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Broadside ballad entitled 'The Rocks of Bonnie Gibraltar'


Verse 1: 'The first night I was married, laid in my marriage bed / There came a bold sea-captain and stood at my bed side / Says arise arise O young man and go along with me / To the rocks of bonnie Gibraltar to fight the enemy.' A note below the title states that ' This popular song can always be had at the Poet's Box, 224 Overgate, Dundee'.

This ballad is a lament sung by a grieving young widow for her husband, who has been drowned on the rocks of Gibraltar, after being recruited to fight in a war. The narrative structure of this ballad is quite complicated, with contributions from the husband, wife, wife's mother and the anonymous narrator. Despite the young husband's death, the writer of the ballad tries to end on a positive note by reminding the grieving widow that she is young and can learn to love again. Although not dated, the references to the songs, 'Death of Nelson' and 'The Iron Horse' (a nickname for an early steam locomotive), in the advertisement at the bottom of the sheet, suggest that the ballad would probably have been written some time after 1820.
The Dundee Poets? Box was in operation from about 1880 to 1945, though it is possible that some material was printed as early as the 1850s. Most of the time it had premises at various addresses in Overgate. In 1885 the proprietor J.G. Scott (at 182 Overgate) had published a catalogue of 2,000 titles consisting of included humorous recitations, dialogues, temperance songs, medleys, parodies, love songs, Jacobite songs. Another proprietor in the 1880s was William Shepherd, but little is known about him. Poets? Box was particularly busy on market days and feeing days when country folk were in town in large numbers. Macartney specialised in local songs and bothy ballads. Many Irish songs were published by the Poets? Box ? many Irishmen worked seasonally harvesting potatoes and also in the jute mills. In 1906 John Lowden Macartney took over as proprietor of the Poet?s Box, initially working from 181 Overgate and later from no.203 and 207.

It is not clear what the connection between the different Poet?s Boxes were. They almost certainly sold each other?s sheets. It is known that John Sanderson in Edinburgh often wrote to the Leitches in Glasgow for songs and that later his brother Charles obtained copies of songs from the Dundee Poet?s Box. There was also a Poet?s Box in Belfast from 1846 to 1856 at the address of the printer James Moore, and one at Paisley in the early 1850s, owned by William Anderson.

Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.

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Probable period of publication: 1880-1900   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.70(68b)
Broadside ballad entitled 'The Rocks of Bonnie Gibraltar'
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