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The Convict's Fate, or Crushed by Law (1888)

Beneath the rocks as stockman Bill
Rode carelessly along,
And pouch'd his pipe and slouch'd his hat,
And hum'd a rude bush song,
He spied a heap of whitened bones
And rein'd his dancing dapple gray
And from the saddle sprung.
A dagger lay beside the bones
Rust coated to the haft,
By pistol brace and heavy purse
He guess'd the dead man's craft.

"Starv'd," growl'd Bill, "and judge him right,
Them devils live like snakes,
They drill a skull and grab a purse
Within a brace of shakes."
"He's doad, he's dead, and dam'd I 'spose,
So I'll e'en let him lay,
I'll grab his gear and hold my tongue,
And stow the swag away."

"Hold, Bill ! he's dead and judge him not,
For if you only knew
Those eyeless sockets once like gems
Held eyes of laughing blue.
Those whitened ribs once held a heart
That hearts like thine outrie,
His free soul shone in open brow
And beam'd from kindly eye.
Then scorn thou not his poor remains
That lie without a shroud,
Those crumbling bones a manly form
Bore firm, erect and proud.

By harsh-toned laws and measures harsh,
By men inhuman driven,
Than their's, by far, I'll stake my oath
His soul is nearer heaven.
He flew from mankind's taunt and jeer,
Which long his heart harass'd.
Hate fir'd his blighted life and well
Aveng'd his bitter past.

For petty crime done far away
They shipp'd him from his shore,
Begirt in folds of felon chains
Across the ocean's roar.
And here upon our sunny land
His tedious years roll'd on,
The poor "lag's" time at length expired
And freedom claims her son.
Claims him for what ? ay ! frown ye gods !
To wear the felon brand,
To starve him in the face of Heaven,
To hunt him o'er the land.

He knelt and swore a dreadful oath :
"Please Heaven, or please it hell,
I'll rest not till my pinking iron
Sounds many a funeral knell."
"If there is One who reigns above
That marks the deeds of men,
And sends their souls to realms of love
Or hades darkest den,
He'll judgo aright both me and those
Who made mankind my foe ;
He knows my heart, He knows my woes,
He won't be hard on Joe."

"Mankind 'gainst me have rais'd their hand,
And yet I'm of their herd,
By pride, by law's oppression damn'd
Of rest, of work debarr'd.
Aha ! I'll steep this hand in blood,
That wore the felon's chain,
It might be law, ye craven's hear,
I'll revel 'mong your slain ;
The echo of my ringing shot
Both town and bush shall know,
And hearts of pride shall tremble yet
Before the felon Joe."

He sought dark Tim and hardy Ned,
Two mates of deeper dye,
Whose quick, unerring aim was death,
Whose stool was seldom dry ;
And there, beneath the blue gum's shade,
Each grasp'd his fellow's hand
In circle firm, and soundly swore
True to the death to stand.

Their deeds renowned, and murders foil,
I will not here relate.
Enough ! who dons the outlaw's life
Must bear the outlaw's fate.
But, harsher grown, a station lone
Their ruthless ravage stood ;
Husband and wife together moan,
Fast blending blood with blood,
And o'or their clay a daughter young
Her ceaseless moaning kept,
In agony her hands she wrung
And raving screamed and wept.

"There Joe," growled Ned, "drag out that wench."
Steel stills a dulcet voice,
Be quick, old pal, our law is lynch,
I ask no favors twice.
Her sobbing ceased, her dark eyes blaze,
Sho turns them full on Joe,
Her maiden instinct read that gaze
Unharm'd he'll let her go.

He leads her forth with "courage girl,
On me their shot or knife,
I'm tired of blood, I'll brave them both,
I'vo sworn to save thy life."
He flung her saddle on her steed,
He swung the maid from earth,
She's seated fast, in lightning speed
He buckles up the girth.
"Ride on for life, and cover keep,
As swift you round the swamp,
Their shots are dead, so haste thee maid
And warn your neighboring camp."

He leapt upon his ready steed,
And through the trees he flash'd,
As bough and osier sway'd and bent
And crackling wattle crash'd.
Ha ! Tim and Ned mount frothing wild,
With eyes of murderous glare ;
Drive home thy spurs, my gallant Joe,
None need such vengeance dare.
They're crashing on in wild career,
They're dashing up the hill--
Hurrah! far up beyond their shot
Brave Joe is leading still.
Bravo ! bravo ! the thwarted foe
Are run in forest deep,
As darkness waves her raven plumes
And lulls the day to sleep.

But, ere the light of morning dawns,
The bloodhounds scent his lair.
With oath, and kick, and iron hands
They grasp him by his hair.
"Come out, come out, you sneaking lout,
And got your nag astride ;
We'll break your bones, we'll drink your blood,
And strip your craven hide."
Through trackless bush they guard him on,
They reach the gum tree shade,
Where howls and curses burst anon--
"Here was our compact made,"
"And here, by all that's high in Heaven,
Or all that's dark in hell,
Short space for prayer, or whining s given,
This death-shot rings thy knell.

"Nay ! burn his eyes," roar'd swarthy Tim,
"And hear the beggar's squalls,
A stab or shot's too swift for him
Who rounded on his pals ;
So let me hold his napper up
And heat your muzzle red,
We'll make his top-lights dancing hiss,
And trickle from his head."

He's bound, the iron seared those orbs,
Destroying sight and hue,
It, hissing, lapped the moisture up
That fed those gems of blue.
A curtain black before his eyes
Supplanted morning's light,
"Return and give me death, he cries,
Ye hounds of hell and night.

A mocking laugh resounded far,
And Joe was loft alone,
In frenzy wild he's raving there
With sight and senses gone.
But reeling on he found that height
With curses, prayers and groans,
He leapt--his soul has taen its flight
And you have found his bones.

Crow's Nest, March 9th, 1888.


From the Brisbane Newspaper the Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs General Advertiser 10 Mar 1888 p. 5.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory