The Dead Horse Ceremony

It appears that sea shanties are very popular at the moment. I have always loved them. So, when I found out that one of my relatives, Edwin Gransden, had been in the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy I did a bit of research into the sorts of ceremonies that he would have participated in that also had a sea shanty attached to them. One of the most popular was the Dead Horse Ceremony.

As part of the book that I am writing about Edwin, I wrote the below section. The section still needs a lot of polish, but it gives you and overview of Edwin’s experience.

Edwin had been paid his first months wages by his employer before he got on the ship. He and his friends had never had that amount of money all of their own before. So, before they had really thought about what they were doing they had raced off to spend their money. Many of the older sailors went to the local public house or found a prostitute and drunk their money or paid for favours that they would not be able to have for months while onboard a ship. Edwin used all of his money, the first time he was paid, to get some of the things that his brother had told him would be necessary for life on-board.

Once everyone was back on the ship and sailing they didn’t receive any more money until they had been sailing for a month. It was a long time to go without pay. So when payday was due and they finally started to earn money that hadn’t been spent as soon as they received it the crew performed the ceremony of the Dead Horse.

A horse was made out of anything that could be found. The tail was of hemp and bottles were used as eyes. The misshapen horse was then put on a box and covered over. On the last day of the month at dusk, one of the sailors jumped onto the horses back and the horse was dragged all over the ship. The horse was then auctioned off and the horse and rider hoist to the yard-arm. From there, one of the sailors cut the horse down and it fell into the ocean. Sailors rushed to the side to watch as it sank singing a requiem to the horse.

I found the below youtube video that gives information about the Dead Horse Ceremony and includes a version of one of the Dead Horse shanties.


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