The Longest Song Wiki

Perhaps one of the oldest trad songs in the Longest Johns collection, Greenland Whale Fisheries dates back in textual records to very early in the 18th century, and similar to Bonnie Ship the Diamond shares themes of the plight of the poor sailors of the northern whale fisheries.

The song has been popularized by countless folk artists over the years, perhaps made most famous however by Ewan MacColl and A. L. Lloyd.

It bears noting that though this song's history traces back to the 18th century, it could in fact originate as early as the 17th century, with the start of the competitive (often battle-ridden) international interest in Whaling the coast of Greenland. England's interest in whaling expeditions in Greenland dates as early as the 1610 English Muscovy Company.


This song is perhaps one of the single most varied folk songs with a historic basis. The year that opens the first verse changes seemingly arbitrarily, and not only the arrangement of the verses but their content as well shift almost constantly from artist to artist.


These lyrics are based on the version performed by the Longest Johns in their April 2019 live stream with Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith, however there are so many variations that claiming an original for this traditional song is impossible.

In eighteen hundred fourty six
on March the eighteenth day
we hoisted our colours to the top of the mast
and for Greenland sailed away
(brave boys, for Greenland sailed away!)

For Greenland is a hell of a place
It's a place that's never green
Where there's ice and there's snow and the whale-fishes blow
And daylight's seldom seen, brave boys
The daylight's seldom seen

The lookout in the cross-trees stood
With a spy-glass in his hand
“There's a whale, there's a whale, there's a whale-fish!” he cried,
“And she blows at every span,
(brave boys, And she blows at every span!”)


Well, our Captain stood on the quarterdeck
the ice was in his eye
“Overhaul, overhaul, let your belly tackles fall!
And you put your boats to the sea,
(brave boys, and you put your boats to the sea!”)


Our harpoon struck and the line played out,
for she gave a flourish with her tail
and she capsized the boat and we lost five men
And we ne'er did catch that
(brave boys, wnd we ne'er did catch that whale)


Now the losing of those five brave men
it grieved the captain sore
but the losing of that bloody great whale
it grieved him ten times more,
(brave boys, it grieved him ten times more)

{Chorus til finish}