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(Wha'll Buy My) Caller Herring

A song about how dangerous the work of fishermen was. It still is. The song is also about how the fishermen’s wives sold the herring in Edinburgh.

The original lyrics were written by Lady Nairne, though singers have altered it a little and dropped one of her verses. The tune is by Nathaniel Gow.

The opening 'Wha'll buy my caller herrin' is based on the cries of Newhaven fishwives, who carried to town the fish that were caught overnight, using a large creel or basket resting on their backs. They stopped at people's homes selling fish, a little like modern door-to-door salesmen.

The start of the tune used for the verse is said to be based on the sound of the chimes of St Andrew's Church, on George Street in Edinburgh.

Lady Nairne wrote many songs, under the pseudonym Mrs Bogan of Bogan. She never admitted authorship of any of her songs. She wrote this lyric for the benefit of Nathaniel Gow, composer of tunes and son of the more celebrated Niel Gow. The manuscript, ‘written in a borrowed hand' (she disguised her handwriting), was passed on to Gow by an Edinburgh gentlewoman, to whom Lady Nairne had confided her secret.


(Wha'll Buy My) Caller Herring


Wha'll buy my caller herrin
They're bonnie fish and halesome farin,
Wha'll buy my caller herrin,
New drawn frae the Forth.

When ye were sleepin on your pillows,
Dream'd ye aught o our puir fellows,
Darkling as they faced the billows,
Aa to fill the woven willows!

O when the creel o herrin passes
Ladies clad in silk and laces,
Gather in their braw pelisses,
Cast their heads and screw their faces.

O neighbour wives now tent my tellin,
When the bonnie fish ye're sellin,
At a word aye be your dealin,
Truth will stand when a' thing's failin.

Wha'll buy my caller herrin,
They're no brought here without brave darin,
Buy my caller herrin,
Ye little ken their worth:

Wha'll buy my caller herrin.
O ye may ca' them vulgar farin
Wives and mithers maist despairin,
Ca' them lives o men.


Listen to '(Wha'll Buy My) Caller Herring', played by Tony Cuffe on the guitar.
From Sae Will We Yet (CD) CDTRAX 243 (2003), Greentrax Recordings

  • (Wha'll Buy My) Caller Herring