Seizure of the "Cyprus Brig" in Recherche Bay

A Song by Francis MacNamara
Thomas Whitley transcription 1891 State Library NSW
Came all you sons of freedom, a chorus join with me,
I'll sing a song of heroes, and glorious liberty.
Some lads condemn'd from England sail'd to Van Diemen's shore.
Their country, friends and parents, perhaps never to see more.

When landed in this Colony to different masters went,
For trifling offences, to Hobart Town Gaol were sent,
A second sentence being incurr'd we were order'd for to be
Sent to Macquarie Harbour, that place of tyranny.

The hardships we'd to undergo, are matters of record,
But who believes the convict, or who regards his word?
For starv'd and flogg'd and punish'd, depriv'd of all redress,
The Bush our only refuge, with death to end distress.

Hundreds of us were shot down, for daring to be free,
Numbers caught and banished, to life-long slavery.
Brave Swallow, Watt, and Davis, were in our noble band
Determin'd at the first slant, to quit Van Diemen's Land.

March'd down in chains and guarded, on the Cyprus Brig convey'd,
The topsails being hoisted, the anchor being weighed.
The wind it blew sou sou' west and on we went straightway,
Till we found ourselves wind bound, in gloomy Recherche Bay.

Twas August eighteen twenty nine, with thirty one on board,
Lieutenant Carew left the Brig, and soon we passed the word.
The Doctor too was absent, the soldiers off their guard,
A better opportunity could never have occurred.

Confined within a dismal hole, we soon contriv'd a plan,
To capture now the "Cyprus", or perish every man,
But thirteen turn'd faint-hearted and begged to go ashore,
So eighteen boys rush'd daring, and took the Brig and store.

We first address'd the soldiers "for liberty we crave,
Give up your arms this instant, or the sea will be your grave.
By tyranny we've been oppress'd, by your Colonial laws,
But we'll bid adieu to slavery, or die in freedom's cause."

We next drove off the Skipper, who came to help his crew,
Then gave three cheers for liberty, 'twas answer'd cheerly too.
We brought the sailors from below, and rowed them to the land,
Likewise the wife and children of Carew in command.

Supplies of food and water, we gave the vanquish'd crew,
Returning good for evil, as we'd been taught to do.
We mounted guard with watch and ward, then haul'd the boat aboard
We elected William Swallow, and obeyed our Captain's word.

The morn broke bright, the wind was fair, we headed for the sea
With one cheer more to those on shore and glorious liberty.
For navigating smartly Bill Swallow was the man,
Who laid a course out neatly to take us to Japan.

Then sound your golden trumpets, play on your tuneful notes
The "Cyprus Brig" is sailing, how proudly now she floats.
May fortune help the noble lads, and keep them ever free
From Gags, and Cats, and Chains and traps, and Cruel Tyranny.


The two-masted Cyprus Brig can be seen in this fragment of Augustus Earle's 1825 "Panorama of Hobart"
The brig is the second vessel to the right of the flag pole. (Dixson Galleries, State Library of NSW)
The Cyprus Brig was rebuilt by convicts in 1825 at Macquarie Harbour, the 'Gates of Hell'. The brig was seized and used for escape by other convicts in Recherche Bay, August 1829. Naturally this escape story was a favourite of Tasmanian prisoners. MacNamara would have certainly heard this story during his time in Tasmania, it has many of the hallmarks of his writing where 'record' can rhyme with 'word' (especially for an Irish voice) and the ballad shows no hint of retreat from fierce support for rebellion and condemnation of tyranny.)

Recently the historian Nick Russell discovered that the convict story of their visit to Japan in 1830 was verified by a Japanese painter of the time as shown in the image below

Watercolour picture of a British-flagged ship that arrived off the coast of Mugi, in Shikoku, Japan, by the Samurai Hamaguchi.
Photograph: Tokushima prefectural archive

In his  History of Tasmania (1845) John West seems to have heard at least the first line of MacNamara's ballad "Came all you sons of freedom, a chorus join with me"

West wrote:

The capture of the Cyprus in Recherche Bay, on the voyage to Macquarie Harbour, was a stiring episode in the history of transportation. It excited vast interest in Great Britain, and was dramatised at a London theatre. The prisoners, who wage war with society, regarded the event with exultation; and long after, a song, composed by a sympathising poet, was propagated by oral tradition, and sung in chorus around the fires in the interior. This version of the story made the capture a triumph of the oppressed over the oppressors. The stanzas set forth the suffering of the prisoners by the cruelty of their masters, who they daily attempted to please. It related their flight from torture to the woods, and drew but a dreary picture of the life of an outlaw. It passed through the details of conviction and embarkation, and then described the dashing seamanship of the pirates in managing the bark, once destined to carry them to that place of suffering; but which bore "bold Captain Swallow", to the wide ocean and liberty.

See Thomas Whitley notes about MacNamara
See also Cyprus Brig sighting: Sydney Gazette (1829)
Listen to Jack Davies sing the Cyprus Brig from a 1961 field recording