History in Song – visual page paste

History As Told In Folksong
Presented by Alan Foster
Songs have always reflected current events. For example, there are songs in the English language going back to the Crusades, and legends such as Robin Hood. Accuracy may not be their strong suit, but they do give us some insight into the thoughts of those experiencing the events. In this informal presentation I will concentrate mainly on songs arising from Australian history, slightly embellished by New Zealand and Great Britain.

Australian history has been shaped by a variety of events and eras. These include Transportation, Convict settlement, Seafaring, Bushranging, Gold mining and Pastoral issues. I have included songs from all these categories.

Most of the songs I have chosen would be classed as “Folksongs”, a term that began in the late 19th century. That is, they are part of “Folklore” or the “Oral Tradition” and will often have originated at a time close to the events they depict. Australian colonial songs of this type are often referred to as “Bush Ballads”. Examples of bush ballads may be found in many publications including Banjo Paterson’s “The Old Bush Songs”, first published in 1905.

A section at the end of this presentation includes links to definitions of “Folk Song”, “Oral Tradition” and “Bush Ballads”. Useful web sites and printed references are included.

The origins of all externally referenced images may be seen by clicking on the image.

Some images shown in this presentation are our own or are public domain. Any others are shown by means of links to the web sites where they are located and are not resident on this web site. If you are the owner of one of these linked images and would like the link removed, please contact us: by email here or here.
 Wikipedia – Sydney Cove

Wikipedia – Sydney Cove
Transportation Songs
Transportation songs tend to be Anglo/Irish songs such as “Botany Bay” or “The Black Velvet Band”. Few can be traced to a specific misdemeanour, and most stop near the point of leaving the old country. They are usually generic in nature and often include a warning in the last verse, as do both the above-mentioned songs. Of the three songs presented here only the first fits this pattern, although in this case the story continues into the new country.

The following songs have poaching as a common theme, for no particular reason, although as Gary Shearston said on his web site:
It is a popular belief amongst Australians that poachers made up a large proportion of the convicts transported to Australia. In fact, the records show that only a handful of men were transported for poaching.

Wikipedia – Convicts in New Holland, 1793
Van Diemen’s Land or Young Henry The Poacher

Me and five more went out one night into Squire Dunhill’s Park,
For to see if we could get some game the night bein’ proven dark;
But to our great misfortune they trepanned us with speed,
And sent us off to Warwick gaol which made our hearts to bleed.

Young men all be aware lest you be drawn into a snare
Young men all be aware lest you be drawn into a snare.

It was at the March Assizes to the bar we did repair,
Like Job we stood with patience to hear our sentence there;
But being some old offenders, it made our case go hard,
My sentence was for fourteen years, then I was sent on board.

The ship that bore us from the land, the Speedwell was her name
For full five months and upwards, boys, we ploughed the raging main;
No land nor harbour could we see; believe it is no lie.
All around us one black ocean, above us one blue sky.

On the fifteenth day of August, ’twas then we made the land.
At four o’clock we went on shore all chainèd hand in hand.
To see our fellow sufferers filled me heart with woe;
Some chained unto the harrow, and others to the plough.

No shoes or stockings they had on, nor hat had they to wear,
But leathern frock and linsey drawers; their feet and heads were bare.
They chained them up two by two like horses in a team;
The driver he stood over them, with his Malacca cane.

Then I was marched to Sydney town, without no more delay,
Where a gentleman he purchased me, his bookkeeper to be.
I took this occupation, my master liked me well.
My joys were without measure, the truth to you I’ll tell.

We had a female servant, Rosanna was her name,
For fourteen years a convict was, from Wolverhampton came.
We often told our tales of love when we were young at home,
But now it’s rattling of our chains in a foreign land to roam.

Come all you wild and wicked youths, wherever you may be
I pray you hear the tale I tell and listen unto me,
The fate of us transported lads as you shall understand
The hardships we did undergo upon Van Diemen’s Land.


Broadside published between 1818 and 1838.
Trove – Young Henry The Poacher
Van Dieman’s Land

Come all you gallant poachers, that ramble free from care,
That walk out on a moonlit night, with your dog, your gun and snare;
The hare and lofty pheasant you have at your command
Not thinking of your last career going to Van Dieman’s Land.

Poor Thomas Brown, of Nottingham, Jack Williams, and Poor Joe,
They were three daring poachers, as the country well does know
But by a cruel keeper, boys, one night they were trepanned
And fourteen years transported unto Van Dieman’s Land.

The first day that we landed upon that fatal shore,
The settlers they came round us, some twenty score and more,
They ranked us up like horses and sold us out of hand,
And yoked us to the plough, brave boys, to plough Van Dieman’s Land.

Oh the wretched huts we live in are built from clods and clay,
With rotten straw for bedding, we dare not to say nay,
As for the wretched females see them we scarcely can
There are twenty men for every woman all on Van Dieman’s Land.

Oft times when I do slumber, I have a pleasant dream,
With my true love beside me close by a purling stream
I am roaming through Old England with my true love by the hand
I awake quite broken-hearted upon Van Dieman’s Land.


Note the spelling of Van Dieman’s Land!

This song provided the title for “The Fatal Shore” by Robert Hughes

Executed Today
The Oakham Poachers
This song can be traced to a specific incident. Cousins of mine are descended via their mother from the youngest of the three brothers in the song. It was a really eerie feeling when, having known this song for a number of years, I heard the story of their ancestor who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land. As the story unfolded, each stage corresponded so closely to the song that it seemed impossible for it to be a coincidence. Further research revealed that the song does indeed describe the misadventure of their ancestor.

The detail in the song is pretty close to the truth – John (26), Robert (24) and George (23) Perkins were poaching one night and were assailed by a couple of keepers, one of whom was shot in the private parts (according to the transcript of the trial which I have seen). As a result of all this John was hung, Robert and George were confined in a prison hulk on the Thames where Robert died due to the appalling conditions. George was finally transported to Van Diemen’s Land where he served out his time. He stayed in Tasmania until his death in early middle age when a coroner’s report remarked on the fact that his body was covered in scars from the lashes he had received while he was a convict.
Concerning of three young men
One night in January
According laws contrary
A-poaching went straightway.

They were inclined to ramble
Amongst the trees and brambles
A-firing at the pheasants
Which brought the keepers nigh.

The keepers dared not enter
Nor cared the woods to venture
But outside near the centre
In them old bush they stood.

The poachers they were tired
And to leave they were desired
‘Til at last young Parkins* fired
And spilled one keeper’s blood.

Fast homeward they were making
Nine pheasants they were taking
When another keeper faced them
They fired at him also.

He on the ground lay crying
Just like some person dying
With no assistance nigh him
May God forgive their crime.

Then they were taken with speed
All for that inhuman deed
It caused their hearts to bleed
For their young tender years.

There seen before was never
Three brothers tried together
Three brothers condemned for poaching
Found guilty as they stood.

Exiled in transportation
Two brothers they were taken
And the other one hung as a token
May God forgive their crime.


*The change from Perkins to Parkins is simply an example of how folksongs evolve over time.
 A Broadside printed between 1863 and 1885
Bodleian Libraries – Broadside Ballads Online
Jim Jones At Botany Bay
Another generic song, the last couple of verses expressing the wishful thinking that many convicts must have felt.

While travelling along the Dorset coastline in 2014 we came across a pub called The Botany Bay Inne. On an outside wall was a fragment of this song, attributed to Bob Dylan! While Dylan did record it, he certainly didn’t write it. He’s not old enough – as the next paragraph shows, it is known to have been in print by 1907 and must have existed in the oral tradition for some years before that.

From Gary Shearston’s web site:
This song was presumably first sung in the late 1820s, when Jack Donahoe’s gang was still at large. The words were preserved for us by Charles Macalister, who grew up in the southern highlands of New South Wales in the 1830s and 1840s. He printed the words in a book of reminiscences, Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South, published in 1907, and said that it was a typical song of the convict days.

Obviously Macalister knew the song for decades before he published it. It could easily have been lost as many other old songs undoubtedly were.
Oh, listen for a moment, lads, and hear me tell my tale,
How o’er the sea from England’s shore I was condemned to sail.
The jury says: “He’s guilty, sir,” and says the judge, says he:
“For life, Jim Jones, I’m sending you across the stormy sea.

And take my tip before you ship to join the iron gang,
Don’t get too gay at Botany Bay or else you’ll surely hang.
Or else you’ll surely hang,” says he, “and after that, Jim Jones,
High up upon the gallows tree the crows will pick your bones.

You’ll have no time for mischief then, remember what I say:
They’ll flog the poaching out of you down there at Botany Bay.”
The waves were high upon the sea, the winds blew up in gales
I would rather drown in misery than go to New South Wales.

The winds blew high upon the sea and pirates come along,
But the soldiers on our convict ship were full five hundred strong.
They opened fire and somehow drove that pirate ship away.
I’d rather have joined the skull-and-bones than come to Botany Bay.

For night and day the irons clang, and like poor galley-slaves
We toil and strive and when we die, must fill dishonoured graves.
But by and by I’ll break me chains and to the bush I’ll go,
And join the brave bushrangers there, Jack Donahoe and Co.

And some dark night when everything is silent in the town,
I’ll kill the tyrants one and all, I’ll shoot the floggers down.
I’ll give the law a little shock, remember what I say,
They’ll yet regret they sent Jim Jones in chains to Botany Bay.

Photo: Alan Foster

Photo: Alan Foster
The Life Of A Convict
Australian Courtship
Our colonial-born brethren are best known here by the name of Currency, in contradistinction to Sterling, or those born in the mother-country. The name was originally given by a facetious paymaster of the 73rd Regiment quartered here – the pound currency being at that time inferior to the pound sterling. Our Currency lads and lasses are a fine interesting race, and do honour to the country whence they originated. The name is a sufficient passport to esteem with all the well-informed and right-feeling portion of our population; but it is most laughable to see the capers some of our drunken old Sterling madonnas will occasionally cut over their Currency adversaries in a quarrel. – Two Years in New South Wales, by Peter Cunningham, published in 1827. Peter Cunningham was appointed as surgeon superintendent on several convict ships to Australia.
The Currency Lads may fill up their glasses
And drink to the health of the Currency Lasses,
But the lass I adore, the one for me
Is a lass in the Female Factory.

Molly’s her name – her name is Molly
Although she was tried by the name of Polly
Tried and sentenced to death at Newry
The Judge was bribed and so were the jury.

She was sentenced to death at Newry Town
For stealing her mistresses watch and gown.
Her little boy, Paddy, will tell you the tale
His Father is turnkey at Newry Jail.

The first time I saw this comely lass
Was at Parramatta, goin’ to Mass.
Says I, “I’ll marry you in an hour”
Says she, “I’ll go and get Father Power”.

But I got into trouble that very same night.
Being drunk on the street I got into a fight.
A constable seized me – I gave him a box.
I was put in the watch-house and then in the stocks

It’s very unaisy as I may remember
To sit in the stocks in the month of December
The wind is so hot with the sun right over
Sure, it’s no place at all for a lover.

“‘Tis worse than the tread-mill,” says I, “Mr Dunn,
To sit here all day in the hate of the sun”,
“Either that or a dollar”, says he, “for your folly”.
“If I had a dollar I’d drink it with Molly.”

Now I’m out again, early and late.
Crying outside of the Factory gate
Sayin’, “Mrs O’Reardon and Mrs Muldoon
Won’t you let my Molly out very soon.”

“Is it Molly McGuigan?” says she to me
“Is it not?” says I for she knew it was she.
“Is it her you mean that was put in the stocks
For beating her mistress, old Mrs Cox!”

“O! yes and it is, madam, pray let me in,
I have brought her a half-pint of Cooper’s best gin,
She likes it as well as she likes her own mother,
O! now let me in, madam, I am her brother.”

And the Currency Lads may fill up their glasses
And drink to the health of the Currency Lasses.
But the lass I adore, the one for me
Is the lass in the Female Factory.

Unknown, The Sydney Gazette, 14 July 1832                    

Trove – The Sydney Gazette, 14 July 1832
Moreton Bay
Frank the Poet (real name Francis MacNamara) was transported to New South Wales from Ireland, and wrote songs from the convict’s point of view. One of these is Moreton Bay, sometimes sung in Australian primary schools. It is normally sung to the Irish tune Boolavogue.

Captain Patrick Logan was the Commandant of the Moreton Bay penal settlement from 1826 to 1830. He was hated by the convicts for the severity of the floggings under his regime. He was also an important explorer and was killed by Aborigines in 1830 while surveying the Upper Brisbane river.
One Sunday morning as I went walking
By Brisbane waters I chanced to stray
I heard a prisoner his fate bewailing
As on the sunny river bank he lay
I am a native of Erin’s island
And banished now from my native shore
They tore me from my aged parents
And from the maiden whom I adore.

I’ve been a prisoner at Port Macquarie
At Norfolk Island and Emu Plains
At Castle Hill and cursed Toongabbie
At all those settlements I’ve walked in chains
But of all these places of condemnation
And penal stations of New South Wales
To Moreton Bay I’ve found no equal
Excessive tyranny each day prevails.

For three long years I was beastly treated
And heavy irons on my legs I wore
My back with flogging is lacerated
And often painted with my crimson gore
And many a man from downright starvation
Lies mouldering now underneath the clay
And Captain Logan he had us mangled
At the triangles of Moreton Bay.

Like Egyptians and ancient Hebrews
We were oppressed under Logan’s yoke
Till a native black lying there in ambush
Gave to the tyrant his mortal stroke
My fellow prisoners be exhilarated
That all such monsters such a death may find
And when from bondage we are liberated
Our former sufferings shall fade from mind.

Frank The Poet (Francis MacNamara)                    
 Watercolour painting of Moreton Bay Settlement, 1835
Wikipedia – Early Streets of Brisbane

Patrick Logan
Wikipedia – Patrick Logan

Wikipedia – Convict Flogging
The Jerilderie Letter

Moreton Bay leads us to the Jerilderie Letter, dictated by Ned Kelly to Joe Byrne. Not surprisingly, Ned seems to have known the song as Page 46 of the letter shows. Even without the possible connection between “Red” Kelly (Ned’s father) and Francis MacNamara, who served time concurrently in Van Diemen’s Land, Moreton Bay would have been well known in the Irish Australian community of the time, with its Irish tune Boolavogue being independently familiar.

Shown right is the cell where Red Kelly was held before being sent to Australia. His cell is at the far left. It’s a few miles from the Rock of Cashell in Co. Tipperary.

Photo: Taia de Burca
…pulling their toe and finger nails and on the wheel. and every torture imaginable more was transported to Van Diemands Land to pine their young lives away in starvation and misery among tyrants worse than the promised hell itself All of true blood bone and beauty, that was not murdered on their own soil, or had fled to America or other countries to bloom again another day, Were doomed to Port Mcquarie Toweringabbie And Norfolk Island and Emu Plains And in those places of tyrany and condemnation many a blooming Irishman rather than subdue to the Saxon yoke, Were flogged to death And bravely died in servile chains but true to the shamrock and a credit to Paddys land. What would people say if I became a policeman and took…

Note the lack of punctuation, some corrections and mostly correct spelling. While we have the Jerilderie Letter in our sights, a couple of other pages are worth looking at…

…to her he gave it to her husband consequently McCormack said he would summons me I told him neither me or Gould used their horse. he said I was a liar & he could welt me or any of my breed I was about 14 years of age but accepted the challenge and dismounting when Mrs McCormack struck my horse in the flank with a bullock’s shin it jumped forward and my fist came in collision with McCormack’s nose and caused him to loose his equillibrium and fall postrate I tied up my horse to finish the battle but McCormack got up and ran to the Police camp. Constable Hall asked me what the row was about I told him they…

…of scattering pieces of me and my brother all over the bush and yet they know and acknowledge I have been wronged and my mother and four or five men lagged innocent And is my brothers and sisters And my mother not to be pitied also who has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat-necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splaw-footed sons of Irish Bailiffs or english landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police who some calls honest gentlemen but I would like to know what business an honest man would have in the Police As it is an old saying It takes a rogue to catch a rogue and a…

Ned Kelly                    

Joe Byrne’s handwriting was a whole lot better than mine…
State Library of Victoria – Jerilderie Letter, Online version
The Kelly Gang

Part 1 – Euroa

Oh Paddy dear and did you hear the news that’s going round
On the head of bold Ned Kelly they have placed two thousand pound.
And on Steve Hart, Joe Byrne and Dan two thousand more they’ll give
But if the price was double, sure, the Kelly Gang would live.

‘Twas in November, seventy-eight when the Kelly Gang came down,
Just after shooting Kennedy, to famed Euroa town;
To rob the bank of all its gold was their idea that day,
Blood horses they were mounted on to make their getaway.

Into the bank Ned Kelly walked and “Bail Up!” he did say
Unlock the safe, hand out your cash, be quick and don’t delay!”
Without a murmur they obeyed the robbers’ bold command
Ten thousand pounds in gold and notes they gave into his hand.

“Now hand out all your firearms!” the robber boldly said
And all your ammunition or a bullet through your head.
Now get your wife and children too, come man, now look alive;
All jump into this buggy, and we’ll take you for a drive.

They drove them to a station about three miles away
Where twenty men already had been bailed up all the day
A hawker also shared their fate as everybody knows
And came in handy to the gang supplying all their clothes.

They next destroyed the telegraph by cutting down the wire
And of their cast off clothing then they made a small bonfire
Throughout the whole affair me boys they never fired a shot
They way they worked was splendid and will never be forgot.

Culture Victoria – Ned Kelly
The original version of this song was written by Joe Byrne after the holdup at Euroa. The tune and first line are from the Irish rebel song “The Wearing Of The Green”.

The core members of the gang are named in the first verse.

Part 2 – Jerilderie

Oh, Paddy dear, do shed a tear, I can’t but sympathize,
Those Kellys are the devils, for they’ve made another rise;
This time across the billabong, on Morgan’s ancient beat,
They’ve robbed the banks of thousands, and in safety did retreat.

They rode into Jerilderie at twelve o’clock that night,
They caught the troopers in their beds, gave them an awful fright.
They held them up at pistol point and I’m ashamed to tell,
They took them in their nightshirts and they locked them in a cell.

Next morning being Sunday morn of course they must be good,
They dressed themselves in trooper’s clothes, and Ned, he chopped some wood.
And no-one there suspected them, as troopers they did pass,
And Dan, the most religious, took the sergeant’s wife to mass.

On Monday morning early, still masters of the ground,
They took their horses to the forge and had them shod all round;
Then back they came and mounted, their plans all laid so well,
They rode along the main street and stuck up the Royal Hotel.

And as they rode away from town they called to one and all,
“You’ll not forget the Kelly Gang, Dan Morgan and Ben Hall.”
And where they’ve gone I do not know, and sure I wouldn’t tell,
So now, until I hear from them, I’ll bid you all farewell.

State Library of NSW

Extra verses added after the Jerilderie holdup. The two parts included here are about half the original length.

My re-working of the first two lines of the last verse was inspired by a sentence in Margaret Carnegie’s “Morgan – The Bold Bushranger”: “When the Kelly Gang held up Jerilderie … they rode through the streets shouting, ‘Hoorah for Dan Morgan and Ben Hall'”.
Ned Kelly’s Farewell To Greta (The Kelly Song)
According to Peter FitzSimons (“Ned Kelly”), by the time of the Glenrowan siege this was Ned’s favourite folksong. In its present form it represents a fictitious conversation between Ned and his sister Kate following the killing of three policemen at Stringybark Creek.
Farewell my home in Greta, my sister Kate farewell.
It grieves my heart to leave you, but here I cannot dwell.

The brand of Cain is on my brow and the bloodhounds on my trail,
And for the sake of golden gain, my freedom they assail.

But should they cross my chequered path, by all I hold on earth,
I’ll give them cause to rue the day their mothers gave them birth.

I’ll shoot them down like kangaroos that roam the forest wide,
And leave their bodies bleaching upon some woodland side.

Oh, Edward, dearest brother, you know you should not go,
And risk to be encountered by such a mighty foe.

It’s duly North lies Morgan’s Tower, and pointing to the sky,
South-east by east the mighty range of Gippsland mountains lie.

And let no petty quarrels part the union of your gang,
But stick to one another, Ned, and guard our brother Dan.

See yonder ride four troopers, one kiss before we part,
Now haste and join your comrades: Dan, Joe Byrne and Stevie Hart.


The ruin of the Kelly home in Greta
Photo: Alan Foster
When Ned was 11 and the family lived at Avenel, he saved 7 year old Richard Shelton from drowning in Hughes Creek. He was awarded the green sash shown below in recognition of his bravery, and wore it around his waist at Glenrowan.

Other images shown below are:-
The Avenel Stone Bridge, completed in 1869.
The remains of the Kelly property at Avenel.
Red Kelly’s Grave, Avenel Cemetery.Approximately 150m downstream from the bridge (off picture to the right), Ned rescued Richard Shelton.

Photo: Alan Foster

Photo: Alan Foster

Photo: Alan Foster

Photo: Alan Foster
Cailín Deas Crúite Na Mbó
While the Kelly gang held up Ann Jones’ Glenrowan Inn, waiting for the train they planned to derail, a party (bush dance) started with townsfolk and the gang participating. The last song Ned heard before he was captured was “Cailín Deas Crúite Na Mbó” (Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow), sung in Gaelic by Ann Jones’ son Jack, a thirteen year old with an “angelic” voice. Prior to that he had sung “The Kelly Song” (see above), then “The Wild Colonial Boy” to the tune of “The Wearing Of The Green”. Sadly, young Jack was mortally wounded by a police bullet.
It was on a fine summer’s morning,
The birds sweetly tuned on each bough.
And as I walked out for my pleasure,
I saw a maid milking her cow.
Her voice so enchanting, melodious,
Left me quite unable to go.
My heart, it was loaded with sorrow
For cailín deas crúite na mbó.

Then to her I made my advances,
“Good morrow most beautiful maid.
Your beauty my heart so entrances!”
“Pray sir do not banter,” she said.
“I’m not such a rare precious jewel,
That I should enamour you so.
I am but a poor little milk girl,”
Says cailín deas crúite na mbó.

“The Indies afford no such jewel,
So bright and transparently clear.
Ah! do not add flame to my fuel!
Consent but to love me my dear”
Oh, had I the Lamp of Aladdin,
Or the wealth of the African shore,
I’d rather be poor in a cottage
With cailín deas crúite na mbó.

Traditional Irish, English translation by Thomas Moore                    

The inn was set on fire by the police late in the seige.

After the fire.
Wikipedia – Ned Kelly

The site of the Glenrowan Inn with “Morgan’s Tower” in the background.
Photo: Alan Foster
Sir Redmond Barry
There may not be any known songs about Sir Redmond Barry, but he presided over three important trials that feature in this presentation.
Highlights (and lowlights) of Barry’s life:-
Born in Ireland, 1813.
Graduated, Trinity College, Dublin, 1835.
Admitted to the Irish Bar, 1838.
Sailed for Sydney, 1839.
Following an “indiscretion” on the voyage to Sydney, his reputation made it difficult to find suitable work in Sydney.
Moved to Melbourne, November 1839.
Worked hard in service to the community, convinced the state government to spend money on public works, particularly education.
Major founder of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, the University of Melbourne and the State Library of Victoria.
Knighted in 1860.
Strong supporter of aboriginal causes.
Donated discreetly and generously to worthy causes.
Had a reputation for being polite and courteous.
Never married, but had four children to Louisa Barrow, acknowledging and supporting all.
Had a reputation for harshness in criminal trials, appears to have varied between fair and biased in conducting the trials, and severe in sentencing.
Presided over the 1854 trial of the bushranger later known as Dan Morgan.
Judge in the Eureka Stockade treason trials in 1855. The miners were all acquitted.
Sentenced Ned Kelly’s, mother Ellen, to three years hard labour based on dubious police evidence, even though she was a deserted wife with a baby.
Presided over the 1880 trial of Ned Kelly. In sentencing Ned he ended with: “May the Lord have mercy on your soul”. According to the transcripts, Kelly replied “I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there where I go”.
Twelve days after Kelly’s execution, Sir Redmond Barry died from ‘breathing difficulties and a carbuncle in the neck’. Expressed simply, he choked to death; Ned would have appreciated the irony.

Wikipedia – Redmond Barry
Sir John Franklin
1786 Born (nephew of Matthew Flinders).
1801 Battle Of Copenhagen.
1802 Sailed with Matthew Flinders on HMS Investigator to circumnavigate Australia.
1805 Battle of Trafalgar.
1814 Battle of New Orleans.
1819 Explored north coast of Canada on foot.
1825 Second Canadian expedition.
1828 Married Jane Griffin.
1829 Knighted by George IV.
1836 Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land until 1843. He and Lady Jane were positive contributors to that colony.
1845 Northwest Passage expedition, HMS Erebus & HMS Terror, also scientific studies, including plotting the movement of the magnetic north pole.
1847 Died on Beechey Island.

Photo: Alan Foster
Lady Franklin’s Lament

It was homeward bound one night on the deep
Swinging in my hammock I fell asleep
I dreamed a dream and I thought it true
Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew.

With one hundred seamen he sailed away
To the frozen ocean in the month of May
To seek that passage around the pole
Where we poor sailors do sometimes go.

Through cruel hardships they bravely strove
Their ship on mountains of ice was drove
Only the Eskimo in his skin canoe
Was the only one who ever came through.

In Baffin Bay where the whale fish blow
The fate of Franklin no man may know
The fate of Franklin no tongue can tell
Lord Franklin along with his sailors do dwell.

And now my burden it gives me pain
For my long lost Franklin I’d cross the main
Ten thousand pounds I would freely give
To say on earth that my Franklin do live.

Anon (Lady Franklin?)                                   

c.f. “Ten thousand pounds would I freely give” – Lady Franklin did much to raise the money.
Wikipedia – Franklin’s lost expedition
The Catalpa
On Perth Regatta Day 1876 (Easter Monday, 17 April), the very well planned and financed escape of six Irish Fenian prisoners from Fremantle took place. A much simplified version of the story follows.

The Fenian Brotherhood was an Irish Republican organisation formed in the USA in 1848.

In January 1869 sixty-two Fenians arrived at the penal colony in Fremantle. Some had been convicted of treason, having been members of the Fenian Brotherhood while serving in the British Army. By 1876, after a number of pardons, six of these remained.

In April 1875 the whaling ship the Catalpa sailed from New Bedford and arrived in Bunbury in March 1876. By Easter she was outside the three mile limit near Rockingham where a whaling boat was rowed to shore. On the Monday morning the six Fenians were working outside the prison walls, and with help including transport, made their way to Rockingham, about 20 miles south of Fremantle. From there they rowed through stormy weather towards the Catalpa.

By now the authorities were aware of the escape and a small coastguard cutter set off in pursuit. The W.A. Governor commandeered the fastest ship in Fremantle, a passenger steamer the SS Georgette. Neither of these were able to stop the escapees from reaching the Catalpa. When the Georgette challenged the Catalpa her captain raised the U.S. flag and declared that boarding her in international waters would be an act of war. With a favourable breeze the Catalpa was then able to sail into the Indian Ocean and back to New York.

The picture of the Catalpa below shows the coastguard cutter approaching on the at left, The Georgette on the right, and the escaped prisoners in the foreground struggling to make it to the Catalpa before they are overhauled.

Pinterest – The Fenian Six

A noble whale ship and commander
Was called the Catalpa they say
She came out to Western Australia
And took six poor Fenians away.

So come all you screw warders and jailers
Remember Perth regatta day
Take care of the rest of your Fenians
Or the Yankees will steal them away.

Seven long years had they served here
And seven long more had to stay
For defending their country old Ireland
For that they were banished away.

You kept them in Western Australia
Till their hair had become to turn grey
When a Yank from the States of America
Came out here and stole them away.

All the Perth boats were a-racing
And making short tacks for the spot
But the Yankee tacked into Fremantle
And took the best prize of the lot.

The Georgette armed with bold warriors
Went out the bold Yanks to arrest
But she hoisted her star spangled banner
Saying you will not board me I guess.

Now they’ve landed safe in America
And there they’ll be able to cry
Hoist up the green flag and the shamrock
Hurrah for old Ireland we’d die.

Tune: Rosin the Beau                            

National Gallery Of Australia – The Catalpa

Wikipedia – The SS Georgette

According to The West Australian, Wed 5 February 1902, ‘Within a week of the escape, the following doggerel was sung with great gusto in the streets and elsewhere, to the tune of “Botany Bay”:-‘

The Georgette was manned by brave warriors,
Who resolved the Catalpa to chase;
But they hoisted their star-spangled banner,
Saying, “You’d better not touch us, I guess.”

Now all of you warders and jailers,
Remember that glorious day;
Take care of the rest of your Fenians
Or the Yankees will steal them away.

Singing, Toral lal looral lal laddity etc.

Trove – The West Australian, 5 February 1902
Grace Bussell

The SS Georgette involved in the Catalpa incident was wrecked near Calgardup Bay early on the morning of 1 December in the same year while en route from Fremantle to Adelaide. There were fifty passengers, eight crew and a cargo of jarrah on board.

One of the ship’s boats reached the shore carrying some of the passengers, leaving many others floundering in the water in grave danger. The shipwreck and her passengers were seen by Sam Isaacs a.k.a., Yebble an indigenous stockman employed by the Bussell family. He raised the alarm but found only Ellen Bussell and her 16-year-old daughter Grace.

On horseback Grace and Sam then rode back to the wreck, racing down a steep cliff, onto the beach and into the surf. They swam their horses out to the wreck and returned to the beach with as many people as possible holding on to them and their horses. Grace and Sam continued for four hours before all were landed. The survivors were taken to the Bussell home where Ellen Bussell attended to them as they recovered.

Grace and Sam both received awards from the Royal Humane Society, and Grace became known as the Grace Darling of the West because of the similarity of her rescue to that of Grace Darling’s rescue in the Farne Islands 38 years earlier.

The song that follows is my re-working of the Grace Darling song shown below.

‘Twas on the Margaret River, there dwelt a bold young maid,
Courageous young Australian, of danger ne’er afraid.
One morning just at daybreak a storm-tossed wreck she spied*,
Said Grace “Come Samuel Isaacs, we’ll save those souls” she cried.

And they rode their steeds through the raging main, and through the waters blue
“Help, help!” she could hear the cries of the shipwrecked crew.
Bold Grace had a brave young heart and the raging storm she braved
They rode away midst the dashing spray and a score of lives they saved.

Sam Isaacs cried “‘Tis madness, to face that raging sea.”
Then up spoke brave Grace Bussell “We’ll swim the waves” said she.
To the rocks the people clinging, a score or more all told,
Between them all and safety the seas like mountains rolled.

They rode the angry billows and reached the rocks at length.
They saved the shipwrecked sailors, in heaven alone their strength.
Go tell the wide world over what bold young hearts can do
And sing of Grace who nobly saved the passengers and crew.

*Actually seen first by Sam Isaacs, a native stockman working for the Bussell family.

Derived by Alan Foster from an Australian version of “Grace Darling”

Sam Isaacs and son Fred. Taken from a glass negative dated 1917, just before Sam’s death.
Your Life Choices

Wreck of the SS. Georgette, Grace Bussell to the rescue
Look and Learn – Grace Bussell

Wikipedia – Grace Bussell about the time of the rescue

Grace Drake-Brockman (nee Bussell), heroine of the Georgette rescue, in middle age. Date unknown.
Huffington Post
Grace Darling

The sign on the monument in St. Aidan’s Churchyard on a wet day in 2008 Photo: Alan Foster

So, what’s the Australian connection?
Two Graces. Grace Bussell became known as “the Grace Darling of the West”.
Similar rescues.
There is a waterfall along Wentworth Creek, Wentworth Falls, which has the name Grace Darling Falls inscribed on the rock face at its base – Brian Fox.
The song below is an Australian version of an English folksong. It was “collected” from the son of a lighthouse keeper on Fraser Island who learnt it sometime in the nineteenth century.
In 2008 we stayed for a night in Bamburgh having no idea of its history. So it was amazing to discover the castle, and even more amazing to find that we’d arrived at the scene of Grace Darling’s 1838 rescue of the Forfarshire’s crew in the Farne Islands.
In 2014 we spent a day at Lindisfarne, escaping before the tide came in, then drove the few miles to Bamburgh and spent another hour or so wandering around the delightful village.

The coble, Grace Darling Museum, Bamburgh
Photo: Alan Foster

Hanging on the wall in the museum
Photo: Alan Foster
Grace Darling – Australian version
‘Twas on the Longstone Lighthouse, there dwelt an English maid,
Pure as the air around her, of danger ne’er afraid.
One morning just at daybreak a storm-tossed wreck she spied,
Said Grace “Come help me father, and launch the boat” she cried.

And she pulled away o’er the raging main, over the waters blue
“Help, help!” she could hear the cries of the shipwrecked crew.
Bold Grace had an English heart and the raging storm she braved
She pulled away midst the dashing spray and the crew she saved.

Her father cried “‘Tis madness, to face that raging sea.”
Then up spoke brave Grace Darling “We’ll launch the boat” said she.
To the rocks the men were clinging, a crew of nine all told,
Between them and the lighthouse the seas like mountains rolled.

One murmured prayer, heaven guard us, and then they were afloat,
Between them and destruction, the planks of that frail boat.
They rode the angry billows and reached the rock at length.
They saved the shipwrecked sailors, in heaven alone their strength.
Go tell the wide world over what English hearts can do
And sing of brave Grace Darling who nobly saved the crew.


Monument in St. Aidan’s Churchyard, 2008
Photo: Alan Foster

Longstone lighthouse, 2008
Photo: Alan Foster
Davey Lowston
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 18 December 1813.

On Wednesday arrived from a sealing voyage, after a sixteen months absence, the colonial schooner Governor Bligh, Mr. Grono master, with 14,000 seal skins, and about 3 tons of elephant oil.

This vessel brings from the west coast of New Zealand a gang of men consisting of ten persons, left by the brig Active, Capt. Bader, so long ago as the 16th of February, 1809, in charge of Mr. David Lowrieston.

The Active went from hence the 11th of December, 1808, and having landed her people on an island about a mile and a half from the main of New Zealand, sailed again for Port Jackson, but doubtless perished by the way, and has never since been heard of.

The people who were left as above described were reduced to the necessity of subsisting for nearly four years upon the seal, when in season, and at other times upon a species of the fern, part of which they roasted or boiled, and other parts were obliged to eat undressed, owing to a nausea it imbibed from any culinary process.

They were left upon the small island with a very scanty allowance of provisions, and the vessel was to come to Port Jackson for a further supply. They had a whale boat, and their only edged implements consisted of an axe, an adze, and a cooper’s drawing knife. In a short time they procured 11,000 skins, part of which Mr. Grono has brought up.

In hopes of finding upon the main some succour which the small island did not afford, they went thither, but were nearly lost by the way, as some of the lower streaks of the boat were near falling out, owing, as was imagined, to the nails being of cast iron.

On their safe arrival, however, they found an old boat on a beach, which it subsequently appeared had been left there by Mr. Grono on a former voyage. With the aid of this additional boat, when both repaired, they projected an excursion towards some of the more frequented sealing places, and were on the point of setting out when a tremendous hurricane in one night destroyed the boats, and put an end to their hope of relief.

The only nutritive the place afforded was a species of the fern root, resembling a yam when cut, and possessing some of the properties of the cassada. This they could only procure at a distance of six or seven miles from their hut, which was near the sea-side, and had it been plentiful would have been a desirable substitute for better diet; but it was unfortunately so sparingly scattered among other shrubs as to be found with difficulty; and they solemnly affirm that they have for a week at a time had neither this nor any other food whatever.

With the assistance of a canoe made up of seal skins a party visited their former island, and found their stacks of skins much injured by the weather, but did all they could for their preservation. This was their seal depot and out of the usual season they now and then found a solitary straggler, in some instances when they were so reduced by famine as to be scarcely capable of securing those that Providence threw in their way.

With their axe, adze, and drawing knife they afterwards built a small boat, but with intense labour, as without saws they could only cut one board out of each tree; the hoops upon their provision casks were beaten into nails; and by the same patient and laborious process they at length projected the building of a small vessel, and had provided 80 half inch boards for the purpose, all cut in the way above described.

The fortunate accident of Mr. Grono’s touching there has however preserved them from further suffering and peril, of which they have had full store, on that exposed and inhospitable shore.
The dates of 1808 and 1809 mentioned early in this article should be 1809 and 1810 according to “John Grono 1767 – 1847” by Robert Taylor.

The Mr (John) Grono mentioned above was the Great Great Great Great Grandfather of a colleague of mine, Ron Grono, who supplied the additional information that John Grono mapped much of New Zealand’s Fiordland coast, naming Milford Haven (now Milford Sound) after his home port in Wales. His daughter Matilda married William, son of Solomon Wiseman (Wiseman’s Ferry).

Contrary to the claims of some New Zealanders this is almost certainly an Australian song, dating back to before any official European settlement of New Zealand. It originated in the Rocks area soon after the rescue and travelled with whaling ships to the United States. Years later it made its way to New Zealand.

Trove – A clipping from The Sydney Gazette Saturday 18 December 1813

   Jackson Bay was named Open Bay by Captain Cook

My name is Davey Lowston, I did seal, I did seal
My name is Davey Lowston, I did seal
Though my men and I were lost, though our very lives it cost
We did seal, we did seal, we did seal.

We were set down in Open Bay, were set down, were set down
We were set down in Open Bay, were set down
We were left we gallant men never more to sail again
Never more, never more, never more.

Our captain John Bedar he set sail, he set sail
Oh yes for old Port Jackson he set sail
I’ll return men without fail but she foundered in a gale
And went down, and went down, and went down.

We killed ten thousand seals for the fur, for the fur
We killed ten thousand seals for the fur
Brackish water, putrid seals, we did all of us fall ill
For to die, for to die, for to die.

Now come all you lads who venture far from home, far from home
Come all you lads who venture far from home
Though the schooner Governor Bligh took on those who didn’t die
Never seal, never seal, never seal.

So remember those who sail on the sea, on the sea
Remember those who sail on the sea
Where the icebergs tower high that’s a pitiful place to die
Never seal, never seal, never seal.


Part of a tourist sign in Haast
While I was reading this sign a local started to tell me the story. He was surprised to find that I was already familiar with it. He then provided even more detail, agreeing mostly with the radio program linked to below.
Photo: Alan Foster

Open Bay Islands 2012
Photo: Alan Foster
Mining Songs

Australia’s gold rush inspired many songs.
Image information:    Wikipedia – New South Wales gold rush,    Wikipedia – Victorian Gold Rush,    Wikipedia – Bernhardt Holtermann,    Wikipedia – New South Wales gold rush.

Bernhardt Holtermann (2nd from left) with specimen gold from the Star of Hope Mine

Not many successful ones though…
Denis O’Riley
Disillusioned Digger Denis O’Riley’s career change to swaggie…

When first I left old Ireland’s shore the yarns that I was told
Of how the folks in Australia could pick up lumps of gold
How gold dust lay in all the streets and miner’s rights were free
Hurrah I told my loving friends that’s just the place for me.

With my swag all on my shoulder, black billy in my hand
I’ll travel the bushes of Australia like a true born Irishman.

And then we came to Melbourne town and we all prepared to slip
And bar the captain and the mate all the crew abandoned ship
And all the girls of Melbourne town they threw up their arms with joy
Saying one unto the other, “Here comes the Irish boy.”

And then we went into Geelong town and north west to Ballarat
Where some of us grew mighty thin and some grew sleek and fat
Some tried their luck at Bendigo and some at Fiery Creek
Well I made my fortune in a day and I blued it in a week.

Now it’s many a year I have travelled round to each new field about
And made and spent full many a pound till the alluvial petered out
And now for any job of work I was prepared to try
But now I’ve found this tucker track I’ll stay here till I die.


Any song that mentions Geelong is bound to be a good one!

Miner’s Right Collection
Ballarat Gold Museum

Packing My Things

When I came and took up my claim
Bill Muggins was my name
For though I’m a young man and able
I’m stuck here rockin’ the cradle
And that’s a Bill Muggins game.

But I’m a wake-up, I will break up
I’m never more going to roam
I’ve panned in this dugout with never a nugget
I’m packing my things to go home.

I’ve hunted Otago for gold
In the wind and the rain and the cold
And I’ve holed up all winter under the snow
All along the winding Molyneaux
And that’s when you need to have holed.

In those shanties where you spin
Away all your hard earned tin
Nancy’s smiles are so beguiling
That’s why Nancy’s always smiling
Landlord says he’s not taking you in.

Anon (New Zealand)                                   

A miner “rockin’ the cradle”
Wikipedia – Rocker Box
Where’s Your License?

The morning was fine,
The sun bright did shine
The diggers were working away
When th’ inspector of traps
Said now my fine chaps
We’ll go license hunting today
Some went this way, some that
Some to Bendigo Flat
And a lot to the White Hills did tramp
Whilst others did bear
Up towards Golden Square
And the rest of them kept round the camp.

Then each turned his eye
To the diggings close by
Expecting on some down to drop
But not one could they nail
For they’d give ’em leg bail
Diggers aren’t often caught on the hop
The little word Joe
That most of you know
Is a signal the traps are quite near
Made them all cut their sticks
And they hooked it like bricks
I believe you, my boys, have no fear.

Now a tall, ugly trap
He espied a young chap
Up the gully a-cutting like fun
So he quickly gave chase,
But it was a hard race,
For mind you, the digger could run
Down the hole he did pop
While the trooper up top
Says – “just come up”, shaking his staff
“Young man of the crown.
If yer wants me, come down,
For I’m not to be caught with such chaff.

Of course you’d have thought
The sly fox he’d have caught
By lugging him out of the hole;
But this trooper no fear
Quite scorned the idea,
Of burrowing the earth like a mole;
But wiser by half
He put by his staff
And as onward he went sung he-
“When a cove’s down a drive,
Whether dead or alive,
He may stay till doomsday for me.”

Charles Thatcher, published by 1855 and seemingly written before the Eureka Rebellion in 1854.

Some of these lines are rather obscure but the gist of the song is pretty clear. The “traps” are expecting to catch a lot of “unlicensed” diggers, sometimes by dropping down on them in their holes. The traps had little luck in this song, in fact it seems that the “tall, ugly trap” gave up pretty easily, and just left the “cove” down his “drive”!

The cry of “Joe” was a warning to the diggers to “hook it” down their holes or give the trap “leg bail” or a foot race.

Joe was the diggers’ nickname for Charles Joseph La Trobe and his traps who at best mismanaged the gold licence issue.

Gold Museum Ballarat – Miner’s Rights Collection
1854 was an interesting year in Victoria.
June: the bushranger later known as Dan Morgan was tried for highway robbery and sentenced to twelve years hard labour. Paroled after serving six years.
December: Ned Kelly was born.
December: A few weeks after the Charge of the Light Brigade, the miners rebelled at Eureka.All crossed paths with Justice Redmond Barry.

The Eureka story is well known. The following song provides a brief summary.

The Gold License of the previous song was one of a number of points of disagreement between the miners and the Victorian government leading up to the Eureka Rebellion.

“We swear by the southern cross to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights and liberties.” – Peter Lalor

The miners burned their licenses in eighteen fifty-four
Beneath the flag at Bakery Hill a solemn oath they swore
“For liberty!” cried Lalor, “beneath the Southern Cross
We’ll fight against the licence hunt no matter what the cost.”

“We swear to stand together for our rights and liberties
We swear that we will not accept injustices like these.”
Then beneath their lofty standard, the diggers’ brave brigade
Manned their stations at Eureka, the roughly built stockade.

That Sunday morning early the troops charged up the hill
They gave the men no quarter as they fought to maim and kill
And Lalor he was wounded and smuggled soon away
And twenty-two brave mining lads were slain upon that day.

And thirteen captured miners were charged with treason high
The jury said “Not guilty!” to a loud exultant cry
They may have lost the battle, but the war had just begun
‘Twas the miners’ victory in the end – for their demands were won.

The license was abolished and the miners got the vote
Lalor took his place in Parliament; a long career of note
Australia and democracy took an upward turn that day
And freedom, rights and liberty must never slip away.

Alan Foster                                   

Wikipedia – Eureka Rebellion

Swearing Allegiance to the Southern Cross, watercolour by Charles Doudiet, Art Gallery of Ballarat
Wikipedia – Eureka Rebellion

The Eureka Flag at the Art Gallery of Ballarat
Wikipedia – Eureka Rebellion
Pastoral Australia
What do these blokes have in common – apart from the same barber? Wikipedia – Premier of New South Wales
 Wikipedia – Premier of New South Wales
The Robertson Land Acts (Crown Land Acts 1861) and similar legislation in Victoria and South Australia were intended to reform land holdings at a time when the squatters domination of land tenure was seen as a problem. The reforms allowed free selection of crown land under strict conditions. Although well intentioned, the reforms created problems for both the squatters and free selectors. Both squatters and free selectors found ways to abuse the law, and the scene was set for years of struggles between the two camps. The changing face of rural society had a marked effect on the lives of many who turned to bushranging, e.g. Ned Kelly (above) and Dan Morgan (below).

The squatter saw his pastures wide
Decrease, as one by one
The farmers moving to the west
Selected on his run;
Selectors took the water up
And all the black soil round;
The best grass-land the squatter had
Was spoilt by Ross’s Ground.
                The Fire at Ross’s Farm by Henry Lawson
The man on the left is Sir John Robertson, on the right Sir Henry Parkes.

Premiers of NSW, 1860 to 1891

Cowper … Martin
Cowper … Martin
Stuart … Dibbs

Eumerella Shore
The following song is about a free selector who felt the need of a career change to cattle duffing. Pretty much how the Kellys must have felt…

There’s a long green gully on the Eumerella Shore
Where I’ve lounged through many is the day
On my little free selection I have acres by the score
Where I unyoke the bullocks from the dray.

To my cattle I do say, you may feed, feed away
But you’ll never be impounded any more
For you’re running, running, running on the duffer’s piece of land
Free selected on the Eumerella Shore.

When the moon has climbed the mountains and the stars are shining bright
We will saddle up our horses and away
We will steal the squatter’s cattle by the darkness of the night
And we’ll brand them at the dawning of the day.

And now my pretty calf at the squatter you may laugh
But you’ll never see your owner any more
For you’re running, running, running on the duffer’s piece of land
Free selected on the Eumerella Shore.

If we find a mob of horses when the paddock rails are down
Although before they’ve never known to stray
We will round them up and drive them to some distant inland town
And we’ll sell them into slavery far away.

To Jack Robertson we say, you’ve been leading us astray
And we never can believe you any more*
For it’s easier duffing cattle on that little piece of land
Free selected on the Eumerella Shore.


* Nothing changes, does it.

Henry Lawson
Trove – Australian Town and Country Journal, Wednesday 18 January 1905
The Broken-Down Squatter
Squatters didn’t always have it their own way…

Come, Stumpy old man, let us shift while we can
All your mates in the paddock are dead
Let us bid our farewells to Glen Eva’s sweet dells
And the hills where your lordship was bred
Together we’ll roam from our drought-stricken home
It’s sad that such things have to be
And it’s hard on a horse when he’s nought for a boss
But a broken-down squatter like me.

For the banks are all broken they say
And the merchants are all up a tree
When the big-wigs are brought to the Bankruptcy Court
What chance for a squatter like me?

No more shall we muster the river for fats
Or spiel on the Fifteen Mile Plain
Or rip through the scrub by the light of the moon
Or see the old stockyard again
Leave the slip-panels down, it won’t matter much now
There are none but the crows left to see
Perching gaunt on yon pine, as though longing to dine
On a broken-down squatter like me.

When the country was cursed with the drought at its worst*
And the cattle were dying in scores
Though down on my luck, I kept up my pluck
Thinking justice might temper the laws
But the farce has been played, and the Government aid
Ain’t extended to squatters, old son
When my money was spent, they doubled the rent
And resumed the best half of the run.

It was done without reason, for (leaving the season)
No squatter could stand such a rub
For it’s useless to squat when the rents are so hot
That you can’t save the price of your grub
And there’s not much to choose ‘twixt the banks and the screws
Once a fellow gets put up a tree
No odds what I feel, there’s no Court of Appeal
For a broken-down squatter like me.


* Referring to the severe drought of the eighteen eighties.

Shearing Songs

There are also many shearing songs. This song by Henry Clay Work (who also wrote My Grandfather’s Clock) provides the original tune for Click Go The Shears.

 JScholarship – Ring the Bell, Watchman!

A shearing song follows:-
The Ryebuck Shearer

I come from the south and my name is Field
And when my shears are properly steeled
A hundred or more I have very often peeled
And of course I’m a ryebuck shearer.

If I don’t shear a tally before I go
My shears and stone in the river I’ll throw
I’ll never open Sawbees to take another blow
Till I prove I’m a ryebuck shearer.

There’s a bloke on the board and I heard him say
That I couldn’t shear a hundred sheep a day
But some fine day I’ll show him the way
And prove I’m a ryebuck shearer.

Oh, I’ll make a splash, but I won’t say when
I’ll hop off me tail and jump into the pen
While the ringer’s shearing five, I’ll shear ten
And prove I’m a ryebuck shearer.

There’s a bloke on the board and he’s got a yellow skin
A very long nose and he shaves on the chin
And a voice like a billy-goat dancing on a tin
But at least he’s a ryebuck shearer.

Shears very similar to “Sawbees” which were shears made by Robert Sorby of Sheffield England. The company is still going strong.
Photo: Alan Foster

Ryebuck was in fairly common use from the late 1800s to at least 1920. It means ‘good’, both as an adjective and an exclamation. Some examples are shown from newspaper clippings of the time.

Trove – The Maitland Weekly Mercury, 22 April 1905

Trove – Toodyay Herald, 25 February 1922

C. J. Dennis used the word in “The Sentimental Bloke and other verse”, where it is defined as ‘correct’, ‘genuine’, ‘an interjection signifying assent’.

Trove – Sunday Times, 29 December 1895
Jack Donahoe
Most of the following is derived from “The Wild Colonial Boy – The Life and Times of Jack Donohoe 1808(?) – 1830” by John Meredith, 1960. A copy is held in the library of The Blue Mountains Historical Society and is part of the Malcolm Ferguson Collection.

John Donahoe (Donohoe/Donohue) was an Irish convict who arrived at Sydney Cove on the ship Ann & Amelia in 1825. Aged about twenty, he soon escaped and usually in company with a couple of others he began to “collect a toll” (his own words) from travellers on the road. Notable victims were the Rev. Samuel Marsden, Charles Sturt and William Cox.

When holding up Charles Sturt, on discovering Sturt’s Identity, he said to his mates, “Stand back, boys. It’s Captain Sturt, and we don’t rob him.” William Cox was similarly lucky: after he had taken the victim’s valuables, Donahoe asked his name. “William Cox! Why did you not tell me that before, I would not rob such a good master.”

Although he spent some time west of the mountains, most of his activity was in an area from Parramatta to the Nepean and Windsor to Cobbity. Much of this activity was in the company of John Walmsley and William Webber. They were said to have used a range of hideouts from the Burragorang Valley to a cave on the Parramatta River, now on the edge of Parramatta Lake.

In 1830, at the estate of Mr. Wentworth at Bringelly, Donahoe, Walmsley and Webber were accosted by a party of police. In the exchange of shots that followed, Donahoe was fatally wounded; Walmsley and Webber escaped, to be captured a few months later.

“Bold Jack Donahoe” songs probably started circulating before Donahoe’s death – he may even have composed one himself. Frank the Poet (see Moreton Bay) also seems to have composed one. Banjo Paterson’s “Old Bush Songs” includes a version. In time, while continuing to have lives of their own, they evolved into “The Wild Colonial Boy”, the early tune usually being “The Wearing Of The Green” (the tune Ned Kelly heard at Glenrowan).

For some years after Donahoe’s exploits, singing Donahoe ballads in any public house was forbidden, the penalty being loss of license. At this stage the 1898 rebellion would not have been forgotten by many Irish convicts. The song, usually sung to an Irish rebel tune, was considered an evil influence.

In “The Wild Colonial Boy” the bushranger’s name is often Jack Doolan who was born in Castlemaine. In 1960 John Meredith wrote, “Doolan, as a person never existed”. However The Australian Dictionary of Biography has biographies of Jack Donahoe and Jack Doolan. Doolan was born in Castlemaine Victoria in 1856 and became a minor bushranger. Jack Donahoe was born in Dublin. Neither could have commenced their wild career in 1861. In the manner of folksong evolution, details from both have ended up in the song. The mention of the Beechworth mail-coach in the song might suggest a Victorian setting, but it’s really just folksong evolution. Even Castlemaine makes more sense if taken to be the Irish one.

Broadside probably printed in Dublin between 1860 and 1876 by the printer P. Brereton.
University Of Notre Dame
Broadside BPP 1001-003

The Wild Colonial Boy

There was a wild Colonial Boy,
Jack Doolan was his name,
Of poor but honest parents,
He was born in Castlemaine.
He was his father’s only son,
His mother’s pride and joy,
And dearly did his parents love
The wild Colonial Boy.

When scarcely sixteen years of age,
He left his father’s home,
And through Australia’s sunny shores
A bushranger did roam.
He’d rob those wealthy squatters,
Their stock he would destroy,
A terror to Australia was
The wild Colonial Boy.

In sixty-one this daring youth
Commenced his wild career,
With a heart that knew no danger,
No stranger did he fear.
He bailed up the Beechworth mail-coach,
And robbed Judge MacEvoy,
Who trembling cold gave up his gold to
The wild Colonial Boy.

One day as he was riding
The mountain side along
A-list’ning to that kookaburra’s
Happy laughing song
Three mounted troopers came in sight,
Kelly, Davis and Fitzroy,
A-riding up to capture him,
The wild Colonial Boy.

“Surrender now, Jack Doolan,
You see we’re three to one.
Surrender in the queen’s high name,
Or your living days are done.”
Jack drew a pistol from his belt,
And waved it like a toy,
“I’ll fight, but not surrender,”
Cried the wild Colonial Boy.

He fired at Trooper Kelly,
And brought him to the ground,
And in return from Davis,
He received a mortal wound.
All shattered through the jaws he lay,
Still firing at Fitzroy,
And that’s the way they captured him –
The wild Colonial Boy.


Charles Sturt, explorer
Wikipedia – Charles Sturt

William Cox
Across the Blue Mountains
Building The Mountain Road

Bold Jack Donahoe drawn after death by the famous Australian surveyor and explorer, Sir Thomas Mitchell
Gary Shearston
Bolters, Bushrangers & Duffers
The Streets Of Forbes
Early in the morning of 5 May 1865 Ben Hall was ambushed and shot after being betrayed by an informer for the £1000 reward. When my mother was growing up in Grenfell in the ’20s and ’30s, the consensus in the town was that Ben Hall was badly treated as the song suggests. It’s highly unlikely that Billy Dargin the black-tracker shot him.

Come all you Lachlan men, and a sorrowful tale I’ll tell
Concerning of a decent man who through misfortune fell
His name it was Ben Hall, a man of high renown
Who was hunted from his station, and like a dog shot down.

Three years he roamed the roads, and he showed the traps some fun
A thousand pounds was on his head, with Gilbert and John Dunn
Ben parted from his comrades, the outlaws did agree
To give away bushranging and to cross the briny sea.

Ben went to Goobang Creek, and that was his downfall
For riddled like a sieve was valiant Ben Hall
‘Twas early in the morning upon the fifth of May
When seven police surrounded him as fast asleep he lay.

Bill Dargin he was chosen to shoot the outlaw dead
The troopers then fired madly, and filled him full of lead
They rolled him in a blanket and strapped him to his prad
And led him through the streets of Forbes to show the prize they had.


Ben Hall Bushranger
Dan Morgan
A month before Ben Hall was shot, Dan Morgan was also shot.

Of the many accounts of the Dan Morgan story no two are in full agreement. Not wanting to create yet another version, I’ve taken some points from Margaret Carnegie’s 1974 “Morgan the Bold Bushranger” which appears to be very well researched. More recent research may account for many of the discrepancies found in other versions.
A short history of Dan Morgan:-
1833: Born near Campbelltown, NSW.
1854: Sentenced as John Smith to twelve years hard labour for highway robbery at Castlemaine. Claimed he was innocent. Judge was Redmond Barry.
1860: Released on parole. Absconded immediately, remaining in the Ovens region of Victoria.
1860: Badly wounded while stealing a horse. Fled to NSW swearing revenge.
1863: Next heard of bushranging in the Riverina. He was often cruel and violent towards his victims and was known to have a fierce temper, but with the changing society in rural Australia in these first few years of the Land Acts he also had many sympathisers, some possibly motivated by fear.
1865: On or about 2 April crossed the Murray into Victoria claiming he had scores to settle relating to his 1854 conviction and his 1860 wounding. Victorian police are thought to have boasted that if he did he’d be caught within 48 hours.
1865: On Saturday 8 April Morgan knocked on the door of the Macpherson homestead and held them up all night. He demanded to be supplied with a fresh horse in the morning.
1865: Next morning, 9 April, while walking to the stables about 250 yards away from the homestead, accompanied by Ewan Macpherson, his son Gideon and two others, Morgan was shot by John Quinlan, a station employee. He died a few hours later.

Wikipedia – Daniel Morgan, The Bushranger
Morgan had many aliases and doesn’t seem to have ever used his real name. Some modern articles refer to him as “Mad” Dan Morgan, but there is little evidence that he was known as “Mad Dan” in his lifetime. The 1976 movie “Mad Dog Morgan” was the first use of “Mad Dog”. Some aliases he used were Dan the Horsebreaker, John Smith, Bill The Native, Sydney Bill, Down-the-River-Jack and Bill-the-Native.

Peechelba Station, about half-way between Wangaratta and the Murray was jointly owned by Scotsmen Ewan Macpherson and George Rutherford who had homesteads about 450 yards apart. They appear to have been brothers-in-law as Mrs Macpherson’s maiden name was Margaret Rutherford.

The baby Christina Macpherson, an unwitting participant in this story, later played another important role in Australia’s history.

The following song, with very little poetic licence, tells the story of Morgan’s demise.

Dan Morgan was a bushranger, a cruel and desperate man
The troopers sought him up and down but never found Mad Dan.
He crossed the river heading south, a challenge all ablaze:
Victoria’s traps had boasted he’d be caught within two days.

And at Peechelba Station the Macphersons and their guests
All gathered round the piano heard a knock like a man possessed.
Dan Morgan’s standing at the door revolver in each hand
He marched into their parlour unwelcome and unplanned.

He asked Macpherson’s daughter to play another tune
He bade the guests be seated as he strode around the room.
He drank a glass of whiskey and he took Macpherson’s chair
When from the nursery was heard a child in need of care.

The baby crying from the nursery made Morgan wild
Young Alice Keenan offered to go and calm the child.
She quickly calmed Christina down, then through the window fled
And sprinted with all haste and speed to Rutherford’s homestead.

All through the night armed stockmen and troopers gathered round
And waited for the morning light to bring Dan Morgan down.
At nine o’clock that morning Morgan left the homestead’s door
And Quinlan with his rifle fired and shot the bold outlaw.

Oh many were the souvenirs when the bushranger was dead
They flayed the beard from off his face and the hair from off his head.
So ne’er become a bushranger, be warned by Morgan’s death
Who met his end without a friend to witness his last breath.

Dan Morgan was a bushranger who died a dreadful death
And met his end without a friend to witness his last breath.

Alan Foster                                   

Trove – The World’s News, 24 May 1947
Post mortem photos of Morgan
Two professional photogaphers took a total of three photos, and then proceeded to use them for profit. The centre photo shows Quinlan holding the rifle he used to shoot Morgan.

Oz Movies – Mad Dog Morgan

Oz Movies – Mad Dog Morgan

Gold Net Australia Online Magazine
Thou Bonnie Wood O’ Craigielea
Twenty-nine years after Morgan’s death, Christina Rutherford Macpherson (the baby in the above song) was at the Warrnambool steeplechase meeting (April 1894) and heard a band playing the Craigielee march (note spelling). This was an arrangement by Thomas Bulch (Pseudonym Godfrey Parker) of “Thou Bonnie Wood O’ Craigielea”, words: Robert Tannahill, tune: James Barr.

In January 1895, Christina visited her brothers at Dagworth Station near Winton Queensland. A friend of hers, Sarah Riley, and Sarah’s then fiancée A. B. Paterson also visited Dagworth at this time. Christina kept playing Craigielee on an autoharp (a type of zither). Banjo said he thought he could write some lines to the tune. The “Waltzing Matilda” manuscript below is the result.

Many years later (probably early 1930s) Christina wrote a letter to Dr. Thomas Wood:-

Dear Sir,

In reading your impressions about music in Australia I was interested to note that you had mentioned the song “Waltzing Matilda” and thought it might interest you to hear how “Banjo” Paterson came to write it.

He was on a visit to Winton, North Queensland, and I was staying with my brothers about 80 miles from Winton. We went into Winton for a week or so & one day I played (from ear) a tune which I had heard played by a band at the Races in Warrnambool, a country town in the Western District of Victoria. Mr Paterson asked what it was. I could not tell him, & he then said he thought he could write some lines to it. He then and there wrote the first verse. We tried it and thought it went well, so he then wrote the other verses. I might add that in a short time everyone in the district was singing it.

There are always numbers of men travelling about the country, some riding, and some on foot and they are usually given rations at the various stations that they come to. But in Queensland the distances are so great that they help themselves without asking. On this occasion my brother and Mr Paterson were out riding & they came to a waterhole (or billabong) and found the skin of a newly killed sheep – all that was left by a swagman and he made use of this incident.

After Mr Paterson returned to Sydney he wrote and asked me to send him the tune. I am no musician but did my best: & later on he told me he had sent it on to a musical friend of his who thought it would make a good bush song. It was included in the student’s song book and was frequently sung at the community singing. I hope I have not bored you about this.

Yours sincerely

(Miss) C. R. Macpherson

I presume that you know that “Waltzing Matilda” means “Carrying a Swag” – & that “Jumbuck” is the native’s name for a sheep.

Source: National Library Of Australia – Christina Macpherson’s undated letter to Dr Thomas Wood explaining the origins of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, NLA MS 9065, Item 1.

National Library Of Australia – Who’ll Come A Waltzing Matilda With Me

The copy shown here is a scan of a page of “Two Hundred And Twenty Popular Scottish Songs”, which my great grandfather brought with him from Scotland in 1883.
Scan: Alan Foster
Waltzing Matilda

Wikipedia – Waltzing Matilda

Find A Grave – Christina Rutherford Macpherson

Photo: Alan Foster

Best Books For Kids – Banjo Paterson

Useful Web Sites

Definition of ballad, including a section on Bush Ballads – Wikipedia
Definition of Folk Song – Infoplease
Definition of Oral Tradition
The Old Bush Songs [edited by Banjo Paterson, 1905] – The Institute of Australian Culture
Prison hulks – PortCities, London
Broadside Ballads Online – search for “oakham poachers”
Axon Ballad Collection – via “Titles”, scroll to “Oakham Poachers”, click the “65” in the Sheet No. column
Gary Shearston: Bolters, Bushrangers & Duffers
Currency Lads & Lasses
History of Moreton Bay Convict Settlement and Penal Colony
Frank the Poet
The Jerilderie Letter – State Library of Victoria
Ned Kelly – Wikipedia
Redmond Barry – Wikipedia
The search for Franklin
Catalpa rescue – Wikipedia
The Catalpa escape – Hindsight (ABC)
The Catalpa Rescue – National Museum of Australia
Grace Bussell – Wild Western Australia
Australia’s Grace Bussell was called the ‘Grace Darling of the West’
Grace Darling – Wikipedia
The Grace Darling Website
Shipwreck Tales with John McCrystal, The Open Bay Sealers
Eureka Rebellion – Wikipedia
Eureka Stockade – australia.gov.au
Robertson Land Acts
Biography of John Donohoe at the Australian Dictionary of Biography
Biography of John Doolan at the Australian Dictionary of Biography
Ben Hall – Wikipedia
Dan Morgan – Wikipedia
Christina Macpherson – Wikipedia
Christina Macpherson The Woman Who Inspired Waltzing Matilda
Christina’s letter re Waltzing Matilda
Who’ll Come A Waltzing Matilda With Me
Christina’s Waltzing Matilda manuscript
A second Waltzing Matilda manuscript
Marie Cowan (Billy Tea) arrangement (4 pages)

Also, click on any image for further information. The link (caption) associated with each image often provides additional information.

Further Reading

“Ned Kelly a short life” 2003 edition by Ian Jones, ISBN 0-7344-0544-8
“Ned Kelly” 2013 by Peter FitzSimons, ISBN 978 1 74275 890 9
“Ellen Kelly” (novel) by Dagmar Balcarek, 1984, ISBN 0-9591260-0-7, (Blue Mountains Historical Society library)
“The Wild Colonial Boy – The Life and Times of Jack Donohoe 1808(?) – 1830” by John Meredith, 1960 (Blue Mountains Historical Society library)
“Eureka – From The Official Records” Compiled and edited by Ian MacFarlane, Public Records Office of Victoria, 1995, ISBN 0 7306 6011 7
“The Eureka Stockade” by Raffaello Carboni, 1855, Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, 2002
“Eureka” by Peter FitzSimons, 2012, ISBN 978 1 74275 525 0
“John Grono 1767 – 1847 Our Old Colonial Neptune” by Robert Taylor, 2007, ISBN 9780980369908 (pbk.)
“Morgan the Bold Bushranger” by Margaret Carnegie, 1974, ISBN 0 207 13297 6
“A Pictorial History Of Bushrangers” by Tom Prior, Bill Wannan and H. Nunn, 1966
“The Fatal Shore” by Robert Hughes 1987, ISBN 0-330-29892-5
“Chronicle of Australia”, Edited by John Ross, 1993, ISBN 1 872031 83 8
“The Sentimental Bloke And Other Verse” by C. J. Dennis, 1965 edition
“A Camp-Fire Yarn, Henry Lawson 1885-1900” Compiled and edited by Leonard Cronin, 1984, ISBN 0 7018 1850 6
“A Fantasy Of Man, Henry Lawson 1901-1922” Compiled and edited by Leonard Cronin, 1984, ISBN 0 7018 1851 4
“The Songs of Henry Lawson” Compiled by Chris Kempster, 1989, ISBN 0 670 90233 0
“Singer Of The Bush, A. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson 1885-1900” Collected and introduced by Rosamund Campbell and Philippa Harvie, 1983, ISBN 0 7018 1801 8
“Songs Of The Pen, A. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson 1901-1941” Collected and introduced by Rosamund Campbell and Philippa Harvie, 1983, ISBN 0 7018 1802 6
“The A-Z Of Australian Facts, Myths & Legends”, by Bruce Elder, 2005, ISBN 1 74110 235 9
“Waltzing Matilda” by Richard Magoffin, 1995, ISBN 1 86273 086 5
“Songs Of England, Ireland & Scotland – A Bonnie Bunch of Roses” by Dan Milner & Paul Kaplan, 1983, ISBD 0-8256-0256-4
“Australian Bush Ballads” Edited by Douglas Stewart & Nancy Keesing, 1955
“The Penguin Australian Songbook” Compiled by J. S. Manifold, 1964, ISBN 0 14 07 0004 8
“The Second Penguin Australian Songbook” Compiled by Bill Scott, 1980, ISBN 0 14 070084 6
“The Big Book of Australian Folk Song” Ron Edwards, 1976, ISBN 0 7270 0194 9
“Complete Book of Australian Folk Lore” Compiled and annotated by Bill Scott, 1976, ISBN 0 86777 282 4
“Two Hundred And Twenty Popular Scottish Songs” Published by Mozart Allan, Glasgow, no date, 1893 at the latest

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