Australian Folk Songs

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Rebel Song (1913)

The refrain of this song was the motto of Wat Tyler's rebels, who marched upon London in 1381.

"When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?"

Wretched is the infant's lot,
Born within the straw-roof'd cot;
Be he generous, wise, or brave,
He must only be a slave.
Long, long labor, little rest,
Still to toil, to be oppressed;
Drain'd by taxes of his store,
Punish'd next for being poor;
This is the poor wretch's lot,
Born within the straw-roof'd cot.

While the peasant works--to sleep,
What the peasant sows--to reap,
Oft the couch of ease to lie,
Rioting in revelry;
Be he villain, be he fool,
Still to hold despotic rule,
Trampling on his slaves with scorn!
This is to be nobly born.
"When Adam delved arid Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?"

--Robert Southey.


From the Sydney Newspaper the Australian Worker Thursday 9 March 1916 p. 9.

This song was included in Southey's 1794 radical play Wat Tyler. The couplet "When Adam delved arid Eve span/ Who was then the gentleman?" was a favourite expression of the rebel priest John Ball, who like Wat Tyler was a leader of the Peasants' Revolt against the feudal system and the poll tax it tried to imposed.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory