A sea shanty is a type of folk song with a deep and powerful maritime history. It describes the daily struggles, hopes, and camaraderie of sailors, making it a timeless piece that resonates with people across generations. Its infectious melodies and messages of unity and resilience make it a captivating musical genre that has transcended its maritime origins and taken on a life of its own.
Wellerman is a popular sea shanty that captures the lives of shore whalers in the era of whaling in New Zealand. The song’s lyrics describe a whaling ship on the hunt for the right whale—a fatty, bulbous variety that is coveted for its oil and meat. The crew hopes for a “Wellerman” to come and bring them essential supplies like sugar, tea, and rum—luxuries that would offer relief from the hardships of their long voyages.
The title of the song is a reference to ships owned by the Weller brothers, European New Zealand settlers who worked as part of the whaling industry. They would often send supply ships to the whaling stations to bring the necessities and luxuries that were not available on land.
The success of the song has spurred interest in New Zealand’s maritime and whaling history. Its popularity on TikTok has also inspired musicians to create their own versions of the song, bringing it to new audiences and reviving this classic sea shanty. While many versions of the song have gone viral on social media, some have raised questions about its authenticity as a shanty. For example, Nathan Evans, a Scottish singer whose version of the song went viral on TikTok in late 2020, has argued that Wellerman is not a traditional sea shanty.