the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

forgotten traditions

taborers on ships

Sailing ships of all European countries seem to have carried at least one pipe and tabor player. Their job was to signal between ships, give the sailors exercise to keep them fit and well and in good humour, and also to help introduce mariners to any natives they came across in their explorations.


'The Life and times of the Emperor Sigismund' was written between 1440 and 1450.
One of the illustrations shows the army accompanied by a king in a large galleon crossing the sea. In the stern of the ship is a pipe and tabor player.
galleon player

1498 Christopher Columbus was exploring South America and found some local people:
" a canoe followed the admirals ship, having twenty-five men on board, and stopped at the distance of a cannon-shot, calling out and speaking very loud.....As they could not be induced to come on board, ..... the admiral ordered some young fellows to dance on the poop to the music of a pipe and tabor. On seeing this, the Indians snatched up their targets, and began shooting their arrows at the dancers; who, by the admirals command, left off dancing and began to shoot with their cross-bows in return"

There are two versions of this story.

His son wrote:
“Then the Admiral tried to lure them by staging a show, with a pipe-and-tabor player mounting the prow, while another sang and played a kettle-drum and some grummets did a dance.”

Using the pipe and tabor player to calm the natives seems to have been common:

In mdcclxiv:"....but seeing Don Bartholemew laugh, they composed themselves. When they were aboard, the Seamen played on a Tabor and Pipe, and other Instruments, which much pleased the Indians, they looked all about the Head and Stern,..... "


1502 Scotland
Taborers were paid by the job for playing at Court events:
payments made to taborers from the King’s accounts:

28 May: 14.0d to the taborers of the “Jacat”.
[ James IVwas inspecting his ships in the Firth of Forth]

7 July, on board the “barge of Dundee”: 14.0d to the taborer of the said ship.

Canary Islands invasion

The Spanish (?) army arrives to invade the Canary Islands with a trumpeter and a pipe and tabor player at the front.

tabor pipe
1545 King Henry VIII's flag ship the Mary Rose sunk just off the southern shore of England.
Three tabor pipes were found in the ship when it was lifted. This one is a boxwood pipe made by the Bassano family.
This family of Italian musical instrument makers had relocated to London at the invitation of King Henry VIII.

1582 "Instructions given by the right honourable Lordes of the Counsell to M.Edward Fenton Esquire for the order to be observed in the voyage recommended to him for the East Indies and Cathay. Aprill 9 1582"  As reported in Principall Navigations, Captain Luke Ward, vice admiral to General Edward Fenton in the latter’s unsuccessful attempt to find a Northwest Passage by way of China:

Day 21 "I in my skiffe with trumpets, drum and fife, and tabor and pipe, accomponied them a mile up the river "
[from Hakluyt's Collection of the early voyages travels and discoveries of the English Nation: 1811]

July 9th 1610, Virginia:

"… S[i]r Tho[mas] Gates beinge desyreous for to be Revendged upon the Indyans att Kekowhatan did goe thither by water w[i]th a certeine number of men, and amongste the reste a Taborer w[i]th him. beinge Landed he cawsed the Taborer to play and dawnse thereby to allure the Indyans to come unto him the w[hi]ch prevayled. And then espyeinge a fitteinge oportunety fell in upon them …."

  John Smith of Jamestown, Virginia (now USA) advised the use of “patience and experience” in subduing the Native population, asking, “will any goe to catch a Hare with a Taber and a Pipe?”
Gravesend dance18th century: dancing to the fiddle and pipe and tabor on the Gravesend boat
sailors dancingc1780 Sailors dancing to the pipe and tabor on shore.
  1820 England: medical journal of Surgeon-superintendent Hugh Walker on the convict ship "Guildford" recommended that convict ships going to Australia should carry pipes and tabors so that convicts may dance to prevent them brooding on their misfortunes.

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