BOLD JACK DONAHUE
Donahue was a fairly typical convict transport in many ways. He came
from one of the great cities of the British Isles, he was young and he
seems to have been an habitual criminal . He was sentenced in Dublin in
1824 to be transported for seven years, for "intens to commit a
felony." He arrived in Sydney in 1825, took to the bush for the first
time in 1827, was captured and sentenced to death for robbing two carts
with a mate. He escaped and took to the bush again becoming leader of a
gang that ranged over the country between Sydney and the Blue
Mountains. The police caught up with Donahue and two mates in 1830, and
Donahue was killed in the fight.
ballad about him was no doubt sung soon after this, and fat a long
time, seems to have been the most widely sung of all the bushranger
ballads, perhaps of all bush songs. Many different versions have been
collected from singers in Australia. It spread to the British Isles,
where it was printed on the ballad sheets sold in the streets,
apparently in the 1860s. It was taken up by Irish-American music-hall
singers in New York, and was sung by cowboys in Texas and fishermen and
sailors in Nova Scotia. It became one of the most favoured ballads of
Canadian lumberjacks and is still remembered amongst them today.
Shearston learnt this version of the ballad from the singing of A.L.
Lloyd, the English folklorist, who spent some time as a bush worker in
New South Wales in the late 1920s. Lloyd first heard the ballad from
Bob Bell, a rabbiter of Condobolin, New South Wales, and later added
other verses from printed sources. The melody, naturally enough, is
Irish. It is also used for a ballad which tells how Sean Hogan, an
Irish Guerrilla fighter,was rescued from his English captors in 1919
-almost ninety years after Donahue was killed.
carabine - carbine.
dingo - Australian wild dog.
THE CYPRUS BRIG
1829, prisoners on board the Cyprus brig - which was on its way from
Hobart Town to Macquarie Harbour (a penal settlement on the Tasmanian
Coast) - seized the ship, put the crew and guards on shore, and sailed
for China. Most of the fugitives came to a sad end in the long run.
There is a poem about the event, called The Seizure of the Cypress Brig in Recherche Bay, and thought to be the work of the Irish convict known as Frank the Poet.
song shares most of its lines with that poem - though no-one can tell
whether the song or the poem came first - but it borrows its first
verse and melody from some version of Van Diemen's Land, which was
probably the most widely-sung of the many British street ballads about
Shearston learnt the song from the singing of J.H. Davies of Hobart,
who was eighty-eight years old when he recorded the song in 1961 for
the historian Lloyd Robson (who is the author of The Convict Settlers of Australia, one of the most important books about the convicts).
game act - a reference to the various laws which made the poaching of some kinds of game a heavily punished criminal offence.
brig - a type of sailing ship.