Taking His Chance [poem by Henry Lawson]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses, 1896.]

Taking His Chance

They stood by the door of the Inn on the Rise;
May Carney looked up in the bushranger’s eyes:
‘Oh! why did you come? — it was mad of you, Jack;
You know that the troopers are out on your track.’
A laugh and a shake of his obstinate head —
‘I wanted a dance, and I’ll chance it,’ he said.

Some twenty-odd bushmen had come to the ‘ball,’
But Jack from his youth had been known to them all,
And bushmen are soft where a woman is fair,
So the love of May Carney protected him there;
And all the short evening — it seems like romance —
She danced with a bushranger taking his chance.

’Twas midnight — the dancers stood suddenly still,
For hoofs had been heard on the side of the hill!
Ben Duggan, the drover, along the hillside
Came riding as only a bushman can ride.
He sprang from his horse, to the shanty he sped —
‘The troopers are down in the gully!’ he said.

Quite close to the homestead the troopers were seen.
‘Clear out and ride hard for the ranges, Jack Dean!
‘Be quick!’ said May Carney — her hand on her heart —
‘We’ll bluff them awhile, and ’twill give you a start.’
He lingered a moment — to kiss her, of course —
Then ran to the trees where he’d hobbled his horse.

She ran to the gate, and the troopers were there —
The jingle of hobbles came faint on the air —
Then loudly she screamed: it was only to drown
The treacherous clatter of slip-rails let down.
But troopers are sharp, and she saw at a glance
That someone was taking a desperate chance.

They chased, and they shouted, ‘Surrender, Jack Dean!’
They called him three times in the name of the Queen.
Then came from the darkness the clicking of locks;
The crack of the rifles was heard in the rocks!
A shriek and a shout, and a rush of pale men —
And there lay the bushranger, chancing it then.

The sergeant dismounted and knelt on the sod —
‘Your bushranging’s over — make peace, Jack, with God!’
The bushranger laughed — not a word he replied,
But turned to the girl who knelt down by his side.
He gazed in her eyes as she lifted his head:
‘Just kiss me — my girl — and — I’ll — chance it,’ he said.

Henry Lawson. In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1903 [first published 1896], pages 103-105

[Editor: Added closing quotation mark to the end of ‘Surrender, Jack Dean!’.]


  1. Alister Baker says:

    Can anyone tell me whether Jack Dean was a real person ?

  2. Jack Dean, the bushranger character referred to in Henry Lawson’s poem, does not appear to have been a real person.

    Jack Dean, or John Dean, does not appear in several books of bushrangers that have been checked.

    Nor does he appear in the Australian Dictionary of Biography; although there is an entry for John Horace Deane (1842-1913), miner, pastoralist and politician.

    A search through the National Library’s historical newspapers on-line (Trove), from the earliest newspapers up to 1900, did not reveal any Jack Dean, or John Dean, who could be described as a bushranger.

    Perhaps ironically, there was a convict named John Dean who received a Ticket-of-Leave, “as a reward for praiseworthy conduct in the apprehension of Bushrangers”, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2953647

    As a relatively common name, there are many instances of a John Dean (or John Deane) being charged with various offences, such as:
    * John Dean, robber http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2197733 [also described as John Deans, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article42006234 ]
    * John Deane, cattle thief http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2202930, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2204322 [“sentenced to be transported out of the Colony for the term of his natural life”, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32151340 ]
    * John Dean, charged “with stealing some wood the property of his mother, ordered to pass 6 months at hard labour on the roads”, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8751186
    * John Dean, fined “the sum of 40s. and costs, for furiously driving a water-dray through George street”, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12872196
    * John Dean, who murdered his wife, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87942652, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18682054
    * John Deane, a Melbourne larrikin, charged with wilfully damaging property, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66158368
    * John Dean charged with “interfering with some ladies in George-street in a disgusting manner” and “for behaving in an indecent manner … was sentenced to 24 hours’ imprisonment, and will have 15 lashes”, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article82594948

    And, just to show that drinking and drugs are not only modern-day problems, there was:
    * John Dean, known as Jack the Devil, who drank himself to death, as the result of a bet over being able to drink 30 glasses of gin, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60133469
    * John Fitzpatrick Dean, a habitual user of of opium, chlorodyne, and laudanum, died from taking laudanum, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article90557043 [laudanum contains about 10% powdered opium, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laudanum ]

    So, whilst a search revealed no bushranger by the name of Jack Dean or John Dean, at least it brought up some items of historical interest.

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