Had he but spar'd his Tongue and Pen,
He might have rose like other Men:
But, Power was never in his Thought:
And, Wealth he valu'd not a Groat:
But, kept the Tenor of his Mind,
To merit well of human Kind.
Whenever two or more Australians discuss folksongs the talk inevitably turns before long to convict songs and convict days and, before much longer, to the mysterious 'Frank the Poet'. For more than a century tradition has held him to have been the true author or composer of Moreton Bay, The Convict's Tour to Hell and other fragments of song and verse so evocative of our beginnings. Yet Frank's identity has remained a mystery. Folk tales suggested that he was an Irish Catholic convict with a pretty wit, and, of course, a gift for versifying; but no-one could be certain that such an individual convict had actually existed. He might himself have been a composite creation of folk memory.
This book, I believe, solves the puzzle. After many years of painstaking research John Meredith and Rex Whalan have run 'Frank the Poet' to earth at last. Their evidence is contained in the pages that follow. 'Frank' was indeed an Irish convict, though probably a Protestant, not a Catholic; and he personally underwent many of the experiences, including repeated floggings, which are reflected in his verses.
As time goes on interest in Australia's beginnings, and in contemporary views of them, can only increase. Frank's life and verse will be of even more concern to Australians a hundred or a thousand years hence, than they are now. The authors of this book have earned the gratitude of posterity.
University of New England.