Paying A Debt

The Sydney Stock and Station Journal Friday 18 April 1902 p. 12.

PAYING A DEBT. (By "Socius.")
(Written for the “Stock and Station Journal.”)

Francis McNamara was a man who came out to Botany Bay in the early days for the benefit of his country and the good of himself. He was one of those mixed up in the political intrigues of the "Young Ireland Party," and for the part he took in such with Smith, O'Brien, and others he was "transported beyond the seas." He was well educated, and gifted with a quick perception and ready wit. His aptitude in rhyming gained for him the appellation of "Frank the Poet," and many stories used to be told by old hands of his smartness in getting out of a difficulty.

During a time that he was under Captain Logan at Moreton Bay he was frequently in trouble. On one occasion he was called to account for some misdeed, and asked why he should not be impri- soned for fourteen days. He answered promptly—

"Captain Logan, if you plaze,
 Make it hours instead of days."

And the Captain did.

On another occasion he was brought before Logan for inciting the other inmates of his hut to refuse a bullock's head that was being served to them as rations. Captain Logan, in a severe tone, asked him what he meant by generating a mutinous feeling among his fellows.

"Please, sir. I didn't" said Frank "I only advised my mates not to accept it as rations because there was no meat on it." "Well McNamara," said the Captain, "I am determined to check this insubordinate tendency in a way that I hope will be effective. At the same time, I am willing to hear anything you may have to say in defence before passing sentence on you."

"Sure, Captain." said Frank, "I know you are just, and merciful as well. Kindly let the head be brought in, and you will see yourself that it is nothing but skin and bone, and ain't got enough flesh on it to make a feed for one man. I only said we won't be satisfied with it for our ration." The Captain ordered the head to be brought, and when it was placed on the table he turned to Frank and said, ''There's the head. Now what about it?"

Frank advanced to the table, picked up a paper-cutter, and said to the Captain and those with him, "Listen, your honours, to the 'honey' ring it has," and, tapping it with the paper knife, recited in a loud tone the following lines : —

"Oh, bullock, oh, bullock, thou wast brought here,
After working in a team for many a year,
Subjected to the lash, foul language and abuse
And now portioned as food for poor convicts' use."

"Get out of my sight, you scoundrel," roared Logan, "and if you come before me again I'll send you to the triangle."

It is needless to say that Frank was quickly out of the room, chuckling to himself at his good luck. Some time after he was assigned to a squatter in New South Wales, and as was his wont, always in hot water. He was at last given a letter to take to the chief constable in the adjoining town.

Frank suspected the purport of the letter to be a punishment for him self, so he raked his brain in devising a means of escape. Having writing materials, and being an efficient penman, ho addressed a couple of envelopes, and, I putting them with the one he had received to give the officer, he started.

On the outskirts of the town he met a former acquaintance, who was on 'a ticket of leave,' and a stranger to the district. Frank had known him else where, and remembered him as a flogger : and on one occasion he had dropped the lash on himself.

Here was what Frank styled a heaven-sent chance, and it would be a sort of revenge for a past infliction if he succeeded in get ting this fellow to deliver the letter. So he sat down and chatted for a while, and pulling out the three envelopes, regretted that they could not have a drink together. If his business was finished, they could; but his master, he said was a Tartar, and it wouldn't be safe to neglect it. So he would have to deliver the letters first. "Perhaps I might be able to help you," said tho other. "Blest if I know," answered Frank, "it would be all right so long as the cove didn't find it out." "Oh, chance it," said the other, "and we can have another hour together."

Frank thought for a while, turning the letters about in his hands, and at last made up his mind to let the other assist him, so handed him the letter addressed to "Mr. Snapem. Concordium." They went on into town, and Frank, directing the ex-flogger turned into, a shop. Sneaking on a few minutes after, he heard enough to satisfy him that his surmise a [a line of text missing] correct, and he left.

 On his return to the station, he was asked by the squatter if he had received any reply to the letter. "Oh, yes," answered he : "a feeling reply, that I am likely to remember." While having tea he appeared in such excellent hu- mour that one of his mates asked the cause. "Oh, nothing much," said Frank, "only circumstances to-day enabled me to pay a debt that I have owed for some years: and I am glad about it."

The Sydney Stock and Station Journal Tuesday 22 April 1902 p. 2.


 By 'Morrigang.' (It is not always possible to answer com munications under this heading in the issue following receipt, and sometimes several issues appear before we are able to do so.) ...

[The following is a response to Socius' piece above and supplies fragmentsof  'Morton Bay' the convict ballad attributed to MacNamara.]

Socius.—I liked that sketch a lot. I've often heard one of the "old hands" in that district singing convict songs, and possibly the man you mention was responsible for their composition. 

I remember one ran something like this— 

"Seven long years I was beastly treated, 
And sorrow-pressed under Logan's yoke, 
 Until kind Providence saw my affliction, 
And dealt the tyrant the fatal stroke.' 

Then there was something about the blow being delivered by blacks in ambush. Another verse was in this strain— 

"Fellow-prisoners, don't be accelerated, 
Your former sufferings don't bear in mind, 
For when from bondage you're liberated, 
You leave those tyrants far behind."


The Sydney Stock and Station Journal Tuesday 27 May 1902 p. 3.


A correspondent writes ; — "I read 'Paying a Debt' in your issue of the 18th ult. I remember 'Frank the Poet' well. He was a strange old card! When the Young Ireland Party, to which William Smith O'Brien was attached, flourished, transportation to N.S.W. had stopped. The 'Party' had its day in 1848; so Frank was sent out long before that time. The story about 'Make it hours instead of days' happened in Sydney.

Frank was 'lumbered' just on Christmas Eve, so he would be out of all the good things if then 'sent up'; and he was before Captain Innes, at the old 'Central' in George-street, when he 'ran off' the couplet. Captain Innes was the P.M., and father of the late Sir George Innes.

"Frank had a great down on a 'push' in Sydney known as the 'Cabbage-tree Mob,' their symbol being the wearing of a cabbage-tree hat. Well, on one occasion they bailed up poor Frank, and asked him what he had to say that they should not inflict condign punishment on him. 'Well, boys,' he said,

" 'Here's three cheers for the Cabbage-tree Mob–
Too lazy to work; too frightened to rob.'

They made for Frank, but just then came along a policeman known as the 'Native Dog'; so Frank escaped that time. About the last of the 'Cabbage-tree Mob' lived for many years next door to Cunninghame's printing office, in Pitt-street. He was a farrier, and a good one. Some of the old Sydney 'hands' would remember him well. But the old hands are few and far between now !"

Notes by Mark Gregory

More information about Frank the Poet keeps turning up as more and more newspapers are digitised by the National Library of Australia. The one above are a good example from 1902 some 40 years after the poet died. Some of the details may be wrong as in the case of Captain Logan who died in 1830 twelve years before MacNamara arrived in Botany Bay. William Smith O’Brien on the of the Irish independence movement Young Ireland, arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on a prison ship on 20th July 1849, the same year that MacNamara received his certificate of freedom.

What is clear from the newspapers is that public interest in the convict poet and his works remained undiminished for generations. Stories of his relentless battles with authorities, often as a leader in protests, only reinforce his reputation as the legendary sworn enemy of tyranny. His fame continues to grow today, in Ireland as well as Australia.