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Broadside ballad entitled 'The King of the Cannibal Islands'


This ballad begins: 'Oh, have you heard the news of late, / About a mighty king so great? / If you have not, 'tis in my pate--- / The King of the Cannibal Islands.' The sheet was originally published and sold in 1858 by the Poet's Box of St Andrew's Lane, Glasgow, but the address has been obscured and stamp for the Dundee Poet's Box put on the top left, indicating that Oates 'inherited' the sheet. The song is to be sung to the strangely-entitled air of 'Hokee pokee wonkee fum'.

This ballad was written at a high-point of British Imperialism, and is a telling illustration of the superior attitudes which popularly existed among both those Brits who settled abroad, in countries such as Africa, and also among the broadside-buying public back in Scotland. As with another broadside in the National Library of Scotland's collection, 'The Queen of Otaheite', the 'natives' are portrayed as bigamous cannibals, with little regard for Western ways.
The Poet?s Box in Glasgow operated from 1849 to 1911. Matthew Leitch was the proprietor at 6 St. Andrew Lane?s, a narrow street on the south side of Gallowgate, from 1850 to 1858. His son William Munsie Leitch worked at the same address from 1859 to 1865 and at varous addresses in London Street until 1911. Many of the broadsides published by the Glasgow Poet?s Box were dated and some carried advertisements, not just for printed items but also for shoe blacking and ?soap for lovers?! Like the other ?boxes? in Dundee and Edinburgh, the Glasgow one sold love songs, sea shanties, parodies and dialogues. 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 in Paisley in the early 1850s owned by William Anderson.
Broadsides are single sheets of paper, printed on one side, to be read unfolded. They carried public information such as proclamations as well as ballads and news of the day. Cheaply available, they were sold on the streets by pedlars and chapmen. Broadsides offer a valuable insight into many aspects of the society they were published in, and the National Library of Scotland holds over 250,000 of them.

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Date of publication: 1858   shelfmark: RB.m.143(147)
Broadside ballad entitled 'The King of the Cannibal Islands'
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