When in War on the Ocean

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WHEN IN WAR ON THE OCEAN. AKA and see "Admiral Benbow." English, Air (3/4 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). One part. "When in war on the ocean" was one of the songs written to the melody "Admiral Benbow," according to Chappell. It was written by the prolific English songwriter and composer Charles Dibdin [1] (1745-1814), famous for his patriotic sea songs.

Charles Dibdin

When in war on the ocean we meet the proud foe,
Though with ardour for conquest our bosoms may glow,
Let us see on their vessels old England's flag wave,
They shall find British sailors but conquer to save.

And now their pale ensigns we view from afar,
With three cheers they are welcom'd by each British tar,
Whilst the genius of Britain still bids us advance,
And our guns hurl, in thunder, defiance to France.

But mark our last broadside--she sinks, down she goes!
Quickly man all our boats, they no longer are foes;
To snatch a brave fellow from a watery grave
Is worthy a Briton, who conquers to save.

Instrumental versions of the tune appear in Cahusac's Compleat Tutor for the German Flute (London, c. 1792, p. 15) and in J. Wilson's Pocket Preceptor for the Fife (London, 1805). In America, it was entered into the c. 1801 music manuscript collection of Abel and Park Shattuck of Colrain, Mass.

Source for notated version: the music manuscript collection of ship's fiddler William Litten [Huntington]. Little is known about Litten, save that he sailed to the Orient with the British East India Company fleet 1800-1802.

Printed sources: Huntington (William Litten's Tune Book), 1977; p. 39.

Recorded sources:




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