Across the Western Ocean: About the Song

Historical Background

Penniless in the wake of a potato famine in their homeland, one and a half million Irish people immigrated to the United States between 1846 and 1850. Their passages were frequently paid by relatives who had already settled in America. Crossing the Atlantic by packet ship was inexpensive, especially for those who traveled from English ports, due to trade competition between America and Britain. The journey took at least six weeks on the overcrowded vessels. Famine, disease, and shipwreck caused an estimated one of every five immigrants to die at sea.

Song History

"Across the Western Ocean" expresses the concerns of the people making the transatlantic journey and their loved ones. It shares the same melody as the sea shanty "Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her." Which song begot the other is not definitively known.

Lyrics

Oh, the times are hard and the wages are low
Amelia, where you bound for?
The Rocky Mountains is my home
Across the Western Ocean

Beware these packet ships I say
Amelia, where you bound for?
They'll steal your stores and clothes away
Across the Western Ocean

There's Liverpool Pat with his tarpaulin hat
Amelia, where you bound for?
And Yankee John the packet rat
Across the Western Ocean

Father and Mother, say goodbye
Amelia, where you bound for?
Brother and sister, don't you cry
Across the Western Ocean

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