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Ship’s tale is remembered in folk song

Keith Gregson.
Keith Gregson.

We are indebted to Keith Gregson for his continuing research into Sunderland’s maritime past. Today, as The Tall Ships Races draw closer, he looks at a story which illustrates an extraordinary piece of history which was so memorable, it even had its own song.

The term ‘Martha and Jane of Sunderland’ brings about a huge number of hits on search engines for the year 1857.

It’s a term which found fame in newspapers from Aberdeen in the north to Cornwall in the far south west.

And it is all because of a court case concerning the captain and officers of this Sunderland owned and built barque – a case that “shocked even hardened followers of the sea”, said Keith.

“It also led to a song which is still performed in folk clubs today.” The reason for the trial, which took place in Liverpool, was the death of a sailor by the name of Andrew Rose or Ross.

The Martha and Jane had started its lengthy journey from Hartlepool and had added Rose to the crew in Barbados before heading across the Atlantic to Liverpool.

The first verse of the song includes the following;

‘Andrew Rose, the British sailor,

Unto you his woes I’ll name,

It was on the passage from Barbados,

All on board of the Martha Jane.’

The details of the sailor’s treatment were horrific, suffice for the ship’s master to face prosecution after crew members went straight to the officers of law as soon as they landed in Liverpool.

The song later added:

‘When the judge he heard young Andrew’s story

‘Captain Rodgers, you must die.’

Keith added: “Those who had assisted him or at least obeyed his commands were spared the rope but ended up in prison. Rodgers was hanged in front of a large crowd.”

“It is believed that the ‘Martha and Jane’ was built in Sunderland in the early 1850s.”

The song ends;

‘Come all you friends and near relations

And all you friends to interpose

And never treat a British sailor

Like they did young Andrew Rose.’

•Keith’s coverage of maritime matters will continue in the coming weeks.