Van Diemen's Land
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Lesley Nelson-Burns

This song is also known as The Gallant Poachers. It was printed on broadsides throughout the 1800s. Several of these can be found at the Broadside Ballads Online. The song was popular in England, Ireland and Scotland. It was also popular in America and Nova Scotia, and was popular at sea. The words were sung to several distinctly different tunes.

This version was collected in Sussex in 1893. "By the keepers hid in sand" may have originally been "by the keeper's hideous hand."

Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) was founded in 1803. From 1804 to 1853 thousands of convicts were transported to the island.

Come, all you gallant poachers,
That ramble free from care,
That walk out of a moonlight night,
With your dog, your gun, and snare;
Where the lusty hare and pheasant
You have at your command,
Not thinking that your last career
Is on Van Diemen's Land

There was poor Tom Brown from Nottingham,
Jack Williams, and poor Joe,
Were three as daring poachers
As the country well does know;
At night they were trapann├Ęd
By the keepers hid in sand,
And for fourteen years transported were
Unto Van Diemen's Land.

Oh! when we sailed from England
We landed at the bay,
We had rotten straw for bedding,
We dared not to say nay.
Our cots were fenced with fire,
(we slumber when we can,)
To drive away the wolves and tigers
Upon Van Diemen's Land.

Oh! when that we were landed
Upon that fatal shore,
The planters they came flocking round,
Full twenty score or more;
They ranked us up like horses,
And sold us out of hand,
They yoked us to the plough, my boys,
To plough Van Diemen's Land.

There was one girl from England,
Susan Summers was her name,
For fourteen years transported was,
We all well knew the same;
Our planter bought her freedom,
And he married her out of hand,
Good usage then she gave to us,
Upon Van Diemen's Land.

Oh! oft when I am slumbering,
I have a pleasant dream:
With my sweet girl I am sitting,
Down by some purling stream,
Through England I am roaming,
With her at my command,
Then waken, brokenhearted,
Upon Van Diemen's Land.

God bless our wives and families,
Likewise that happy shore,
That isle of sweet contentment
Which we shall see no more.
As for our wretched females,
See them we seldom can,
There are twenty to one woman
Upon Van Diemen's Land.

Come all you gallant poachers,
Give ear unto my song,
It is a bit of good advice,
Although it is not long:
Lay by your dog and snare;
To you I do speak plain,
If you knew the hardships we endure
You ne'er would poach again.

Related Links
From English Traditional Songs and Carols
See Bibliography for full information.