Words: Francis MacNamara, 1830s
Melody: Traditional Irish
Arranged: Miguel Heatwole, 1990
Francis MacNamara was transported from his native Ireland in 1832 to spend fifteen years in the brutal penal colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land. He combined a talent for satirical verse with an implacably rebellious spirit – for which he earned the nick-name ‘Frank the Poet’ from his fellow convicts, but repeated floggings, hard labour, and solitary confinement from the authorities. The song we know as Moreton Bay celebrates the death in 1830 of a debased torturer named Patrick Logan, and is taken from a longer poem called The Convict’s Arrival. It is not certain what tune MacNamara himself may have used for it, the traditional Irish tune Youghal Harbour has had that honour since at least the 1950s.
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 riverbank he lay.
“I am a native of Erin’s island
And banished now from my native shore.
They tore me from my agéd parents
And from the maiden whom 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 those settlements I’ve worked in chains.
But of all places of condemnation
And penal stations of 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 with flogging has been lacerated
And often painted with my crimson gore.
And many a prisoner from downright starvation
Lies mouldering now underneath the clay.
And Captain Logan he had us mangled
At the triangles of Moreton Bay.
Like the Egyptians and ancient Hebrews
We were oppressed under Logan’s yoke
‘Til a native black lying there in ambush
Did give our 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 suffering shall fade from mind.