“Wellerman” by The Longest Johns

The song “Wellerman” has been classified under a genre called a sea shanty which dates back to at least the 19th century. These are the types of songs sailors used to sing while performing the mundane, group labors associated with their profession. And accordingly many of such tunes, such as this one, are related to seafaring. In fact “Wellerman” itself is a folk song which is approximately two centuries old. And at that juncture of history, a company called the Weller Brothers of Sydney, i.e. owner of “the Wellerman”, were perhaps the main importers and exporters of goods into New Zealand.

Meanwhile whaling has long been a preferred occupation of European colonizers of New Zealand. And the individuals at the middle of the featured narrative are in fact whalers.  And the story being told is twofold. 

As a premise and based on the actual verses, we can see that whaling is an arduous and dangerous profession. But conclusively, as indicated by the chorus, the whalers find relief in the eventual arrival of “the Wellerman”. For when “the Wellerman”, a shipping vessel, comes to shore, it is bringing them what at the time would have apparently been exotic treats in New Zealand, “sugar… tea and rum”. 

Moreover, as with any good labor song, the vocalists are also looking forward when their work of catching and processing this extremely-difficult whale “is done”. For then they can finally ‘take their leave’ and return to their actual homes.

Who wrote the “Wellerman” song?

As alluded to earlier, this is a folk song which is known to have first hit the scene midway through the 19th century. As such its actual author(s) is unknown, and different artists have rendered their own versions throughout the year.

This particular rendition, as relayed by The Longest Johns, a folk group from the UK, came out on 19 June 2018. It is part of an album they dropped that same year entitled Between Wind and Water, which is apparently full of sea shanties. And the reason we’re reviewing it in the first place is because, oddly enough, sea shanties began trending on TikTok circa early 2021. And it is “Wellerman” in particular (as rendered by a TikToker named Nathan Evans) which is acknowledged as setting off the trend known as ShantyTok.

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