A New Zealand folksong that dates back to the mid 19th century with no discernible author. It has been performed by numerous singers throughout the years, but has recently saw a resurgence of popularity thanks to The Norfolk Broads. You may recognise one of their members.

This song appears as track three on Between Wind and Water.

Factoids

The Weller Bros. was a Sydney Australia shore-whaling company that operated primarily along the southern coast of New Zealand from 1830 to 1840. Though they had numerous vessels in their employ, none appear to have been named the Billy o' Tea. Anyone under the employ of the Weller Bros. were referred to as a Wellerman, but in the specific context of the song the Wellerman takes on the meaning of a supply ship sent by the company.

A Billy is slang for a makeshift kettle used for boiling water to make tea.

Tonguing refers to the tonguers, the part of a shore whaling team responsible for butchering the whale after it had been caught.

Lyrics

These lyrics are based on the version performed by the Longest Johns on their album, Between Wind and Water. the original lyrics can be found below.

There once was a ship that put to sea,
And the name of that ship was the Billy o' Tea
The winds blew hard, her bow dipped down,
Blow, me bully boys, blow!

Chorus (after each verse):
(HUH!)
Soon may the Wellerman come
to bring us sugar and tea and rum.
One day, when the tonguing' is done,
We'll take our leave and go.

She had not been two weeks from shore
When down on her a right whale bore.
The captain called all hands and swore
He'd take that whale in tow.

{Chorus}

Before the boat had hit the water
The whale's tail came up and caught her.
All hands to the side, harpooned and fought her,
When she dived down below.

{Chorus}

No line was cut, no whale was freed,
An' the captain's mind was not on greed!
But he belonged to the Whaleman's creed
She took that ship in tow

{Chorus}

For forty days or even more,
the line went slack then tight once more,
All boats were lost, there were only four
and still that whale did go.

{Chorus}

As far as I've heard, the fight's still on,
The line's not cut, and the whale's not gone!
The Wellerman makes his regular call
to encourage the captain, crew and all!

{Chorus x2 til Finish}

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