Australian Folk Songs
songs | books | records | articles | glossary | links | search | responses | home
A noble whale ship and commander
Called the Catalpa, they say
Came out to Western Australia
And took six poor Fenians away
So come all you screw warders and jailers
Remember Perth regatta day
Take care of the rest of your Fenians
Or the Yankees will steal them away
Seven long years had they served here
And seven long more had to stay
For defending their country Old Ireland
For that they were banished away
You kept them in Western Australia
Till their hair began to turn grey
When a Yank from the States of America
Came out here and stole them away
Now all the Perth boats were a-racing
And making short tacks for the spot
But the Yankee she tacked into Fremantle
And took the best prize of the lot
The Georgette armed with bold warriors
Went out the poor Yanks to arrest
But she hoisted her star-spangled banner
Saying you'll not board me I guess
So remember those six Fenians colonial
And sing o'er these few verses with skill
And remember the Yankee that stole them
And the home that they left on the hill
Now they've landed safe in America
And there will be able to cry
Hoist up the green flag and shamrock
Hurrah for old Ireland we'll die
First published in Three Street Ballads in 1957 This version was collected by Russel Ward from Victor Courtney a journalist on the Sunday Times, Perth, Western Australia, who commented, "I remember in my early days as a cadet hearing a band of old boys in a pub in Fremantle singing this song. It is said that the song became so popular that it was banned by the authority of the day and jail was threatened to anyone caught singing it. It was suggested, too, that the escape was made easy because there was plenty of American gold and some of it was placed in the hands of unscrupulous warders. The incident took place in April 1876."
The escape of the six Fenians from Freemantle Jail was funded by collections in Australia and the United States. Over three thousand pounds was collected in Australia.
Several tunes are associated with this song, including tunes used for 'Botany Bay' and 'The Dying Stockman'. The tune given here is a variant of 'Rosin the Bow'.
An early published fragment of the song was published in the West Australian Wednesday 5 February 1902 p. 3.:--
Some years after private letters were received in Western Australia, one from John Boyle O'Reilly, and another from Collins, which explained the whole of the plot. An American newspaper arrived about the same time, giving the whole details of the plan and the escape, and in this journal it was stated that O'Reilly had admitted that he was largely responsible for the design which had enabled the six men to escape.
Even in those days, the music hall custom of seizing upon prominent events of the day for topical allusions was not unknown in Western Australia, and it is not surprising that such an exciting occurrence should have been availed of by local versifiers. Within a week of the escape, the following doggerel was sung with great gusto in the streets and elsewhere, to the tune of "Botany Bay":
The Georgette was manned by brave warriors,
Who resolved the Catalpa to chase;
But they hoisted their star-spangled banner,
Saying. "You'd better not touch us, I guess."
Now all you brave warders and gaolers,
Remember that glorious day;
Take care of the rest of your Fenians,
Or the Yankees will steal them away.
Singing, tooral lal looral lal laddity,
(Also) tooral lal looral lal lay.
(Likewise) tooral lal ooral lal laddity.
(Not forgetting) tooral lal looral lal lay.
See in this collection The Fenians' Rescue published in the WA newspaper the Mirror in 1923.
australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory