Parry’s Barrel Organ

Parry’s Barrel Organ

Sir William Edward Parry led several Polar expeditions, searching for the North-West Passage, in 1819-1825.

On each voyage, the ships would be ice-bound for several months and so Parry devised various entertainments and pastimes for the crew, and took a barrel-organ on board his ship. The musical repertoire consisted of some hymns and a good number of popular dance tunes, to which the crew would either dance or march round deck to help keep fit.

I have been investigating the repertoire, including identifying un-named items,  sources for the musical items and dance figures.  This is a very early example of recorded dance music, and provides evidence into early 19th century taste in tunes complimentary to that discovered in the early manuscript books made by amateur musicians keen to learn new material.

One of the most interesting items is Miss Gayton’s Hornpipe which is still known within the folk fraternity, as both a tune and a solo stepdance routine, having been collected in Ayrshire in the 1950s by Tom & Joan Flett. It now seems likely that this tune and dance actually came from the early 19th century stage, from a ballet dancer who had an ‘annus mirabilis’ in 1808 before making an advantageous marriage and disappearing from the stage forever, aged only 17.

In June 2020 I gave a short presentation to the Traditional Song Forum called about one of the tunes on the barrel organ,  Paddy O’Rafferty. This is now published on my new Unsung Histories website: “Will the real Paddy O’Rafferty please stand up!” and the story of Parry, his barrel organ and the dance tunes on it, is told on the same website: “A Barrel Organ in the Arctic”.

“Miss Gayton and her Hornpipe” should be published there in August 2021.