From The Oxford Book fo Sea Songs, 1986:
In Memoriam of the poor Fishermen who lost their lives in the Dreadful Gale from Grimsby and Hull, Feb. 8 & 9, 1889' is the title of a broadside produced by a Grimsby fisherman, William Dell, to raise funds for the bereaved families. It eight lost vessels, the last two from Hull: Eton, John Wintringham Sea Searcher, Sir Fred. Roberts, British Workman, Kitten, Harold, Adventure and Olive Branch. In addition the names of some of the lost sailors are given, and there is a poem in eight stanzas. This passed into oral tradition, and in so doing lost six verses and acquired a new one (the last, in which an error of date occurs), together with a chorus and a tune. The oral version was noted from a master mariner, Mr J. Pearson of Filey, in 1957, and has subsequently, with some further small variations, become well known in folk-song clubs.
And this, from Hull Times, 2 March 1889 (local newspaper)
As day after day passes and no tidings arrive of the missing Grimsby smacks,
it is beginning to be realised that the gale of the 9th ult. will prove one
of the most disastrous to the Grimsby fishing trade on record. Altogether
nearly a dozen fishing vessels, carrying between 60 and 70 hands, are
missing. Most of these vessels were only provisioned for eight or nine days,
and many of them have been out over a month. Of the safety of seven of them
all hope has now been abandoned. The vessels are:
Sea Searcher, trawl smack, owner Mr Joseph Ward; five hands.
John Wintringham, cod smack, master and owner Mr John Guitesen; eleven hands.
Eton, iron steam trawl smack, owner Mr H. Smethurst, Jun.; eight hands.
British Workman, cod smack, owner Mr Thomas Campbell; seven hands.
Sir Frederick Roberts, trawl smack, master and owner Mr W. Walker; five hands.
Kitten, trawl smack, owner James Meadows; five hands.
Harold, trawl smack, master and owner Mr Blakeney; five hands.
Portions of wreckage from the Kitten have been picked up at sea and brought into port, and the British Workman was seen to be reduced to a mere wreck by a heavy sea on the morning of the gale. Many of the men who have been lost leave wives and families, and an immense amount of distress will be caused amongst the fishing population. The total number of vessels lost will, it is feared, be near 15, and of lives between 70 and 80.
See the second set of lyrics below for the original broadside version. The first set of lyrics were standardized by the Watersons in the early 60s and then by The Clancy Bros. (recorded on Songs of the Sea) and Gordon Bok (on Turning Toward the Morning). It's probable that Mike Waterson wrote the chorus.
Methinks I see a host of craft
Spreading their sails alee
Down the Humber they do glide
All bound for the Northern Sea
Me thinks I see on each small craft
A crew with hearts so brave
Going out to earn their daily bread
Upon the restless wave
And it's three score and ten
Boys and men were lost from Grimsby town
From Yarmouth down to Scarborough
Many hundreds more were drowned
Our herring craft, our trawlers
Our fishing smacks, as well
They long defied that bitter night
And battled with the swell
Methinks I see them yet again
As they leave this land behind
Casting their nets into the sea
The herring shoals to find
Me thinks I see them yet again
They're all on board all right
With their nets rolled up and their decks cleaned off
And the side lights burning bright
Me thinks I've heard the captain say
"Me lads we'll shorten sail"
With the sky to all appearances
Looks like an approaching gale
Me thinks I see them yet again
Midnight hour is past
The little craft abattling there
Against the icy blast
October's night brought such a sight
'Twas never seen before
There were mast and yards and broken spars
Come a washed up on the shore
There were many a heart in sorrow
Many a heart so brave
There were many a fine and hearty lad
That met a watery grave
The original broadside lyrics, written in 1889. It's noted that William Delf (author) was himself lost at sea in 1893 (c. age 40). In addition to this citation, the broadside is reproduced in the book Song of the Riding (2001) by Nigel Huddleston, and an original copy of the broadside resides at the Grimsby Public Library.
From The Oxford Book of Local Verses:
'A Ballad in Memory of the Fishermen from Hull and Grimsby who lost their
lives in the Gale of 8 and 9 February 1889'
by W. Delf, a Grimsby fisherman.
Methinks I see some little crafts spreading their sails a-lee
As down the Humber they did glide bound in the Northern sea;
Methinks I see on each small craft a crew with hearts so brave,
Going to earn their daily bread upon the restless wave.
Methinks I see them as they left the land all far behind,
Casting the lead into the deep their fishing grounds to find;
methinks I see them on the deck working with a will,
To shoot their net into the deep either for good or ill.
Methinks I see them shoot their trawl upon the Thursday night,
And saw the watch upon the deck, and everything was right;
methinks I see them yet again when daylight did appear,
All hands working with a will getting off their gear.
Methinks I see the net on board and fish so fresh and gay,
And all were busily engaged clearing them away;
Methinks I see them put away into the ice below,
And then the sea began to rise, and the wind did stronger blow.
Methinks I heard the skipper say, 'My lads, we'll shorten sail,
As the sky to all appearance looks like an approaching gale.'
Methinks I see them yet again, and all on board was right,
With sails close reef'd, the deck cleared up, and sidelights burning bright.
Methinks I see them yet again, the midnight hour was passed [sic];
Their little craft was battling there with the fiery blast;
Methinks I heard the skipper say, 'Cheer up, my lads, be brave.
We'll trust in Him who rules the deep, in Him who alone can save.'
Methinks I read the thoughts of them who now are called away;
They were thinking of their loved ones dear many miles away;
Thinking of wife and children dear, and aged parents too,
Who no more will see them here again in this world below.
Great God, Thou sees each sorrowing heart, the widow in distress,
Thou knows the little children dear, who now are fatherless;
Comfort and cheer them here below, and lead them by Thy hand,
And at last may they meet with their loved ones dear in the promised land.
The notes say: 'Supplied by F.R. Whitmarsh of Grimsby from the original broadsheet as sold by the author.'