The Sailor's Hornpipe

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The Sailor's Hornpipe (also known as The College Hornpipe and Jack's the Lad[1]) is a traditional hornpipe melody.


The usual tune for this dance was first printed as the "College Hornpipe" in 1797 or 1798 by J. Dale of London.[2] It was found in manuscript collections before then – for instance the fine syncopated version in the William Vickers manuscript, written on Tyneside, dated 1770.[3] The dance imitates the life of a sailor and their duties aboard ship. Due to the small space that the dance required, and no need for a partner, the dance was popular on-board ship.[4]

Samuel Pepys referred to it in his diary as "The Jig of the Ship" and Captain Cook, who took a piper on at least one voyage, is noted to have ordered his men to dance the hornpipe in order to keep them in good health.[4] The dance on-ship became less common when fiddlers ceased to be included in ships' crew members.

In dramatic stage productions, from around the sixteenth century, a popular feature was a sea dance. But the nineteenth century saw the more familiar form of the "sailors' hornpipe" introduced. Nautical duties (for example the hauling of ropes, rowing, climbing the rigging and saluting) provided the dance movements.

In artistic and popular culture[edit]

During the Last Night of the Proms in London, the spectators bring miniature foghorns and party horns and blow them along to the music, creating a loud, frenetic finale as the music reaches its fastest speed.[5]

Groucho doing the "Hornpipe" in Duck Soup

The tune is one of the movements in Sir Henry Wood's Fantasia on British Sea Songs.

The ditty is featured briefly in Leslie Sarony's 1928 song "47 Gingerheaded Sailors" as performed by Jack Hylton.

Groucho Marx does the traditional dance to this number at one point, as part of the opening number in the film, Duck Soup.

In his debut cartoon The Wise Little Hen, released in June 1934, Donald Duck was shown doing the hornpipe on the deck of his houseboat. Duck also does it in both the 1934 cartoon Orphan's Benefit and its 1941 shot-for-shot remake.

In the 1941 children's novel The Moffats by Eleanor Estes, Joey Moffat is supposed to do the hornpipe in a dancing school recital. Overcome by stage fright, he can't remember the steps until a tiny lap dog – formerly a sailor's pet – hears the music and jumps into the centre of the floor to take up the dance.

The tune was played in the animated Popeye cartoons beginning in the 1930s, usually as the first part of the opening credits theme, which then segued into an instrumental of "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man".

The tune is also frequently heard as background music in many Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, usually in situations concerning sailing, ships, or the sea.

It is featured prominently in the 1969 Woody Woodpecker cartoon Ship a-Hoy Woody.

Sylvester doing the "Hornpipe" in Back Alley Oproar

The Sailor's Hornpipe is the finale of part two of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. It was also the inspiration for the track "Moonshine" from his Tubular Bells II.

Reinhard Mey builds his political satire "Das Narrenschiff" around the tune.

In the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore, Sir Joseph Porter tells Ralph Rackstraw "All sailors should dance hornpipes. I will teach you one this evening". In their later opera, Utopia, Limited, a slower version of the melody introduces "Captain Corcoran, K.C.B." In their opera The Gondoliers, it's quoted in the accompaniment for the line "With Admirals all round his wide dominions" from the song "There lived a King". An entire dance routine of a Hornpipe is included in Ruddigore.

The tune also appeared in the opening scene of Woody Allen's Radio Days as the final question in a "Name that Tune" contest.

The song also appears in Walt Disney's 1951 adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Lyrics are added to the tune, which is sung by the Dodo on the way to the Caucus race.

Rik Mayall sings the tune, but with the bawdy version of the lyrics of 'Do your ears hang low' in the 1992 Bottom episode "Burglary".

The tune was also used in a 1979 commercial for Purina Cat Chow Ocean Blend cat food, starring Patsy Garrett.

In The Simpsons episode "Bart the Fink", the character Handsome Pete dances for nickels to "The Sailor's Hornpipe".

John Philip Sousa's "Jack Tar March", written in 1903, features "The Sailor's Hornpipe" tune in one of its segments.

John Boulton's "Yankee Tars March", written in 1919, quotes "The Sailor's Hornpipe" in its breakstrain.

In the Futurama episode "The Problem with Popplers" from 2000, Fishy Joe's advertising jingle is sung to the tune of "The Sailor's Hornpipe".

The Kidsongs Kids sing this tune on their 1990 video Ride the Roller Coaster as A Pirate's Life where they dress up as pirates on the Buccaneer Pirate ship.


This tune has been recorded by:


External links[edit]