This lengthy monologue is an extraordinary piece of work. Written, and no doubt performed, by convict poet Francis Macnamara, it is a literary treasure.
A Convict’s Tour of Hell.
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,
This recorded version appears on the album ‘Rare Convict ballads and Broadsides’ available iTunes or CD from this site’s shop.
Warren Fahey recites ‘A Convicts’ Tour of Hell’.
You prisoners of New South Wales
Who frequent watch-houses and gaols,
A story true to you I’ll tell,
Tis of a Poet’s tour to hell.
Our hero’s valour had been tried,
On the highway before he died
This hero’s valour oft was tried,
At length to death he fell a prey,
To him it proved a happy day.
Downwards he bent his course, we’re told,
Like me, destined to Satan’s fold,
And no refreshments would he take,
Till he approached the Stygian Lake.
At length he then began fix
Contiguous to the river Styx,
And thinking no one would molest him,
He stood _ when Charon thus addressed him:
“Stranger! Art thou friend or foe?
What’s thy name? Pray let me know.”
“Kind sir! I come from Sydney goal,
My name I wish not to conceal,
And as you do desire to know it,
On earth I was called ‘Frank the Poet.’”
“Are you that person?” Charon said,
“I’ll carry you to yonder side,
And stranger! Do not troubled be,
I’ll grant to you a passage free,
Tho’ sixpence is my usual charge
For passage in my well pitched barge
But noble guest! I’d have you know it,
I never mean to charge a poet.”
No other succour being nigh
Frank with the invite did comply’
And leaving Charon at the ferry
Went straightway down to Purgatory,
And knocking boldly at the gate
Of Limbo – or the middle state –
Pope Pious Nono soon appeared
With beads, gown, crucifix, and beard,
And gazing at the poet awhile
Addressed him in the following style: –
“Stranger! Art thou friend or foe?
Thy business, too, pray let me know”
Said Frank, “For Heaven I am not fitted,
So here I hope to be admitted.”
Cried Pious – “Vain are all your hopes,
This place was made for Priests and Popes;
This is a world of our own invention,
So Frank, I’ve not the least intention
To admit you here – a foolish elf,
Who scarce knows how to bless himself.”
Frank answered – “Were you all insane
When you composed this world of pain?
For naught can I discern but fire,
And share of that I don’t desire.
And midst it, weeping, wailing, gnashing,
With torments of the newest fashion!
More justly they the fools and elves
Who made a rod to beat themselves;
And may you and your honest neighbours
Enjoy the fruits of all your labours.
Bidding the Pope a long farewell,
Frank hurried to the Gulf of Hell,
And having found that gloomy gate,
He knocked aloud to know his fate.
He louder knocked, and louder still,
Till Satan came – “Pray, what’s your will?”
“Alas!” cried Frank, “I’ve come to dwell
with you, and share your fate in hell.”
Cried Satan, “That can’t be I’m sure,
For I detest and hate the poor,
None shall in my Kingdom stand
Except the wealthy and the grand.
So Frank! I think you’ve got astray,
For convicts never come this way,
But soar in Heaven, in droves and legions,
A place so-called in the upper regions.
And Frank! I think with an empty purse
You might go farther and fare worse.
Well, cried the Poet, “Since ‘tis so,
One thing of you I’d wish to know,
And I’m at present in no hurry,
“Have you one here called Captain Murray?”
”Yes, Murray ‘s here within this place;
perhaps you’d like to see his face.”
“May God forbid that I should view him,
aboard the Phoenix hulk I knew him.
But who is that in yonder blaze?
On fire and brimstone seems to graze.”
He’s Captain Logan, of Moreton Bay,
And Williams – killed the other day,
Was overseer at Gross’ farm,
And did you convicts no small harm.
Cook, who discovered New South Wales,
And he who first invented goals,
Are both tied to a fiery stake
That stands in yonder burning lake.
Hark! Hera you not that dreadful yelling?
It comes from Doctor Wardell’s dwelling;
And yonder see those fiery chairs?
They’re fitted up for beaks and mayors,
And men of all judicial orders,
Beaks, bankers, lawyers and recorders.
Then Frank saw legions of traitors,
Hangmen, gaolers, flagellators,
Commandants, constables, and spies;
Informers, overseers likewise ,
In flames of brimstones they were toiling,
And lakes of sulphur round them boiling.
Hell resonant with hideous yelling;
Alas! How dismal was their dwelling.
Then Major Morrison then he espied,
With Captain Clooney by his side.
They in fire-belt were lashed together
As tight as sole to upper leather;
Their situation here was horrid
For both were tyrants to the nor’ard.
Next he beheld old Sergeant Flood,
In Vulcan’s hottest forge he stood;
He gazed on Frank – his eyes with ire
Appeared like burning coals of fire.
He by a red –hot clasping band
Was to a lofty lamp-post chained
With fiery garments all arrayed
Like wild Arabian ass he brayed.
Loud he implored for Frank’s assistance
To end for him his sad existence.
“Cheer up,” said Frank, “don’t be dismayed,
Remember number 3 stockade;
In course of time you may do well
If you behave yourself in hell.
Your heart on earth was fraught with malice,
You oft drove convicts to the gallows,
A greater rogue in shoes ne’er trod.
You now atone for all the blood
Of convicts shed by Sergeant Flood.”
He next beheld that noted trapman
And police runner, Israel Chapman,
Steeped was he standing to his head
In cauldron hot of boiling lead.
“Alas!” he cried, “behold me stranger,
I’ve captured many a bold bushranger,
For which I am now suffering here,
But lo! Now yonder snakes appear.”
Then Frank beheld some loathly worms
And snakes of varied shapes and forms,
All entering at the mouth and ears
To gnaw his guts for endless years.
He next beheld the Company’s Commissioner
At knee like humblest petitioner.
“Satan,” he cried, “my life is ended,
For many years I’ve superintended
The Agricultural Company’s affairs
And punctually paid all arrears.
But if you doubt the hopping colonel (Dumaresq)
At Carrington you’ll find my journal
Careful writ out in black and white,
I’ll prove that my accounts are right.”
The poet turned to go away,
But Lucifer begged he would stay.
Now Poet Frank, stay, don’t you go man,
Till you see your friend, Doctor Bowman;
See how he trembles, writhes and gnashes,
He gave you many the thousand lashes,
And for those same he does bewail;
While Oscar with his iron flail
Thrashes him well you may depend,
And will – till time shall have an end.”
Just as he spoke a coach and four
Came up in post haste to the door,
And some six feet of mortal sin,
Sans leave or license tumbled in.
At its arrival cheers were given
That reached from Hell to Highest Heaven;
And all the denizens of Hell
With one rope peeled the greatest bell
That ne’er was known to sound or ring
Since Judas sold our Heavenly King.
Drums were beating, flags were hoisting,
Never before was there such rejoicing;
Dancing, singing, joy and mirth,
In Heaven above – and on the earth.
Straightway to Lucifer Frank went
To learn what these rejoicings meant.
“Of sense,” cried Satan, “I’m deprived
since Governor Darling has arrived;
brimstone and fire I’ve ordered him,
and Vulcan has his tools in trim.
And I’ll now find a fixed abode,
For Colonel Wilson’s on the road.
Don’t go, Frank. Till you see the novice,
The Colonel from the Police Office.
“Sir,” answered Frank, “I’m satisfied
To learn that he’s to be tied
And tortured in this world of fire;
With your leave, sir, I’ll now retire.”
And after travelling many days
O’er fiery hills and boiling seas,
At length he found that happy place,
Where all the woes of mortal cease;
And rapping boldly at the wicket,
Says Peter, “Where’s your certificate?
Or if you have got none to show
Pray ‘Who in Heaven do you know?”
“Why, sir, I know Bold Jack Donohue,
And Johnny Prog, and Jenkins too,
And many more whom scourgers bled,
Were lastly by Jack ketch strung dead.”
“Peter,” the Son said, “Let Frank in,
For he is truly purged from sin;
Altho’ in convict costume drest
Here shall he be a welcome guest.
Enoch! Go you with him to Job,
And put on him a silken robe.
Saint Paul! Go to the flock straightway,
And kill a calf or two today,
Tell Abraham, and likewise Abel,
In haste to lay the banquet table,
For we will make a grand repast,
Since Poet Frank has come at last.”
Soon Moses came, likewise Elias,
John the Baptist and his pal Matthias,
With many saints from foreign lands,
And with the Poet all shook hands,
Thro’ Heaven’s concave curfew rang,
And hymns of praise they loudly sang;
And while they glorified their theme,
I woke – and found it was a dream.
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