Escape Conference : Strahan, Tasmania 26-28 June 2003

"From Bondage… Liberated": Frank the Poet's Dreams of Liberty. [abstract]
Jeff Brownrigg

Frances McNamara, "Frank the Poet", remains a shadowy early colonial figure, regardless of his appearances in convict ship indents, the numerous records of his escapes, recapture and court appearances, and the consequent additional punishments. He is best remembered today as the putative author of "Morton Bay" - a poem/song that is a reverie upon escape. But the song's provenance is, at best, vague.

Some other things attributed to Frank are even less secure, though they imply that he was well known and had developed a reputation as poet soon after he arrived in Australia in 1832; he was well enough known to suffer parody.

The body of his work, gathered and annotated by John Meredith and Rex Whalan in 1979 suggest that his wild spirit never lost its distinctive tinge of Irish green and that his rebellious, unsettled spirit was of a piece with his compositions; works that carried encrypted political messages deeply steeped in Irish nationalism and a desire to escape from the overlording British.

This paper examines the poems and songs that are the supposed remnants Frank's literary output, taking issue with the usual conclusion that they sometimes hide coded messages for transported Whiteboys or ribbon men, the tattered Australian remnants of Irish rebellions. Internal evidence suggests something else and the certainties of accounts of his life and output, built in the 1970s, slip away.