Moreton Bay

Sung by Jerry O’Reilly

I am a native of the Land of Erin,
I was early banished from my native shore,
On the ship Columbus went circular sailing,
And I left behind me the girl I adore,
On the bounding billows that were loudly raging,
Like a bold sea mariner my course did steer,
We were bound for Sydney our destination
And every day our irons wore.
When we arrived into Port Jackson,
I thought my days they would happy be,
But I found out I was greatly mistaken,
I was sent as a prisoner to Moreton Bay,
Oh, Moreton Bay you’ll find no equal,
Norfolk Island and Emu Plains,
At Castle Hill and cursed Toongabbie,
And all time places in New South Wales.
For three long years I was beastly treated,
And heavy irons on my legs I wore,
My back with flogging was lacerated,
And oft times painted with crimson gore,
And many a man from downright starvation,
Lies mouldering now beneath the clay,
For Captain Logan he had us mangled
Upon the triangles of Moreton Bay.
Oh, Moreton Bay you’ll find no equal,
Norfolk Island and Emu Plains,
At Castle Hill and cursed Toongabbie,
And all time places in New South Wales.
Like the Egyptians and the ancient Hebrews,
We were oppressed under Logan’s yoke,
Till a native black lying there in ambush,
Did give this tyrant his mortal stroke,
My fellow prisoners be exhilarated,
That all such monsters such a death may find,
And when from bondage we are liberated,
Our former suffering shall fade from mind.
Oh, Moreton Bay you’ll find no equal,
Norfolk Island and Emu Plains,
At Castle Hill and and cursed Toongabbie,
And all time places in New South Wales.

image of Jerry O’Reilly

sung by
Jerry O’Reilly
(Cullerlie 2007)

CDs available

image of CD cover of Jerry O’Reilly

Francis MacNamara, (c.1810-1861+) known as ‘Frank The Poet’, was possibly from County Clare, Ireland, although he was reported at his trial at Kilkenny in January 1832 to be “a real Corkonian” in his speech.

His writings show that he had a good education in English literature and was familiar with the Irish Bardic tradition and its poetic forms. MacNamara was entered in the convict records as both Protestant and Catholic and with different places of origin and occupations.


Sentenced to seven years transportation for smashing a shop window and stealing a piece of cloth, he entertained the court to an extempore epigram expressing his happiness at being sent to Botany Bay. Aboard the convict transport Eliza he composed ‘a mock heroic poem’ about his trial; this did not prevent him from incurring a flogging for “bad conduct”.

Ironed gangs and floggings

Reaching Sydney on 6 September 1832, MacNamara was assigned to John Jones, but within three months was put in an ironed gang for an undisclosed offence. During the next eight years he received fourteen floggings (650 lashes) and served three and a half years in road gangs, thirteen days of solitary confinement and three months on the treadmill.

Early in 1838 he was assigned to the Australian Agricultural Co. at Calala on the Peel River, before being moved to Stroud and in 1839 to the company’s coalmines at Newcastle.

Apparently refusing to work underground, he was transferred to an ironed gang at Woolloomooloo and from there to Parramatta, then to Berrima to work on road making. For escaping and carrying arms stolen from their guards, he and four others were sentenced to seven months transportation to Van Diemen’s Land in July 1842.


Apart from being punished for leading a successful go-slow protest, MacNamara did not get into trouble at Port Arthur. He received his ticket-of-leave in January 1847, his conditional pardon late that year and his full pardon in July 1849.

Moving to Melbourne, he subsequently vanished from the record apart from an appearance in 1861 at the Mudgee goldfields in New South Wales where he made a genealogy for a local innkeeper and an illuminated copy of Burns’s ‘Man Was Made To Mourn’.


An 1868 description by Marcus Clarke of an Irish poet in one of the ‘low ’ Melbourne pubs sounds very like MacNamara, but there is no record of what became of him. There is dispute over how many of the verses that circulated orally and were written down by other people late in the nineteenth century were composed by ‘Frank the Poet’.

Incontestably, he wrote his magnum opus, ‘The Convict’s Tour to Hell’, while working as a shepherd at Stroud in October 1839, and subsequently at Newcastle composed three petitions to the authorities, in verse. Other works which can be more or less confidently attributed to him were:

  • ‘Dialogue Between Two Hibernians in Botany Bay ’
  • ‘Labouring with the Hoe ’
  • ‘The Seizure of the Cypress Brig ’
  • ‘The Ballad of Martin Cash ’
  • the celebrated ‘The Convict's Lament ’ (also known as ‘Moreton Bay ’)
  • and some epigrams.

While possessing an extensive knowledge of classical literary allusions, he was also an extempore versifier. His poems and songs had instant appeal to the convict population for their spirited opposition to the ‘System ’ and were enthusiastically rendered around the evening campfire wherever convicts gathered.

I was inspired to learn this song after a trip to Australia in 2007. Visiting places like Fremantle, Emu Plains and Parramatta, where so many of our people suffered, I found to be a thought provoking experience. The version here is from the singing of Margaret Walters, that fine Australian singer.

When is a song Australian or Irish? This was composed in Australia but its form is very Irish. I would argue that it is an Irish song 12,000 miles removed!

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Folk Leads Publications 2008