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Van Diemen’s Land
(Laws L18; Roud 519)
John Lyons
Newmarket-on-Fergus
Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

John Lyons

Come all you gallant poachers who wander void of care,
Who wander out on a moonlit night with your dog, your gun and snare.
The hare and lofty pheasant you have at your command,
Not thinking of your long career upon Van Diemen’s Land.

Young Thomas Brown from Nenagh town, John Murphy and poor Joe,
Were three determined poachers, as the county well did know.
By the keeper of the land one night the three they were trepanned;
For fourteen years transported unto Van Diemen’s Land.

On the first day that they landed there, upon that fatal shore,
The planters gathered round them, there might be twenty score.
They ranked them up like horses, and they sold them out of hand,
And they yoked them to a plough, me boys, to plough Van Diemen’s Land.

Now the cottages we live in they’re built of sods of mud.
We have rotten straw for bedding, but we dare not say a word.
We ring our hearths with firing and we slumber when we can,
To keep away the wild prey that prowl Van Diemen’s Land.

Now oft’times when I do slumber I have a pleasant dream.
I’m sitting with my own true love, beside a rippling stream.
Or roving through old Ireland with my true love by the hand,
But awaken broken hearted, upon Van Diemen’s Land.

There was a girl from Nenagh town, Peg Brophy was her name,
For fourteen years transported, sure we all well knew the same.
But the planter bought her freedom, and he married her out of hand,
And she gives to us good usage upon Van Diemen’s Land.

And if I had a thousand pounds today, all laid down in my hand,
I’d give it all for liberty, if this I could command.
Again to Ireland I’d return and be a happy man,
And I’d bid farewell to poaching, likewise Van Diemen’s Land.

“Transportation has always been a common theme of traditional song throughout Britain and Ireland. Poaching songs from England were inspired largely by the seizing of ‘common land’ following the Enclosure Acts - a series of United Kingdom Acts of Parliament which enclosed open fields and common land in the country, creating legal property rights to land that was previously considered common. Between 1604 and 1914, over 5,200 individual Enclosure Acts were put into place, enclosing 6.8 million acres of land. Common land was by no means recreational – it enabled impoverished workers on breadline wages to feed their families by ‘taking’ hare, pheasant, or deer. Mill workers and other factory employees living in gardenless terraced cottages in the towns that sprung up around their places of work even had small market gardens on common land to provide vegetables to supplement the family table. All this disappeared when the commons were converted into private estates, largely for the pleasure of the gentry. Poaching became a necessary way of staying alive and the punishment was severe, ranging from heavy fines and imprisonment to transportation for long periods to Australia.

Ireland produced her own repertoire of transportation songs, often centering on dissidents and revolutionaries, John Mitchel being among the best known of these. This version, though it refers to Ireland, almost certainly originated in England; some similar versions actually locate it in Liverpool.”
Jim Carroll

See also
Van Diemen's Land sung by Pat MacNamara


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