The Ryans and the Pittmans

"The Ryans and The Pittmans"[1] is a popular Newfoundland folk song. It tells of the romantic entanglements of a sailor named Bob Pittman, and his desire to sail home to finally marry his "sweet Biddy". The song is also known as "We'll Rant and We'll Roar", after the first line of the chorus; however, this is also the name by which some foreign variants are known.

It is based on a traditional English capstan shanty, "Spanish Ladies", which describes headlands sighted on a sailor's homeward voyage through the English Channel. "Spanish Ladies" has a number of variants: New England whalers sang of "Yankee Whalermen", while their Pacific counterparts sang of Talcuhano Girls. A more landlocked drover's version surfaced in Australia as "Brisbane Ladies".

Verses 2, 8, 9, and 10 of the Newfoundland version are adapted from that of the whalers; the remainder were composed around 1875 by Henry W. LeMessurier. It was printed in Old Songs of Newfoundland (1912) by James Murphy. The places mentioned in the song are outports[2] in and around Placentia Bay, Newfoundland.

The most famous recent version of the song was recorded by Great Big Sea.




We'll rant and we'll roar like true Newfoundlanders[3]
We'll rant and we'll roar on deck and below
Until we see bottom inside the two sunkers[4]
When straight through the Channel to Toslow we'll go.
My name it is Robert, they call me Bob Pittman
I sail in the Ino with Skipper Tom Brown
I'm bound to have Polly or Biddy or Molly
As soon as I'm able to plank the cash down.
I'm a son of a sea cook, and a cook in a trader[5]
I can dance, I can sing, I can reef[6] the mainboom,[7]
I can handle a jigger,[8] and cuts a fine figure
Whenever I gets in a boat's standing room.[9]
If the voyage is good, this fall I will do it
I wants two pounds ten[10] for a ring and the priest
A couple of dollars for clean shirts and collars
And a handful of coppers to make up a feast.
There's plump little Polly, her name is Goldsworthy
There's John Coady's Kitty and Mary Tibbo
There's Clara from Brule and young Martha Foley
But the nicest of all is me girl from Toslow.
Farewell and adieu to ye girls of Valen
Farewell and adieu to ye girls in the Cove
I'm bound to the westward, to the wall with the hole in[11]
I'll take her from Toslow the wide world to rove.
Farewell and adieu to ye girls of St. Kryan's
Of Paradise and Presque, Big and Little Bona[12]
I'm bound unto Toslow to marry sweet Biddy
And if I don't do so I'm afraid of her da'.[13]
I've bought me a house from Katherine Davis
A twenty pound bed from Jimmy McGrath[14]
I'll get me a settle,[15] a pot and a kettle
And then I'll be ready for Biddy, hurrah!
O, I brought in the Ino this spring from the city,
Some rings and gold brooches for the girls in the Bay;
I bought me a case-pipe[16] —- they call it a meerschaum —-
It melted like butter upon a hot day.[17]
I went to a dance one night at Fox Harbour,
There were plenty of girls, so nice as you'd wish;
There was one pretty maiden a-chewin' of frankgum[18]
Just like a young kitten a-gnawing fresh fish.
Then here is a health to the girls of Fox Harbour
Of Oderin and Presque, Crabbes Hole[19] and Brule
Now let ye be jolly, don't be melancholy
I can't marry all or in chokey[20] I'd be.
We'll rant and we'll roar like true Newfoundlanders
We'll rant and we'll roar on deck and below
Until we see bottom inside the two sunkers
When straight through the Channel to Toslow we'll go.


  1. ^ The title is a bit of a puzzle. While "Pittman" is the main character of the song, there is no mention of anyone named "Ryan".
  2. ^ outport: A coastal settlement other than the chief port of St John's [1]
  3. ^ Newfoundlanders" is pronounced new-f'n-LAND-'rs (rhymes with "understanders"); the vowel in the second and last syllables are neutral.
  4. ^ sunker: A submerged rock over which the sea breaks
  5. ^ trader: A coastal vessel that visits small ports, buying fish or furs and selling meat, molasses, flour and other provisions [2]
  6. ^ reef: Tie up or shorten a sail
  7. ^ mainboom: (Nautical Terms) the spar for the mainsail
  8. ^ jigger: Unbaited, weighted hook used with a line to catch cod (or squid) by giving a sharp, upward jerk [3]
  9. ^ standing room: Compartment between the thwarts of an undecked fishing boat [4]
  10. ^ two pounds ten: British currency. Until 1949 when it joined Canada, Newfoundland was British territory. Newfoundland adopted the Newfoundland Dollar to replace the pound in 1865.
  11. ^ wall with the hole in: the narrow entrance to Toslow Cove
  12. ^ Big and Little Bona: Big Bona is properly called Great Bona on Placentia Bay. Little Bona was also a town on Placentia Bay. Both are now abandoned following the resettlement of the Newfoundland outports.
  13. ^ da': Father; grandfather; respected elderly man
  14. ^ The surname "McGrath" is pronounced "McGraw".
  15. ^ settle: A long, home-made wooden bench with arms and high back; an unupholstered couch [5]
  16. ^ case-pipe: meerschaum, from the protective case enclosing it
  17. ^ melted like butter: Although the meerschaum itself does not melt, meerschaum pipes are usually coated with wax that could melt "like butter upon a hot day"
  18. ^ frankgum: (or Frankum) The hardened resin of a spruce tree, often used for chewing [6]
  19. ^ Crabbe's Hole: No town with this spelling, but there was a community of Crabb's Hole in Placentia Bay (now abandoned)
  20. ^ chokey: Prison

See also