The Butcher Boy

Elizabeth Stewart: On Autumn Harvest ah003: Old Songs & Bothy Ballads: For Friendship and for Harmony. Live from the Fife Traditional Singing Festival May 2005.

This widely popular murder ballad appears to derive from a text first published in the early 1700s under the title The Berkshire Tragedy or The Wittam Miller. This broadside text was adapted, amended and republished many times between 1780 and 1850 and the song has been widely collected in Britain and the USA under many different titles: The Miller's Apprentice, The Prentice Boy, The Oxford Miller, The Wexford Miller (in Ireland), and The Butcher Boy (in Scotland and USA). Elizabeth has a particularly complete version with elements of the story often absent elsewhere (GD 7:1466; Laws P24; Roud 409).

1: Oh ma parents they gaed tae me good learning,
Good learnin they gaed tae me;
They sent me tae a butcher shop,
A butcher boy tae be.

2: I fell in love wi a nice young lass,
She'd a dark and the rovin ee;
I promised that I'd mairry her,
If one nicht she wad lie wi me.

3: He had coorted her for mony's a day,
Six lang months an mair;
But anither een had taen his ee,
And he wis tae dispair.

4: For Mary Anne wis wi bairn tae him,
"Oh Willie what will I dae?
For ma baby it will soon be born,
So will you mairry me?"

5: He went up to her mother's house,
'Tween the hours o eight and nine;
He asked her for tae tak a walk,
Down by the river side.

6: They walkèd east and they walkèd west,
And they walkèd aa aroond;
Till he took a knifie oot his breist,
And he stabbed her to the ground.

7: She went upon her bended knee,
And for mercy she did cry;
Oh Willie dinna murder me,
And leave me here tae die.

8: He took her by the milk-white hand,
And he dragged her on her own;
Until they came to yon rushing stream,
And he plunged her body in.

9: He went up to his mother's house,
'Tween the hours o twelve and one;
It's little did his mither think,
What her only son hae done.

10: The question she did put to him,
"Why the blood stains on your glove?"
The answer he gave to her,
"It wis from a bloody nose."

11: He asked her for a candle.
For to light him up to bed;
And likewise for a hankerchief,
For to tie aroond his head.

12: Nae peace nor rest could this young man get,
No peace nor rest could he find;
For he thought he saw the flames o hell,
Approachin in his mind.

13: Noo this young man has been taen an tried,
And the gallows it wis his doom;
For the murdering of sweet Mary Ann,
A flooer that wis in bloom.
c p 2006 Autumn Harvest