Australian Folk Songs

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The Gallows Tree

Hurrah ! for the gallows, so grim and old,
Hurrah ! for the gallows tree,
Who rears his head on the prison front,
And chuckles with dismal glee--
A jolly old English institute,
A thing of the olden time,
As he airs himself in the morning mist,
And creaks out his jubilant rhyme.

Hurrah ! for the gallows, so gaunt and old,
Hurrah ! for the gallows tree ;
I laugh as I look at the gaping crowd,
There's plenty more work for me.
Huzza ! huzza ! for the jolly sight,
Huzza ! for the merry show,
The chaplain and sheriff all standing above,
The policemen ranged below.

The theatre plays, where men feign death,
Are well for women and boya,
But to see a man dying in writhing pain
Is the bravest and sternest of joys.
The parson be stands in the neighbouring church.
And he preaches to souls fourscore,
How Jesus reprieved the condemned one, and bade
Her go forth and sin no more.

But I preach a sermon in front of the gaol,
And a brave congregation have I,
For I show them a man's last agonized throes,
And his last faint choking cry.
The habitué sits in his opera stall,
And looks on the last new pas  
And applauds Cerito's aerial bounds,
And her graceful entrechats ;
My habitues stand with staring eyes
In the street all muddy and wet,
While my figurant dances his horrible dance,
His convulsive pirouette.

A government tutor am I, and when
I am advertised to preach,
Thousands of scholars flock to hear
The moral lessons I teach.
They are most of them promising pupils and apt,
And I look with a fatherly eye
As the dear rogues pick pockets in front of the stags
Where the man is about to die.
My cousin, the rack, he has long been dead,
My father, the axe, is gone,
But the brave old gallows outlives them all,
And stands In his glory alone.

They feel I'm a sort of time-hallowed abuse,
And they don't like to let me go,
So they give me a woman or man now and then,
To keep up the merry old show.
I laugh in my sleeve sometimes, when I think
What a farce it is to see
How ashamed the officials are, ha ! ha !
Of their jolly old gallows tree ;
They drag me out of the lock-up shed,
And fix me up in the night,
And hasten me down when I've choked the man,
And hurry me out of sight.

Then flourish the gallows, the drop, and the rope,
And the rest of toe horrible show--
The prostration, the terror, the pallid despair,
The leap and the quivering throe ;
And hurrah ! for the emblem of English law,
The old constitutional tree ;
And when next there's a man to be choked like a dog,
There'll be work for the hangman and me.
Hurrah ! for the gallows, so gaunt and old,
Hurrah ! for the gallows tree ;
I laugh as I look at the gaping crowd,
There's plenty more work for me.

Sydney, May, 1858. C. J. W.


From the Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday 2 June 1858 p. 8.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory