“On Board of a Ninety-eight”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1839 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 11(2843))
Keywords: age battle navy war father mother rake sailor
Found in: Canada(Newf)


The singer was a rake at sixteen when his parents, afraid he would waste all their money, ship him on a man-of-war. When battle begins, he wishes he could run away but at Trafalgar he fights well. Now "I'm too old to sail, for I'm almost ninety-eight"


"Ninety-eight" refers to the number of guns carried by the ship. For example, at Trafalgar, Nelson's flagship Victory, with 100 guns, led but with two ninety-eight gun ships, _Temeraire_ and _Neptune_, in close support. Source: _Horatio Nelson_ by Tom Pocock, quoted on The Nelson Society site. - BS

(We should note, incidentally, that the number of guns on a ship was somewhat nominal, with light guns, e.g., being under-counted; an official "98" might have in excess of 110 actual weapons. In addition, ships came in nominal rates -- 64 guns, 74 guns, 98 guns, etc. The 100 guns of _Victory_ made it a heavy man-of-war, but there were more heavily-armed ships. Though usually not very seaworthy ones....) - RBW

Historical references



  1. Peacock, pp. 1012-1013, "On Board of the Ninety-eight" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Roud #1461
  3. BI, Pea1012