Australian Folk Songs

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

The Heads of Macquarie Harbour, with the Pilots Residence, ca. 1832 -- Courtesy of the collections of the State Library of NSW.

Macquarie Harbour (1840)

The sun had circled o'er the west
The moon in glittering beauty rose
Each warbling bird fled to its nest
To spend the night in fond repose.

My wearied limbs with colour spent
I laid them down to rest
My tatter'd rags with storms were rent
And troubles fill'd my breast

To think what men are doom'd to bear
What scenes are painted round
My tale might pierce the deepest ear
The hardest heart might wound.

Here stand two isles of cruel land,
Where pity's heart is froze
O'oer spread with Pluto's wretched hand
All men of mighty woes.

Before the morn has warm'd the east
Each man must early rise
To labour all the day like beast
Till darkness clouds the skies.

In open boat on billows tost
Where raging tempests roar
In heavy seas and vapours lost
To ply the labouring oar.

Then to the lonely woods repair
To swing the axe, or mawls,
Each blow with equal force must bear
Till down the timber falls.

The timber then to form in rafts
With chains and staples bound
To build colonial 'trading crafts'
Men drag it off the ground.

When rain in torrents down does pour
They labour all the day
At night they ply the labouring oar
To drag it o'er the way.

When one day's food, not half enough
Each man will now receive
Of coarsest beef, both lean and tough
Which scarce can he perceive.

With want of food they're driven away,
In woods and mountains lost;
To birds and beasts they fall a prey
Upon the cruel coast.

Their wearied limbs, with hunger prest,
Refuse their weight to bear
Their hearts beat slow within the breast
And death salutes their ear.

And thus in grief afflicted sore
They stretch their limbs and die,
Their wither'd flesh by birds is tore
And scattered through the sky.

Poor exiles here forever lost
And left in deep despair
Upon a wretched cruel coast
With murmours ring the air.

Three posts triangle firmly stand
Deep stained with human gore
A picture frame for Pluto's land
Where poor men's flesh is tore.

Where men are bound both hand and foot
Fast to the fatal wood,
From mangled flesh that's basely cut
Runs streams of British blood.

O God! That rul'st o'er sea and land,
What hope to men is given,
Whose woes are num'rous as sea sand
Countless as stars in heaven?

These men that scarce survive from death
Are lost to all that's dear
No friend to know their latest breath
Or drop a conscious tear.

Parents in vain mourn children dear,
Till tears have dimn'd their sight
Expecting from their sons to hear
Who sleeps in tenfold night

My trembling hand no more can write
My aching heart wants rest,
My tears in floods have dimm'd my sight
And troubles fill my breast.

I hope and trust you'll understand
Its truth that I record;
I hope each hand of Pluto's band
May meet a just reward.

By John Thompson, aged 22.


From reports and other papers relating to a visit to the Australian colonies and South Africa, 1832-1840 by J. Backhouse & G. W. Walker. MLB706 Section 2 Report on Macquarie Harbour p 108. Microfilm CY1697 171-2. Many thanks to Don Brian for a number of corrections and additional information.

Macquarie Harbour, a penal settlement on the remote north west coast of Van Diemen's Land, was the known as Hell's Gate and Pluto by the convicts sent there for further punishment.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory