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The National Agricultural Laborers' Union Melody Book.
Original Hymns and Songs composed by Edward Richardson, Aylesbury

Published in The Brisbane Courier Thursday 10 July 1873 p.4

and The Queenslander Saturday 12 July 1873 p.7

The leaders of the National Agricultural Laborers' Union are evidently clear-headed, far-seeing men, having a very definite aim, and thoroughly understanding how to accomplish it. They have already organised branch of the Union in nearly every agricultural district in the eastern, western, and midland counties of England, and are still proceeding vigorously with the work; carrying it out, too, with a systematic and deliberate attention to necessary details, which leave no room to doubt that the branches will take root and spread. The Union committee have established a newspaper of their own, which is edited and published by their treasurer, and circulates in every hole and corner of agricultural England. This paper not only gives full accounts of the progress made with Union work week by week in the various branches; the meetings held to establish new branches; the celebrations and discussions; the sufferings and ill-treatment that Union men have been subjected to by their employers, or the local magistrates, poor-law guardians, or other local magnates--but it gives a detailed account of all the moneys received by the trea- surer from all sources, and how the account stands.

But agricultural laborers, as a rule, cannot read sufficiently well to spell their way understandingly through a newspaper when written expressly for them, and those who can do so have to master the subjects and retail them to their more illiterate neighbors second-hand. As the leaders of the Union well know, however, it would never do to depend upon this, and the more formal but less frequent public meetings and speeches, to keep up and spread the enthusiasm in favor of the Union and make known the benefits which it will confer on the laborer: so Mr. Richardson has written a little book of hymns and songs, set to popular and well known tunes. Agricultural laborers, especially laborers' children, although, only half-fed and half-clothed, are fond of singing, and learn tunes and songs or hymns readily enough, even though they cannot read. They sing to while away the weary hours, and dispel the monotony and loneliness of their early labors in the field--such as "crow tenting," stone-picking, and the like. Afterwards they sing at the plough tail, in the hay field, and by the cottage fireside in the long winter nights. The songs so learned are never forgotten through life, and many of them are handed down generation to generation. The present writer has a very vivid recollection of a number of such songs that are still to be heard at "harvest suppers" and similar celebrations in the rural districts of north Warwickshire. Some of these songs are at least as old as the reign of Queen Anne, for they celebrate
the victories of Marlborough at Blenheim and Ramillies. Neither the tunes nor the words, so far as we know, are to be found in any books, printed or manuscript; butthe tunes are simple, and the words, although inclining to what educated people would call "doggerel," are intensely national, stirring, and easy to understand: so they retain their hold on the uneducated agricultural ear and heart, and never fail to elicit applause when trolled out by a good ringing baritone or clear tenor voice--which are not at all uncommon among the agricultural laborers of the district in question.

The leaders of the Agricultural Laborers' Union are fully alive to the importance of providing these people with something that they can and will sing--something that will put new ideas in their heads, and new courage in their hearts. Mr. Richardson's hymns and songs are certain to become popular with the people for whom they are written, because the tunes are already popular, and the words are just such as are best calculated to find their way to the heart of the ignorant laborer. Take the following stanza from the opening hymn tune, "Old Hundredth":--

All people now assembled here,
In union raise a cheerful voice;
Not all the world shall make men fear,
Who in a righteous cause rejoice.

Or the following, to be sung to a common metre tune:--
Rejoice this day, for right at last
Has struck a blow at might:
Stand by the truth, and truth shall win
The battle for the right.

Or the following--tune,

"Spanish Chant:"--
Father, lend a willing ear.
Hear our song, accept our prayer:
Bless the cause we have in hand,
Prosper it throughout the land;
Cheer each aged eye and heart;
Promise all a goodly part.

The above, and a number of other stanzas which might be quoted, are from the "hymns" to be sung at the Union meetings. The dormant energies of the agricultural laborer require frequent singing to keep them active, so the Union meetings are conducted very much in the manner of Methodist prayer meetings--a short exhortation, and then a hymn, in which all join, and then another exhortation and hymn.

But the most popular of these melodies will be the "songs," which are set to such tunes as "Annie Laurie," "Just before the Battle, Mother," "Minnie," "Auld lang syne," "Home, sweet home," "Cheer, boys, cheer," "Tramp, tramp," " When Johnny comes marching home," "Bonnie Dundee," and a number of others which could be named. The following are fair average specimens of the songs:--
Tune--"Bonnie Dundee."
To the big men of England 'twas Johnny who spoke,
No more of your nonsense, or heads might be broke;
Pretty well you have done, I plainly can see,
Still there's room to do better to mine and to me.

To fully appreciate the above, it is necessary to understand that "Johnny," or, more explicitly, "Johnny Whopstraw," is the common term in the midland counties for agricultural laborer.

Tune--"When Johnny comes marching home."
When Joseph Arch, like a man stood up.
Hurrah, hurrah!
The news flew round that the blow was struck, Hurrah. hurrah!
Our hearts were cheered by good prospects then,
And we gladly joined the Union men;
The time shall be when
Every man shall have his rights.

'Twas nobly said, and twas better done, Hurrah, hurrah.
When the lab'ring poor they joined as one,
Hurrah, hurrah!
The masters they were, all put out,
But ne'er a one knew what about;
So Sing with a shout
Every man shall have his rights.

Tune--"Tramp, tramp."
Why should farmers grumble?
Why should landlords mumble?
And, good gracious, why need Bishops be afraid?
Have we not our wages earned?
Have we not our business learned?
Then wherefore should we not live by our trade?

Plough, bogs, plough as straight as ever,
Rust should never show upon the steel:
For the sickle and the plough,
Are the best of friends we know.
If the ploughboy keeps his shoulder to the wheel.

Tune--"Just before the Battle, Mother."
Let not one be e'er downhearted,
When upon a foreign shore:
Want you knew before we parted,
Drove you from your cottage door.

Build a rude hut, fell the timber,
"Rough it" for a little while;
Then these words you will remember,
"You are owners of the soil"

Farewell neighbors, may you ever
Find a friend in time of need;
Let no distance friendship sever,
Each and all we wish you speed.

It would be easy to go on giving extracts, but the above are sufficient to indicate the character of the work, its scope and object, and the manner in which these have been realised.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory