The Saucy Arethusa
The Saucy Arethusa is a nautical song (Roud # 12675) which, although usually considered 'traditional', has been attributed to Prince Hoare, a comic opera librettist, as part of a "musical entertainment" titled The Lock and Key, performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in 1796. The melody to the song has been wrongly attributed to William Shield, who was the musical arranger of The Lock and Key. It is more rightfully known as a piece by the Irish harper and composer Turlough O'Carolan called Miss MacDermott or The Princess Royal.
The "Arethusa" of the title is a frigate of the Royal Navy, named HMS Arethusa, which was originally built in 1757 as a French privateer under the name Pélerine, renamed Aréthuse in early 1758 when purchased for the French Navy, from whom she was captured in 1759. According to Greek mythology, the nymph Arethusa, for whom the ship was named, was transformed by Artemis into a fountain. The song chronicles an engagement in the English Channel on June 17, 1778 between the Arethusa and the French frigate, Belle Poule..
- Come all ye jolly sailors bold
- Whose hearts are cast in honour's mould
- While English glory I unfold
- Hurrah for the Arethusa
- She is a frigate tight and brave
- As ever stemmed the dashing wave
- Her men are staunch to their favorite launch
- And when the foe shall meet our fire
- Sooner than strike we'll all expire
- On board of the Arethusa
- 'Twas with the spring fleet she went out
- The English Channel to cruise about
- When four French sail in show so stout
- Bore down on the Arethusa
Contrary to popular belief, The Decemberists' song "Shanty for the Arethusa" has nothing to do with "The Saucy Arethusa" or the battle it describes, being apparently about a completely different trading vessel.