Untold lives blog

14 February 2014

The British Tars’ Valentine

On 14 February 1797, the British and Spanish naval fleets met off the south-west coast of Portugal at the Battle of Cape St Vincent.  The Spanish were allied with France against Britain in the Revolutionary Wars.  Although the Spanish fleet was much larger, the British Navy under the command of Admiral Sir John Jervis was victorious.  Horatio Nelson in the Captain led the boarding parties which took the San Nicolas and the San Josef

Battle Cape St Vincent 03080331
Battle of Cape St. Vincent - Nelson boarding the San Josef and receiving the Spanish Admiral's sword. ©Lessing Archive/British Library Board Images Online  Noc

The Captain of the Fleet Robert Calder was chosen to carry home the welcome news of victory. Calder was knighted for his services on 3 March 1797.  A rousing song was soon written by J Ogden junior to celebrate the victory.  One of the ways in which the words of the song were disseminated was through publication in regional newspapers, such as the Leeds Intelligencer of 20 March 1797 and the Chester Courant of 18 April 1797.  The words were to be sung to the tune of Valentine’s Day.

The British Tars’ Valentine

Or, the glorious 14th of February


When Morpheus veil’d the briny deep,

And landsmen all were gone to sleep,

Brave Jervis, with his gallant few,

Kept watch, in hopes the Dons to view.

For though their ships were three times nine,

Our Tars would have a Valentine.

    And pledg’d themselves ere they did dine,

    To send us home a Valentine.


When grey-ey’d morning dawn’d her light,

The Spanish squadron hove in sight;

Brave Jervis form’d two lines compact,

That with more vigour they might act:

For though their ships were three times nine,

Our Tars would have a Valentine.

    As they had pledg’d ere they did dine,

    To send us home a Valentine.


Our Tars quite bent upon their prey,

Impatient lest they’d skulk away:

Then Jervis bravely led them on;

‘Twas near the time of mid-day sun:

And though their ships were three times nine,

Undauntedly he broke their Line.

    For he stood pledg’d ere they did dine,

    His Tars should have a Valentine.


The Spanish fleet could not unite-

Such was the fury of the fight;

For every effort which they try’d

Serv’d only more to curb their pride;

And though their ships were three times nine,

Our Tars fought for a Valentine.

    For they stood pledg’d ere they did dine,

    Britain should have a Valentine.


Just at the time of setting sun,

The Spaniards on all sides did run;

Leaving behind their Salvadore,

St. Joseph, aye, and two Saints more;

Our Tars then wash’d their throats with wine,

While Jervis form’d the Valentine.

    Then all in triumph went to dine,

    And Calder bore the Valentine.


Margaret Makepeace
Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by


Further reading

British Newspaper Archive

A garland, containing seven choice songs, viz. 1. Young roger the Ploughman. 2. Good humour and wit. 3. The British tars Valentine. 4. Feather Paul. 5. The dumb wife cur'd. 6. A favorite song. 7. The Cobler. Preston : printed by E. Sergent, in the Market-Place; where may be had, the greatest Assortment of Songs and Histories, Wholesale & Retail, [1800?].



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