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The Boddamers Hinged the Monkey

by Caroline Seawright


My mum comes from a small fishing village called Boddam, which is situated near Peterhead in Scotland. I've been there once when I was a child, to visit my relatives, and stayed in Peterhead this year. We did go for a drive around Boddam while there, and saw the old fishing village once again. I didn't remember it much, so I only had my mum's commentary on how it had changed so much since she last stayed there.

Boddam lies on the coast between Peterhead and Cruden Bay at Buchan Ness, the most easterly point on the Scottish mainland. It was once a thriving herring port with 85 boats and 13 curing yards but lost its fishing industry to its Peterhead. The old parts of Boddam retain a 19th century character and the village is dominated by the massive bulks of Buchanness Lighthouse, built by Robert Stevenson in 1827...

-- The Essential Guide to Aberdeen, Tosh Lubek & Gary Stein

We went through the rows of pink granite houses, all looking rather similar, and wound our way to the lighthouse. The last time I was there, we were trying to go up the lighthouse, and the man looking after the lighthouse at the time wasn't... well, wasn't too nice. He told us that we could go up, then that we couldn't, then that we could... and it ended up that we never got to go up the lighthouse. The man wasn't from Boddam, so he didn't really care, I guess. Even this year we couldn't go up - not because of the same man, but because it was all automated, and no-one lived there any more. So we had a look from the car park, and looked at the lighthouse from over the bridge.

Next on our stop was the remains of Boddam Castle, though there wasn't much to see. We were even over the wrong side of a huge gap, so we didn't really see much. There was too much grass and such to clamber over to even have a hope of seeing it up close, so we just looked from afar. We didn't really want to accidentally fall down the gap, which seemed to be a cliff, with the sea far below.

Then we went to try to see a castle that was in slightly better shape. Slains Castle at least looked more like a castle, even though it didn't have a roof! We did have to tramp up a mucky, puddle-filled dirt track for a while to see the castle, but it was great to go inside it and see it and touch it. It was still dangerous - there were no railings to stop you from falling off any of the cliffs - but it was good to none the less.

Somewhere along the way, probably while talking about history, my mum mentioned a song about the Boddamers hanging a monkey:

A ship went out along the coast,
And all the men on board were lost,
Except the monkey, who climbed the mast,
And the Boddamers hinged the monkey O!

Durra ma doo a day
durra ma doo a daddy O
durra ma doo ma doo a day
the Boddamers hanged the monkey O!

-- Traditional

The story behind this song is something like this:

A ship was wrecked near Boddam, and the law of salvage went that the wrecked ship is subject to being salvaged by the first comer. But unfortunately there was a living being on the ship, and thus none of the villagers could claim the ship and salvage it themselves. And so the people of Boddam decided that the only way they could salvage the ship themselves was to deal with the monkey. And so the monkey was hanged, and the Boddamers went ahead and salvaged the ship.

Tradition has it that when a party of youths from Peterhead met a similar party from Boddam - within easy walking distance - a shout would arise: "Faa hingit da monkey?"

-- Shetland Story No.4, The Jellicoe, Shetland Publishing Company

You can hear this song - The Boddamers Hinged the Monkey - by The Gaugers on their CD, Awa' Wi' the Rovin' Sailor. (Does anyone have a copy of this song? I'd love to hear it!)

Here is another version of this song, this time as a poem, kindly provided by Elizabeth Cow of Northeast Memories, a Peterhead nostalgia site:

The Boddamers hanged the monkey-O

Eence a ship sailed round the coast
And a' the men in her was lost
Burrin' a monkey up a post
So the Boddamers hanged the monkey-O

Noo the funeral was a grand affair
All the Boddam folk was there
It minded you o' the Glesga Fair
Fin the Boddamers hanged the monkey-O

Noo a' the folk frae Peterhead
Cam oot expectin' tae get a feed
So they made it into potted heed
Fin the Boddamers hanged the monkey-O

-- Traditional

There is a pub in Aberdeen (the main city near Boddam) called The Noose and Monkey - it was probably named after the story about the Boddamers and the monkey. Although it apparently has a lot of Hartlepool memorabilia on display, and might also be related to the Hartlepool version of fishermen hanging a monkey. The story goes that during Napoleonic times, the locals of Hartlepool found a wrecked ship with only a pet monkey, dressed in a sailor's uniform, left alive on board. They thought this was what the French looked like (having never seen a monkey before) and tried to hang it as a spy! The Hartlepool version also has it's own song, but the Boddam version seems to be older.

It's a pity, but I guess that the place is filled with so many things from ancient times, that the people don't seem to be very interested in their own history. There was no preservation of the two castles, and I couldn't find much at all about the story of the ship wreck and the monkey online. There are stone circles and other megalithic reminders nearby, but again no-one seems to be all that interested. The places that are preserved are the well known places, the places that are all fenced off and cost an arm and a leg to see, and have an expensive gift shop attached. One can't preserve everything... but it's still sad to see so much history disappearing because no-one will do anything about it. I guess many don't think about it - they are surrounded by history! But as someone from Australia, with next to no historical sites, it's such a shame.

Hopefully this will let someone start looking into the history of Boddam and the surrounding Grampian area. Archaeolink Prehistory Park have made a start. Hopefully more people will get interested, and start to preserve the history of Boddam, and the surrounding areas. (Update 2012: However, much to my chagrin, the council failed to fund them, and have put Archaeolink out of business.)

© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present

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