“Van Dieman's Land (I)”


Three poachers are taken and sent to Van Dieman's Land. Sold to planters, they are used to drive plows and live miserable lives until (Susan Summers), a fellow prisoner now married to a planter, treats them somewhat better


The "other" "Van Dieman's Land" has a plot so similar that I was not sure but that they should be classified as one. The tunes and texts are, however, distinct.

A typical stanza for this text would run

Poor Tommy Brown from Nenagh Town, Jack Murphy and poor Joe

We were three daring poachers as the gentry well do know.

One night we were trepanned by the keepers hid in sand,

Who for fourteen years transported us unto Van Dieman's Land.

Van Diemen's Land was named after Anthony Van Diemen of the Dutch East India Company; Van Diemen chartered the expedition which discovered the island. Said expedition was led by Abel Tasman, who found the island in 1642 (as well as sighting New Zealand and some lesser islands).

The reputation of Van Diemen's Land was so bad that the residents in the nineteenth century demanded a name change. It therefore was renamed Tasmania after its discoverer.

The irony is that Van Diemen's Land was not really overburdened with "hard cases"; some were sent to the island, but most wound up on Norfolk Island or in settlements like Moreton Bay. But the settlers of Van Diemen's Land were perhaps the most destructive of all the colonists; the Tasmanian aborigines were systematically eradicated, as opposed to simply being brushed aside in most of Australia.

The reference to convicts driving the plows is an exaggeration -- of the wrong sort. At many of the British colonies, the convicts were indeed used instead of draft animals (few of which were available). But they didn't normally use plows; they had to hoe their own furrows! - RBW

Cross references


  • Bodleian, Harding B 25(1979), "Van Dieman's Land," T. Birt (London), 1828-1829; also Firth b.34(147), Firth c.17(40), Firth c.17(41), Firth c.19(60), Harding B 11(1808), Harding B 11(1850), Harding B 11(2815), Harding B 11(3964), Harding B 17(325b), Harding B 20(177), Johnson Ballads 6, Firth b.34(119), "Van Dieman's Land"
  • Murray, Mu23-y4:034, "Van Dieman's Land," unknown, 19C


  • Robert Cinnamond, "Van Dieman's Land" (on IRRCinnamond01)
  • Jimmy MacBeath, "Van Diemen's Land" (on FSB7)


  1. Laws L18, "Van Dieman's Land"
  2. Colcord, p. 172, "Van Dieman's Land" (1 text)
  3. Hugill, p. 412, "Van Dieman's Land" (1 text, 1 tune) [AbEd, p. 314]
  4. Dean, p. 95, "Vandiemens Land" (1 text)
  5. Leach, pp. 708-709, "Van Dieman's Land" (1 text)
  6. Creighton-NovaScotia 63, "Van Diemen's Land" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Mackenzie 122, "Van Dieman's Land" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Kennedy 262, "Van Dieman's Land" (1 text, 1 tune)
  9. OLochlainn 21, "Van Diemen's Land" (1 text, 1 tune)
  10. Fahey-Eureka, pp. 20-21, "Van Dieman's Land" (1 text, 1 tune)
  11. Hodgart, p.224, "Van Diemen's Land" (1 text)
  12. Ord, pp. 384-285, "The Poachers" (1 text, 1 tune)
  13. Manifold-PASB, pp. 14-15, "Van Dieman's Land" (1 text, 1 tune)
  14. Paterson/Fahey/Seal, pp. 55-58, "Van Diemen's Land" (1 text)
  15. MacSeegTrav 93, "Van Dieman's Land" (1 text, 1 tune)
  16. Silber-FSWB, p. 334, "Van Dieman's Land" (1 text)
  17. DT 426, VANDIEMN*
  18. Roud #519
  19. BI, LL18


Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1830 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 25(1979))
Found in: Britain(England(Lond,South),Scotland(Aber)) Canada(Mar,Newf) Ireland Australia US(MW)