Young Henry the Poacher [song, 1800s]

[Editor: A song, “Young Henry the Poacher”, also known as “Henry’s Downfall”, which was originally printed as a broadside ballad.]

Young Henry the Poacher

Come all you wild and wicked youths wherever you may be,
I pray you give attention and listen unto me,
The fate of us poor transports as you shall understand,
The hardships that we do undergo upon Van Diemen’s Land.

Young men all now beware,
Lest you are drawn into a snare.

My parents reared me tenderly, good learning gave to me,
Till by bad company I was beguiled, which proved my destiny;
I was brought up in Warwickshire, near Southam town did dwell,
My name it is young Henry in Hardourn known full well.

Me and five more went out one night into Squire Dunhill’s park,
To see if we could get some game, the night it proved dark;
But to our great misfortune they trepanned us with speed,
And sent us off to Warwick gaol which made our hearts to bleed.

It was at the March Assizes to the bar we did repair
Like Job we stood with patience, to hear our sentence there;
There being some old offenders, which made our case go hard,
My sentence was for fourteen years, then I was sent on board.

The ship that bore us from the land, the Speedwell was by name,
For full five months and upwards, boys, we ploughed the raging main,
Neither land nor harbour could we see, believe it is no lie,
All around us one black water, boys, above us one blue sky.

I often looked behind me, towards my native shore
That cottage of contentment which we shall see more;
Nor yet my own dear father who tore his hoary hair,
Likewise my tender mother the womb that did me bear.

The fifteenth of September ’twas, then we made the land,
At four o’clock we went on shore all chained hand in hand;
To see our fellow-sufferers we felt I can’t tell how,
Some chained unto a barrow, and others to a plough.

No shoes nor stocking they had on, no hat had they to wear,
But a leather frock and linsey drawers, their feet and heads were bare;
They chained them up by two and two like horses in a team,
Their driver he stood over them with his Malacca cane.

Then I was marched off to Sydney town, without any more delay,
Where a gentleman he bought me his book-keeper to be;
I took this occupation my master liked me well,
My joys were out of measure, and I’m sure no one can tell.

We had a female servant, Rosanna was her name,
For fourteen years a convict she from Wolverhampton came;
We often told our tales of love when we were blest at home,
But now we’re rattling of our chains in foreign lands to roam.

Young Henry the Poacher” [single sheet broadside ballad], H. Such, London (1800s) [reproduced in the “English ballads” section on the website of the National Library of Scotland]
Also available at the website of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Editor’s notes:
linsey = a coarse woven fabric made from linen and wool (or from cotton and wool)

Malacca cane = a walking stick or cane made from the stem of an Asiatic palm plant (from Malacca, in Malaysia)

trepanned = to ensnare (can refer to being press ganged) (in other contexts, it can refer to drilling a core from metal, drilling a shaft in a mine, or drilling a hole in a skull in a medical procedure)

References and further reading:
Birmingham Ballad Printers: Part Three: R – T”, Musical Traditions Internet Magazine [see entry 178 re. “Henry’s Downfall”] (accessed 11 July 2012)
Folklore: Van Diemen’s Land”, Mudcat Café (accessed 11 July 2012)
Henry’s Downfall”, An Australian folk song a day, Tuesday, 27 September 2011(accessed 11 July 2012)
Henry the Poacher / Van Diemen’s Land”, Reinhard Zierke [University of Hamburg] (accessed 11 July 2012)
Roy Palmer. “The Origin of Van Dieman’s Land and Young Henry the Poacher: A Hypothesis”, Folk Music Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2 (1976), pp. 161-164 [on the JSTOR website] (accessed 11 July 2012)
Douglas Steward & Nancy Keesing (editors). Old bush songs and rhymes of colonial times: Enlarged and revised from the collection of A. B. Paterson, Angus & Robertson, London; Sydney, 1957 (1976 edition), page 6
Van Dieman’s Land (II — Young Henry’s Downfall)”, California State University, Fresno (accessed 11 July 2012)
Young Henry the Poacher [catalogue entry for H. Such version, ca. 1855?], National Library of Scotland (accessed 11 July 2012)
Young Henry the Poacher [catalogue entry for J. Catnach version, between 1818 and 1838], National Library of Australia (accessed 11 July 2012)


  1. stephen pennington says:

    Why are there no links to recordings?

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