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Until 1830, the whaling ships put out each spring from London, King's Lynn, Hull, Whitby, bound for the right-whale grounds of Greenland. This song is quite old, a form of it being published as a black-letter ballad before 1725 and was evidently popular in the nineteenth century, since Piits, Such, and Catnach each issued broadside versions, giving 1824 as the date of the incident described. Sharp published a version in which the date is 1861 - thirty years too late for Greenland whaling. - from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, 1959
Last line of each verse is repeated as a chorus. We follow the Pogues version.

    Greenland Whale Fisheries

    by trad
    Intro (once)

    [G] In Eighteen hundred and [D] forty [G] six
    on [C] March the Eighteenth [D] day
    We [G] hoisted our colors to the [D] top of the [C] mast
    [G] and for Greenland [D] sailed a- [G] way, brave boys
    and for Greenland [D] sailed a-[G] way

    The lookout in the crow’s nest stood
    with his spyglass in his hand
    “there’s a whale, there’s a whale
    and a whale fish” he cried
    “and she blows at every span, brave boys
    and she blows at every span

    The captain stood on the quarter deck
    and the ice was in his eye
    “Overhaul, overhaul, let your jib sheets fall
    and you’ll put your boats to sea brave boys,
    and you’ll put your boats to sea

    The harpoon struck and the line played out
    and with a single flourish of his tail
    he capsized the boat and we lost five men
    and we did not catch that whale, brave boys
    and we did not catch that whale


    The losing of them five jolly men
    it grieved the captain sore
    but the losing of that fine whale fish
    how it grieved him ten times more, brave boys
    how it grieved him ten times more

    Now, Greenland is a barren land
    a land that bears no green
    but theres ice and theres snow
    and the whale fishes blow
    and the tail is seldom seen brave boys
    and the tail is seldom seen.