“Soon May the Wellerman Come” is a folk song that went viral on TikTok last year, with many great renditions. It’s was done very much in the vein of Celtic folk songs, and I assumed it was from Boston or Newfoundland, since it’s about whaling. However, it’s from New Zealand!
The song was written around 1860-70, and here’s a beautiful version by Phil Garland, the “Singing Historian” – famous in New Zealand for collecting and playing historical folk music.
New Zealand had a significant whaling industry in the 19th century, and the song describes a ship in an Ahab-like hunt for a right whale, with the men hoping for supplies from the Wellerman – supply ships owned by the Weller brothers, major merchant traders. The crew hopes to take their leave after the whale has been caught and the “tonguin” has been finished – cutting the blubber into long strips for rendering into whale oil.