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> Martyn Wyndham-Read > Songs > The Île de France

Isle of France / Île de France

[ Roud 1575 ; Ballad Index PASB024 ; VWML HAM/2/8/17 ; Bodleian Roud 1575 ; GlosTrad Roud 1575 ; Wiltshire 139 , 1087 ; trad.]

Isle of France (i.e. Mauritius) is a ballad about a convict being shipwrecked on the way back home from his transportation sentence. Nic Jones recorded it for his 1977 album The Noah's Ark Trap. A live performance from the late 1970 was included in 2006 on his Topic CD Game Set Match.

In 1981, Martyn Wyndham-Read sang this song as The Île de France on his album Emu Plains—on which he was accompanied by Nic Jones playing the fiddle, but not on this song. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

One of the many songs of the transportation of convicts to the penal settlements of New South Wales or Tasmania in the earlier years of the nineteenth century. This one is different from most in that the convicted man has finished his sentence and is shipwrecked on his way home. The song has every appearance of being made in Ireland rather than in Australia, and was known on this side of the world, appearing in W. Percy Merrick's Folk Songs from Sussex (1912). Other versions have turned up in Somerset and Yorkshire (Leeds). This set—or or the tune and the opening verse—was collected by Ron Edwards in Cairne, Queensland. Martyn got it from Edwards' Big Book of Australian Folksong, a grand book published in 1976.

John Wesley Harding also sang this song in 1999 on his Nic Jones tribute album, Trad Arr Jones.

Susan McKeown sang Shamrock Green in 2004 on her album Sweet Liberty. She commented in her liner notes:

This is a song Nic Jones recorded as Isle of France. Don Meade, who has run be best Irish music series in Manhattan for longer than I've lived here, gave me some insight into the title: The ‘Isle of France’ referred to in the song would appear neither a rescuing ship nor the mainland of France but an old name for Mauritius, and island in the Indian Ocean ceded to Britain by France in the early 19th century.

Jack Crawford sang The Isle of France in 2008 on his WildGoose CD Pride of the Season. He commented in his liner notes:

This song was collected by Percy Merrick from Henry Hills of Lodsworth, Sussex, in 1900 and published in the Journal of the Folk Song Society the following year. I have augmented Mr Hills' text with lines taken from broadside examples dated around 1850 that I found in the Bodleian Library's ballad collections.

“The Isle of France” refers to Mauritius, one of the Mascarene Islands that lie in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar. In 1598 the Dutch Second Fleet to the Spice Islands, blown off course, discovered the island and named it in honour of Prince Maurits van Nassau, then Stadtholder of the Netherlands. France seized Mauritius in 1715 and later renamed it Île de France. British forces occupied the island in 1810 and it was ceded to Britain after the defeat of Napoleon.

Jackie Oates recorded Isle of France in 2009 for her album Hyperboreans.

Ian King sang Isle of France in 2010 on his Fledg'ling CD Panic Grass & Fever Few.

Magpie Lane sang Isle of France in 2011 on their CD The Robber Bird. A live recording at the Red Lion Folk Club in Birmingham in 2013 was included as Andy Turner's 28 June 2014 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Kris Drever sang Isle of France in 2013 on his and Éamonn Coyne's album Storymap.

David Cambridge sang Isle of France on his 2019 CD Songtales. He noted:

One of many transportation songs from the early 19th century. Unusually the storyline works out quite well for a convict shipwrecked off the shore of Madagascar (aka the Isle of France) whilst on his way home from Australia, to complete his sentence. It seems very likely that this song originates from Ireland.

Patterson Dipper sang The Isle of France on their 2021 album Unearthing. They noted:

Transportation as punishment is a frequent topic in traditional song. The Isle of France presents a different perspective reminding us that there were some who came home despite the hardships of the voyage. Not having thought about or played it for a long time James [Patterson] was reminded of it by a question on University Challenge!


Nic Jones sings Isle of France

Oh the sky was dark and the night advanced
When a convict came to the Isle of France;
And round his leg was a ring and chain
And his country was of the Shamrock Green.

“I'm from the Shamrock,“ this convict cried,
“That has been tossed on the ocean wide.
For being unruly, I do declare,
I was doomed to transport these seven long years.

“When six of them they were up and past
I was coming home to make up the last.
When the winds did blow and the seas did roar
They cast me here on this foreign shore.”

So then the coastguard he played a part
And with some brandy he cheered the convict's heart:
“Although the night is far advanced
You shall find a friend on the Isle of France.”

So he sent a letter all to the Queen
Concerning the wreck of the Shamrock Green;
And his freedom came by a speedy post
For the absent convict they thought was lost.

“God bless the coastguard,” this convict cried,
“For he's saved my life from the ocean wide.
And I'll drink his health in a flowing glass,
And here's success to the Isle of France.”