A broadheet featuring the ballad 'Blue Mary'. This ballad was also known as 'Blue Ey'd Mary'
This ballad is about the rewards of true love, although in this case Mary's virtue is compromised, the sailor returns and marries her. There are a number of variants to this ballad, which is still sung as a folk song, including the length of absence of the sailor and the nature of their earlier encounter.
SignificanceBroadsheets were designed as printed ephemera to be published and distributed rapidly. This also meant they were quickly disposed of with many of them not surviving the test of time. The museum's broadsheet collection is therefore a rare and valuable example of how maritime history was communicated to a wide audience, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries. They vibrantly illustrate many of the themes and myths surrounding life at sea. Some of them also detail stories about transportation and migration.
As I walked out one fine morning,
When Flowers they were springing,
I met a fair maid by the way,
She was so sweetly singing.
I kindly saluted the maid
She was so light and airy,
She appeared to me like a Venus bright,
The charming blue ey'd Mary.
Where are you going, my fair pretty maid,
This summer morning early,
I am going kind sir to milk my cows,
And then to mind my dairy,
Shall I go with you my pretty maid,
When she answered me so cheerfully,
Do just as you please kind sir,
Reply'd the Blue-Ey'd Mary,
We were crossing of the fields so green,
And flowers they were springing,
Down on a mossy bank we sat,
And the sky larks sweetly singing.
Down on a mossy bank we sat,
No one I'm sure was near me,
And there I kiss'd the ruby lips,
Of charming blue eyed Mary.
Now you have had your will of me,
Kind sir, I pray do leave me,
If I should prove with child by you,
My parents they will slight me,
Once more I kiss'd her ruby lips.
Soon as these words she'd spoken,
I gave to her a diamond ring,
Take this my love as a token.
Then I pressed her ruby lips,
I squeez'd her hand and parted,
She said kind sir, return to me,
Don't leave me broken hearted.
He said fair maid I must be gone,
Our ship will sail so early,
I'll prove as true as the turtle-dove,
To you my Blue eyed Mary.
When six long weeks were gone and past,
No letter came to mary,
She often viewed the diamond ring,
When she was in the dairy.
She was crossing of the flowery dale,
One summers morning early,
A young man stepp'd up to her,
And said are you young mary.
And now I am returned from sea,
To take your cows and dairy,
And come and live along with me,
My charming blue eyed Mary.
She went with him without delay,
She forsook her cows and dairy,
Which made her a captain's bride,
The charming blue eyed mary.
Broadsheets or broadsides, as they were also known, were originally used to communicate official or royal decrees. They were printed on one side of paper and became a popular medium of communication between the 16th and 19th centuries in Europe, particularly Britain. They were able to be printed quickly and cheaply and were widely distributed in public spaces including churches, taverns and town squares.
The cheap nature of the broadside and its wide accessibility meant that its intended audience were often literate individuals but from varying social standings. The illiterate may have also had access to this literature as many of the ballads were designed to be read aloud.
The ballads also covered a wide range of subject matter such as witchcraft, epic war battles, murder and maritime themes and events. They were suitably dramatic and often entertaining, but occasionally they were designed as elaborate cautionary tales for those contemplating a life of crime.
The broadside ballads in the museum's collection were issued by a range of London printers and publishers for sale on the streets by hawkers. They convey, often comically, stories about love, death, shipwrecks, convicts and pirates. Each ballad communicates a sense that these stories were designed to be read aloud for all to enjoy, whether it was at the local tavern or a private residence.