[A Very Sad Account of Van Dieman’s Land (the “Lament” of Sarah Collins); and The London ’Prentice-Boy] [April 1839]

[Editor: Two songs regarding two British convicts who had been transported to Australia. The first song was said to have been written by Sarah Collins, a convict in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania); the second song is the tale of an English apprentice boy who was led into committing a crime and then betrayed. Both of the songs are cautionary tales, advising others to stay out of trouble. The following text is an extract from a longer article about English ballads, “Horae Catnachianae. A dissertation on ballads, with a few unnecessary remarks on Jonathan Wild, John Sheppard, Paul Clifford, and —— Fagin, Esqrs.”, published in Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, April 1839.]

[A Very Sad Account of Van Dieman’s Land; and The London ’Prentice-Boy.]

A very sad account of Van Dieman’s Land is given by a lady residing in that country, Sarah Collins by name. She says:—

“They chain us two by two, and whip and lash along,
They cut off our provisions if we do the least thing wrong,
They march us in the burning sun, until our feet are sore,
So hard’s our lot now we are got upon Van Dieman’s shore.

We labour hard from morn to night, until our bones do ache,
Then every one they must obey, their mouldy beds must make;
We often wish, when we lay down, we ne’er may rise no more,
To meet our savage governors upon Van Dieman’s shore.

Every night when I lay down, I wash my straw with tears,
While wind upon that horrid shore do whistle in our ears;
Those dreadful beasts upon that land around our cots do roar;
Most dismal in our doom upon Van Dieman’s shore.

Come all young men and maidens, do bad company forsake,
If tongue can tell our overthrow, it would make your heart to ache;
You girls, I pray, be ruled by me, your wicked ways give o’er,
For fear, like us, you spend your days upon Van Dieman’s shore.”

Miss Collins states that highway robbery was the cause of her visit to Van Dieman’s Land; where she was less lucky than the “London ’Prentice-Boy,” who appears, from his own account, to be not uncomfortably established in that colony. “Sin,” he says, “did him decoy,” as it had done George Barnwell, in the shape of a lady, who persuaded him to rob his master. The ’prentice-boy gives the following account of the transaction, which, while it shows much culpable weakness on his part, proves, at least, that the poor fellow was not totally hardened, and is now strongly sensible of his error:—

It was the hour of twelve at night, I to my master went,
And for to rob and murder him it was my full intent.
I took one hundred sovereigns, the knife I threw away
He was a master good and kind to the London ’prentice-boy.

Then I return’d with utmost speed, unto my flashy dame,
And when the money I did shew, she soon received the same.
Then I was took to prison; it did my hopes destroy,
And barr’d in a loathsome cell was the London ’prentice-boy.

And when my trial it came on, my heart was filled with woe:
The girl that long did maintain she proved my bitter foe.
She was dress’d in silks and satins then, and sore did me annoy,
She tried to swear away the life of the London ’prentice-boy.

My sister came to speak to me, the only friend I have;
My parents they are dead and gone, and laid low in the grave.
My sentence it was passed for life — I caused the court to cry:
A scornful dame had caused the same to the London ’prentice-boy.

Then I was sent across the sea, likewise three hundred more,
Some did sing and some did cry, their hearts were griev’d full sore;
Our governor he noticed me, and gave me slight employ,
But still I think on happy days, when a London ’prentice-boy.

Come all you wild young people, and take advice by me,
If you did know, what I do know, you’d shun bad company:
I have situation, which few that here enjoy,
But ne’er again can free remain, like a London ’prentice-boy.



Source:
Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, Vol. XIX, January to June 1839, James Fraser, London, [1839], pages 414-415

Editor’s notes:
The full article, “Horae Catnachianae. A dissertation on ballads, with a few unnecessary remarks on Jonathan Wild, John Sheppard, Paul Clifford, and —— Fagin, Esqrs.”, was about the ballads printed and sold by James Catnach, of London, who was a well-known publisher of ballad sheets and cheap literature for the common people.

The “Lament” of Sarah Collins was also published in two reviews of the article from Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country:
Horae Catnachianae. — A dissertation on ballads”, The Launceston Advertiser (Launceston, Tas.), 21 November 1839, page 2 of the supplement
Literature”, Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas.), 3 December 1839, page 390 (6th page of that issue)

References:
Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, Vol. XIX, January to June 1839, James Fraser, London, [1839], pages 407-420
Charles Hindley, The Life and Times of James Catnach : (Late of Seven Dials), Ballad Monger, Reeves and Turner, London, 1878, page 1

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