All products and recordings are chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

What are the lyrics to ‘Wellerman’ sea shanty?

The New Zealand whaling song 'Wellerman' has swept TikTok with a new viral video from a Scottish sea shanty singer. We introduce you to the song, its history and the words for you to sing along

UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 01:  KEELE FOLK FESTIVAL  Photo of SPINNERS and Stan HUGILL, L-R Hughie Jones, Tony Davis, Cliff Hall, Mick Groves, of The Spinners, and Stan Hugill singing sea shanties at the Keele Folk Festival  (Photo by Brian Shuel/Redferns)

‘Wellerman’ is a New Zealand folksong dating back to the 19th century which is often sung by sea shanty crews. It recently became an earworm for anyone on the social media app TikTok, thanks to a viral video started by Scottish postman and sea shanty singer Nathan Evans. He performed ‘Wellerman’ in a TikTok that was then added to by a series of other shanty singers – and later musicians.

Advertisement
@jonnystewartbass

#duet with @the.bobbybass SHANTY TIME once again! Adding a lower middle harmony 🙂 @nthnevnss @_luke.the.voice_ @apsloan01 #shantytok #wellerman

♬ original sound - N A T H A N E V A N S S

What is a ‘Wellerman’?

Anyone who worked at the Sydney-based whaling company The Weller Bros was referred to as a ‘Wellerman’. In the context of the sea shanty, the term ‘Wellerman’ applies to the supply ships sent from the company.

The Weller Bros operated during the mid-19th century, when this sea shanty was thought to have been created.

What are the lyrics for the ‘Wellerman’ sea shanty?

There once was a ship that put to sea
The name of the ship was the Billy of Tea
The winds blew up, her bow dipped down
O blow, my bully boys, blow

Soon may the Wellerman come
To bring us sugar and tea and rum
One day, when the tonguin’ is done
We’ll take our leave and go

She had not been two weeks from shore
When down on her a right whale bore
The captain called all hands and swore
He’d take that whale in tow

Soon may the Wellerman come
To bring us sugar and tea and rum
One day, when the tonguin’ is done
We’ll take our leave and go

Before the boat had hit the water
The whale’s tail came up and caught her
All hands to the side, harpooned and fought her
When she dived down below

Soon may the Wellerman come
To bring us sugar and tea and rum
One day, when the tonguin’ is done
We’ll take our leave and go

No line was cut, no whale was freed
The Captain’s mind was not of greed
But he belonged to the whaleman’s creed
She took the ship in tow

Soon may the Wellerman come
To bring us sugar and tea and rum
One day, when the tonguin’ is done
We’ll take our leave and go

For forty days, or even more
The line went slack, then tight once more
All boats were lost, there were only four
But still that whale did go

Soon may the Wellerman come
To bring us sugar and tea and rum
One day, when the tonguin’ is done
We’ll take our leave and go

As far as I’ve heard, the fight’s still on
The line’s not cut and the whale’s not gone
The Wellerman makes his regular call
To encourage the Captain, crew, and all

Soon may the Wellerman come
To bring us sugar and tea and rum
One day, when the tonguin’ is done
We’ll take our leave and go

Soon may the Wellerman come
To bring us sugar and tea and rum
One day, when the tonguin’ is done
We’ll take our leave and go

The best recording of ‘Wellerman’

Sea shanties are rarely recorded, thanks to their ad hoc, spontaneous style. Bristol-based folk band The Longest Johns have recorded a tranche of sea shanties however, including ‘Wellerman’, on their 2018 album Between Wind and Water. 

You can buy this recording from Amazon or Bandcamp.

Advertisement

You can find the lyrics to many of your favourite sea shanties here