Australian Folk Songs

songs | books | records | articles | glossary | links | search | responses | home

The Fenians' Rescue (1923)

A noble fine ship and commander,
Called the Catalpa, they say,
Bore down on the shores of West Australia,
And took six bold Fenians away.

Chorus.
Then come all ye "screws," warders and gaolers,
Remember Perth Regatta day.
Take care of the rest of your Fenians,
Or the Yankees will take them away.

The Perth boats were racing for prizes,
And sporting about all the day,
When the Yankee came close up behind them,
And took six bold Fenians away.

Chorus.

The "Georgette" gave chase with brave warriors,
With orders this Yank to arrest.
When he hoisted his star-spangled banner,
Saying "You'd better not touch us, I guess."

Chorus.

For seven long years they had served
And seven more they had to stay.
For defending their country, Old Ireland.
And for this they were banished away.

Chorus.

Now they are in the States of America
And they have said to the prison, "Goodbye,"
And they'll wear the green flag and shamrock,
And shout for Old Ireland "we're ready to die."

Notes

This maybe the first published version of the ballad usually known as The Catalpa ... from the Western Australian newspaper the Mirror Saturday 24 November 1923 p. 3.

A fragment of the song was earlier published the Perth newspaper the Western Mail Monday 25 December 1916 p. 24:

The favourite verses in which the sympathisers expressed their feelings were a parody of "Botany Bay." A good many have laid claim to the authorship of this effort, and I remember a fight taking place at the back of the wall which surrounds the Roman Catholic Cathedral the "casus belli" being the authorship of those verses. A well-known identity of Perth, years ago, the late William Ryan, told me that he wrote them, and those who remember how "Billy," as everybody called him, used to shine as a clever versifier at election times will not be inclined to dispute his claim. At all events, these were the verses:

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.

Chorus.--(Singing) Tooral-lal-looral-Ial-luddity;
(Also) Tooral-lal-looral-lal-lay;
(Likewise) Tooral-lal-looral-lal-luddity;
(Not forgetting) Tooral-lal-looral-lal-lay.

Below is part of a report of the escape that was published in the Sydney newspaper the Freeman's Journal Saturday 17 June 1876 p.17:

DARING ESCAPE OF SIX FENIAN PRIS ONERS FROM WEST AUSTRALIA. (Fremantle Herald.) On Monday, the 7th April, a daring and well-arranged plan for the escape of a portion of the Fenian prisoners, confined at the Freemantle Convict prison, was successfully carried out and six prisoners, Robert Cranston, Michael Harringson, Thomas Darragh, James Wilson, Thomas Hassett, and Martin Hogan, succeeded in effecting their escape in spite of the most energetic measures on the part of the Government to recapture them.
...
By early morning the Georgette was outside the Rottnest, and at daylight sighted a ahip bearing S.S.E., under full sail. The Georgette hereupon hoisted her pennant and the ensign, end all hands were put under arms. As the Georgette did not gain upon the ship and the wind was refreshing, a gun was fired under the vessel's stern -- and she then ran up the American flag. She gave no further notice of the signal, and the Georgette, under full steam and all sail, gave full chase. As the ship did not attempt to shorten sail, or take any notice of the signal, when the Georgette had steamed to within a quarter of a mile of her, a gun was fired across her bow and the captain of the ship then got into the quarter boat. The Georgette stood on until within hailing distance, when the Superintendent of' the Water Police, Mr. J. F. Stone, addressing the captain, said--
"I demand six escaped prisoners now on board this ship -- in the name of the Governor of Western Australia. I know you and your vessel. I know the men I went are on board, for the police saw them go on board yesterday ; if you don't give them up you must take the consequences."
The Captain answered:--
"I have no prisoners on board."
Mr. Stone replied :--
"You have and I see three of them."
To this the Captain rejoined :--
"I have no prisoners here, all are seamen belonging to the ship."
The wind compelling the Georgette to get away from the ahip, Mr. Stone said to the Captain:--
"I will give you 15 minutes to consider what you will do."
At the end of that time the Georgette again went alongside and Mr. Stone re-demanded the prisoners in the same words as before.
The Captain again replying :--
"I have none on board."
"If you don't give them up" said Mr. Stone, pointing to the sun, "I will fire into you and sink you or disable you."
At this time the pensioners and police were in order with arms ready, and a man at the gun with lighted match.
Nothing alarmed at Mr. Stone's threat or the demonstration made, the Captain cooly replied :--
"I don't care what you do I'm on the high seas and that flag"-- pointing to the American flag he was flying--"protects me."
Mr. Stone replied :--
"You have escaped convicts on board your ship, a misdemeanour against the laws of this colony, and your flag won't protect you in that."
The Captain returned :--
"Yes it will or in felony either."
Mr. Stone then asked :--
"Will you let me board your ship and see for myself?"
And was answered :--
"You shan't board my vessel."
"Then your Government will be communicated with,' said Mr. Stone "and you must take the consequences."
"All right," said the captain, and the interchange of civilities ceased. Mr. Stone had gone as far as he dared go, even a little beyond his instructions, but it was useless, and he had nothing else to do but to return to Fremantle, which he reached about 1 o'clock.

The early return of the steamer gave rise to every kind of conjecture, and as her approach was watched from the shores wagers were freely made as to the cause of her early return. Men declared that the Catalpa, warned of the steps the Governor was taking by the previous visit of the Georgette, had attacked her and beaten her off. Others laid bets that overawed by the determination of force on board the Georgette the captain of the Catalpa had quietly surrendered the runaways. As usual in such cases, the sequel showed that neither was right. When the true condition of affair became known there were some manifestations of indignation at the colony having been fooled by a Yankee skipper. The pensioners and police felt they had been taking part in a very silly farce, and bad been laughed at by the Yankees at sea and the public on shore, and sincerely hoped that instructions would be given to go out again and take the prisoners by force.

The Governor, however, who throughout had acted with most commendable energy and prudence, was not to be led into committing a breach of international law to gratify a feeling of resentment at the cool effrontery of the Yankee, directed that the armed parties on board the Georgette should be dismissed and the vessel returned to the agent, with his Excellency's thanks for the readiness with which the vessel had been placed at his disposal, and for the hearty manner in which both the agent (Mr. M'CIeery), the captain (Mr. M O'Grady), and all concerned had co-operated with him in the matter, at the same time expressing his approbation of the conduct of Mr. Stone. These instructions were carried out, and in a short time the crowds dispersed and the town relapsed into its normal condition of quietude, having suffered three days of the most intense excitement ever experienced in its history.

Top

australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory