Come, cheer up, my lads, ’tis to glory we steer,
To add something more to this wonderful year;
To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?
Heart of Oak are our ships,
Jolly Tars are our men,
We always are ready: Steady, boys, Steady!
We’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again.
2. We ne’er see our foes but we wish them to
They never see us but they wish us away;
If they run, why we follow, and run them ashore,
For if they won’t fight us, what can we do more?
3. They say they’ll invade us, these terrible
They frighten our women, our children, our beaus,
But if they in their flat-bottoms, in darkness set oar,
Still Britons they’ll find to receive them on shore.
4. We still make them fear and we still make
And drub them ashore as we drub them at sea,
Then cheer up me lads with one heart let us sing,
Our soldiers and sailors, our statesmen and king.
The music was composed by William Boyce (1711-1779), an English composer & organist, while the lyrics were written by David Garrick (1717-1779), and English actor and playwright. It was first performed for the opera, Harlequin’s Invasion, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1760.
The “wonderful year” was the “annus mirabilis” of 1759 which saw British victories at:
- the Battle of Minden, 1 August 1759;
- the Battle of Lagos, 19 August 1759;
- the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, 13 September 1759; and
- the Battle of Quiberon Bay, 20 November 1759. This battle foiled a French plan to invade England, hence the reference in the song to “flat-bottom” invasion barges.
There have been several variations over the years. The second, third and fourth verses are rarely heard. Heart of Oak is also the official march of the Royal Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy .