'Whalers' rhymes' was a folk song sung by Otago whalers. It was probably composed in the 1840s and was based on the Australian song 'Pommy's lament'. Both used the melody of 'King of the Cannibal Islands', an English music-hall song. The Captain Bruce of the song was the master of the Magnet, a trading ship which plied the waters between Sydney and Otago, and was wrecked on Banks Peninsula in 1844. George Willsher (the 'Mr Wiltshire' of the song) was an Otago trader, while 'Bloody Jack' was the name given to Hōne Tūhawaiki, the leader of Ngāi Tahu in Murihiku (the southernmost part of the South Island). Peter Shavatt and John Hughes were whalers.
Te whakamahi i tēnei tūemi
Reference: Les Cleveland, The great New Zealand songbook. Auckland: Godwit Press, 1991, p. 41
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Image courtesy of The Les Cleveland estate. Audio is courtesy of Powertool Records, taken from Robert Scott, Songs of Otago’s Past [soundrecording]. Dunedin: Powertool Records, 2004.