Various sea adventure stories a built around the theme of the young boy from a small village who feels dissatisfied with hum-drum village life and dreams of going to sea and living a life of adventure and romance... and by hook or crook does it. But if you know anything of the history of old-time sailing ships, you understand that life aboard them was often anything but romantic, and whatever adventure there may have been was not always the sort you'd really want.
A young lad who went off to sea most generally began as a cabin boy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabin_boy). In Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling describes the job as "cook's helper an' everything else aboard that's too dirty for the men." Famous names like Nelson and Drake began their illustrious careers as cabin boys.
What started me off writing this song was happening across the 1954 film Long John Silver (a.k.a. Long John Silver's Return to Treasure Island), starring Robert Newton, the actor who gave us the quintessential "talk like a pirate" accent. There is a scene aboard the ship the evil Spanish pirate Mendoza in which Long John Silver (Newton) is cutting a dirty deal when the grog runs out. Mendoza calls for the cabin boy, who turns out to be none other than young Jim Hawkins, Long John's protege from Treasure Island, who has been kidnapped and pressed into service on the pirate vessel, against which he staunchly rebels.
Not wanting Mendoza to see that he knows Jim, Silver abuses him roundly and has him summarily flung from the cabin. As Jim collapses in misery at the foot of the stairs leading to the deck, thinking his friend has abandoned him, Newton's voice is heard in the background delivering what I think is a classic line: "Cabin boys - none of 'em be any good!"
That scene and that line got me to thinking about those sea adventure stories, and I thought that it might be fun to write a song retelling the story of the "boy who ran away to sea" story from the point of view of the boy himself, in a letter back home to Mother, in which he talks of his folly and the misery it has caused him. Sounds like a pretty terrible song, doesn't it? Well, I don't think you'll find yourself depressed by the end result. You know how boys exaggerate to get sympathy!
I runned away to sea, dear Mother
To sea I runned away
And now I writes this letter
From far-off in Bombay
The life of a cabin boy is bad
Oh how I miss ye Mother and Dad
And how I'm wishin' I never had
Runned away to sea
A cabin boy to be
I'm the lowest form o' life aboard
The lowest form I be
The rats down in the bilges
Has got it better than me
From humble seaman to or’ficers
A rope's end's what I get
An’ I'm afeared ol’ Jameson
Will up an' drown'd me yet
The Captain hates the sight o' me
I'll tell ye how I know
Every time he sees me face
The blighter tells me so
The bloody bosun's soaked in rum
He flies like a Chinese kite
For the way he pats me on me bum
I'll kill 'im sure some night
Oh the crew is fed with lowly swill
And I am served the dregs
What crawls with little weevils
And smells like rotten eggs
A proper berth I hasn't got
I sleeps where I am able
Much better off I think I’d be
In some old smelly stable
Oh it's swab the deck! Empty that bucket!
Then stick it back inter the hole where ye tuck-it
Yes it's outta me way, the Divil take yer
Move yer arse, afore I break yer
Oh, woe... is... me!
Now I must go and send this letter
We sails again tonight
Please warn me little brother
About his brother’s plight
A fool I was, dear Mother
For runnin' away to sea
I fancied meself a Captain
But a Cabin Boy I be