Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ballad of the Schooner "Eclipse"

John Dengate

John Bingle's schooner lay close hauled by river Hunter's shoals,
And on her deck the iron gang wer piling up the coals
Securely chained they yet disdained to live like carrion slaves
"We'll sail her, boys, from bondage to freedom o'er the waves."

The sails unfurled lay on the deck, the guard asleep ashore,
The six bold convicts swore an oath, to liberty they swore.
High water came and they were game as desperate men can be,
They hoist the main peak high my boys, and cast off from the quay.

A good west wind blew down the bay and famously they sped
The captain and the two crewmen trapped below were filled with dread.
But scarce three miles off Knobby's Isle a boat was lowered and though
The convicts owed them nothing, unharmed they let them go.

They toiled and starved in New South Wales, they hewed the Hunter's coals
The cruel cat's nine ugly tails could not subdue their souls
They raised a cry which you and I to emulate must strive
They swapped their chains for freedom in Eighteen Twenty Five.

A third song from the Singabout reprint.  Published with the following note from John Dengate:

In 1825 John Bingle's schooner Eclipse was being loaded at Newcastle with a cargo of coal for Sydney.  Six heavily ironed convicts were engaged in the work.  An armed guard watched from the wharf while the schooner's captain and two crew members were breakfasting below decks.  At a given signal the convicts carried out a daring piece of teamwork.  They moved with great swiftness considering their irons.  One slammed the companion hatch, another cast off the schooner's moorings and the others laboured to get the mainpeak aloft.  A friendly westerly swept them out of the harbour past Knobby's Island and out to sea.  Three miles offshore a boat was lowered and the three sailors rowed back to shore, embarrassed but quite unharmed.  The authorities never heard of the schooner agina, and it is assumed that the daring six made good their escape.  The story reminded me of the ballads of the Catalpa and the Cyprus Brig, both convict escape sagas, so I wrote this song to the air of the Irish rebel song, Who Fears to Speak of '98.

The illustration to this post is a drawing of Nobby's Island off Newcastle.

No comments:

Post a Comment