“The Chantey” and “The Bush Poet”: James Cowan and Vernacular Song in New Zealand
Sea shanties and other kinds of vernacular song in New Zealand might be among historian James Cowan’s lesser known interests, but he wrote about them persuasively in two long articles in the Canterbury Times: “The Chantey” (1912) and “The Bush Poet” (1913). This essay discusses the background, sources and content of these articles, as well as their influence on later New Zealand music research. While providing some inspiration for local folksong collecting in the 1950s to 1970s period, these efforts ultimately trailed off and Cowan’s articles seem to have rarely been consulted since. I argue that Cowan’s work still offers some stimulating pathways into New Zealand music history, which could be further explored. An appendix listing articles and books by Cowan with references to the relevant kinds of songs is also included.
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