Leben mit Herman Melville

Rogue’s Gallery: The Art of the Siren, #33

leave a comment »

Song: John C. Reilly: Fathom the Bowl (3:44 minutes)
from Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, ANTI- 2006.

Buy CD in Germany and elsewhere.

Songs playlist.

Image: Cashboxx: wash away what I’ve done, December 31, 2007.


1.: Come all you bold heroes, give an ear to me song
And well sing in the praise of good brandy and rum
It’s a clear crystal fountain near Ireland doth roll
Give me the punch ladle, I’ll fathom the bowl.

Chorus: I’ll fathom the bowl, I’ll fathom the bowl,
Give me the punch ladle, I’ll fathom the bowl.

2.: From France we do get brandy, from Jamaica comes rum,
Sweet oranges and apples from Portugal come.
But stout and strong cider are Ireland’s control
Give me the punch ladle, I’ll fathom the bowl.

3.: Me wife she do disturb me when I’m laid at my ease
She does as she likes and she says as she please
Me wife, she’s the devil, she’s black as the coal
Give me the punch ladle, I’ll fathom the bowl.

4.: My father he do lie in the depths of the sea
With no stone at his head but what matters for he
It’s a clear crystal fountain, near Ireland doth roll
Give me the punch ladle, I’ll fathom the bowl.

5. = 1.


MetaGrrrl varied one of the verses, explaining:

And I’m bemused by all the sodden innuendo being omitted in those notes over there. My jolly band of wenches was fond of this added verse:

My husband don’t disturb me when we’re laid at our ease,
for he does what I like & he does what doth please;
my husband’s a stallion, no limp-legged foal;
for he’s the punch ladle to fathom my bowl.


Explanatory liner notes by ANTI-:

A classic drinking song from Colonial times. To fathom here means to test the depth. Punch was once synonymous with the modern mixed drink. Sailors used to view it as an absolute daily entitlement. The grog ration in Nelson’s time contained nearly 12 ounces of rum by modern measure, daily.


“Fathom the Bowl” (Roud 880) is an English Drinking song, probably dating from the nineteenth century. The ingredients of punch include expensive spirits, too expensive for ordinary people. This has led to the suggestion that the song would be sung by smugglers. This might place it in the late eighteenth century or early nineteenth century. It might also explain the dead man at the bottom of the sea. On the other hand it might a song sung by wealthy middle-class young gentlemen or military officers, which gradually made its way down the social ladder. The use of the word “fathom” is the lesser used verb form, to measure the depth of something. This would rarely be used by non-sailors, which may also be taken to imply something about the lyricist.

The fact that the early versions are almost identical to current versions implies that it has been valued for the simplicity of the words. It is also very compact in geographical spread. Almost all collected version are from the south of England, and none were collected outside England.

The song implies a camaraderie with all those who hear the song and is ideal for singing in a chorus. Appropriately, there is a beer made by the brewery called “West Berkshire” called “Fathom the Bowl”. The earliest printed broadside are Such (London, between 1863 and 1885), Fortey (London, between 1858 and 1885), Hedges (London) and Pitts (London). The song was published in 1891 in a songbook, “English Folk Songs” by William Alexander Barrett. It was collected by Baring-Gould, Cecil Sharp (1907) and George Gardiner (Hampshire 1906). There is almost no variation in the text. It is also known as “The Punch Ladle” or “Bowl Bowl”.

Written by Wolf

30. October 2009 at 12:01 am

Posted in Siren Sounds

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: