Why 19th century New Zealand sea shanty 'Wellerman' is trending on TikTok

If you watch a lot of TikTok videos, you might have been caught up in the delightful recent meme of people singing old sea shanties.

The most popular appears to be 'Wellerman', which is a 19th century New Zealand song about whaling whose original writer isn't known.

It recounts the hardships faced by whalers at sea and the joy they'd feel when treats were delivered by the wellermen - ships owned by the Weller Brothers of Sydney.

A performance of the track by Scottish singer and TikTok user Nathan Evans appears to have kicked off the song's current popularity. It is currently the top video on the TikTok hashtag #seashanty, which has a little over 69 million views at the time of publishing.

Of course, a meme like this quickly spawns a lot of covers and remixes, and the results can be wildly entertaining.

One excited tweet that sums a lot of the responses to an "electro shanty" remix comes from @MsHypothetical, who stated: "DUDE. I've been loving the #Wellerman thing already but THIS is INCREDIBLE."

Although the original author of 'Wellerman' is unknown, a page about the shanty on folksong.org.nz presents evidence suggesting a man named D H Rogers composed it some time in the 1800s.

Whoever did pen it a few hundred years ago likely never imagined it'd be one of the first notable memes of 2021.

The lyrics to 'Wellerman' are as follows:

There once was a ship that put to sea,
And the name of that ship was the Billy o' Tea
The winds blew hard, her bow dipped down,
Blow, me bully boys, blow!

Soon may the Wellerman come,
to bring us sugar and tea and rum.
One day, when the tonguing' is done,
We'll take our leave and go.

She had not been two weeks from shore,
When down on her a right whale bore.
The captain called all hands and swore,
He'd take that whale in tow.


Before the boat had hit the water,
The whale's tail came up and caught her.
All hands to the side, harpooned and fought her,
When she dived down below.


No line was cut, no whale was freed,
An' the captain's mind was not on greed!
But he belonged to the Whaleman's creed,
She took that ship in tow.


For forty days or even more,
the line went slack then tight once more,
All boats were lost, there were only four,
and still that whale did go.


As far as I've heard, the fight's still on,
The line's not cut, and the whale's not gone!
The Wellerman makes his regular call,
to encourage the captain, crew and all!