arts / folk / History / music / Weather

More on the ballad of the Flying Cloud

As sung by Louisa (then Louis) Killen

Click HERE to buy the song (89p)

See also Remembering Louisa Killen.

The Flying Cloud

My name is William Hollander, as you will understand
I was born in the County of Waterford, in Erin’s lovely land,
When I was young and in my prime, a beauty on me shone,
And my parents doted upon me, I being their only son.

My father bound me to a trade in Waterford’s fair town,
He bound me to a cooper there by the name of William Brown.
I served my master faithfully for seven long years or more
Till I shipped aboard The Ocean Queen belonging to Tramore.

And soon we reached Bermuda’s isle where I met with Captain Moore,
The commander of the Flying Cloud from out of Baltimore,
He asked me if I’d ship with him on a slaving voyage to go,
To the burning shores of Africa, where the sugar cane does grow.

It was after some weeks of sailing we arrived off Africa’s shore,
Five hundred of them poor slaves, me boys, from their native land we bore.
We marched them up upon a plank and stowed them down below,
Scarce eighteen inches to a man was all they had to go.

Then the plague and the fever came on board, swapped half of them away.
We dragged their bodies up on deck and hove them in the sea,
It was better for the rest of them if they had died below
Than to work beneath the cruel planters in Cuba for evermore.

For it was after some stormy weather, boys, we arrived off Cuba shore
And we sold them to the planters there to be slaves for evermore,
For the rice and coffee seed to sow beneath the brilliant sun
And to lead a lone and wretched life till their career was run.

Well it’s now our money is all spent, we must go to sea again,
When Captain Moore comes on the deck and says unto us men,
“There’s gold and silver to be had if with me you’ll remain,
We’ll hoist the pirate flag aloft and scour the Spanish Main.”

We all agreed but three young men who were told us then to land.
Two of them were Boston boys, the other from New Foundland,
But I wish to God I joined those men and went with them on shore
Than to lead a wild and reckless life serving under a Captain Moore.

The Flying Cloud was a Yankee ship, five hundred tons or more,
She could outsail any clipper ship hailing out of Baltimore,
With her canvas white as the driven snow and on it there’s no specks,
And forty men and fourteen guns she carried below her decks.

For we sacked and plundered many a ship down upon the Spanish Main,
Caused many a widow and orphan in sorrow to remain.
To the crews we gave no quarter but gave them watery graves,
For the saying of our captain was: “Dead men will tell no tales.”

And pursued we were by many a ship, by frigates and liners too,
Till at last, the British man-o-war, the Dungeness, hove in view,
She fired a shot across our bows as we sailed before the wind,
Till a chain-shot cut our mainmast down and we fell far behind.

How our crew they beat to quarters as they ranged up alongside,
Soon across our quarter-deck there ran a crimson tide.
We fought till Captain Moore was killed and fifteen of our men,
Till a bombshell set our ship on fire, we had to surrender then.

 So it’s now to Newgate we were brought, bound down in iron chains,
For the sinking and the plundering of ships on the Spanish Main.
The judge he found us guilty, we were condemned to die.
Oh young men, a warning by me take, lead not such a life as I.

So it’s fare you well, old Waterford and the girl I do adore,
I’ll never kiss your cheek again, I’ll squeeze your hand no more,
Oh whiskey and bad company first made a wretch of me,
Oh young men, a warning by me take and shun all piracy.

Words noted down from the singing of Louis Killen.

In the sleeve notes to his recording, he wrote:

Perhaps more well known in New England than in Old England, this confession ballad was a test piece among singers on the Grand Banks schooners. If you couldn’t sing this ballad to the satisfaction of the crew you wouldn’t be considered a “singer”.

Coincidently, and confusingly, Flying Cloud was the name of one of the fastest of the clipper ships, built in 1851, but the events narrated in the ballad are from a much earlier period. And clippers carried no guns, since they were built for speed.

According to a thread on the Mudcat website (, the ship was a Yankee clipper built in the yard of Donald MacKay for the White Diamond Line and launched on April 15, 1851. She was 225 ft. and her tonnage was 1793 tons. Before she ever hit water she was sold to the Swallow Tail Line.

After the Civil War she was sold to the Black Ball Line. Off the coast of New Brunswick September, 1873, she ran aground on Beacon Island and was beyond repair.

Flying Cloud made two runs from New York to San Francisco in 1851 in 89 days, rounding the Horn. This speed record held until a ship designed on a computer specifically to break this record made the trip in 88 days over a century later. Under a fresh breeze or in strong heavy winds none could keep her in sight.

She was always a hard driven ship. Once when arriving in San Francisco her crew sued for cruel treatment and the owners announced the death of Captain Creesy, who got to read about his death while half way across the Indian Ocean.

The reason the crew felt ill-used is that many were fresh off the New York streets and didn’t know what they were getting into when they signed on.

The ship ran into a storm and lost some rigging. The mess had to be cleared away before the whole thing came apart, and had to be done now; storm or no storm. In short the new “sailors” were scared shitless.

After that, any time they had to work in rough weather the grumbling began. Two of them tried sabotage so Creesy would have to put in to a port where they could jump ship.(didn’t work)

During his four years on the Flying Cloud Creesy made five NY-Frisco runs averaging a little over 100 days, and two 89-day trips.

The fast trip on the maiden voyage was made despite the lost rigging and some very calm days. This is attributed to a phenomenal three-day passage around Cape Horn due to some superior navigating.

Mrs. Creasy was the navigator on at least the maiden voyage.


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