About the poetic work

Convicts and transportation

The Convict’s Tour of Hell – about the poetic work

This poetical monologue is one of the treasures of the convict era. It also has a fascinating story as it has appeared in at least four variants. I located this version in 2005 in a newspaper clipping book held by the Mitchell Library, Sydney. It is quite different to the accepted original version given to the Library in 1958 by Mrs Trimingham, of Northbridge, NSW, who had found a booklet in her father’s (Ernest Cameron) papers (mss c967). This booklet was watermarked 1838, folded and cut to yield 16 leaves measuring 3 inches by 3-3/4 inches. The 32 pages were covered with ornate writing and personally signed by Francis MacNamara (aka Macnamara). One of the items in the booklet was ‘The Convict’s Tour of Hell, composed and written at Stroud, 1839.’

Meredith and Whalan tracked one of the works in the booklet that referred to a petition to Captain Furlong who was Superintendent of the Newcastle Chain Gang and that led to the discovery of Francis Macnamara under his supervision. This Macnamara came to Australia in the ship ‘Eliza’ in 1832 and hailed from County Wicklow, Ireland.

‘When he arrived in Sydney from Newcastle in the Ironed Gang, Macnamara was sent to Woolloomooloo Stockade, a clearing station, where he remained until 5th December, when he was forwarded to the stockade at Parramatta. During this period the ‘Dialogue Between Two Hibernians’ was somehow sent to to the Sydney gazette and was published by that paper in February, 1840.” (Meredith/Whalan)

When charged with a colonial offence, it was common for a convict to give false particulars about himself, so that his previous record would be difficult to trace and this is obviously what Macnamara did in saying he had come from Wicklow when charged in Newcastle in 1839. When he was admitted to Woolloomooloo he stated it as Cashel, Country Tipperary. He did this on two further documentations and this helped Meredith and Whalan establish firm grounds for declaring him the right man. Macnamara further provided evidence in his own work as quoted in the memoirs of Martin Cash, the Tasmanian bushranger, who referred to the Poet’s address:

My name is Frank MacNamara,
A native of Cashel, County Tipperary,
Sworn to be a tyrant’s foe,
And while I live I crow.

Another Francis Macnamara, or ‘Goddard’ as he sometimes referred himself, was an Irish convict from Dublin. He was most likely the one Francis MacNamara who was transported on the ship ‘Dorothy’ in 1820. He was 62 when he arrived in the colony to serve a 14 year sentence however he earned his ticket-of-leave seven years later in 1827, and his certificate of freedom in 1833. Meredith and Whalan established some firm evidence that this was not the Poet.

John Meredith and Rex Whalan did considerable research to identify who was the most likely ‘Frank the Poet’ since there were several possibilities and, as they suggested, he should have been a much younger man considering his references in his body of work.

The recently discovered version is significant because it is from an oral source and also for its early date. One can only assume that the poem had been circulated orally and that has contributed to its variants.

This version was published in the Cumberland Times (Sydney) on 27 December 1900 with following information.

Before the Cumberland Times again appears, we shall have entered a new century and a fresh phrase of political existence. To make anything like even an epitomised retrospect of the History of Australia, Convict, Currency, Ticket-of-Leave, Free Pardon, or strung up by the hands of the hangman, would take more time and space than on this Christmas Eve, when we pen this notice, the Cumberland Times can afford. With the end of the century we may reasonably hope that whatever stain of convictism, political, social, or religious that may have attached to the earlier history of Australia will have vanished, and no future Governor, whether a State Governor, or a Governor-General, will twit the people of the Commonwealth with having ‘outlived their birth stain.’

The author of the following satire, ‘poem’, or whatever it most properly be called, was a convict, a lame man and assigned servant. He was evidently one who knew something about literature, and that he was well-acquainted with the local history of convictism, not only in New South Wales but throughout the whole of the Australian convict settlements, is manifested by the rhymes which we this week publish as a memento of the dark days during which ‘Frank the Poet’ lived and hated with an intensity of venom, which we, living under happier circumstances, can with difficulty realise. The lines, so far as we know, have never before appeared in print. They come to us through Mr Thomas H. Lennard, and Englishman, but true Australian gentleman, who is a personal friend of John Morley, who was intimate with George Jacob Holyoake and many other radical politicians before he ever set foot on the shores of Australasia. Mr Lennard accompanied the writer to ‘Kenilworth’, Annandale, for the purpose of visiting the late Sir Henry Parkes during his last and fatal illness. We, at ‘Kenilworth’, met his self-devoted medical attendant, Dr Maurice O’Connor, who, alas, is since also dead. He, the handsome, whole-souled, generous gentleman, informed the anxious enquirers that the patient could not be interviewed. As will be seen by the appendix, the poem has been verbally handed down from one ticket-of-leave man, or one assigned servant to another, and doubtless there are errors in arising from repetition and transcription that might give umbrage to ‘Frank the Poet’, had he lived to see himself in print. Glaring errors in the manuscript have been eliminated by the writer of this notice, but the withering satire in the verses has not at all been interfered with.

The authorship of this curio belongs to ‘an old hand’ named Frank Goddard, some of whose effusions are said to have been of a very credible character, whatever they may now seem considered. He was a lame man and died somewhere about 1853.

It was copied in 1857 by the late Mr Thomas Holdstock, of Raymond Terrace, from the dictation of an old man who had been assigned servant with Goddard, and who had a store of the latter effusions in his memory. The manuscript was given to me to copy in 1857.

Signed J. Whitley, Sydney. April 1885

This version has variants of the version contained in the Mitchell MSS Cat B388 ‘Some Personal Reminiscences – Lower Hunter River. 1855-1857 by Thomas Whitley. (nb: not J. Whitley as above) as containing the version attributed to Thomas Holdstock and published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 1857,


Convict Verse


Worth Noting:

The newspaper publication also provided references to some of the people and items named in the poem.

– Phoenix Hulk, Government Gazette Notice March 26
– Capt. Logan. March 23, 26, Nov 19, 30
– Doctor Wardell Murdered 1834
– Capt Clunie. Jan, Nov 17, 1830
– Israel Chapman. 4/12/27 his absolute pardon endorsed.