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Frank the Poet

It is little known that Mudgee had another famous poet digging for gold along its river banks. Frank the Poet, or Francis MacNamara was a convict for 15 years in Australia, transported from Ireland for stealing a scarf, and he recorded his experiences in verse. His writings have furnished some of our most well known folk songs recording the horror of convict days.

 Francis (Frank) MacNamara, a native of Cashel, County Tipperary in Ireland, arrived in Australia on the convict ship Eliza in 1832 at the age of 21 years. He was sentenced to seven years transportation for stealing the scarf, but it is believed the real reason for his transportation was his membership of the illegal society of Ribbon Boys.

Frank was known to be a rebel, fiercely proud, patriotic and defiant. After 8 years in the convict system, flogged 14 times with a total of 650 lashes for disobedience, insubordination, insolence until his back was raw red flesh, and spent 3 ½ years of hard labour in an iron gang in heavy chains. He also spent 13 days in solitary confinement and 3 months on the dreaded treadmill.

But defiant to the end, Frank just wrote more ballads and poems, “But bye and bye I’ll break my chains/into the bush I’ll go/and join the brave bushrangers – /Jack Donohue and Co.

Frank did escape – 6 times, but paid mercilessly for it.

After a bout of bushranging, Frank ended up at Tasmania’s Port Arthur. Fortunately for him, Sir John Franklin was the governor at that time and his humane treatment of convicts became a turning point for Frank.

Frank was free after 5 ½ years at Port Arthur and a total of 15 ½ years in convict garrisons.

His best remembered poems are: A Convict’s Tour of Hell (which he wrote while assigned as a shepherd to the Australian Agricultural Company operating at the Peel River), Moreton Bay or the Convict’s Lament, and several verses to Bold Jack Donohue or the Wild Colonial Boy. Many of Frank’s poems about his convict days and convict friends have been adapted to music in some of Australia’s most loved folk songs and some of them have many versions, especially Bold Jack Donohue, which was banned by authorities for stirring up rebellious behaviour..

Frank was a miner in his County Wicklow. During his convict life he was also appointed to a coal mining company at Newcastle. Maybe these skills brought him to the Tambaroora/Mudgee area with his friend, Robert Welsh. Flush with money from his published writings and drawings, Frank spent very freely, but it is reported they tried their luck goldmining along the Meroo and at the Turon in the years around 1853.

At Devil’s Hole in 1861, Frank created an illustrated card to celebrate the family of John and Elizabeth Calf. John Calf was an English sailor who had moved his family to Windeyer. The card was decorated with elaborate work, biblical passages and varied styles of printing. It is now in the Mitchell Library.

By May 1861 Frank and Robert Welsh moved to Pipe Clay Creek and teamed up with another gold miner, John McDermid. Frank was not at all well and on Thursday 29th August 1861, on a trip to Mudgee, Frank lay dying, now penniless, in a hotel in Market Lane Mudgee.

A Convict's Tour to Hell

by Frank MacNamara
You prisoners of New South Wales,
Who frequent watchhouses and gaols
A story to you I will tell
'Tis of a convict's tour to hell.

Whose valour had for years been tried
On the highway before he died
At length he fell to death a prey
To him it proved a happy day
Downwards he bent his course I'm told
Like one destined for Satan's fold
And no refreshment would he take
'Till he approached the Stygian lake
A tent he then began to fix
Continuous to the River Styx
Thinking that no one could molest him
He leaped when Charon thus addressed him,
Stranger I say from whence art thou,
And my own name, pray tell me now,
Kind sir I come from Sydney gaol
My name I don't mean to conceal
And since you seem anxious to know it
On earth I was called Frank the Poet.
Are you that person? Charon cried,
I'll carry you to the other side.
Five or sixpence I mostly charge
For the like passage in my barge
So stranger do not troubled be
For you shall have a passage free
Frank seeing no other succour nigh
With the invitation did comply
And having a fair wind and tide
They soon arrived at the other side
And leaving Charon at the ferry
Frank went in haste to Purgatory
And rapping loudly at the gate
Of Limbo, or the Middle State
Pope Pius the 7th soon appeared
With gown, beads, crucifix and beard
And gazing at the Poet the while
Accosts him in the following style
Stranger art thou a friend or foe
Your business here I fain would know
Quoth the Poet for Heaven I'm not fitted
And here I hope to be admitted 
Pius rejoined, vain are your hopes
This place was made for Priests and Popes
'Tis a world of our own invention
But friend I've not the least intention
To admit such a foolish elf
Who scarce knows how to bless himself
Quoth Frank were you mad or insane
When first you made this world of pain?
For I can see nought but fire
A share of which I can't desire
Here I see weeping wailing gnashing
And torments of the newest fashion
Therefore I call you silly elf
Who made a rod to whip yourself
And may you like all honest neighbours
Enjoy the fruit of all your labours
Frank then bid the Pope farewell
And hurried to that place called Hell
And having found the gloomy gate
Frank rapped aloud to know his fate
He louder knocked and louder still
When the Devil came, pray what's your will?
Alas cried the Poet I've come to dwell
With you and share your fate in Hell
Says Satan that can't be, I'm sure
For I detest and hate the poor
And none shall in my kingdom stand 
Except the grandees of the land.
But Frank I think you are going astray
For convicts never come this way
But soar to Heaven in droves and legions
A place so called in the upper regions
So Frank I think with an empty purse
You shall go further and fare worse
Well cried the Poet since 'tis so
One thing of you I'd like to know
As I'm at present in no hurry
Have you one here called Captain Murray?
Yes Murray is within this place
Would you said Satan see his face?
May God forbid that I should view him
For on board the Phoenix Hulk I knew him
Who is that Sir in yonder blaze
Who on fire and brimstone seems to graze?
'Tis Captain Logan of Moreton Bay
And Williams who was killed the other day
He was overseer at Grosse Farm
And done poor convicts no little harm
Cook who discovered New South Wales
And he that first invented gaols
Are both tied to a fiery stake
Which stands in yonder boiling lake
Hark do you hear this dreadful yelling
It issues from Doctor Wardell's dwelling
And all those fiery seats and chairs
Are fitted up for Dukes and Mayors
And nobles of Judicial orders
Barristers, Lawyers and Recorders
Here I beheld legions of traitors
Hangmen gaolers and flagellators
Commandants, Constables and Spies
Informers and Overseers likewise
In flames of brimstone they were toiling
And lakes of sulphur round them boiling
Hell did resound with their fierce yelling
Alas how dismal was their dwelling
Then Major Morriset I espied
And Captain Cluney by his side
With a fiery belt they were lashed together
As tight as soles to upper leather
Their situation was most horrid
For they were tyrants down at the Norrid
Postrate I beheld a petitioner
It was the Company's Commissioner
Satan said he my days are ended
For many years I've superintended
The An. Company's affairs
And I punctually paid all arrears
Sir should you doubt the hopping Colonel
At Carrington you'll find my journal
Legibly penned in black and white
To prove that my accounts were right
And since I've done your will on earth 
I hope you'll put me in a berth
Then I saw old Sergeant Flood
In Vulcan's hottest forge he stood
He gazed at me his eyes with ire
Appeared like burning coals of fire
In fiery garments he was arrayed
And like an Arabian horse he brayed
He on a bloody cutlass leaned
And to a lamp-post he was chained
He loudly called out for assistance
Or begged me to end his existence
Cheer up said I be not afraid
Remember No. Three Stockade
In the course of time you may do well
If you behave yourself in Hell
Your heart on earth was fraught with malice
Which oft drove convicts to the gallows
But you'll now atone for all the blood
Of prisoners shed by Sergeant Flood.
Then I beheld that well known Trapman
The Police Runner called Izzy Chapman
Here he was standing on his head
In a river of melted boiling lead.
Alas he cried behold me stranger
I've captured many a bold bushranger
And for the same I'm suffering here
But lo, now yonder snakes draw near
On turning round I saw slow worms
And snakes of various kinds and forms
All entering at his mouth and nose
To devour his entrails as I suppose
Then turning round to go away
Bold Lucifer bade me to stay
Saying Frank by no means go man
Till you see your old friend Dr Bowman
'Yonder he tumbles groans and gnashes
He gave you many a thousand lashes
And for the same he does bewail
For Osker with an iron flail
Thrashes him well you may depend
And will till the world comes to an end
Just as I spoke a coach and four
Came in full post haste to the door
And about six feet of mortal sin
Without leave or licence trudged in
At his arrival three cheers were given
Which rend I'm sure the highest Heaven
And all the inhabitants of Hell
With one consent rang the great bell
Which never was heard to sound or ring
Since Judas sold our Heavenly King
Drums were beating flags were hoisting
There never before was such rejoicing
Dancing singing joy or mirth
In Heaven above or on the earth
Straightway to Lucifer I went
To know what these rejoicings meant
Of sense cried Lucifer I'm deprived
Since Governor Darling has arrived
With fire and brimstone I've ordained him
And Vulcan has already chained him
And I'm going to fix an abode
For Captain Rossi, he's on the road
Frank don't go 'till you see the novice
The magistrate from the Police Office
Oh said the Poet I'm satisfied
To hear that he is to be tied
And burned in this world of fire
I think 'tis high time to retire
And having travelled many days
O'er fiery hills and boiling seas
At length I found that happy place
Where all the woes of mortals cease
And rapping loudly at the wicket
Cried Peter, where's your certificate
Or if you have not one to show
Pray who in Heaven do you know?
Well I know Brave Donohue
Young Troy and Jenkins too
And many others whom floggers mangled
And lastly were by Jack Ketch strangled
Peter, says Jesus, let Frank in
For he is thoroughly purged from sin
And although in convict's habit dressed
Here he shall be a welcome guest
Isaiah go with him to Job
And put on him a scarlet robe
St Paul go to the flock straightway
And kill the fatted calf today
And go tell Abraham and Abel
In Haste now to prepare the table
For we shall have a grand repast 
Since Frank the Poet has come at last
Then came Moses and Elias
John the Baptist and Mathias
With many saints from foreign lands 
And with the Poet they all join hands
Thro' Heaven's Concave their rejoicings range
And hymns of praise to God they sang
And as they praised his glorious name
I woke and found 'twas but a dream. 
Versions of Bold Jack Donohue and/or The Wild Colonial Boy follow. 
There are many versions of the song/poem because the ballad was 
outlawed by colonial authorities because of its popularity in 
rebellious circles.

One of several versions of 'Bold Jack Donohue'

Come all you gallant bushrangers who gallop o'er the plains
Refuse to live in slavery, or wear the convict chains.
Attention pay to what I say, and value if I do
For I will relate the matchless tale of bold Jack Donohue.

Come all you sons of liberty and everyone besides
I'll sing to you a story that will fill you with surprise
Concerning of a bold bushranger, Jack Donohue was his name
And he scorned to humble to the crown, bound down with iron chain.

Now Donohue was taken all for a notorious crime
And sentenced to be hanged upon the gallows tree so high
But when they to him to Bathurst Gaol, he left them in a stew
For when they came to call the roll, they missed Jack Donohue.

Now when Donohue made his escape, to the bush he went straight way.
The squatters they were all afraid to travel by night and by day
And every day in the newspapers, they brought out something new,
Concerning that bold bushranger they called Jack Donohue.

Now one day as he was riding the mountainside alone
Not thinking that the pains of death would overtake him soon.
When all he spied the horse police well on they came up into view
And in double quick time they did advance to take Jack Donohue.

"Oh Donohue, Donohue, throw down your carbine.
Or do you intend to fight us all and will you not resign?"
"Surrender to such cowardly dogs is a thing that I never would do,
For this day I'll fight with all my might", cried Bold Jack Donohue

Now the sergeant and the corporal, their men they did divide
Some fired at him from behind and some from every side.
The sergeant and the corporal, they both fired at him, too.
And a rifle bullet pierced the heart of Bold Jack Donohue.

Now nine rounds he fired and nine men down before that fated ball
Which pierced his heart and made him smart and caused him for to fall
And as he closed his mournful eyes, he bid the world adieu,
Saying "Convicts all, pray for the soul of Bold Jack Donohue."

The Wild Colonial Boy

Here is one version of the 'Jack Doolan' poem:

Come, all my hearties,
we'll roam the mountains high,
Together we will plunder,
together we will ride.
We'll scar over valleys,
and gallop for the plains,
And scorn to live in
slavery, bound down by iron chains.
It's of a wild Colonial Boy,
Jack Doolan was his name,
Of poor but honest parents,
he was born in Castlemaine.
He was his father's only son,
his mother's pride and joy,
And so dearly did his parents love
the wild Colonial Boy.
When scarcely sixteen years of age
he left his father's home,
And through Australia's sunny shores
a bushranger did roam.
He'd rob the largest squatters,
their stock he would destroy,
a terror to Australia was
the wild Colonial Boy.
In sixty-one this daring youth
commenced his wild career,
With a heart that knew no danger,
no stranger would did he fear.
He bailed up the Beechworth roll mail-coach,
and robbed Judge MacEvoy,
Who trembled and gave up his gold to
the wild Colonial Boy.
He bade the judge "Good morning",
and told him to beware,
That he'd never rob a poor man
who wafted on the square,
Three mounted troopers came in sight
Kelly, Davis and Fitzroy,
who thought that they would capture him,
the wild Colonial Boy.
"Surrender now, Jack Doolan,
you see were three to one".
Surrender in the queens name
you daring highwayman,"
Jack drew two pistols from his belt,
and waved them proud and free
"I'll fight, but not surrender,"
cried the wild Colonial Boy.
He fired at Trooper Kelly
and brought him to the ground,
And in return from Davis
received a mortal wound.
All shattered through the jaws he lay
still firing at Fitzroy,
And that's the way they captured him-
the wild Colonial Boy.

Moreton Bay/The Convict's Lament

One Sunday morning as I went walking
By Brisbane waters I chanced to stray
I heard a convict his fate bewailing
As on the sunny river bank I lay
I am a native from Erin's island
But banished now from my native shore
They stole me from my aged parents
And from the maiden I do adore

I've been a prisoner at Port Macquarie
At Norfolk Island and Emu Plains
At Castle Hill and at cursed Toongabbie
At all these settlements I've been in chains
But of all places of condemnation
And penal stations in New South Wales
To Moreton Bay I have found no equal
Excessive tyranny each day prevails

For three long years I was beastly treated
And heavy irons on my legs I wore
My back from flogging was lacerated
And oft times painted with my crimson gore
And many a man from downright starvation
Lies mouldering now underneath the clay
And Captain Logan he had us mangled
All at the triangles of Moreton Bay

Like the Egyptians and ancient Hebrews
We were oppressed under Logan's yoke
Till a native black lying there in ambush
Did deal 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 sufferings will fade from mind

Clarke's Creek, Meroo

Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal Wednesday 18 June 1862 p.2


A DAY or two since I got up from the perusal of the beautiful extract from the " Lost Genius," published in a late impression, of the Empire, and almost immediately heard a mixed conversation on the character of an unfortunate Irishman, known as Frank, the poet, who lived some time with a storekeeper on this Creek.
In as few words as possible his history is as follows. He was of a respectable family, was well educated, and possessed an original, and indeed very eccentric genius, greatly degraded by a perpetual love of mischief, and occasional offences of a very grave character. For forging at home, he was condemned to be hung, and was reprieved as the rope was being adjusted round his neck for execution. When he reached this country, he never would work as a government man, and was repeatedly flogged. Perhaps to avoid endangering his life with the whip, he was sent to a station in the interior.
The first duty appointed him was to drive off the cockatoos from a paddock of newly sown grain. Frank performed this duty in the following provoking manner ; he wrote out a number of threatening notices to the cockatoos, that they were prohibited from crossing the fence to the grain, and these notices he put at the tops of poles which he fastened at regular distances all round the paddock fences.
When asked by the "Super," what all those papers meant, he replied. "Did you not tell me to order the cockatoos off the ground ?"
Though reared in the Catholic faith, it was his delight to profess to be an unbeliever, for the sole purpose of mischief. He had every part of scripture at his tongue's end, and he scorned to have studied the Bible to justify himself as an adept at puzzling and irritating criticism ; and where he could take provoking liberties with clergymen, he was not backward in doing so. It was his boast that he had confounded two or three just after they had been preaching. On one occasion he obliterated a whole verse, and inserted in its place with his pen a sentiment utterly unscriptural. He did this so cleverly that it looked in no way different from the other print on the leaf ; and he had the audacity to assert in the face of a clergyman, that it was a part of the Protestant Scripture. With one of his own clergymen, he took an unpardonable liberty. Frank was reading the Illustrated London News. The Rev. Gentleman spoke very kindly to him. He immediately pretended that he had turned Protestant, and began to feign an anxiety to convert him to the Protestant faith. Father ——— rose up and left him to his own reflections.
Frank was offensively eccentric in his manners, he never put a string to his shoes, assigning as a reason, "that God never made man to stoop to anything so low as his feet," he generally wore his small clothes inside out.
Some times he was better employed, his penmanship seemed almost miraculous; and many persons who admired demonstrations of that kind, employed him to write on the blank leaves of prayer-books, bibles, and other valued books. On the soft leaf of a prayer-book now before me, he wrote besides the name, the following lines impromptu :—
[Then follows the name very beautifully written.]
" 'Tis not a little toy
That I give to thee, my boy,
As your good sense will see,
'Tis a book of prayer
Keep it with fond care
In remembrance of me."
In another Prayer-book before me on a leaf equally soft, he has printed distinctly with his pen :— " Presented, April 10, 1859, by the dearest Friend in the world, to —— ," and then in very beautiful italic :— "The Lord hath chastened me sore : but He hath not given me over unto death." Ps. CXVIII, 18 v.
Whether he really possessed poetical abilities, I cannot say, having seen nothing of that kind, beyond the above lines, which can hardly be called poetry. I am told he was the author of a published volume of sarcasm on the Government ; but, so far is I can learn, it was an imitation of that presumptuous and unpardonable part of Dante, in which he puts lately dead, yes, and living characters into hell, and assigns them horrible torments. To speak of such a state at all, as that of final perdition, except in religious teaching, and in the language of Scripture, is pitifully contemptible ; and to put living men into eternal torments is disgustingly malignant, and is only less revolting than artistic pulpit oratory on such a painful subject.
But the great crime of Frank was intemperate drinking, the crime from which all his mischievous pretensions took their origin. When sober he was generally a quiet, harmless man.
All I know of him more, is, that I read in the Mudgee News, some time back, that he died from exhaustion, the consequence of too much drink and too little food. What a ruinous thing drink is ! Frank was unquestionably a man of unusual powers of mind, and but for habitual drinking, might have been a very useful man.
If Frank had been my enemy I should not like the idea of his thus dying, without some notice of his abused gifts and perverted genius. And if you will find a place for this little notice of him in the Free Press, I shall feel greatly obliged; and, if you will permit me, I may observe, Frank was not the only genius utterly lost to society through an intemperate use of strong drink. I remember taking up a volume of poems in a provincial town in the North of England, the home of its author. His versification was quite as sweet as Moore's, and possessed as much power as Byron's. A plan was mooted to elevate him in society ; but he became so recklessly intemperate, that nothing could be done for either him or his family.
Permit me to add, that, from several specimens I have seen of Mr. Harpur's poetry, published in the Empire, it is my humble opinion, that gentleman will be a much greater poet than either Akenside, or Byron, if he properly cultivates his very promising genius.


This interesting article is another example of the importance of the digitisation of newspapers in this case through the National Library of Australia's TROVE project. The statement "I am told he was the author of a published volume of sarcasm on the Government ; but, so far is I can learn, it was an imitation of that presumptuous and unpardonable part of Dante, in which he puts lately dead, yes, and living characters into hell, and assigns them horrible torments" clearly refers to MacNamara's most famous poem 'A Convict's Tour To Hell'. The article also places MacNamara at Clarke's Creek, Meroo as late as 1959, and the statement "his penmanship seemed almost miraculous; and many persons who admired demonstrations of that kind, employed him to write on the blank leaves of prayer-books, bibles, and other valued books" reinforces the view that he was an expert calligrapher and possibly a forger.
[article transcribed by Mark Gregory 29 April 2011]

The Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday 27 November 1861 showing official name change of Devil's Hole Creek


From Western Post 31 August 1861 [transcribed from microfiche by Annette Piper 2002]
An inquest as held on Friday morning, by W KING, Esq., M.D. Coroner for this District, at the Fountain of Friendship, on the body of Francis McNAMARA, alias HILL, better known as "Frank the Poet".

Robert WELSH having been sworn, said that the deceased had resided with him on the Pipe Clay Creek diggings. They came into Mudgee together on Wednesday, deceased left him, and promised to meet him by a certain time at Mr McQUIGGAN's. He then went to PHILLIPS', and found him in bed; he asked for some water; he was half drunk. He advised deceased to get up; he replied "Put your hand in my pocket and take out what is there". Had known him for eight years. He had a complaint which caused him to spit blood. He earned a great deal of money, and spent it very freely; had known him to obtain "hundreds a week" at Tambaroora. The wind used to annoy him very much in the hut in which he resided. He was no better for his visit to Mudgee. The day before they had been drinking together all day off and on.

John McDERMID deposed: That he had been working with previous witness since the end of last month; he came into Mudgee on Thursday to see what was keeping him and deceased. He met WELSH, who was nearly tipsy, in PHILLIPS' tap-room and said "You promised not to get drunk" He replied how can I help it, Frank is very bad. He then went to see deceased, who made no reply to a question he put to him respecting his health. Shortly after, he called WELSH and told him to get some money owing to him in Mudgee, and to give him (witness) half, and died directly after. He used to complain of a pain in his shoulder. During the time he resided with them his appetite was good. He had no effects, excepting some papers. He never cared for clothes. Arthur Thomas Piggott CUTTING, being duly sworn, stated that he was a duly qualified medical practitioner; he had viewed and examined the body and it was opinion that the deceased came to his death by the effects of cold and inanition. The jury found a verdict accordingly.

The same detailed report from the Western Post appeared in The Empire 4 September 1861
The news of his death was also carried in a shortened form in the NSW regional newspaper the Maitland Mercury:

The Maitland Mercury 7 September 1861
(From the Western Post, August 31.)
SUDDEN DEATH.—An inquest was held on the 30th,
before the coroner for the district, on the body of Francis
McNamara, better known as "Frank the Poet." It ap-
peared that McNamara was a digger at Pipe Clay Creek.
He had lately complained of a pain in the shoulder, and
had been spitting blood. The medical evidence was to
the effect that he had died from cold and inanition; and
the jury returned a verdict according to that evidence.


MacNamara's death was reported in at least three NSW newspapers. These notices show that Francis MacNamara died on Thursday 29 August 1861.

The local Mudgee paper the Western Post suggests MacNamara made considerable money from his gold prospecting in Tambaroora, Hill End, where the Sydney Morning Herald reported him working at the end of 1853. Robert Welsh had 'known him for eight years' so would have met him then. Welsh's evidence is corroborated a year later in a report of him at Clarke's Creek, Meroo in the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal. The fact MacNamara 'earned a great deal of money and spent it very freely' conjures up the possibility he may have written 'Tambaroora Gold'.


More Australian poetry next page.


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Sources :

Windeyer, Tent Town to Village published by Windeyer Parents & Citizens Association, Windeyer Public School Phone 6373 8240

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