Great bards seldom escape the charge of plagiarism, and never are without alternate readings. "Frank the Poet," whom I quoted a couple of weeks ago, has fallen a victim in both respects. A correspondent writing from Maitland sends another version of the "Convict's Grace," which he had from an eye-witness on the occasion of its composition.
It appears that Frank was assigned to the A. A. Company at Port Stephens,and on going for his rations one day he was given a bullock's head, whereupon he improvised as follows :—
"Bullock, bullock, what brought you here ?
You've wandered far for many a year
O'er hills and dales; you've had sore abuse,
And now, you brute, you're brought for Frank the Poet's use."
And then, in a fit of poetic frenzy, he knocked the head off the table and bespattered the white waistcoat of a dandy official standing by, whose rueful countenance long lingered in the memory of my correspondents informant. So much for the different reading.
But a correspondent, writing from a Victorian digging township, goes a step farther. He denies the originality altogether, alleging that the lines belong to the sea, and are at least as old as Nelson and Rodney. For, when he was an apprentice on board the old Salsette—from which he ran away in Hobson's Bay, in 1847 (I wonder if ever he has repented since)—the sailors' grace was
"Salt horse ! Salt horse! What brought thee here?
Thou'st carried turf for many a year.
From Dublin City to Ballyack
Thou'st carried turf all on thy back,
But now, worn out by long abuse,
Thou'rt salted down for sailors' use.
They take thee up and thee despise,
They throw thee down and d—n thy eyes."
These lines show, I am afraid, that Frank was not as original as a poet should be. However, he has good company in his fault.