Songs Of The Sea: Leave Her Johnny

Songs Of The Sea is a segment that analyses the history of different sea shanties and how they communicated the feelings of the people who sung them. One of the most famous sea shanties is called Leave her Johnny, also known as Leave Her Bullies, Time For Us To Leave Her and Leave Her.

Mournful, poignant and haunting, Leave Her Johnny delivers a snapshot of the working conditions that sailors had to deal with when they were out at sea for months on end.

Context

Leave Her Johnny tells the story of sailors who are tired of terrible conditions, urging a boy called Johnny to leave the ship forever and return to a life on land. It was classified as a pump shanty, sang when carrying out the dull task of pumping water out that had leaked into a ship.

It’s also worth mentioning that Leave Her Johnny was generally sung during the last round of pumping a ship dry once it was tied up in port, just before the crew were due to leave. The shanty helped sailors channel their frustrations and build camaraderie.

Depending on how pissed off the crew were, the song could be changed to feature all kinds of insults directed at ship officers. But due to the threat of punishment, sailors didn’t complain directly. Instead, they directed their anger into the shanty.

Lyrics

I thought I heard the Old Man say:
“Leave her, Johnny, leave her!”
Tomorrow ye will get your pay
And it’s time for us to leave her!

Leave her, Johnny, leave her!
Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her!
For the voyage is long and the winds don’t blow
And it’s time for us to leave her!

Oh, the wind was foul and the sea ran high
“Leave her, Johnny, leave her!”
She shipped it green and none went by
And it’s time for us to leave her!

I hate to sail on this rotten tub
“Leave her, Johnny, leave her!”
No grog allowed and rotten grub
And it’s time for us to leave her!

We swear by rote for want of more
“Leave her, Johnny, leave her!”
But now we’re through so we’ll go on shore
And it’s time for us to leave her!

Oh, sing that we boys will never be
“Leave her, Johnny, Leave her!”
In a hungry bitch the likes o’ she
And it’s time for us to leave her!

The mate was a bucko an’ the Old Man a Turk
“Leave her, Johnny, Leave her!”
The bosun wuz a beggar with the middle name o’ Work
And it’s time for us to leave her!

The Old Man swears an’ the mate swears too
“Leave her, Johnny, Leave her!”
The crew all swears and so would you
And it’s time for us to leave her!

Another sea shanty that’s become a part of popular culture is Dead Man’s Chest. Check out The Rum Ration’s analysis of the song and how it got started.

3 thoughts on “Songs Of The Sea: Leave Her Johnny

  1. Pingback: Rum Haiku 3 – The Rum Ration

  2. Pingback: Songs Of The Sea: Randy Dandy-O – The Rum Ration

  3. Pingback: Songs Of The Sea: Whisky Johnny – The Rum Ration

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