A convict in chains en route to AustraliaFor the Company Underground

introduced by Margaret Walters
performed by Margaret Walters, Don Brian, and Robert Boddington

Words: Francis MacNamara, aka Frank the Poet, written approx. 1839

Tune: adapted by Margaret Walters from “Norwich Gaol” from Peter Bellamy's 1977 ballad opera, The Transports

Francis MacNamara was a convict transported to Australia in 1832 on the ship Eliza. An incorrigible rogue, he served more than 17 years punishment. "For the Company Underground" is Frank's letter to J. Crosdale, Esq., who was the superintendent of the Australia Company's Colliery Establishment in Newcastle (north of Sydney), outlining the precise conditions under which he would be prepared to work underground.

MacNamara was known as Frank the Poet, renowned throughout the colonies for his extemporaneous verse. His poems include "Moreton Bay," "The Cyprus Brig," and "A Convict’s Tour of Hell."

The lyrics here differ slightly from the text that appears in the Trimingham/Cameron MSS in the Mitchell Library, NSW.

Lyrics:

When Christ from Heaven comes down straightway His Father's laws to expound
Macnamara shall work that day for the Company underground

When the man in the moon to Moreton Bay is sent in shackles bound
Macnamara shall work that day for the Company underground

When the Cape of Good Hope to Twofold Bay comes for the change of a pound
Macnamara shall work that day for the Company underground

When cows in lieu of milk yield tea, and all lost treasures are found
Macnamara shall work that day for the Company underground

When the Australian Co.'s heaviest dray is drawn eighty miles by a hound
Macnamara shall work that day for the Company underground

When a frog, a caterpillar and flea shall circle the globe all round
Macnamara shall work that day for the Company underground

When turkeycocks on Jews harps play and mountains dance at the sound
Macnamara shall work that day for the Company underground

When milestones go to church to pray and whales are put in the Pound
Macnamara shall work that day for the Company underground

When thieves ever robbing on the King’s highway for their sanctity are renowned
Macnamara shall work that day for the Company underground

When convicts' chains are broke at last and the nine-tail cat is unwound*
Macnamara shall work that day for the Company underground

When Christmas falls on the 1st of May and O'Connell's King of England crown'd
Macnamara shall work that day for the Company underground

When the quick and the dead in line are arrayed, summoned at the trumpet's sound
Even then, damn me if I'd work a day for the Company underground – or overground!

* John Warner wrote the line: “When convicts' chains are broke at last …”, as an extra line was required to fit the pattern of the tune.

Margaret Walters (b.1943) lives in Sydney, NSW. She fell in love with traditional song and harmony as a teenager, but didn't start singing herself until 1976, when she was exposed to numerous unaccompanied singers at the folk clubs in East Sussex. She made several more visits to the UK and developed a large repertoire of traditional songs and contemporary songs inspired by the tradition. For ten years, she collaborated in a duo with renowned songwriter John Warner, and she currently sings in various combinations, most frequently with The Roaring Forties - who made a brief visit to the US east coast in 2017. She's too busy procrastinating to update her website, but can be contacted via email.

     
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