Oceanography: A Tradition of Song

sailors singingAs many of our readers may already be aware, a history of oceanography workshop, “Place and Practice: Doing Science in and on the Ocean,” is currently underway at King’s College in Halifax, NS. The guest of honour is ICHO founding member, and Dalhousie emeritus professor of oceanography, Dr. Eric Mills. In celebration of Eric – and in the finest oceanographic tradition – a rousing song was composed for the occasion by Dr. Helen Rozwadowski and set to the tune of the  shantey “Reuben Ranzo.” The lyrics are provided below: [lines in italics are sung in response after each line in regular font, as the first verse shows]

Good old Eric Mills-o

[Eric Mills, Eric]

Good old Eric Mills-o

[Eric, me boys, Eric]

Eric was no sailor

At Carleton he grew paler

At Yale he got his paper

And set forth on life’s caper

Eric chased the amphipod

Poked around the home of cod

He worked more than he oughta

Out there on blue water

Eric met a gal named Anne

And then asked her for her hand

Scientist for thirty

His soul begged for history

Wish I knew all Eric knows

What he wrote at the Bay of Rose

Navigator of our field

Passed along his great zeal

Now that Eric’s emeritus

He still does work so meritous

As for egrets, he’s had a few

Reddish, stuffed and live ones too

Now this song is over

Wait, is that a plover?

I say we sang in the finest oceanographic tradition because there is a long history of song in oceanography. And while “Good old Eric Mills-o” may yet (and should) enter the annals of the *history* of the history of oceanography, there is, perhaps, no more famous song in the record of oceanography than “The Dredging Song” composed by British naturalist Edward Forbes for a dinner at the Red Lions Club in 1840. The lyrics of The Dredging Song can be found in Philip Rehbock’s article “The Early Dredgers: ‘Naturalizing’ in British Seas. 1830 – 1850.” (Journal of the History of Biology, Vol. 12, No. 1, 1979). Unfortunately the original tune has not come down to us.

Yet, on the occasion of the first singing of “Good old Eric Mills-o” I thought it fitting to share with you a musical reenactment of Forbes’ Dredging Song. The following recording is a sneak peak from the upcoming “Edward Forbes and the Dredge” video I’ve been working on with University of Washington oceanography graduate student Michelle Wray. This version was arranged and performed on the concertina by Stony Brook University graduate student Michael Schrimpf – audio recording and editing by Michelle Wray:


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