> Martin Carthy > Songs > Virginny
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Virginny / Australia

[ Roud 1488 ; Ballad Index FaE012 ; Bodleian Roud 1488 ; trad.]

Martin Carthy recorded the transportation ballad Virginny for his 1976 album Crown of Horn and sang it live at the Folkfestival '76 Dranouter. He commented in his album's sleeve notes:

Charles Gamblin, a helper of the folksong collector George Gardiner, obtained Virginny from a Mrs Goodyear just outside Basingstoke. Mr Gamblin was considered unreliable as a notator of tunes by some who felt it necessary to double-check his finds, but this one seems to be all right. The song dates from before the American War of Independence when the British Establishment used Virginia and the Carolinas as a dumping ground for their social effluent. Victims served out their sentences in slavery, and, at the end, if they survived, often stayed to work the land for their own benefit. Many subsequently became extremely wealthy. The song seems only to have been collected twice—the other time from the East Anglian singer Bob Hart, in whose mouth the location is Australia.

Bob Hart sang a later version with the convicts' destination Australia on his 1973 LP Songs from Suffolk; this recording was also included on the Topic anthology Hidden English: A Celebration of English Traditional Music. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Transportation to Australia was a popular theme for sentimental balladry throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. Like most of the convicts, most of the songs came rather from the towns than the countryside. So with this one, by the sound of it. Though probably widely sung in the past, the song has dwindled almost out of sight and earshot now, and as far as I know, Bob's is the unique version, unreported elsewhere. It has acquired a verse from Van Diemen's Land (The farmers they stand with their whips in their hand / They yoke us like horses to plough up their land.)

Cyril Poacher sang Australia in a 1974 home recording by Tony Engle and Keith Summers on his Topic album The Broomfield Wager: Traditional Songs from Suffolk and on his 2004 Musical Traditions CD Plenty of Thyme.

Rod Stradling sang Australia in 1971 on Oak's album Welcome to Our Fair; it was included in 2003 on their Musical Traditions 2 CD set, Country Songs and Music. He commented in the latter's booklet:

Rod learned this from Bob Hart; he and his neighbour Cyril Poacher both had this song. Cyril learned it from Bob Scarce, who probably learned it, as did Hart, from Walter “Yinka” Friend—with whom both had worked for many years in Snape Maltings; he was said to have been the first person in the area to have sung it.

It is one of a considerable number of transportation songs in the traditional repertoire, but is unusual in the nature and motive of the crime—highway robbery, “to keep her like a lady”; more often it's poaching, brought about by necessity. Also, and contrary to certain record sleeve-notes, the song owes little to Van Diemen's Land, but is clearly derived from a much earlier song called Virginny (a fragment of which was collected from Mrs Goodyear, of Axford, Hants, by George Gardiner in 1907), with the transport's destination having been changed to Australia when this became current (i.e. post “First Fleet”). This explains why the song is unusual; in the 18th century highwaymen were transported to Virginia—in the 19th they were topped!

The process of keeping songs up-to-date goes on—there is a version on tape where Cyril Poacher sings the second stanza of the first verse:

For when I was a young man, my age seventeen,
I ought to been serving Elizabeth, our Queen …

Geoff Ling sang Australia to Keith Summers in January 1971. Another recording made by John Howson was released in 1987-9 on the Veteran Tapes cassette Songs Sung in Suffolk Vol 3 and in 2000 on the Veteran CD Songs Sung in Suffolk. John Howson noted:

Australia was used as a place of transportation from 1787 until the eventual abolition of the practice in 1868. It was a recurrent theme of songs written during this time, and many of them, such as Van Diemen's Land, have survived in oral circulation. Versions of Australia have been passed from singer to singer in the Blaxhall area. There are recordings of Cyril Poacher and Bob Hart singing it. The song derives from an earlier one about transportation to Virginia, U.S.A. Geoff learned his version from his grandfather, Aaron Ling.

Steeleye Span lost the first verse in their recording of Australia on their 1998 CD Horkstow Grange. Bob Johnson commented in the sleeve notes:

Initially, people were sent there as a punishment. Later, in the 1950's, families were offered financial assistance to go there and settle. Now, it is a heavily advertised holiday destination, a mere day's flight from Luton airport to the Barrier Reef. This song is dedicated to Nigel Pegrum, our ex-drummer, who “fell in with a damsel” and now lives there.

Bob Fox sang Virgina on his 2003 CD Borrowed Moments.

Chris Foster sang Australia in 2004 on his CD Jewels.

Tim van Eyken sang Australia in 2006 on his Topic CD Stiffs Lovers Holymen Thieves.

Andy Turner sang Australia as the October 2, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. He commented in his blog:

This is a song from the Suffolk singer, Bob Hart. I learned it from Roy Palmer’s book, Everyman's Book of English Country Songs, although I subsequently heard it on the Topic LP Songs from Suffolk.

A different recording can be heard on Musical Traditions MTCD301 Bob Hart: A Broadside.

It is clearly a later rewrite of the song Virginny which Martin Carthy recorded on his album Crown of Horn but the change of destination lacks some historical accuracy. As Rod Stradling explains in his notes to the Musical Traditions CD, most transportation songs concern poaching rather than highway robbery; for the simple reason that in the eighteenth century highwaymen were transported to Virginia, while in the nineteenth century the punishment was hanging.

Sam Lee sang Goodbye My Darling in 2012 on his CD Ground of Its Own.

The Rails sang Australia as the title track of their 2015 EP Australia.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings Virginny

Now come all you young fellers where'er you may be
Come listen a while and I'll tell you
It's many's the young man myself I have seen
More fitting to serve than to die on a string
But how odd were the judges, how cruel they have been
For to send us poor lads to Virginny

Now when we come to Virginny, that cold shameful place,
Which now I recall in my story
Our captain did stand with his whip and his cane
To bargain for us poor souls out of hand
Like horses they yoked us that had ploughed the salt main
How hard was my fate in Virginny

O England, sweet England, I fear I'll never see you more
And if I do, it's ten thousand to twenty
For me fingers they are rotting and me bones they are sore
I wonder about I'm right down to death's door
But if I can just live to see seven years' more
I will soon bid farewell to Virginny

Bob Hart sing Australia

Come all you young fellows, whereso'er you may be
Come listen a while to my story.
When I was a young man, my age seventeen,
I ought to been serving Victoria, our Queen.
But those hard-hearted judges,
oh, how cruel they be To send us poor lads to Australia.

I fell in with a damsel, she was handsome and gay,
I neglected me work, more and more, every day.
And to keep her like a lady I went on the highway,
And for that I was sent to Australia.

Now the judges, they stand with their whips in their hands,
They drive us, like horses, to plough up the land.
You should see us poor young fellows working in that jail yard;
How hard is our fate in Australia.

Australia, Australia, I would ne'er see no more,
I'm worn out with fever, cast down to Death's door.
But should I live to see, say, seven years more,
I would then bid adieu to Australia.

Oak sing Australia

Come all you young fellows wheresome'er you may be,
Come listen awhile to my story.
For when I was a young man, my age seventeen,
I ought to be serving Victoria, our Queen.
But those hard-hearted judges, oh, how cruel they be
To send us poor young lads to Australia.

I fell in with a damsel, she was handsome and gay,
I neglected my work more and more every day,
And to keep her like a lady I went on the highway,
And for that I was sent to Australia.

Where the judges, they stand with their whips in their hands,
They drive us like horses to plough up the land.
You should see us poor young fellows, working in the gaol-yard,
Oh, how hard is the life in Australia.

Australia, Australia, I would ne'er see thee more,
I'm worn out with fever, cast down to Death's door,
But if I live to see, say, seven years more,
I would then bid adieu to Australia,
I would then bid adieu to Australia.

Geoff Ling sings Australia

When I was a young man and about seventeen,
I was all ready to fight for Victoria, our Queen,
But to keep her like a lady I went on that highway,
And for that I was sent to Australia.

Australia, Australia, how we worked in that land,
They drove us like horses to plough up their land.
You should have seen us poor fellows, oh, how cruel were they,
How hard is our fate in Australia.

Australia, Australia, I shall ne'er see no more,
I met up with fever, brought down to death's
But if ever I should live to see seven years more,
I will bid adieu to Australia.

Steeleye Span sing Australia

I fell in with a damsel, she was handsome and gay,
I neglected my work more and more every day,
And to keep her like a lady, I went on the highway,
And for that I was sent to Australia.

Chorus:
Australia, Australia, I would ne'er see no more
Worn out with the fever, cast down to Death's door,
And if I ever live, say, seven years more,
I would soon bid adieu to Australia.

Now the judges, they stand with their whips in their hands
And they drive us like horses to plough up the land.
You should see us poor young fellows, a-working in the gaol-yard,
How cruel is our fate in Australia.

Acknowledgements

Martin Carthy's version was transcribed by Garry Gillard.