Turkey Bones

Words: Philip Pearson
Music: Philip Pearson with Maggie Boyd, Jane Perrott and Danny Toeg

A true story (well, mostly) by our own Philip Pearson, whose great-grandfather Charlie Collins sailed on HMS Challenger during its 1872-76 survey expedition. One of the crew, Joe Matkin, said in a letter home in December 1872: “The Officers had a grand dinner about 6 o’clock & a Turkey very mysteriously disappeared just as it was ready to go on the table & it has never been heard of since. Again last night a Roast Goose, and 2 loaves of Bread were taken off the cook’s table before the cook could turn round. Some fragments of a goose and some salt were found this morning up in the main top rigging where the goose had been taken & devoured. The Officers made a kick up about it but can’t find out who takes them.”
(from At Sea with the Scientifics: the Challenger Letters of Joseph Matkin)

There’s a truth that follows each sailor,
Across the ocean blue,
You’ll never get fat on a sailor’s tuck,
’Less we nicks a bit more for the crew.

We was five days out from Pompey,
And already getting thinner,
When somebody nicked the turkey all dressed,
For the officers’ Christmas Day dinner.

There was a hell of a hullabaloo,
Captain roaring like a gale,
They found turkey bones and a nice pinch of salt,
Tucked away in the topgallant sail.

We was six days out from Pompey,
And still we’re getting thinner,
When somebody nicked the goose all dressed,
For the officers’ Boxing Day dinner.

There was a hell of a hullabaloo,
Captain roaring for his supper,
They found goose’s bones and a nice pinch of salt,
Tucked away in the old packet’s scuppers.

Well, we was nine days out from Pompey,
And getting thinner and thinner,
When somebody nicked the ducks all dressed,
For the officers’ New Year’s Day dinner.

There was a hell of a hullabaloo,
Captain singing the same old carol,
They found the duck’s bones and a nice pinch of salt,
Tucked away in the ten-pounder’s barrel.

So here’s to that poor hungry sailor,
Just one of the Challenger crew,
He never got fat in his purse or his paunch,
And bejaysus neither would you.