Black Sheep

Words: traditional
Music: Laila Sumpton arr. Owen Shiers

Also known as Congo River or Blow Boys Blow, this is a topsail halyard shanty found in Matthew Crampton’s book Human Cargo and set to a new melody by our own Laila Sumpton. The “black sheep” of the title are slaves being smuggled past the British embargo. We performed in Hull during its City of Culture year in 2017 and had the privilege of singing this at the birthplace of William Wilberforce.

Oh, was you ever on the Congo River?
Blow boys blow,
Yes, I’ve been down on the Congo River,
Blow me bully boys blow.

The Congo she’s a mighty river,
Where the fever makes the white man shiver.

Beware, beware the Bight of Benin,
Where one comes out for forty that goes in.

A Yankee ship come down the river,
Her mast and spars they shone like silver.

And how do I know she’s a Yankee clipper,
By the blood and guts that runs from her scuppers.

And who do you think was master of her?
Why, Shanghai Brown that Yankee lover.

And who do you think was first mate of her?
Why, Shanghai Brown, the sailor robber.

And what do you think we had for supper?
Oh, handspike hash and a roll in the scuppers.

And what do you think we had for cargo?
Why, black sheep that have run the embargo.

It’s blow today and blow tomorrow,
We’ll blow this hell-ship all in sorrow.