The Word on the Street
home | background | illustrations | distribution | highlights | search & browse | resources | contact us

Broadside ballad entitled 'The Ship Carpenter's Wife'


This ballad begins: 'Come attend to my ditty, you frolicsome folks, / And I will tell you a story a comical joke; / Concerning a woman by auction was sold, / The husband and wife could never agree.' At the top of the sheet there is a woodcut illustration showing a man and woman having something to eat in a field. They are taking a break from their work and are positioned close to two hayricks. Three fieldworkers are visible in the background.

This ballad tells the tale of a ship carpenter's wife who was put up for auction, and bought for ten shillings by a sailor. Although this ballad is light-hearted and deals with the subject humorously, there were in fact genuine cases of women being sold by their husbands. At a time when a married woman was considered to be nothing more than a possession, both by her husband and the law, such practices did occur. The National Library of Scotland's collection includes one broadside detailing the sale of a woman, named Mary MacKenzie, on the 16th July, 1828, in Edinburgh's Grassmarket.

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.

previous pageprevious          
Probable period of publication: 1830-1850   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.178.A.2(119)
Broadside ballad entitled 'The Ship Carpenter's Wife'
View larger image

NLS home page   |   Digital gallery   |   Credits

National Library of Scotland © 2004

National Library of Scotland