“The Leaving of Liverpool” is a wonderful sea song, capturing both the promise of a new voyage and the sadness of leaving loved ones behind. It was “collected” by William Main Doerflinger in 1951 from Dick Maitland, an old sailor at New York’s Snug Harbor, who while bosun on the General Knox around 1885, had learned it one night from a Liverpool man.
The song appears to date from around 1860 to 1874 based on the lyrics which mention Captain Burgess of the clipper ship David Crockett. The David Crockett was a medium clipper ship built in Mystic, CT in 1853. She was know for being fast, making the trip between New York and San Fransisco in an average of 101 days. Two verses of “Leaving of Liverpool” mention the clipper ship and her captain:
I have signed on a Yankee Clipper ship
Davy Crockett is her name
And Burgess is the Captain of her
And they say she’s a floating Hell
I have shipped with Burgess once before
And I think I know him well
If a man’s a seaman, he can get along
If not, then he’s sure in Hell
Captain John A. Burgess of Somerset, MA was the captain of the David Crockett from 1860 to 1874. He apparently had a reputation as a tough master. On his last voyage the ship’s departure from San Francisco for Liverpool with a cargo wheat was delayed for five days when the crew mutinied over working conditions. Later that voyage Captain Burgess was lost in a gale off South America.