The Legend of the Monkey
There is a legend that during the Napoleonic Wars with France (1793-1815), a French ship was wrecked off the coast of Hartlepool. During the period there was a fear of a French invasion of Britain and much public concern about the possibility of French spies.
The only survivor of the wreck was a monkey, who managed toswim ashore. It was captured by some local fishermen, who tried to speak to it, and ask it questions. They could not understand its replies and, never having seen a monkey before, thought it was a strangely shaped human, speaking in a foreign language. They decided that it was talking French and was therefore a spy. It was then condemned to death and hanged on the Fish Sands, in front of the Town Wall.
There is no evidence of any truth in the legend, or that it is very old. The first mention of the Monkey is in the mid 19th Century, when Ned Corvan, a famous Geordie comic singer and songwriter, first performed the 'Monkey Song'.
Ned Corvan was influenced in his act by Billy Purvis, another Geordie comic, who had been very popular in Hartlepool earlier in the century. He composed a song about Purvis, who had died in Hartlepool, which was very well received. Corvan soon became very popular in Hartlepool and played there regularly.
Corvan toured from North Yorkshire to the Scottish lowlands. About this time he may have come into contact with the song 'And the Boddamers hung the Monkey O', a song about the villagers of the seaside village of Boddam near Peterhead in Scotland, who hanged a monkey because it was the only survivor from a local shipwreck and the salvage rights could only be claimed if there were no survivors from a wreck. The similarity between the choruses of the two songs is very striking.
But here in Hartlepool we know the truth. It was indeed Hartlepool who hung the Monkey.