are at least two versions of this song in the Oral History Collection,
one sung by Ina Popplewell in 1954 and the other by Dick Evans in 1960
(collected by John Meredith and Norm O'Connor respectively).
hearing the Ina Popplewell version I immediately had the impression that
there was at least one verse missing in the middle of the song. The Dick
Evans version confirmed this by supplying a second and third verse (but
no final verse from the Popplewell version). I
subsequently managed to discover a more complete version in the National
Library's Sheet Music Collection with all four verses. I at first thought
I had located an author, then yet another version surgfaced with conflicting
authorial acknowledgement. Therefore a number of questions immediately
emerged, not just 'who wrote the song' but on which continent was it written?
Where contradictions exist in published examples of songs, dates
can have significance in determining authorship.
sheet music example I encountered had authorial acknowledgement attributed
to Harry Birch. Birch's example revealed Popplewell's version had indeed omitted the second
and third verses. When I discovered the Dick Evans version I
found I was hearing a slightly different tune and he was including the
second and third verses without Popplewell's (and Birch's) final verse. Evans sings
'Plymouth' instead of 'Portsmouth' and less significantly 'till her hair turns grey' instead
of 'when her hair turns grey' and he sings the last chorus in an alternate
tense, as though in answer to the father.
The Cogill and Skelly
sheet music version promotes an Edison Records recording
of the song sung by Will Oakland, arranged by Hal Dyson and
copyrighted by Dinsdale's PTY LTD Music Publishers 269 Swanston Street.
Melbourne. A note at the top the front page describes the song as 'A
Favourite American Ballad'.
Will Oakland (born
Herman Hinrichs in Jersey City 1880 - died 1956) was a famous counter-tenor
in the early twentieth century. Oakland was with the Cohan and Harris
minstrels, and began recording for Edison in 1908. Other ballads he
recorded were "Just Before the Battle Mother" and "White
Wings". Oakland recorded "In the Gloaming" and "Stick
to Your Mother Tom," with the American Quartet before the group
became the Heidelberg Quintet. Oakland enjoyed
a minor brief resurgence in popularity with a self produced LP in the
early 1950s and by appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show in the US (http://music.aol.com).
A search of the
Library of Congress in the United States delivered more sheet music
versions. One four verse version published by White, Smith & Company,
Boston - Chigaco sung by Harry Le Clair, attributes its 'Arrangement'
to Harry Birch.
This version is date-stamped by the Library of Congress on 30th January
version purporting to be a transcription by Pierre Duvernet, also published
by White, Smith & Company, is date stamped by the library of Congress
on the 7th of October 1885 (delevered to the music department on 6th
of June 1900)
The same song, by
its alternative title 'Don't Leave your Mother When Her Hair Turns Grey'
was performed by a well known American female theatre performer, Lulu
Glaser, an actress, singer and musical comedy and vaudeville star who
performed between the mid 1890s and 1917. She appeared on an Ogdens
Guinea Gold Cigarette card at the turn of the twentieth century and
at age 20 received a sizable review in The New York Clipper in
September 1894 (Sat 29th).
The question of location
is tied up with which ship the father was sailing away on. While most published versions originate in America, the origins of the song appear to eminate from England. I believe the song is a fictional projection of war-time England perhaps influenced by an old folk song referring to miners who were supposedly turned out of thier jobs in the coal mines when their hair turned grey.
Most versions of
the song mention Portsmouth (journeyed down to Portsmouth .
. . father was a sailor aboard a man-o-war) and just one version has it as Plymouth.
Both Portsmouth and Plymouth in England are Naval Ports and, not surprisingly, there are
corresponding Naval Shipyards in separate locations in the US, both associated
with Cities of Portsmouth. The US also has a port of Plymouth. The reason
for the US parallels is simple.
The Portsmouth in the
United Kingdom is located in the county of Hampshire on the southern
coast and was a significant naval port in previous centuries and is still
a major dockyard and base for the British Royal Navy. At the conclusion
of the 19th century sailors possibly sailed from that port. Although
the HMS Victory (with an 's') was indeed moored at Portsmouth from 1812
until 1922, she remained at her moorings for that entire period. In
1922 she went into drydock in Portsmouth's Royal Naval Dockyard for
restoration after which the ship has been a public museum until the
present time. The
HMS Victory is obviously not the ship referred to in the song if the song is to be considered factual.
Victor Harbor in South Australia was so named by Captain Crozier after
his ship the HMS Victor in 1837.
HMS Victor Emanuel
with 91 guns often sailed from Portsmouth including July 1858 and November
late in arrival when it was launched in 1898 is another HMS Victor,
a tug boat, which ended service in 1945.
On the United States
side of the ocean the states of Virginia and New Hampshire
both have a city of Portsmouth, both of which have Naval Shipyards.
The Naval Shipyard In Portsmouth, Virginia however, is known as Norfolk
Naval Shipyard (although the shipyard is actually in Portsmouth and
only opposite the City of Norfolk). In the US a motor boat named the USS
Victor doesn't get launched unitl 1917 and serves for only one year
until November 1918 being returned to the owner intact and therefore
unlikely to have sunk with any hands on board.
Another USS Victor was launched even later, 6th of December 1941, ending
service in the same year as the English tug boat to which I've referred above, in 1945.