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The Bonnie Ship the Diamond

Nearly 200 years ago, the Scottish whaling ship the Diamond is leaving port, heading on the dangerous journey through the pack ice to the Davis Strait between Greenland and Canada.

The Diamond is a ship, ma lads, for the Davis Strait she's bound,
And the quay it is aa garnished wi bonnie lassies round.
Captain Thomson gives the order tae sail the oceans high,
Where the sun it never sets, ma lads, nor darkness dims the sky.


And it's cheer up, ma lads, let yer hearts never fail.
When the bonnie ship The Diamond goes a-fishing for the whale.

Along the quays at Peterheid the lassies stand aroond,
Their shawls all pulled aboot them and the salt tears rinnin doon.
Oh, don't you weep, my bonnie lass, though ye'll be left behind.
For the rose will grow on Greenland's ice before we change our mind.

Here's a health tae the Resolution, likewise the Eliza Swann,
Here's a health tae the Battler O Montrose, and the Diamond ship o fame.
We wear the troosers o the white, an the jaickets o the blue,
When we return tae Peterheid we'll be sweethairts wi you.

It'll be bright baith day and night when the Greenland lads come hame,
Wi a ship that's full of oil, ma boys, and money tae oor name.
Here's a health unto the Diamond bright, the skipper and the crew,
Here's a health tae every bonnie lass that has a heart so true.

The Diamond sailed to the Davis Strait every year from 1812 to 1819, heading north for 'Baffin Bay where the whalefish blow'. Though this version of the song says she sailed from Peterhead, in fact she sailed from Aberdeen, as sung in other versions.

The whalers would be away for several months, so their womenfolk dressed in their best shawls to see them off. The sailors boasted that when they came back they would be so rich they would burn the whale oil lamps during the day as well as at night.

In 1819 the ships named in this song were waiting in April at a great wall of ice for the pack ice to melt, but the wind changed and they were all caught and frozen in. The sailors knew this might happen and they had put tree trunks inside across the hulls to make the ships stronger. One by one the ships were squeezed flat, but the sailors knew by the sounds that this was going to happen and they could escape onto the ice. They lived in tents made from the sails and burnt their ships' timbers for warmth.

They suffered greatly, but after many months they were rescued and came home. They left the Bonnie Ship the Diamond and the other ships behind, crushed flat by the Greenland ice.

The whale that the whalers went to catch was called the ‘Right Whale’, because it was the right whale to hunt.

The sailors got into rowing boats, chased after the whales and threw iron harpoons with long ropes attached. A whale might pull the boat along for hours, or might even hit the boat with its tail and fling the sailors into the icy water.

When the whale was caught and slaughtered, its fat was cut into chunks and boiled down into oil. The oil was used for lamps, for heat and to oil machinery. The whalebones were very strong and supple, and were used for many things.

'The Bonnie Ship the Diamond', performed by Ewan McVicar, vocal and guitar, and Katherine Campbell, piano.
From 'Traditional Scottish Songs and Music', Gallus Recordings.

Sing along to this instrumental version of 'The Bonnie Ship the Diamond'.

  • The Bonnie Ship the Diamond


  • The Bonnie Ship the Diamond