The SEA-Martyrs;


The SEA-Martyrs;


OR, The Seamen's sad Lamentation for their Faithful Service, Bad Pay, and Cruel Usage. Being a woeful Relation how some of them were unmercifully put to Death for pressing for their Pay, when their Families were like to starve. Thus our New Government does Subjects serve, And leaves them this sad choice to hang or starve. To the Tune of Banstead Downs.


Singer decries punishment of sailors who have been deprived of pay, claiming they are martyrs, hanged for speaking up.

Digital Object

Image / Audio Credit

Magdalene College - Pepys Library, Pepys Ballads 5.375r-v; EBBA 22198

Set to tune of...

Banstead Downs


Good People, do but lend an Ear,
And a sad Story you shall hear,
A sadder you never heard,
Of due Desert and base Reward,
Which will English Subjects fright
For our New Government to fight.

Our Seamen are the onely Men
That o'er the French did Vict'ry gain,
They kept the Foe from landing here,
Which would have cost the Court full dear;
And when they for their Pay did hope,
They were rewarded with a Rope.

The roaring Canon they ne'er fear'd,
Their Lives and Bloud they never spar'd;
Through Fire and Flame their Courage flew,
No Bullets could their Hearts subdue.
Had they in Fight but flincht at all.
King James had now been in Whitehall.

Thus England, and our New King too,
Their Safety to their Valour owe;
Nay, some did 'gainst their Conscience fight,
To do some Great Ones too much Right;
And now, oh barbarous Tyranny!
Like Men they fought, like Dogs they dye.

Thousands of them their Lives did lose
In fighting stoutly with their Foes,
And thousands wero so maim'd in Fight,
That 'twas a sad and piteous sight;
And when they hop'd their Pay to gain
They have their Labour for their Pain.

Their starving Families at home
Expected their slow Pay would come;
But our proud Court meant no such thing,
Not one Groat must they have till Spring;
To starve all Summer would not do;
They must still starve all Winter too.

It might a little ease their Grief,
And give their Mis'ry some relief,
Might they in Trade Ships outward go,
But that poor Boon's denied them too;
Which is as much as plain to say,
You shall earn nothing, nor have Pay.

Their poor Wives with Care languished,
Their Children cried for want of Bread,
Their Debts encreast, and none would more
Lend them, or let them run oth' score.
In such a case what could they doe
But ask those who did Money owe?

Therefore some bolder than the rest
The Officers for their Own request,
They call'd 'em Rogues, and said, Nothing
Was due to them untill the Spring:
The King had none for them they said,
Their Betters they must first be paid.

The honest Seamen then replied
They could no longer Want abide,
And that Nine hundred thousand Pound
Was giv'n last year to pay them round,
Their Money they had earnt full dear,
And could not stay another half Year.

A Council then they streight did call
Of Pick-thanks made to please Whitehall,
And there they were adjudg'd to dye;
But no Man knows wherefore, nor why.
What times are these! Was't ever known
Twas Death for Men to ask their own?

Yet some seem'd milder than the rest,
And told them, that their Fault confest,
And Pardon askt, and humbly crav'd,
Their Lives perhaps might then be sav'd:
But they their Cause scorn'd to betray,
Or own't a Crime to ask their Pay.

Thus they the Seamens Martyrs dyed,
And would not yield to unjust Pride,
Their Lives they rather would lay down
Than yield it sin to ask their own.
Thus they for Justice spent their Blood,
To do all future Seamen good.

Wherefore let Seamen all and some,
Keep the days of their Martyrdom,
And bear in mind these dismal times,
When true Men suffer for false Crimes;
England ne'er knew the like till now,
Nor e'er again the like will know.

But now suppose they had done ill,
In asking Pay too roughly, still
When 'twas their due, and Need so prest,
They might have Pardon found at least;
The King and Queen some mercifull call,
But Seamen find it not at all.

To Robbers, Thieves, and Felons, they
Freely grant Pardons ev'ry day;
Only poor Seamen, who alone
Do keep them in their Fathers Throne,
Must have at all no Mercy shown:
Nay, tho there wants fault, they'l find one.

Where is the Subjects Liberty?
And eke where is their Property?
We're forc'd to fight for nought, like Slaves,
And though we do, we're hang'd like Knaves.
This is not like Old Englands ways,
New Lords, new Laws, the Proverb says.

Besides the Seamans Pay, that's spent,
The King for Stores, Ships, and what's lent,
Does owe Seven Millions at the least,
And ev'ry year his Debt's encreast;
So that we may despair that we
One quarter of our Pay shall see.

Foreigners and Confederates
Get poor Men's Pay, rich Men's Estates;
Brave England does to ruine run,
And Englishmen must be undone.
If this Trade last but one half Year,
Our Wealth and Strength is spent, I fear.

God bless our noble Parliament,
And give them the whole Government,
That they may see we're worse than ever,
And us from lawless Rule deliver;
For England's sinking, unless they
Do take the Helm, and better sway.

Method of Punishment




Tune Data

Banstead Downs (Simpson 1966, p. 122), is also known as Come Live With Me and Be my Love (Simpson 1966, p. 119-122).




“The SEA-Martyrs;,” Execution Ballads, accessed June 13, 2024,

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