“The Fire Ship”

Alternate titles: “She Had a Dark and a Rovin' Eye”; “A Dark and a Rolling Eye”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1612 (London broadside, "Watten's Town End")
Keywords: bawdy sailor sex warning whore disease
Found in: Britain(England) US(NW,So,SW)


In naval euphemisms, a sailor meets a whore, takes her in tow, and empties his shot locker. She steals his money and clothes, and he discovers she has given him "fire down below."


Legman has extensive notes on this ballad in Randolph-Legman I. - EC

A "fireship," as the term was usually used, was a small craft set on fire and floated into a larger vessel (or fleet) to set it afire or at least force it off-course. Hence the analogy to a prostitute who spreads disease.

Most printed and recorded versions of this have been cleaned up to some extent. - RBW

Cross references



  1. Hugill, pp. 171-172, "The Fire Ship" (1 text, 1 tune) [AbEd, pp. 138-139]
  2. Cray, pp. 68-71, "The Fire Ship" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  3. Randolph-Legman I, pp. 237-239, "The Fire Ship" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Shay-SeaSongs, pp. 205-206, "The Fire Ship" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. JHJohnson, p. 61, "The Fire Ship" (1 text)
  6. Silber-FSWB, p. 26, "The Fireship" (1 text)
  8. Roud #8344
  9. BI, EM068