Van Dieman's Land
I've not posted for a while. Here's a song about poaching and transportation.
I first came across this song in 1965 in a little red book called “101 Scottish Songs”. In there, the song was titled “The Poachers” and the source was given as “From Ord's Bothy Ballads”. Some 20 years later, I bought a copy of Roy Palmer's “English Country Song Book” and in it found the same song with one extra verse and a different final verse and with a different tune. I later came across several other versions in the Bodleian Library's Broadside Ballad collection.
An article in Mustrad discusses ballads relating to transportation to Van Diemen's* land in general and refers to this ballad in particular. Van Diemen's land was not normally a first destination for those transported but was used as a transfer destination from other places for convicts who had transgressed further. Transporation for poaching was not common – figures given in the Mustrad article suggest that only about 300 out of about 162 000 males transported. (It seems female poachers were unknown). Roy Palmer suggested that the ballad was written in response to an act of 1828 which provided that if three men were found in a wood after dark and one of them carried a gun or bludgeon all three were liable to transportation for 14 years. Roy Palmer uses this to suggest that the ballad dates from about 1829 or 1830. The ballad gives a pretty graphic description of the conditions in Van Diemen's land and ends with an admonition to give up poaching. The song circulated widely throughout the British Isles and has been found in Ireland and Scotland as well as England. The tune I use is the one I found in 101 Scottish Songs and is a variant of “Dives and Lazarus” but in 6/8 time.
* Note: Van Diemen's land is the correct spelling for the name of the colony (later Tasmania) but the ballads nearly all spell it Van Dieman's land.