Derelict (“Capt. Billy Bones, his song”)

1901 Broadway Show Tune

​Lyrics by Young E. Allison, music by Mark Stahl of The Jolly Rogers

“Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!”
The mate was fixed by the bos’n’s pike,
The bos’n brained with a marlinspike,
And Cookey’s throat was marked belike
It had been gripped by fingers ten;
And there they lay, All good dead men
Like break-o’-day in a boozing-ken –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men of the whole ship’s list –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Dead and be damned and the rest gone whist! –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
The skipper lay with his nob in gore
Where the scullion’s axe his cheek had shore –
And the scullion he was stabbed times four.
And there they lay, and the soggy skies
Dripped all day long in up-staring eyes –
In murk sunset and at foul sunrise –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men of ’em stiff and stark –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Ten of the crew had the murder mark –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
‘Twas a cutlass swipe or an ounce of lead,
Or a yawing hole in a battered head –
And the scuppers glut with a rotting red
And there they lay – aye, damn my eyes –
All lookouts clapped on paradise –
All souls bound just contrariwise –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.

Fifteen men of ’em good and true –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Every man jack could ha’ sailed with Old Pew –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
There was chest on chest full of Spanish gold,
With a ton of plate in the middle hold,
And the cabins riot of [loot] untold,
And they lay there, that . . . took the plum,
With sightless glare And their lips struck dumb,
While we shared all by the rule of thumb –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

More was seen through the sternlight screen –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Chartings [no doubt] where a woman had been! –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
A flimsy shift on a bunker cot,
With a thin dirk slot through the bosom spot
And the lace stiff dry in a purplish blot.
Was she a wench… or some shuddering maid,
That dared the knife – and took the blade!
By God! she was stuff for a plucky jade –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest –
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
We wrapped ’em all in a mains’l tight,
With twice ten turns of a hawser’s bight,
And we heaved ’em over and out of sight –
With a Yo-Heave-Ho! And a fare-you-well!
And a sullen plunge in the sullen swell,
Ten fathoms deep on the road to hell!
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!


image of album cover for Bounding Main Lost at Sea - click for more info about the album

Song Notes

We had the pleasure of meeting the men from The Jolly Rogers the weekend of August 14-15, 2004. A mighty fine bunch of singing pirate boys they are! Among all of the wonderful things they performed at The Bristol Renaissance Faire they sang “The Derelict.” Upon hearing them perform this I realized that the unaccredited copy that had been given to me years ago on a study tape was, in fact, a recording of THEM doing this rendition, not the Corsairs, as I may have been told! I had a heart-to-heart conversation with (now former member) Brian Price about our use of this arrangement in Bounding Main and we got everything straightened out.

The long and short of it is the arrangement that Bounding Main performs is largely based on Jolly Roger member Mark Stahl’s arrangement of this song. (Most groups performing this song are using Stahl’s arrangement – including Disney!) For our voices, we’ve created backup elements that are our own and changed the presentation of the stern-light screen verse. So, to Mark and the rest of The Jolly Rogers, thanks for the tune, having borrowed it accidentally as we have! You were gracious to give us your blessing to use it.

It is my humble belief that The Dead Man’s Chest was the name of the ship. Some authors talk about Stevens’ setting the single chorus’ location in an island whose name was mentioned in a work of Charles Kingsley. While that may be so, the Young E. Allison work that derived from that snippet of Stevens describes a “scupper” and “sternlight screen,” which are both features of a ship, not a tropical island. Further, the name of the piece is “derelict,” a term that describes an abandoned ship.

– Dean Calin

Anthologized in “The Best Loved Poems of the American People,” by Hazel Felleman. This piece was from a 1901 Broadway musical by Young E. Allison based on Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Obscure Terms

To go abruptly or briskly

A kitchen servant employed to do menial tasks (especially washing)

boozing ken
Disreputable tavern (Scottish dialectic)

An opening in the side of a ship at deck level to allow water to run off.

A heavy line used for mooring, kedging, towing, or as a temporary anchor line.

n. Any part of a rope with the exception of the end; usually refers to a loop in a rope

n. A unit of length equal to 6 feet used in measuring water depth.

Click here to view a copy of the original broadside of the lyrics.