Bobby Shafto's Gone to Sea

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For other uses, see Robert Shafto.
"Bobby Shafto's Gone to Sea"
Roud #1359
Written England
Published 1805
Form Nursery rhyme
Writer Traditional
Language English

"Bobby Shafto's Gone to Sea" or "Bobby Shafto" is an English language folk song and nursery rhyme. It has a Roud index number of 1359.


The most common modern version is:

Bobby Shafto's gone to sea,
Silver buckles at his knee;
He'll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!
Bobby Shafto's bright and fair,
Panning out his yellow hair;
He's my love for evermore,
Bonny Bobby Shafto![1]

This is very close to the earliest printed version in 1805. A version published in John Bell's, Rhymes of Northern Bards (1812) gives this additional verse:

Bobby Shafto's getten a bairn,
For to dangle on his arm;
In his arm and on his knee,
Bobby Shafto loves me.[1]


The original Bobby Shafto has been identified with a resident of Hollybrook, County Wicklow, Ireland, who died in 1737.[1] It was used by the supporters of Robert Shafto (sometimes spelt Shaftoe), who was an eighteenth-century British Member of Parliament (MP) for County Durham (c. 1730-97), and later the borough of Downton in Wiltshire.[1] Supporters used another verse in the 1761 election:

Bobby Shafto's looking out,
All his ribbons flew about,
All the ladies gave a shout,
Hey for Boy Shafto![1]

The song is said to relate the story of how he broke the heart of Bridget Belasyse of Brancepeth Castle, County Durham, where his brother Thomas was rector, when he married Anne Duncombe of Duncombe Park in Yorkshire. Bridget Belasyse is said to have died two weeks after hearing the news.[2]

Thomas & George Allan, in their illustrated edition of Tyneside Songs and Readings (1891), argued that the "Bobby Shafto" of the song was in fact his son, although his father fits the description of the lyrics better.[3] In reality, it is likely that his grandson, Robert Duncombe Shafto, also used the song for electioneering in 1861, with several of the later verses being added around this time.[4]

In culture[edit]

In literature[edit]

  • Bobby Shaftoe is also the name of a (female) character in John Crowley's novel Love & Sleep (1994).

In film[edit]

  • The character is referred to in the Laurel and Hardy 1934 feature Babes in Toyland. During the song, "Never Mind, Bo Peep" (regarding her lost sheep), we hear the following: "Where they are hiding, Tom Tucker may know; Simon or Peter or Bobby Shaftoe."
  • In the movie The Caller both the protagonist and antagonist sing a verse.

In television[edit]

  • The TV series The 4400 episode "The Marked" also mentioned a fictitious movie in which a character, an ex-marine called Robert Shafto, was named as the killer of JFK, likely a reference to Cryptonomicon, where Bobby Shaftoe was also a marine.

In philosophy[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 90-1.
  2. ^ Famous North Eastern names, URL accessed September 30th, 2006.
  3. ^ Famous North Eastern names, giving this opinion. URL accessed September 30th, 2006
  4. ^ Whitworth Hall, retrieved 22/04/09
  5. ^ Arthur Wilkinson tribute by Gavin Sutherland, URL accessed July 1, 2008

External links[edit]