0 items(s)

Convict Ballads & Songs

Rare Convict Ballads and Broadsides.

In the centuries before the arrival of newspapers and dradio and 24 hour news channels, the general public received their news primarily from ‘street literature’. The most popular were the broadside ballads, which were single sheets, printed one side, and sold by ‘broadside sellers’ who often sang their verses as a means of advertising. These song sheets were the tabloids of their day, and quite often just as sensational as they announced executions, terrible murders, shipwrecks, love trysts and stories of tormented souls transported to far off lands.

Many of the songs from the transportation era are understandably plaintive as they tell of the dreaded separation from family and lovers; fear of being sent so far away from their homeland; deprivation and mistreatment by their carers and the system and, finally, heartfelt warnings to others ‘lest they too be transported’. The majority of the songs from this period are told in the first person, another reinforcement of the emotional turmoil created by transportation. Whilst conditions in England’s goals were horrific the thought of hard months spent on the ocean voyage to Australia was often feared more. Many died on the passage, some of fever, some of malnutrition and others of sheer terror. There was also the real fear of shipwreck and, as you will hear in the maritime ballads, several convict ships, including those carrying women and children, found themselves in an icy grave.

This collection also has a few songs of optimism for, in retrospect, the convict transportation system had its successes. It soon became evident that convicts undertaking manual labour, ‘roughing it’, breathing clean air, living under sunshine, and eating a relatively regular diet, were markedly healthier than their counterparts languishing in the convict prison hulks and other British institutions. There was also the success of the ticket-of-leave system whereby men and women of proven character, having served part or completed their sentence, were given freedom and opportunity. Some returned to their homeland and others declared Australia their new homeland.

Despite the depravity of many of the convict class a great many of them dutifully served their sentence and moved on to lead useful lives in the colony. The shortage of labour meant that very few had to resort to crime to survive. There are many examples of convicts becoming model citizens and both rich and respected. That said it was unlikely that they ever really escaped from their convict origins and were forever branded as not being ‘the cleanest potato’ or ‘a pure merino’. For many families the ‘convict stain’ was carried down as an unmentionable skeleton in the closet. Nowadays, many Australians celebrate their convict heritage.


Come all you young fellows,

Where’’ere you may be

Come listen a while to my story.

When I was a young man,

My age seventeen,

I ought to been serving Victoria, our Queen.

But those hard-hearted judges,

Oh, how cruel they be

To send us poor lads to Australia.

I fell in with a damsel,

She was handsome and gay,

I neglected my work,

More and more, every day.

And to keep her like a lady,

I went on the highway,

And for that I was sent to Australia.

Now the soldiers, they stand

With their whips in their hands,

They drive us, like horses,

To plough up the land.

You should see us poor young fellows

Working in that jail yard;

How hard is our fate in Australia.

Australia, Australia,

I would see you no more,

I’m worn out with the fever,

Cast down to Death’s door.

But, should I live to see,

Say, seven years more,

I would then bid adieu to Australia.

There were many crimes punishable by transportation to Botany Bay and, later, the other penal settlements of Norfolk Island, Van Diemen’s Land and Moreton Bay. Crimes including poaching, murder, forgery, theft and political agitation topped the list. This song, a shortened version of a longer ballad, is unusual in as much as it concerns highway robbery and, as an added emotional trigger, a crime motivated by love. There are extremely few transportation songs about highwaymen because most of the offenders were executed. The ballad was collected from Bob Hart, Suffolk, by Rod and Danny Stradling in 1969. Note the mention of Queen Victoria, who was crowned in 1838, thus giving us a timeframe for the ballad.





Let us drink a good health to our schemers above,

Who at length have contriv’d from this land to remove
Thieves, robbers and villains, they’ll send ’em away,

To become a new people at Botany Bay.

Some men say they have talents and trades to get bread,
Yet they sponge on mankind to be clothed and fed,

They’ll spend all they get, and turn night into day—

Now I’d have all such sort sent to Botany Bay.

There’s gay powder’d coxcombs and proud dressy fops,
Who with very small fortunes set up in great shops,
They’ll run into debt with design ne’er to pay,

They should all be transported to Botany Bay.

There’s nightwalking strumpets who swarm in each street,
Proclaiming their calling to each man they meet:

They become such a pest that without more delay,
These corruptors of youth should be sent to the Bay.

There’s monopolisers who add to their store,
By cruel oppression and squeezing the poor,
There’s butchers and farmers get rich in that way,
But I’d have all such rogues sent to Botany Bay.

You lecherous whore-masters who practice vile arts,
To ruin young virgins and break parents’ hearts,

Or from the fond husband his wife lead astray—

Let such debauch’d villains be sent to the Bay.

There’s whores, pimps and bastards, a large costly crew,
Maintain’d by the sweat of a labouring few,

They should have no commission, place, pension or pay,

Such locusts should all go to Botany Bay.

The hulks and the jails had some thousands in store,
But out of the jails are ten thousand times more,

Who live by fraud, cheating, vile tricks and foul play,

And should all be sent over to Botany Bay.

Now should any take umbrage at what I have writ,

Or find here a bonnet or cap that will fit,

To such I have only this one word to say,

They are welcome to wear it in Botany Bay.

This song presents a litany of scoundrels, whores, crooks and pimps, and why they were shipped out to Botany Bay. Every lowlife gets a serve in this somewhat ribald song that dates back to a printed broadside (circa 1790) where it was simply called, ‘Botany Bay, A New Song’. This rare find comes to us from the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, and was originally located by that extraordinary hunter of documents and books, David Scott Mitchell, for whom the Australian library is named. Mitchell died in 1907 after amassing an extraordinary collection of rare Australiana, including over one hundred broadsides. The song has been crying out for a tune  – so I fashioned one for it. Unlike many broadsides of the time this song, with its obvious sarcasm ‘to make a new people in Botany Bay’, would probably have been favoured by the snobbish upper classes until they discovered the barbed final verse reminding them of Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s comment that Australia was settled by people sentenced here, and those that should have been!




Young men all, do beware,

Unless you get caught into a snare

Come all you gallant poachers that ramble void of care,         

That walk out on a moonlight night with your dog and gun and snare

The hare and lofty pheasant you have at your command,       |

Not thinking on your last career upon Van Diemen’s Land.

Poor Thomas Brown from Nenagh town, Jack Murphy and poor Joe,

Were three determined poachers, as the county well does know;

By the keepers of the land, one night they were trepanned,

And for fourteen years transported unto Van Diemen’s Land.

The first day that we landed upon that fatal shore,

The planters came around us, there  were mighty twenty score;

They ranked us off like horses, and they sold us out of hand,

And yoked us in a plough, my boys, to plough Van Diemen’s Land.


The cottages we live in are built with clods of clay,

We have rotten straw bedding, but we dare not say nay;

Our cots we fence with firing, and slumber when we can,        

To keep the wolves and tigers from us in Van Diemen’s Land.     

Oft times when I do slumber I have a pleasant dream,

With my sweet girl sitting near me close by a purling stream

I am roaming throughout Ireland with my love by the hand

But awaken broken-hearted upon Van Diemen’s Land.

God bless our wives and families, likewise that happy shore,

That isle of sweet contentment which we shall ne’er see more;

As for the wretched females, see them we seldom can,

There are twenty men for one woman in Van Diemen’s Land

There was a girl from Nenagh, Peggy Brophy was her name,

For fourteen years transported was, we all well know the same;

But our planter bought her freedom and married her out of hand,

And she gives us good usage upon Van Diemen’s Land

But fourteen years is a long time, that is our fatal doom,

For nothing else but poaching, for that is all we done.

You would leave off both dog and gun, and poaching every man,

If you knew but the hardship that’s in Van Diemen’s Land

If I had a thousand pounds all laid in my hand,

I would give it for liberty if it I could command;

Again to Ireland I would return, and be a happy man.

And bid adieu to poaching and Van Diemen’s Land.

This was one of the most widely distributed transportation broadside ballads and appears in several collections with the names of poachers, squires and loved ones changing to suit the particular regional story. This is an Irish transport’s song. British versions also appear as ‘Henry’s Downfall’. In 1803 the first British expedition was sent from Sydney to Van Diemen’s Land to establish a new penal colony. Commencing in 1816, free settlers began arriving from Great Britain and on 3 December 1825 Tasmania was declared a colony separate from New South Wales.

In 1830, the Port Arthur penal settlement was established to replace Macquarie Harbour, as it was easier to maintain regular communications by sea. Although known in popular history as a particularly harsh prison, in reality its management was far more humane than Macquarie Harbour or the outlying stations of New South Wales. Experimentation with the so-called ‘model prison system’ took place in Port Arthur. Solitary confinement was the preferred method of punishment. Transportation to Tasmania ended in 1853.

A version: Sally Sloane/Meredith National Library ORAL TRC4/12A.

Another version: Duddley Higgs/Willis. NLA ORAL TRC3388/204




Oh listen for a moment, lads, and hear me tell my tale,

How o’er the sea from England I was compelled 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 be too gay at Botany Bay, or else you’ll surely hang –

Or else you’ll hang,’ he says, 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, out there at Botany Bay.’

The waves were high upon the sea, the winds blew up in gales-

1 would rather drown in misery than go to New South Wales.

The winds blew high upon me sea, and the pirates came 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 that pirate ship than come to Botany Bay.

For night and day the irons clang, and like poor galley-slaves

We toil and toil, and when we die must fill dishonoured graves.

But by and by I’ll break my chains; into the bush I’ll go,

And join the brave bushrangers there, Jack Donahue & 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.


Most transportation songs are full of remorse and contrition but Jim Jones carries bitter scars and, in the last verse, takes solace in the possibility of revenge. Language can only give a pale imitation of the grisly reality of blood-soaked flesh being lashed away by a cat-o-nine-tails whip, or some other hideous punishment. Despite the terrible pain, some men took pride in uttering no sound during the flagellation and referred to their flogging as ‘getting a present of a new red shirt’.


Over time many changes were made to the manner in which convicts were handled in the general population, largely responsive to British public opinion on the harshness or otherwise of their treatment. Until the late 1830s most convicts were either retained by Government for public works or assigned to private individuals as a form of indentured labour. From the early 1840s the Probation System was employed, where convicts spent an initial period, usually two years, in public works gangs on stations outside of the main settlements, then were freed to work for wages within a set district.

Anonymous. From Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South, by Charles MacAlister. The tune is ‘Irish Mollie, Oh!’





Here’s adieu to all judges and juries

Justices and Old Bailey too,

Seven years transported my true love,

Seven years  transported you know.

To go to a strange country dont grieve me

Nor leaving old England behind,

Its all for the sake of my Polly love,

And leaving my parents behind.

Theres the Captain that is our commander

The boatswain and all the ships crew,

Theres married men too and theres single,

Who knows what we transports go through

Dear Polly I am going to leave you,

For seven long years, love, and more,

But that time will be but a moment

When returned to the girl I adore.

If ever I return from the ocean,

Stores of riches Ill bring for my dear,

Its all for the sake of my Polly love

Ill cross the salt seas for my dear.

How hard is the place of confinement

That keeps me from my heart’s delight,

Cold chains and cold irons surround me,

And a plank for my pillow at night.

How often I wished that the eagle

Would lend me her wings, I would fly,

Then Id fly to the arms of my Polly

And in her soft bosom I’d lie.

The ‘Old Bailey’ (with its ‘Justices of the Crown’) refers to the Central Criminal Court of England. It stands on the site of the Newgate Goal, on Old Bailey, a road which follows the line of the city’s fortified wall  and gives the court its popular name. This ballad had wide circulation as a broadside under a variety of titles including ‘Newry Transport’ and ‘Adieu To All Judges and Juries’ and was printed in numerous collections including Hugh Anderson’s Farewell To Judges and Juries (Red Rooster Press) and Ron Edward’s The Transport’s Lament (Ram’s Skull Press). The original broadside from this version was printed by J. Catnach, Printer, Monmouth Court, Seven Dials, and was originally held in the Baring-Gould Collection at the British Museum. It is the original song that eventually became ‘Botany Bay’.




Come all you feeling young men wherever that you be,

I hope you’ll pay attention and listen unto me,

Although I was a convict, the truth I will reveal,

For being a bold United man I was sent from Cavan jail.

My name is William Donnelly as you may understand,

For 15 years I had to go unto Van Diemen’s Land,

For wearing of the shamrock as you may plainly see,

But the Lord he gave me mercy and I gained my liberty.

Now I may bless the happy day I left the shamrock shore,

Although my loving mother thought shed never see me more

Likewise my loving sisters they did shed tears for me

But now I’ll make them happy in the land of liberty.

Three years I was in prison as you may plainly see,

A lady of great fortune she fell in love with me,

She says you will have riches and gold within your store

If you agree and marry me you’ll be a slave no more.

She surely did surprise me, I found that she was kind,

But still I thought on Ireland and the girl I left behind.

I soon returned her answer and this to her I said,

Excuse me, dearest lady, for I love a servant maid.

She says young William Donnelly, I have gold within my door,

The servant maids in Ireland you know they are but poor;

It’s from my heart you have my love if you give yours to me,

I’ll free you from all bondage and you’ll have your liberty

It’s then with joy I gave consent, said I my lady fair,

In wedlock bands we’ll join our hands if you love me sin

Send now for a clergyman and married we will be,

And all my days with you I’ll spend in the land of liberty.

Now I am out of bondage, and thank God I am set free,

One thousand pounds my love paid down for my sweet liberty,

This lady she has proved my friend, she is loving and she is kind,

So I’ll never fret, but now forget, the girl I left behind.

William Donnelly, an Irish patriot, was transport to Van Diemen’s Land for sedition. The ballad comments on Donnelly being taken into the protection of a woman ‘of means’, who eventually pays out his debt to society. Initially Donnelly resists the woman’s overtures saying he has a lover, a young serving maid back in Ireland. The woman persists saying Irish serving maids are all poor and she is rich. Donnelly finally succumbs and, surprise, surprise, lives happily ever after. The song was published as an undated broadside (circa 1840s) by Pratt of Birmingham as ‘A New Song Called William Donnelly’. Such songs with a happy ending are unusual in the transportation catalogue. I set a traditional tune to it and usually sing it uptempo. Tune: Morrissey & The Russian Sailor’ suggested by Warren Fahey





To go in a smack down in Barking, where a boy as apprentice was bound,

Where I spent many hours in comfort and pleasure in that little town.

At length future prospects were blighted, as soon as you may all understand.

So all you by my fate take warning, beware of the black velvet band.

One day being out on a ramble alone by myself I did stray,

I met with a young gay deceiver, while cruising on Ratcliffe Highway;

Her eyes were as black as a raven, I thought her the pride of the land

Her hair that would hang o’er her shoulders was tied with a black velvet band.

In a house of ill-fame she betrayed me, from virtue she did me decoy.

When it was proposed an agreed that I should become a flash boy;

For drinking and gambling to plunder, to keep up the game it was planned;

But since I’ve had cause to remember the girl with the black velvet band.

Young girls if you wish to turn modest and strive a connection to gain,

Do not wear a band o’er your forehead as if to tie up your brain.

Some do prefer Victorian fashion, and some their braided so grand;

Myself I do think it much neater than a girl with a black velvet band.

Young men by my fate take warning, from all those gay ladies refrain,

And seek a neat little woman that wears her hair parted quite plain.

The subject that I now mention, though innocent, soon me trepanned.

In sorrow my days will be ended, far, far, from the black velvet band.

For she towed in a brave man-of-war’s man, her ogle she winked on the sly,

But little did I know her meaning when I twigged her faking his cly

He said I am bound for the ocean and shortly the ship will be manned,

But still I’ve a strong inclination for the girl with the black velvet band.

A snare was invented to slight me and banish me out of her sight.

His watch she took and gave to me, saying, more plunder I’ll bring this night,

She slipped it sly into my pocket, then took me kindly by the hand.

Then gave me in charge as receiver, bad luck to the black velvet band.

I quickly was taken and committed, the charge was against me so clear,

To swear to the watch found upon me, the sailor himself did appear,

The judge said to me you are sentenced a free passage to Van Diemen’s Land

For life far away from relations, so adieu to the black velvet band.



Radcliffe Highway, Stepney, was the roughest thoroughfare in London’s East End, and with its doss house sailor’s lodgings, wild pubs and wilder brothels, was the British sailor’s favoured destination for a bit of fun and frivolity. Several songs, including shanties, tell of visits to this strip and inevitably the poor tar is relieved of his wallet, given the pox or, on his return, presented with a bouncing baby. In this early salty broadside ballad the philandering sailor is twice caught and given a ‘free passage’ to Van Diemen’s Land for his troubles, ‘Faking his cly’ was the vernacular expression for flash or cant – in other words, impersonating a style of speech. We’d say ‘bunging it on’.

From the Mitchell Library Collection, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney. There are four broadsides of this popular ballad in the Mitchell. This one is published by J. Birt, Seven Dials, London. The sheet did not specify a tune, though others noted ‘Tars of the Blanch’. Like many broadside ballads a shorter, more lyrical version entered into oral circulation. Will Lawson, writing in The Bulletin magazine in the 1940s commented that the early Tasmanian whaling crews had a song known as ‘The Hat With The Velvet Band’. Apparently they used it as a rhythmic work song but he adds, they also used it ‘for drinking and fighting’. I collected a version from Arthur Stacey, of Bathurst, New South Wales, in 1975, where the song was used as a waltz for local dances, including a chorus:

Oh, her eyes they shone like diamonds,

I thought her the pride of the land;

The hair that hung down on her shoulder,

Was tied with a black velvet band.

For the purpose of this collection I have used the original broadside as I am fascinated by the song’s intent as a warning (specifically about a then fashionable hair style) and who could resist a line warning women: ‘Do not wear a band over your forehead, as if to tie in your brain.’

Frank Drinkwater/Meredith & Willis. National Library ORAL TRC2222R75



The Melancholy Fate  of Captain Logan

One Sunday morning as I went walking
By Brisbane waters I chanced to stray,
I heard a convict his fate bewailing ,
As on the sunny river bank he lay.
I am a native from Erin’s island,
But banished now from my native shore,
They stole me from my aged parents,
And from the maiden I do adore.

I’ve been a prisoner at Port Macquarie,
At Norfolk Island and Emu Plains,
At Castle Hill and at cursed Toongabbie,
At all these settlements I’ve been in chains.
But of all places of condemnation
And penal stations in New South Wales,
To Moreton Bay I have 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 from flogging was lacerated,
And oft times 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,
All at the triangles of Moreton Bay.

Like the Egyptians and ancient Hebrews
We were oppressed under Logan’s yoke,
Till a native black lying there in ambush
Did deal this 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 will fade from mind.

Along with Macquarie Harbour and Norfolk Island, Queensland’s Moreton Bay was feared for its harsh treatment of convicts. Under the command of Captain Patrick Logan (from 1826) the death rate ran higher than one man in ten each year, no questions asked. This powerful song celebrates the death of Logan when speared by hostile Aborigines while he was exploring and surveying the Upper Brisbane River in 1830. It was considered a fitting death for the monster of Moreton Bay. It is noted as ‘anonymous’ although it is now usually ascribed to Francis Macnamara (Frank the Poet). The Queensland Centenary Songbook (1959), published this version as ‘Moreton Bay,’ as collected from W. Bowden, Wide Bay, citing ‘Youghal Bay’ as the tune. This version appeared to be based on that published in Will Lawson’s Australian Bush Songs and Ballads (1944) where it was published as ‘The Convict’s Lament’. Lawson noted ‘The Manuscript of this rugged rhyme was secured by me in Queensland in August 1916, from Jas. R. Scott (Deputy Coroner, Cessnock, and a collector of early Australiana)’. The song was taken from a letter from Captain Clunie to the Colonial Secretary and published in the Sydney Gazette of 25 November 1830. The original is in the Mitchell Library collection, Sydney. The ‘triangle’ mentioned in the song was a wooden structured whipping post that men and women were tied to when sentenced to a lashing.




Sing ho! for a brave an’ a gallant ship,

And a brisk and lively breeze,

With a bully crew and a captain to,

To carry me over the seas;

To carry me over the seas, me boys,

To my true love far away,

She has taking a trip on a Government ship

Ten thousand miles away.

ch:  So blow, the winds hi ho!

     A-rovin’ I will go.

     I’ll stay no more on England’s shore

     So let the music play

     I’ll start by the morning’s train,

     To cross the raging main,

     For I’m on the move to my true love

     Ten thousand miles away.

My true love she is beautiful,

My true love she is young,

Her eyes are blue as the violet’s hue,

And silvery sounds her tongue,

And silvery sounds her tongue, my boys,

But while I sing this lay,

She is doing the grand in a distant land,

Ten thousand miles away!

Oh, it wuz a summer’s mornin’,

When last I saw my Meg

She’d a Government band around each hand

An’ another one round her leg

Oh, another one round her leg, my boys,

As the big ship left the bay,

“Adieu,”  she said, “remember me,

Ten thousand miles away!”

Oh! that was a dark and dismal day,

When she left the Strand,

She bid goodbye with a tearful eye,

And waved her lily hand,

And waved her lily hand, my boy,

As the big ship left the Bay,

Adieu, says she, remember me,

Ten thousand miles away.

Oh, if I could be but a bosun bold

Or even a bombardier,

I’d man a boat and away I’d float

And straight to my true love steer;

An’ straight to my true love steer, m’boys

Where the dancing dolphins play,

And the whales and sharks are having their larks

Ten thousand miles away.

Oh, the sun may shine through a London fog

Or the Thames run quite clear,

Or the ocean’s brine be turned to wine

And may I forget my beer

Or may forget my beer, m’boys

And the landlord’s quarter-pay

But I’ll never forget my own true love

Ten thousand miles away.

Ten Thousand Miles Away’, with its rather jaunty words and equally jolly tune would imply it was a later creation along the lines of the well-known ‘Botany Bay’ – both seemingly distancing themselves from the horrors of transportation reality. I recorded a similar version from the singing of Jack Pobar, Toowoomba, in 1973. It was certainly known to Seven Seas sailors, with versions appearing in Songs of American Sailormen, edited by J. Colcard, 1924, and The Scottish Student’s Song Book, Glasgow, 1891. ‘Train’, in this instance, means ship.





Fare-ye-well, my Whitechapel boys, fare-ye-well for a while,

For you see the bobbies and the beaks have tumbled to my style

But it’s all very well when you’re in luck, your friends will stand a cup.

But when you’re down they keeps you down a’cause they turns you up.

So fare-ye-well, my Whitechapel boys, and you what keeps a fence,

I’m going away to Australia, but not at my own expense.

I’ve got an out an out good name for being a roving blade,

I’m fly to every downy dodge, and a stunner at my trade;

But the best of all the flyest coves am very much to blame,

Because they makes the bobbies fly to tumble to their game.

I nailed this yellow wipe from a swell, whilst going up Drury Lane;

And this bandanna from a bloke whilst drinking his champagne

This from a foreigner I took whilst walking Leicestersquare,

And this one from another chap as grand as a Lord Mayor.

Theres one or two more lately you see taken folks in quite unawares,

I should like to know the difference betwixt these wipes and the railway shaes;

The Crystal Palace ‘cotched it too, but they had themselves to thank,

But the biggest swindle of ‘em all, was the Royal British Bank.

When Mr Dickens wrote his work, he drew my character so veil

Betwixt the artful dodger and me none could the difference tell,

Mr Cruikshanks what drink no gin — in his picture you may see

The very dodger what I mean — all of a twist like me.

I never injured any one, and worked hard for what I got

For nothing comes amiss me, except the vile garrotte,

For every finger dodge there is, I’ve got a happy knack,

And never like a coward struck any man behind his back.

Now fare-ye-well, my Whitechapel boys, to part with you I grieve

But I’ll return to you once more, when I’ve worked my ticket-of-leave.

Here’s one dodge that keeps up my pluck, and does my spirits cheer,

This is, when I return again, you’ll welcome the dodger here.

I found this song in Hugh Anderson’s Farewell To Judges and Juries and it is from an undated broadside published by H. Disley, Printer, High Street, St. Giles, London. The idea of a story fashioned around convict transportation and Charles Dickens was too good to be denied. I set the tune to it for a concert I gave at the Mitchell Library, February 2007.

A few explanations: a ‘fence’ is someone who receives stolen property, The Crystal Palace was an iron and glass building originally erected in London’s Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition of 1851, where more than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world were gathered inside to display examples of the latest technology developed in the Industrial Revolution. The ‘Mr. Cruikshanks was the painter who, apparently, ‘drank no gin’. I particularly like the play on words where the singer says ‘The very dodger what I mean – all of a twist like me’ which, as you can see, when you sing it, refers to ‘Oliver Twist’.


Once I was honest and worked at my trade,

Which was a shoemaker and good shoes I made,

Till once a fine fellow came unto my place,

And he was the cause of my present disgrace.

And he was a —Ticket of Leave Man, still inclined to thieve,

Although he was out on a Ticket of Leave.

He came to my shop and quickly ’twas,

He ordered some boots and he ordered some shoes,

For a “twenty pound note,” then, the change he did receive,

I was sold by a Ticket of Leave.

         And he was a Ticket, &c.

A week after that this note I did cash,

It was forged and for me was a regular smash,

They made me an example and sent me away,

And gave me seven years at Botany Bay.

         All through this Ticket, &c.

But every convict bear this in sight,

May he again receive this freedom, if he acts right,

And the Government there my story did believe,

And I had but one year and a Ticket of Leave.

       And now I am a Ticket, &c.

Arrived here on shore, I idleness did shirk,

And tried like a man, to look after some work,

But all the folks I saw, did the one answer give,

Where’s the Police, you’re a Ticket of Leave.

I’m scorned by the rich. I’m scorned by the poor,

My Ticket drives me mad, from door to door,

And now ere a week or fortnight is pass’d,

They make me a thief and dishonest at last.

And this will be the end of the poor,

Ticket of Leave man, who is not inclined to thieve

Altho’ I’m free, with my Ticket of Leave,

And who do you think would employ a Ticket &c.

I have long-lamented the slim volume of songs from our convict transportation era, that is until Hugh Anderson and Ron Edwards published their impressive works on early broadsides from overseas collections. Both folklorists travelled to Britain and Ireland and researched the holdings of various library broadside collections for songs that could help tell the Australian transportation story. It has always puzzled me that singers of Australian traditional material have been so reticent to explore such treasure-troves. I was especially heartened to find songs about other aspects of convict life such as the ticket-of-leave scheme whereby well-behaved convicts were given semi-freedom and encouragement.

This broadside tells of a seemingly honest trader who was duped and wrongfully convicted of forgery, transported to Botany Bay and eventually found innocent, however, much to his chagrin, everyone assumed him to be an ex-criminal and hence he was ‘scorned by the rich, scorned by the poor…… and, as the songs laments, ‘who do you think would employ a ticket-of-leave man?’ I fashioned the tune, a relative of ‘Pretty Polly Perkins’, to the verses in 2006.


Inquirer (Perth) 3 September 1851

Song of the TIcket-of-Leave Man.

[In regarding the future prospects of the colony, we cannot hide from ourselves that much of its happiness and security depends upon the conduct of the ticket-of-leave men who will be dispersed amongst us. It therefore becomes a duty to point out how good conduct may be induced. Let us bear in mind that although these men have, transgressed, yet, by their subsequent good conduct, they are now in a position to re gain that good name without which life is but a desert path, barren of all joy. Let us all, therefore, aid them in recovering their lost character for probity, by receiving them as repentant, by encouraging them to honesty, by never reminding them of their past Bins, and by showing them kindness and consideration. If we make them feel that they are degraded, if we point   the finger of scorn at them, we make them marked strangers in the land, and give them no encouragement to become good and honest men. And what then will be the consequence? From sympathy of feeling, arising from unkindness shown them, will they be drawn together, and all those bad feelings which would have been smothered by kindness, may be again rekindled, and generate crime in them, and danger to us. But let them see and feel that we mean to aid the great work of their reformation, and then will they persevere therein, and become worthy, honest, and industrious — bound to us by the ties of gratitude, and encouraged in virtue by our endeavours to keep them in its path.]


‘I am free ! I am free ! my hear leaps in my breast,

And each feeling, each thought with grief late opprest,

Now thrills through my frame, as if a new life

Were given in mercy to meet the world’s strife.

I am free, I am free ! ‘

For the sins of my youth I have suffered the pain—

I have felt the world’s enmity, coldness, disdain,—  

The good have past by me, ’twas torture, ’twas madness,

To see them avoid me in pitying sadness,  

But now I am free ! ‘

I am free, I am free ! what rapture is mine—

How I bless, how adore that mercy Divine,  

Which hath broken my bonds, which hath lightn’d my breast,

I For my chains given liberty – peace for unrest.

Hurrah, I am free!  

‘And ye among whom now my lot must be cast,

Ye never will bring back the thoughts of my past,    

By rendering my heart with the talk of my sin,  

Ye will judge want I am, not what I have been,   for now I am free !

‘ Oh! receive ms as one who wishes to show,  

That repentance has come from chains and from woe.

By the path he will lead in honesty here,  

While serving you truly as year succeeds year For now I am free !

Ye trill not, ye cannot point finger of scorn

At one now foresaken, alone and forlorn;  

One far from the land of all he holds dear;    

You never will make a marked stranger here.  

For now I am free ! I feel you will not— Hurrah. I am free—

Free from bondage, from chains, from sin’s misery,’    

Free from feelings, from thoughts, that once led me to shame.

But chained to the hope to regain my good name.    

I am free! I am free !


Oh, my father he died and he left me his estate,

I married a lady whose fortune was great,

And through keeping bad company I’ve spent all my store.

I have been a wild boy, but I’ll be so no more.

Here’s to Tom, Bill and Harry and Betsy and Sue

And two or three others belonged to our crew;

We’d stay up till midnight and make the town roar.

Oh, I’ve been a wild boy, but I’ll be so no more.

I was always too fond of treating ladies to wine,

Till my pockets grew empty too soon I would find;

Twenty pounds in one night, oh, I’ve spent them and more.

Oh, I’ve been a wild boy, but I’ll be so no more.

Oh, it’s first down to Newgate a prisoner I went;

I had on cold irons, I had to lament,

And I had to find comfort as I lay on the floor.

Oh, I’ve been a wild boy, but I‘ll be so no more.

Oh, the next down to Newgate a prisoner I stand,

And what I have longed for is now out of hand,

And if ever I gain my liberty, as I’ve had before,

I will be a good boy and go roaming no more.

Oh, bad luck to all married men who visit strange doors,

I’ve done so myself but I’ll do so no more;

I’ll go back to my family, I’ll go back to my wife,

And I’ll be a good boy all the days of my life.

A traditional tear-jerker and typical of the ‘wild rover’ songs where the repentant playboy, the prodigal son makes his way home and family after a spell philandering and, in this case, being incarcerated at Her Majesty’s pleasure at Newgate. The original prison at Newgate was built in 1188 and was rebuilt in the 1770s, after being badly damaged during the Gordon Riots in 1780. Completed in 1782 Newgate Prison was divided into two sections. There was a Common area for poor prisoners and a State area for those who could afford more comfortable accommodation. These sections of the prison were further divided between debtors and felons. The women’s section usually contained about 300 women and children. In the first half of the 19th century Newgate Prison was London’s chief prison and was where prisoners were held prior to execution. In 1783 the gallows were moved from Tyburn to Newgate. Every Monday morning large crowds would assemble outside the prison to watch the men and women be executed. A seat at one of the windows overlooking the gallows could cost up to £10. Public executions were abolished in 1868 and until 1901 prisoners were hanged inside Newgate.

Sally Sloane/Meredith. National Library ORAL TRC4/12A&B

Sally Sloane/Fahey. NLA ORAL TRC5724/1

This next song, from a Sydney magazine for Irish Catholics, is an oddity. I haven’t been able to find any Irish versions and scant information on the individuals mentioned. Contributions welcome.

Freeman’s Journal. Sydney .  4 Feb. 1905



(Kindly supplied by Mr. P. Doherty of Pambula)

Good Christians all round this country,

Come listen to my song,

I don’t intend to raise it high,

To detain your attention long.

There are in it but verses few

To let the neighbours know

How Boland he was banished

From the land of sweet Ross Row.

It was on a Saturday evening,

As you may plainly hear

The stars were in the sky

And the moon shone bright and clear ;

Donovan came to my door

And this to me did say : ‘

Arise up, Johnny Boland,

And along with me come away.’

While I was putting on my clothes,  

This reply made he :

‘If you turn Queen’s evidence

A happy man you’ll be.

You will have money plenty

Your wants for to supply  

The Queen will give you employment

Where none will call you spy.

‘Hold your tongue,’ said Boland, ‘

And don’t say so to me;

If I am poor, I will endure

To live in poverty.

I’ll never become Queen’s evidence,

My comrades to overthrow;

I’d sooner live in poverty

On the land of sweet Ross Row.’

In pops Tommy Corrigan,

And seized me by the hand: ‘

Arise up, Johnny Boland,

You must quit your native land.

Bid farewell to your children;

You never shall see them more.’

He handcuffed me like a murderer,

And marched me out the door.

He marched me off to Six-mile Bridge,

And from that to Castlechrin.

Said Butler to Boland:

‘I Will commit you back again.’

Said Boland to Butler :

‘Pray what have I done,

But the beating of Mr. Heckman,

And the taking of his gun?”    

He marched me off to Ennis jail,

It’s very well you’d know ;

From thence I was transported

From the land of sweet Ross Row.

Farewell to my five orphan’s,

I’m leaving here behind.

Friends and relations,

Both men and women kind.

The Lord, who is our witness,

Who right from wrong doth know,

Will punish those who banished us

From the land of sweet Ross Row.

Farewell unto the blunderbuss

That was hidden in the thatch ;

Farewell unto the powder horn

That was ready for the match ;

Farewell to the boys of County Clare;

Alas, I now must go ;

And adieu to you, old Ireland,

And the land of sweet Ross Row.


This broadside was extremely popular and appeared in many variations where the transport was bound for Baltimore.


Now for America I’m bound,
Against my inclination-
Yes, I must leave my native ground,
Which fills me with vexation,
As I am bound for Sidney’s coast,,
Nature still shall bind me,
To think on her I do adore-
The girl I left behind me.

My friends they sent me far away
For fear I’d wed my darling,
The bonnie lass tI love so well,
She is both mild and charming.
When crossing the Atlantic waves,
I thought the tears would blind me,
Many a heavy sigh I gave
For the girl I left behind me.

Unto the land of liberty
Our vessel she is sailing,
Methinks I never can be free,
When parted from my Ellen.
Although I’m going far away,
Nature still does bind me,
To think of her that I adore,
The girl I left behind me.

Oh! cruel friends, you banished me,
And left me broken hearted;
Sweet Ellen, dear, tho’ far from thee,
Our hearts will never be parted.
Although I am in Van Dieman’s Land,
Constant still you’ll find me;
Oh, no, I never will forget,
The girl I left behind me.

Was I possessed of all the gold
That lies on the African shore,
I’d give it all for to behold
My own dear native home.
Near Clonmel Town, at the Suir side,
Once more my friends more will find me;
‘Tis there my Ellen does reside,
The girl I left behind me.

Had I the wealth of all that gold,
To me would yield no pleasure;
The bonny lass that I adore,
I prize above all treasure,
Farewell you bonny lasses all,
For her you will not bind me;
I’ll go once more to my native home,
To the girl I left behind me.

Sydney Monitor 10 Sept 1834

NEW SONG. To the air of ” Home, Sweet Home!”     ‘Said to have been sung by the fair frail ones who arrived by the Steamer from Sydney, at nine o’clock on the night of the 26th of August, and  who being in full spirit for a concert, chaunted in a style superior to Catalini’s,” on their way from the wharf to the Female Factory- to the edification of the musical folks of Parramatta, who were then about hastening to bed.    

From towns great and small, and from country we come,    

From all sorts of places we thus hasten home,  

For the kind Captain graciously smiles on us there,  

And lists our complaints, which they ne’er do elsewhere.      

Home, home, sweet sweet sweet home,

In spite of the SHAVIING, there ‘s no place like home.

When out, if we make but a trifling faux pas,

They threaten with watch-house, while we cry out ” baa !”

For watch-house, police, Windeyer, nor THIRD CLASS we fear,

We but rest ourselves there, while we have to work here.

Home, home, sweet, sweet home  

The watch-house is only the first stage to home.

We like to come out, now and then, for a ” lark,”

To see our old street-hearts, or gain a new spark;    

A gown, ribbon, dress-cape, a bonnet, or shawl,      

As we happen to need, then we’re off- bag and all! Home etc      

In spite of the shaving, there’s no place like home.

‘Tis said, in the third class, like pigs we are fed  

On hominy salted – and filthy brown bread ;

That from sun-rise to sun-set, we work till we groan, ,

All dragging huge barrows and loaded with stone!!

Home, home, sweet sweet home

We laugh at those slanders and love well our home.

‘Tis there we enjoy life–for over the wall

Which they built to seclude us, the sweetest things fall!  

Rum, tea, and tobacco, bread, sugar, and gin,

Letters, bundles and money – come tumbling in!

Home, home, sweet sweet home.

We sing for the brave ” boys” who make glad our home!

Oft times were but shabby, the present we land –

Should our luck be discovered – (some guardians are good)    

If we be but generous enough to DIVIDE –

The.rest, we have then leave to use, or to hide!

Home, home, sweet sweet home.  

Where e’er we may wander, there’s no place like home.

And even the lads fail us-our needles stand true,

Some light works of fashion, if we can but do-

As caps, dresses, bonnets, frills, tippets, and stays,  

Our mentors get payment – and give us much praise. Home etc      

Not all o’er the land is a spot like our home!

Praise is smart, but ’twere useless without something more

We’ve sundry indudgences-nic nacks a score!  

At Christmas or Easter, or set day we DINE

In full state, with plumb pudding and wine!’  

Home etc                

And if we get merry, we’re. only “at home” .

‘Tis true, that sometimes, by way of a blind,

In our castle’s deep cells-a-nights lodging we find;

Hard fare and hard lying we |need, to pull down

All superfluous flesh, ‘ere we back to town.

Home etc          

Cells, bracelets, and all – there’s no place like home.!

The fault-finding MONITOR never can rest!

He now plagues this Governor-’cause he’s the best

That hath yet ruled – to us, and the BRAVE IRON’D MEN

Who spurn at their masters, but smile on the chain!  

Home etc      

In spite of Hall’s growling-it still is our home!