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Historic Context:

The Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal of Friday 15 June 1821 reported that “Rob Roy of Greenock arrived [in Dover on June 11th] with the intention of carrying passengers between this and France. She sailed this morning for Calais but with very few passengers, as those in the town preferred the regular packets.”

The picture below shows Rob Roy at Dover.


Despite their initial reluctance, travellers soon saw the advantages of steam power. In August 1821 the 'Kentish Chronicle' reported "The 'Rob Roy' steam vessel continues to sail daily for France, with a number of passengers and carriages far exceeding any vessel in the employ". Later in the same month it reported that "The 'Rob Roy' on her passage to Calais met the 'Lord Duncan' (Post Office sailing packet), Capt. Hamilton, and the 'Prince Leopold', Capt. Rogers, and after landing her freight at Calais, and taking on board passengers, she came out again, and passed those vessels and reached Dover long before them."

In 1836 Cabin passengers paid 10 shillings and 6 pence, and deck passengers 5 shillings http://www.dover-kent.co.uk/transport/early_cross_channel_steamers.htm a typical weekly wage at the time was less than 10 shillings http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/ruralife/swing.htm

While the song does not specifically mention steam, the lines "Charming and very like Twickenham ferry, Crossing over to Calais now" imply a change of some sort and that the voyage would be calmer than previously. Paddle steamers did not have to tack  thus avoiding a manouver that caused the deck to slope to a degree likley to disconcert.the passengers.
The specific mention of a six hour passage ("Full six hours after sailing from Dover, Safely anchored at Calais at last") agrees with the advertised crossing times. In this etching by Thomas M'Lean dating from about 1828 shows the advertising bill to the left of the harp advertises 'Calais in five hours'

 

Notes on the Song:

A song called Calais Packet beginning "Who's for the packet were just upon starting" (Roud V302 Madden Collection (London Printers 3)) includes the line "Hollo! Stand clear I want to make a tack" so is clearly about a sail powered packet. The sung verses are quite different but the scansion of the sung verses is the same and the patter is similar The sail-powered version was printed several times and seems to have been widely known. The broadside "In support of Thomas Wentworth Beaumont, a candidate in the Northumberland parliamentary election of 1826" [British Library General Reference Collection C.194.b.119(317) ] names "The Calais Packet" as the tune to which it should be sung.
The sailing packet song probably served as the model for the song above. and was almost certainly sung to the same tune. Greenwich Coaches, a song by Thomas Hudson printed in his 13th Comic Songster in 1832 or soon after, uses the same structure.

Packet: A boat or ship travelling at regular intervals between two ports, originally for the conveyance of mail, later also of goods and passengers; a mailboat [OED]

Half seas over: Drunk

Leagues: 1 league = 3 miles (4.8 kilometers)

Wherry: A light rowing-boat used chiefly on rivers to carry passengers and goods. [O.E.D.]

pellise: A woman's long cloak, with armhole slits and a shoulder cape or hood, often made of a rich fabric; (later also) a long fitted coat of similar style. [O.E.D.]

guineas: An English gold coin, not coined since 1813, first struck in 1663 with the nominal value of 20 shillings, but from 1717 until its disappearance circulating as legal tender at the rate of 21 shillings [OED]' or cash to that value

 

[Note 050.1] The Twickenham Ferry crossed the River Thames in the western suburbs of London,  [Wikipedia]

[Note 050.2] Poultry Compter was a small compter, or prison, run by a Sheriff of the City of London from medieval times until 1815. [Wikipedia]

[Note 050.3] Deal is a town in Kent, England which lies on the English Channel, eight miles north-east of Dover and eight miles south of Ramsgate.

[Note 050.4] "I should like to have a song; what do you think of the storm." - The storm referred to is probably The Storm; or, the dangers of the Sea by George Alexander published c1770
The songs was printed as a broadside (Harding B 11(3670A)) and famously performed by the black street singer Joseph Johnson.


The former sailor was known in London and the home counties as 'regular chaunter' of sea songs.
He wore a large, detailed model of HMS Nelson on his head even though he had been "disabled" while serving in a merchantman. [ref: Wilson; decency and disorder]

[Note 050.5] Temple Bar - The principal entrance to the City of London on its western side from the City of Westminster. At Temple Bar the Corporation of the City of London erected a barrier to regulate trade into the City. By extension; the gateway which spanned the road until 1878.

[Note 050.6] "How are we to go ashore then? As well as we can ma'am; there's these two stout Frenchman will carry you on their shoulders" : At low tide, the quay at Calais was 'dry'. In these circumstances, passengers would be carried ashore.

 

 

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