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Broadsheet featuring the ballads 'Fair Phoebe and Her Dark-Eyed Sailor' and 'Bushes and Briers'

Date: c 1850 - c 1870
Overall: 246 x 191 mm, 0.015 kg
Medium: Woodcut engraving and printed text on paper mounted on card.
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Broadsheet
Object No: 00017405
Place Manufactured:London

User Terms

    A broadsheet featuring the ballads 'Fair Phoebe and Her Dark-Eyed Sailor' and 'Bushes and Briers'. Both of these ballads continued on into modern times as popular folk tunes and have regularly been rerecorded.
    The singer courts a girl, but she remains true to William, her sailor, gone these seven years. William at last identifies himself and produces his half of their broken ring. The two are married and settle down.
    'Bushes and Briers' is a classic love ballad, exploring some of the troubles and uncertainties of love and relationships. The woman in the ballad no longer trusts men and the last line suggests she is driven to suicide because of her experiences.

    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.

    It's of a comely young lady fair,
    Was walking out for to take the air;
    She met a sailor all on her way,
    So I paid attention to what they did say.

    Said William -- lady, why roam alone?
    The night is coming, and the day near gone,
    She said, while tears from her eyes did fall,
    'It's a dark-eyed sailor that's proving my downfall.

    It's two long years since he left the land,
    I took a gold ring from off my hand,
    We broke the token -- here's part with me,
    And the other rolling at the bottom of the sea.

    Said William, drive him from your mind,
    Some other sailor as good you find,
    Love turns aside, and soon cold does grow,
    Like a winter's morning when lands are clothed with snow.

    Those words did Phoebe's fond heart inflame,
    She said on me you shall play no game,
    She drew a dagger and then did cry,
    For my dark-eyed sailor I'll live and die.

    His coal-black eye, and his curly hair,
    And pleasing tongue did my heart ensnare,
    Genteel he was, but no rake like you,
    To advise th maiden to slight the jacket blue.

    But still said Phoebe I'll ne'er disdain,
    A tarry sailor, but treat the same,
    So drink his health -- here's a piece of coin,
    But my dark-eyed sailor still claims this heart of mine.

    Then half the ring did young William show,
    She seem'd distracted 'midst joy and woe,
    Oh, welcome, William, I've lands and gold,
    For my dark-eyed sailor, so manly, true and bold.

    Then in a village down by the sea,
    They join'd in wedlock and well agree,
    All maids be true, when your love's away,
    A cloudy morning brings forth a fine day.


    Through bushes and through briers,
    I lately took my way,
    All for to hear the small birds sing,
    And the lambs to skip and play,
    I overheard my own true-love,
    Her voice it was so clear,
    Long time I have been waiting,
    For the coming of my dear.

    I drew myself to a tree,
    A tree that did look green,
    Where the leaves shaded over us,
    We scarcely could be seen,
    I sat myself down by my love,
    Till she began to mourn,
    I'm of this opinion,
    That my heart is not my own.

    Sometimes I am uneasy,
    And troubled in my mind,
    Sometimes I'll think I'll go to my love
    And tell to him my mind;
    And if I should go to my love,
    My love he will say nay,
    I show to him my boldness,
    He'd ne'er love me again.

    I cannot think the reason,
    Young women love young men,
    For they are so false hearted,
    Young women to trepan,
    For they are so false-hearted,
    Young women to trepan,
    So the green grave shall see me,
    For I can't love that man.

    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.

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