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The Wild Colonial Boy

[ Roud 677 ; Laws L20 ; Henry H750 ; AFS 97 ; Ballad Index LL20 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd recorded this bushranger ballad in 1956 for his Riverside LP Australian Bush Songs and a year later for the Wattle album The Banks of the Condamine and Other Bush Songs. Like all tracks of the latter album this was reissued in 1960 on the Topic LP Outback Ballads. A third recording for the 1971 album The Great Australian Legend was reissued in 1994 on the Australian CD The Old Bush Songs. Lloyd wrote on the latter LP's backside:

In bush tradition, and in the folk song revival, this is surely the most widely sung of all bushranger ballads. Who the Wild Colonial Boy was, we do not know, nor whether his native home was Castlemain, Co. Kerry, or ditto in Victoria. Was his name Dowling, Dolan, Doolan, Duggan? Did he “commence his wild career” in 1861, 63, 64? The sundry versions of the ballad do not agree on these and many other points. Nowadays, we generally presume he wasn't a true-life character, but a mythological composite hero, the great archetypal Australian outlaw of the 1860s and 70s. The ballad goes to various tunes, of which the most dismal is the most familiar one, made by an Irish stage comedian, c. 1900. That's not the one we use.

and in the accompanying booklet:

Desperate escaped convicts, Irishmen carrying on the old fight against English authority, men who had lost all the had in the Gold Rush of the 1850's, set the pattern for the “peculiar institution” of bushranging. Some Australians will tell you that a good part of the national character is in the outlaw ballad of The Wild Colonial Boy. Who was the Wild Colonial Boy? In various versions of the song he's named as Jack Doolan, Jack Dowling, Jim Duggan, John Dollard, anyway, J.D. like John Donahue. The day when he “commenced his wild career” is usually given as 1861. Most versions agree that he stuck up the Beechworth mail-coach and robbed Judge McEvoy. Well, there was a Judge Macoboy, and the Beechworth mail-coach was stuck up, but that was by the bushranger Harry Power, and the judge wasn't a passenger. Perhaps the Wild Colonial Boy never existed, and his song is simply a re-make of the ballad about Jack Donahue. Whatever the case, it became something like a rival to Waltzing Matilda for the title of “unofficial national anthem”.

Margaret Barry sang The Wild Colonial Boy to Bill Leader in Hampstead, London, in 1955. This track was included on her Topic albums Street Songs and Fiddle Tunes (1957) and Her Mantle So Green (1965, CD 1994), and in 1998 on the Topic anthology A Story I'm Just About to Tell (The Voice of the People Volume 8). Another recording made by Peter Kennedy was included in 1995 on the Saydisc CD Traditional Songs of Ireland.

The Galliards sang The Wild Colonial Boy in 1963 on their album England's Great Folk Group.

Brian Mooney sang The Wild Colonial Boy in 1963 on the album Moreton Bay and in the following year on Australian Folk Night. Martyn Wyndham-Read, Phyl Vinnicombe, and/or Peter Dickie sang it on their 1967 album Bullockies, Bushwackers & Booze.

The Halliard sang Wild Colonial Boy in a 1968 recording session was was finally released on 2006 on their CD The Last Goodnight.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang Wild Colonial Boy on their 1969 album Ian Campbell and the Ian Campbell Folk Group with Dave Swarbrick. The album's sleeve notes commented:

Australia has many songs about the hush-rangers, lawless men who were often escaped convicts, and who lived by the gun and held the countryside to ransom. These men were often regarded as heroes in the Robin Hood mould and received help and encouragement from the poor settlers, many of whom were familiar with the penal settlements. Several sources claim that the Donahoe-Colonial Boy saga was originally sung, as it is here, to the tune of The Wearing of the Green, but because of its association with the Irish rising of 1798 the tune was banned by the Australian government and its use became a punishable offence.

The Clancy Brothers with Louis Killen sang The Wild Colonial Boy live at the Bushnell Auditorium in Hartford, Connecticut, on March 17, 1972. A recording of this concert was released in the following year as Live on St. Patrick's Day. This track was also included in 2000 on the CD reissue of their anthology Greatest Hits.

Fred Whiting sang The Wild Colonial Boy on the Veteran Tapes cassette Songs Sung in Suffolk Vol. 2 (Veteran VT102, ca. 1987). This recording was also included in 1999 on the EFDSS CD Root & Branch 1: A New World and in 2000 on the Veteran CD Songs Sung in Suffolk. John Howson commented:

Roy Palmer writes of this song, that it “seems second only to Waltzing Matilda as the quintessential Australian song”, but it is also widely known in Britain. It probably derives from the career of John Donahue, a Dublin man transported for life in 1825 and killed by troopers in 1830. Fred told me that a local singer, Jack Abbott from Ashfield, was the first man he heard sing the Wild Colonial Boy: “He'd done 21 years in the Navy, and I learned some of it from him, but I didn't have it all so I sent away to Dublin for that.” Fred would probably have written to Walton's Music Shop and the song still appears in their New Treasury of Irish Songs and Ballads, Part 2 (1966), with the same story but a slightly different word set.

James Fagan sang The Wild Colonial Boy in 1999 on his and Nancy Kerr's Fellside CD Steely Water.

Norma Waterson sang The Wild Colonial Boy—a hommage to Margaret Barry”as a digital download bonus track of her and Eliza Carthy's 2018 album Anchor.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings The Wild Colonial Boy

It's of a wild colonial boy, Jack Dolan was his name,
From the Colony of Victoria, not so far from Castlemain.
He was his father's only son, his mother's pride and joy,
And so dearly did his parents love their wild colonial boy.

When he was sixteen years of age he left his native home,
All through the bush of Australia as an outlaw to roam.
He robbed the wealthy squatters and their stock he did destroy,
And a terror to Australia was the wild colonial boy.

In eighteen hundred and sixty-one he commenced his wild career,
His courage being undaunted and no danger he did fear.
He baled up the Beechworth mail-coach, then he robbed Judge MacEvoy,
Who trembling cold gave up his gold to the wild colonial boy.

He bade the judge, “Good morning,” and he told him to beware,
He'd never robbed a poor man nor one that acted square,
But a judge that would rob a mother of her only pride and joy,
Well, he was a worse outlaw than the wild colonial boy.

One day as he was riding the mountainside along,
Listening to the kookaburra's pleasant laughing song,
He spied three mounted troopers, Kelly, Davis, and Fitzroy,
With a warrant for the capture of the wild colonial boy.

“Surrender now, John Dolan, you see we're three to one,
Surrender in the Queen's name, for you're a plundering son.”
Jack drew his pistol from his belt and he waved the little toy.
“I'll fight but never surrender,” said the wild colonial boy.

He fired at Trooper Kelly and he brought him to the ground,
But in return Bob Davis gave him his mortal wound.
All shattered through the jaws he lay, still firing at Fitzroy,
And that's the way they captured him, the wild colonial boy.

A.L. Lloyd on The Banks of the Condamine

It's of a wild colonial boy, Jack Dolan was his name,
Of poor but honest parents he was born in Castlemaine.
He was his father's only son, his mother's pride and joy,
And so dearly did his parents love their wild colonial boy.

When he was sixteen year of age he left his native home,
All through the bush of Victoria as a bushranger to roam.
They put him in the iron gang in the government employ
He robbed the wealthy squatters and their stock he did destroy,
But never an iron on earth could hold the wild colonial boy.

In sixty-one this daring lad commenced his wild career,
His courage being undaunted and no danger he did fear.
He stuck up the Beechworth mail-coach and he robbed Judge MacEvoy,
Who trembling cold gave up his gold to the wild colonial boy.

He bade the judge, “Good morning,” and he told him to beware,
He'd never robbed a poor man or one who acted square,
But a judge that would rob a mother of her only pride and joy,
Well, he was a worse outlaw than the wild colonial boy.

One day as he was riding the mountainside along,
A-listening to the kookaburra's pleasant laughing song,
He spied three mounted troopers, Kelly, Davis, and Fitzroy,
With a warrant for the capture of the wild colonial boy.

“Surrender now, John Dolan, you see we're three to one,
Surrender in the Queen's name, for you're a plundering son.”
Jack drew his pistol from his belt and he waved the little toy.
“I'll fight but never surrender,” said the wild colonial boy.

He fired at Trooper Kelly and he brought him to the ground,
And in return Bob Davis gave him his mortal wound.
All shattered through the jaws he lay with his pistol an empty toy,
And that's the way they captured him, the wild colonial boy.

Fred Whiting sings The Wild Colonial Boy

His parent's came from Ireland, Jack Duggan was his name,
He was born and raised in Ireland in a place called Castlemaine.
He was his father's only son: his mother's pride and joy,
And dearly did his parent's love the wild colonial boy.

At hammer-throwing Jack was great and tossing the caman,
He led the boys in all their pranks from dusk to early morn.
At poaching trout, without a doubt, he was the real macoy;
He was the pride of the countryside; the wild colonial boy.

At the early age of sixteen years, he left his native home
And to Australia's sunny land as a bush ranger did roam.
He robbed the rich, he helped the poor, he shot judge MacEvoy,
And a terror to Australia was the wild colonial boy.

He loved the prairie and the bush where rangers rode along,
With his gun stuck in his holster he would sing a merry song.
But if a foe should cross his path and seek him to destroy.
They got sharp-shooting for sure from Jack, the wild colonial boy.

For two more years this daring youth ran a wild career
With a head that knew no danger and a heart that knew no fear.
He robbed the wealthy squatters and their arms he did destroy
And woe to all who dared to fight the wild colonial boy.

One morning on the mountain-side Jack Duggan rode along,
And listening to the mockingbird, while whistling a charming song,
Three mounted troopers hove in sight, Kelly, Davis, and Fitzroy.
And they all set out to capture him, the wild colonial boy.

“Surrender now, Jack Duggan, come, you see it's eye-to-eye.
Surrender in the Queen's name, sir, you are a highwayman.”
Jack drew two pistols from his side and glared upon Fitzroy.
“I'll fight but I won't surrender!” cried the wild colonial boy.

He fired a shot at Kelly then, that brought him to the ground,
And he fired point-blank at Davis too, who fell dead at the sound.
But a bullet, it pierced his brave young heart from the pistol of Fitzroy.
And that is the way they captured him, the wild colonial boy.

Acknowledgements

Lyrics transcribed from The Old Bush Songs by Reinhard Zierke. See also Mark Gregory's quite different verses in his Australian Folk Songs entry.