True Patriots All

Review by Kenneth Porter: The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 68, No. 269 (Jul. - Sep., 1955)

Broadsides of the Convict Age
True Patriots All, or News from Early Australia, as told in a Collection of Broadsides.
Compiled and Edited by Geoffrey Chapman Ingleton.

True Patriots All presents contemporary material on Australia's convict age, from the beginning of transportation in 1788 to the gold rush of 1854. The title is from the oftquoted lines recited at the opening of the Sydney Theater: "From distant climes o'er widespread seas we come;/ Though not with much eclat or beat of drum,/ True patriots all; for be it understood,/ We left our country for our country's good...."
Although, to the folklore purist, their known authorship would put them outside the canon, the "effusions" of "Frank the Poet" (pp. 129, 143-144) are among the most interesting in the collection. "Frank Macnamara ... was an extraordinary convict, well liked by both the bond and the free.... Most of this extempore verse has long been lost, although when he was alive (d. 1852) his emanations were well-known and repeated by thousands of convicts all over New South Wales, Tasmania, and Norfolk Island.... Frank always introduced himself, as follows: 'My name is Frank Macnamara, a native of Cashell, County Tipperary, sworn to be a tyrant's foe, and while I've life I'll crow.'" "The Convict's Tour to Hell" (pp. 143-144) amusingly exemplifies Frank's penchant, despite his Roman Catholicism, for making fun of all religion, "particularly the orthodox part." From Purgatory, which Frank, whose strong point was not theology, also calls "Limbo, or the Middle State," Pope Pius VII repels him with the information that "this is a place for Bishops, priests and popes ... a crib of our own invention." Frank thereupon troops off to Hell, where the Devil informs him that "Convicts never come this way," Hell being designed for "traitors,/ Such as hangmen and flagellators,/ Constables, Commandants, and Spies,/ Bad Overseers, and Informers likewise...." He then resorts to the Celestial City, where Peter accosts him with: "Well! who in Heaven do you know?"/ "Oh! there's bold Jack Donahoe,/ Johnny Troy and Jenkins too...." Frank's acquaintance with these bushrangers and convicts immediately wins him admission and the fatted calf is killed, but "then he woke, 'twas all a dream."

"Frank the Poet" was probably only one of numerous convict balladists who, among them, would have been entirely capable of authoring the many anonymous Australian folksongs of the transportation period.

How should "folk" narratives be classified? "It is one of the regrets of modern Australian historians," writes the editor, "that very few narratives were written by the early uneducated convicts.... The information provided by the official or ruling class is ... so voluminous, that it has tended to dominate and distort the correct judgment of events." An ordinary convict's narrative seldom got into print unless he was a mass murderer or a cannibal. Particularly welcome, therefore, are James Martin's "Memorandoms" of an escaped convict (pp. 13-15) and, even more so, the sturdy simplicity of Joseph Smith's "Voluntary Letter from an Old Settler" (p. 240).

Here is, indeed, a rich feast for the folklorist and social historian-perhaps a little gamy and highly seasoned for a delicate palate and stomach, but judicious sampling over several days will overcome that difficulty.