Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Bushranger, Jack Power

Words: Isaac Hall
Tune: Erin Go Bragh

On the 8th day of May, in the year 69
On a lovely spring morning, the weather 'being fine
A bolter from Pentridge, Jack Power by name
An aspirant for the gallows to Beechworth he came

Well armed, well mounted, the troops for his foes
To a scrub for concealment the highway man goes
From Beechworth to the Buckland and on the highway
Run Cobb & Co coaches by night & by day

Early one morning the outlaw approach'd
Towards Bowman's forest and he held up a coach
He held up two draymen and a new saddle stole
And a horse, and coach wheeler, it's true bless me soul

He met with a trooper near the small town of Yea
Good morning Sir Trooper my orders obey
Hand here that revolver or if you refuse
You must fight or deliver - pray which do you choose?

The trooper surrender'd his horse and his arms
Then hasten'd to Yea town to give the alarm
“Farewell "shouts the rover "This revolver's my shield
To the traps or the gallows I never will yield.”

We may sing of young Gilbert, Dan Morgan, Ben Hall
But the bold reckless robber surpasses them all
The pluck that is in him is beyond all belief
A daring young highwayman, a professional thief.

This column appeared in the Melbourne Argus newspaper on 19 August, 1950 above these lyrics (

Clive Turnbull Says:

A song from wilder days

YOU may remember thata few months ago we had quite a correspondence about the old song, "The Wild Colonial Boy."

Miss Elsie Heath of Grasmere, Sheep Hills, whose father was one of the pioneers of the Wimmera when it was thrown open for selection, writes that she has vivid recollections of the song as her father sang it to the children sitting 'round the fire on cold wintry nights - it varies slightly from the versions already published.

Better still, Miss Heath tells me that her mother, not long ago, found in her own mother's work box a cbpy of the song "Bushranger Jack Power."

It is written- on blue lined foolscap, still readable though worn, in a fine hand, and, Miss Heath suggests, is probably 80 years old. The signature, presumably of the writer, is Isaac Hall.

Here are Edgar Waters notes on this song to Gary Shearston's 1965 album, Bolters, Bushrangers and Duffers:

Henry (Jack) Power was an Irishman who arrived in Victoria in 1852 to look for gold. In 1855, police troopers asked him to prove that the horse he was riding was his own. Power fired his pistol at them and wounded one of the troopers; soon he was in gaol for fourteen years. He escaped when his time was almost up and took to highway robbery in northern Victoria. His career as a bushranger was short, however, and he was soon back in gaol for fifteen years.

Power was not one of the notable bushrangers, but the most notable of the Victorian bushrangers, Ned Kelly, was arrested in 1870 accused of giving help to Power. Kelly was fifteen years old at the time; he was discharged for lack of evidence.

Gary Shearston learnt this song from the singing of Alf Dyer, an old Victorian bushman (from a tape recording made by members of the Folk Lore Society of Victoria). In 1950, a correspondent sent an almost identical set of words to a Melbourne newspaper. She had taken them from a manuscript in her possession which she believed had been written in 1870 (the year in which Power was sentenced to gaol for highway robbery). The manuscript was signed Isaac Hall and named Erin-go-bragh as the tune to which the words should be sung. Alf Dyer sings the words to a rather worn-down version of the much-used tune known as Villikins and his Dinah. Erin-go-bragh (a Scottish song, despite its Irish name) is sometimes sung to this tune also.

The illustration to this post is a woodcut from the Illustrated News for Home Readers (June 18, 1870), Capture of Power, the Bushranger:

Shows Superintendents Nicolson and Hare with first-class Sargeant Montford all with guns drawn, taking Powers by surprise as he lay in a "gunyah" with his clothes on and a revolver at his side.

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