Van Diemen’s Land

Savery

Like so many traditional songs there are a number of versions of Van Diemen’s Land. Apart from various musical interpretations, there are a variety of lyrics depending on the country of origin of the singer, England or Ireland.

The earliest published lyrics can be found in the Launceston Examiner of 21 Nov 1939 (p.2, c1).
They chain us two by two, and whip and lash along,
They cut off our provisions if we do the least thing wrong,
They march us in the burning sun, until our feet are sore,
So hard’s our lot now we are got upon Van Diemen’s shore.

We labour hard from morn to night, until our bones do ache.
Then every one, they must obey, their mouldy beds must make ;
We often wish, when we lay down, we ne’er may rise no more.
To meet our savage governors upon Van Diemen’s shore.

Every night when I lay down, I wash my straw with tears,
While wind upon that horrid shore do whistle in our ears
Those dreadful beasts upon that land around our cots do roar ;
Most dismal is our doom upon Van Diemen’s shore.

Come all young men and maidens, do bad company forsake,
If tongue can tell our overthrow, it would make your heart to ache ;
You girls, I pray, be ruled by me, your wicked ways give o’er,
For fear, like us, you spend your days upon Van Diemen’s shore.

I have been unable to find a recorded version of these lyrics although they are far more powerful than the more popular rendition.
Come all you gallant poachers that ramble free from care
That walk out of a moonlight night with your dog your gun and snare
Where the lofty hare and pheasant you have at your command
Not thinking that your last career is on Van Diemen’s Land There was poor Tom Brown from Nottingham Jack Williams and poor Joe
Were three as daring poachers as the country well does know
At night they were trepanned by the keeper’s hideous hand
And for fourteen years transported were unto Van Diemen’s Land

Oh when we sailed from England we landed at the bay
We had rotten straw for bedding we dared not to say nay
Our cots were fenced with fire we slumber when we can
To drive away the wolves and tigers upon Van Diemen’s Land

Oh when that we were landed upon that fatal bay
The planters they came flocking round full twenty score or more
They ranked us up like horses and sold us out of hand
They yoked us up to the plough my boys to plough Van Diemen’s Land

There was one girl from England Susan Summers was her name
For fourteen years transported was we all well knew the same
Our planter bought her freedom and he married her out of hand
Good usage then she gave to us upon Van Diemen’s Land

Often when I am slumbering I have a pleasant dream
With my sweet girl I am sitting down by some purling stream
Through England I am roaming with her at my command
Then waken 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 see no more
As for our wretched females see them we seldom can
There are twenty to one woman upon Van Diemen’s Land

Come all you gallant poachers give ear unto my song
It is a bit of good advice although it is not long
Lay by your dog and snare to you I do speak plain
If you knew the hardship we endure you ne’er would poach again.

My preference is for the Dubliners’ performance using a modified version of these lyrics.
In the Dubliners’ version there are the lines
There was a girl from Nenagh Town Peg Brophy was her name
For fourteen years transported was for playing of the game.
It should be noted that women were not transported for prostitution, although many of those transported had been ‘on the town’. The bulk were transported for theft and I have yet to find someone transported for theft of a loaf of bread. Most were recidivists and, in my own ancestry, the only person transported following a first offence had been foolish enough to steal money from an officer of the Walsall Corporation. Despite his transportation and time spent at Port Arthur, he outlived his English siblings by twenty years and lived the last third of his life in beautiful St Helens, Tasmania, where he was a respected community member.

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