn with a strange description of the ship and a different number of passengers who were 'smothered', a unique word in available versions:

We were not long set sail till our good ship lay a-log
In the middle of the ocean surrounded by fog,
There were six hundred passengers all smothered down below,
And amongst all the rest went young Sally Munro.
The final stanza consists of the usual lament.

The tune, quite unlike that of George Blake given above, proceeds in a stately manner; but is hardly remarkable - a first strain repeated three times and followed by a B strain.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Ord's text14 hardly differs from those found in broadside printings, the narrative being of the fullest nature.  Names vary a little - principally 'Munro' and 'Dickson' and, later in text, 'Bradsea' as the site of the ship's foundering.  Dickson's journey from Ayr to Belfast where he encountered Sally Munro, the mother's objection, the subsequent meeting of the lovers in 'Sandy Row' and their marriage and then embarkation in Newry - 'Twas at Warren's Point the ship Munro lay' (sic) are all, except the ship's name (note the name of the ship as 'Monro' in Fordyce text as discussed above), familiar enough and the date for sailing is given: 'fourteenth of April' (one recalls a constant 9th June in all versions for the wreck in which Mary Neill was involved).  The shipwreck stanzas are equally familiar from broadside text and they end with the lover's lament for Sally. 

Greig's version in FSNE15 has a slightly different cast to those previously encountered.  The narrative is, essentially, the same but Greig's fourth stanza offers a new factor:

Ofttimes did I sigh with the throb at my breast,
For the fairest of women, the lass I loved best;
My master's employment enforced me to go
To a country at distance from Sally Munro.
The notion of employment as introduced here does not square either with the previous claim in the particular version and in other known text to status as a blacksmith.  One suspects an element creeping in from other elopement ballads - the story of Willie Reilly as employee, for instance (but it is worth saying, at this point, that this feature appears in other sung versions from Greig as examined below).  Here, too, it is the girl's 'parents' who say no to any relationship, not just the mother.  The boy then spends 'three months' away from Sally before he encounters her in Sandy Row where he persuades her to go with him to Newry to marry:
“Here is my hand, love, and here is my heart,
Till death separate us we never shall part.”
Next day in a coach we to Newry did go,
And 'twas there I got married to Sally Munro.
The voyage, when it takes place, is from Warren's Point, Newry and on board the Newry thus corresponding with historical actuality - down 'Channel' until the Welsh coast is reached and the wreck and the drowning take place.

In a note, Greig adds that:

I have heard it said that James Dixon used to wander about the country till not so very long ago, sometimes playing on the flute; but that the mention of Sally Munro sent him off never to come back …
- which gives an added lustre to the song.  There is no attribution with the song, though Greig gives the name of 'Mr Angus, Peterhead' as the man who 'requested' it.

Greig, in his bigger collection, offered a further eight texts and three separate tunes for Sally Munro16 and, whilst all of the texts recount a narrative that corresponds in outline, there are differences of detail and there are omissions in comparison with the version in FSNE.

The constant factors in text are Dickson or Dixon, Ayr and Belfast - and, of course, Sally Munro.17  One might just remark examples of vernacular (the same sort of thing as 'ain country' found in Harkness and Sanderson broadsides) … 'wi'', for instance, in the Mackenzie and Mackay versions discussed below, 'toon o' Ayr' in the Mackay version, 'o'' and 'ye'll' in the Dickie version ...  Otherwise, the course of the narrative begins with an appeal to an audience - 'Come all you young maidens …' - followed by the protagonist's growing appreciation of Sally's charms; her parents' opposition; the sending of a letter via a 'comrade' and his deceit; and then elopement and embarkation; shipwreck and drowning; and the boy's lament for his love.  The narrative progress is, therefore, intact as noted at the beginning of this discussion - whilst, as will be seen, choice of musical vehicles indicates a casting around; and this may suggest a circulation of printed text as stimulus.

In the first two examples of text, from a Mrs Mackenzie and from an Alexander Mackay, we find that after Charles Dickson introduces himself and his background in Ayr, 'From that town to Belfast I lately did go …' whereas in the next three versions, the first a somewhat truncated one from a Charles Walker, the next from a Maggie A Dickie and one of the fullest of all, and the third from a William Watson, the line is 'From that town to Belfast to work I did go'.  This almost corresponds to those examples of text that mention the protagonist's 'master's employment', above.  The sixth version, however, has no background references at all.  The seventh version reverts to 'I did go' and the final version has 'to work I did go'.

This is the kind of changed detail, hardly shattering the progress of the narrative, that we find throughout the assemblage.  Thus, in the first version, it is the parents to whom the 'comrade' delivers the letter and the parents who make their opposition clear.  In the next, the 'comrade' talks to the parents but it is the mother who says, when hearing of the wife 'in my own counterie' (sic), that 'He shall never enjoy my young Sally Munro'.  In the truncated version from Charles Walker, we find:

I loved that lassie as I loved my life
And it was my intention to make her my wife
But the dearer I loved her, her parents did know
Which caused me to sigh for Sally Munro.
In Maggie Dickie's version the parents say 'No' to the relationship but it is the mother who receives the 'comrade's' indiscretions.  William Watson's versions involves the parents but not, separately, the mother.  The next (unattributed) version involves only the 'old mother'.  There is no mention of parents or mother in James Reid's version.  The final version, from an un-named source, invokes only the parents.

One could go on…But, to select a little, following Mrs Mackenzie's text, we note that 'I said if she'd come to Urie with me' then they would marry.  Subsequently:

Here is my hand love and here is my heart
Till death separate us we never shall part
Next day in a coach to Urie we did go
And there I got married to young Sally Munro.
Since the name 'Urie' already has been employed it is a puzzle that in the next stanza, 'It was at Newry Point the ship Newry did lay' - and it was bound for Quebec.  Apart from what looks here to be a confection of 'mistakes', brought about by mishearing rather than by misreading, the significant element is the naming of Quebec as destination that accords with broadside reference.  After this, it was on the '14th April' that the ship set sail 'down the Channel'…There is no location for the shipwreck.  'Three hundred and sixty went all down below' including Sally.

Alexander Mackay's version (but not Mrs.  Mackenzie's) includes the following stanza:

For two months or better not word did I hear
From the young lassie that I lov'd so dear,
Until one evening, 'twas down in Sandy Row,
And who did I meet but young Sally Munro?
The boy asks the girl to go with him to Newry to be married although there is no actual mention of the event as a done thing.  It was at Warren's Point that the ship, the Newry, lay 'with five hundred passengers all ready for sea' and to Quebec that it was sailing; but no locations for the wreck are offered - merely that 'there came on a fog' in which the ship struck and 'four hundred and fifty were all down below' including Sally.  We can but assume that drowning occurred.

Charles Walker's versions omits most detail except the fog; and 'three hundred and sixty were all drowned below'- including Sally.

In Maggie Dickie's version, the boy persuades the girl to go to Newry and to Warren's Point where 'the ship Newry lay' bound for Quebec.  The fog and the wreck are invoked but only 'Two hundred and sixty were down in below' including Sally.  This version, though, includes extended detail, some of which we have already encountered, together with a prominent piece of information (my italics) - found also in the version in Greig's FSNE:

Oftimes have I sighed wi' the throb at my breast
For the fairest of women the lass I loved best.
My master's employment enforced me to go
To a country at distance from Sally Munro.
This also appears in the Watson sung version but in no others.  And then we find a stanza, like the one in the Watson version below, indicating that 'For four months or better I never did hear' from Sally until, by accident, they met in Sandy Row.  In the Reid version the time gap is three months (as it is in Ord's printed version); in the Mackay version, two months (as it is in FSNE); whilst there is no mention at all in the Mackenzie and Walker versions.  George Blake, we remind ourselves, had 'six months' and Daniel Morgan no less than 'two years and more'.  Broadside versions generally had 'two months' or no mention at all.

There is also a stanza beginning 'Here is my hand love and here is my heart' … just as there was in the Mackenzie and unattributed versions but in no other Scottish sung versions.  All broadside versions had these lines.

In the Watson version lines appear that refer to the 'master's employment' and removal to 'A country some distance' but the two preceding lines are not included as they were in the FSNE version - so the stanza is cut short.  There is also 'four months or more' absence of communication between the lovers; but no 'Here is my hand …' lines.  There is but one mention of Newry as the boy persuades the girl to go with him: no location for the ship nor any destination.  The fog and the wrecking of the ship are described ('Two hundred and sixty' passengers plus Sally) and a lament follows:

Oh many a young man has lost his loving wife
And likewise his children whom he loved as his life …
These lines appeared also in the Mackenzie and Dickie versions but in no others.  Similarly, the final stanza in all three and in the versions from Alexander Mackay, from William Watson and from the two unattributed copies is included - even with slight changes in phrasing:
It was from her parents I stole her away
Which will shake my conscience to my last day
But it was not to injure her that ever I did so
So my life I will mourn for Sally Munro.
The 14th April reference in Mrs Mackenzie's version appears again only in the first unattributed version and becomes 12th April in that from James Reid.  One might even consider this inconsistency to be unusual where such journalistic touches are often found (9th June in Charming Mary Neill, for instance … Brennan's nine wounds … and so on).  The arrival of the fog - Mrs Mackenzie makes no reference to fog - is given as being 'on the second evening' in the Mackay version; at 'six o'clock' in the Walker, Dickie and Watson versions.  There is no fog nor is any time given in the first unattributed version.  There is fog in the Reid version but no time given.  The second unattributed version (much shorter than all the others) does at least include the fog; but no time.

Finally, the Reid version has a unique stanza, the protagonist saying

I asked her to come with me across the deep, deep sea,
And to my great persuasion at last she did agree.
In the bay of old Dublin a vessel lay low,
And 'twas there I embarked with young Sally Munro.
Furthermore in this version, when the fog comes on, '… on the Welsh coast a fine vessel lay'.  The wreck follows - but it is clear that another song altogether may have been recalled or detail made up.

The point of recounting such detail is that Greig was collecting in a relatively restricted geographical area but the ramifications of dissemination indicate an underlying consistency of the narrative line that, despite the changes in detail, suggest printed text as something of a unifying factor. 

Indeed, when we put all the evidence together we find a song that had no settled form during its relatively brief life.  Textual detail and tune selection illustrate this well enough. 

For Greig's tunes are a mixed lot and there is no visible connection.  This can be clearly seen by comparing the first two, those from Mrs Mackenzie and Alexander Mackay.  The first is in ABCD form, ending on a bottom E. 

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

The second (and Greig makes a note: 'To the tune of 99 The Banks of the Nile B'…), with its runs of quavers, might suggest a reasonably active pace.  Greig has taken care to emphasise what one would expect to be breathing spaces at the end of the first musical measure.  The whole pattern is - ABCD.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.
Charles Walker's tune, whilst keeping to a nominal E minor scale, is, obviously, in different timing and there is resemblance between the A and C measures and the B and D ones.  It cannot be sensibly compared with either of the other two tunes given here.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

And the same may be said of those three tunes that Greig includes that are devoid of attendant text.  James Beaton's is in ABCD form:

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

That of Mrs Annie Robb is set likewise:

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Mrs Thain, in form, follows suit:

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

But there is no resemblance amongst them.  Each singer was reaching for a suitable vehicle not inheriting one.

This outcome is underlined by a further example of the song, collected from Bruce Laurenson in 1948.18  Here the story has taken some twists though it is recognisably the same as that found other sung versions.  It begins:

Jim Dixon is my name, I'm a blacksmith to trade,
And in the town of Bristol, where I was born and bred,
And from there unto Belfast a-working I did go,
And there I got acquainted with young Sally Munro.
There follow the episodes recounting the writing of a letter and the betrayal of confidence by 'a comrade' although he is seen only as 'a foe' and no mother is involved; 'Six months' of silence between the lovers; and then, without a mention of a location,
'Twas on a Saturday's afternoon and on a Sunday too
Who did I spy a-wandering there but Sally Munro…
'In spite of her poor parents', embarkation follows - Sally insisting that 'I've got no objections …' and then there is a voyage 'down the river' before - again, with no location mentioned:
'Twas on a Saturday's afternoon, it came on a night of fog;
And on a Sunday's afternoon, our good ship struck a rock …
whereupon Sally and all the other passengers were drowned.  The version ends with the boy's familiar lament.

Clearly, the details of the narrative have now been 'lost' although the outline remains.  The tune, following on in the Scottish line examined above, is quite different to any other.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Bressay is some distance from Greig's neck of north-east Scotland and could well have been visited by singers travelling by sea and bearing gifts from afar.  Nevertheless, as the song emerged, it exhibited the same characteristics as did Greig's versions.

In total in Scotland the lack of correspondence amongst versions in musical movement and phrasing may serve to underline a somewhat unsettled form.  George Blake's solitary English example does not alter the overall impression.  Sally Munro was not a song that engendered prolonged attention and this contrasts vividly with the full and regular appearance of, say, both the Willie Reilly songs and of Erin's Lovely Home.  Even with the 'narrow' subject-matter of elopement or abduction, variety is endemic.

Roly Brown - 9.3.10
Oradour sur Vayres, France


Article MT237

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