Jim Jones at Botany Bay

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"Jim Jones at Botany Bay" (Roud 5478)[1] is a traditional Australian folk ballad dating from the early 19th-century. The narrator, Jim Jones, is found guilty of poaching and sentenced to transportation to the penal colony of New South Wales. En route, his ship is attacked by pirates, but the crew holds them off. When the narrator remarks that he would rather have joined the pirates or indeed drowned at sea than gone to Botany Bay (the place of arrival for convict ships in Sydney, and an alternative name for the settlement itself), he is reminded by his captors that any mischief will be met with the whip. In the final verse, Jones describes the daily drudgery and degradation of life as a convict in Australia, and dreams of joining the bushrangers (escaped convicts turned outlaws) and taking revenge on his floggers.

Australian folklorists such as Bill Scott date the song's composition to the years immediately preceding 1830 when bushranger Jack Donahue, who is named in the song, was fatally shot by troopers. The oldest surviving written version of the ballad is found in Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South (1907}, a book of reminiscences by Charles McAlister, a pioneer who drove bullock teams in southern-eastern New South Wales in the 1840s. According to folklorist A. L. Lloyd, "Jim Jones at Botany Bay" may have been lost to history had McAlister not included it in his book.[2]

McAlister said "Jim Jones at Botany Bay" was sung to the tune of "Irish Molly O".[3] Others consider it likely that it was sung to the tune of the Irish rebel song "Skibbereen".


One version of the traditional lyrics is shown below.

Come gather round and listen lads, and hear me tell m' tale,
How across the sea from England I was condemned to sail.
The jury found me guilty, and then says the judge, says he,
Oh for life, Jim Jones, I'm sending you across the stormy sea.
But take a tip before you ship to join the iron gang,
Don't get too gay in Botany Bay, or else you'll surely hang.
Or else you'll surely hang, he says, and after that, Jim Jones,
Way up high upon yon gallows tree, the crows will pick your bones.

Our ship was high upon the seas when pirates came along,
But the soldiers on our convict ship were full five hundred strong;
They opened fire and so they drove that pirate ship away
But I'd rather joined that pirate ship than gone to Botany Bay.
With the storms a-raging round us, and the winds a-blowing gales
I'd rather drowned in misery than gone to New South Wales.
There's no time for mischief there, remember that, they say
Oh they'll flog the poaching out of you down there in Botany Bay.

Day and night in irons clad we like poor galley slaves
Will toil and toil our lives away to fill dishonored graves
But by and by I'll slip m' chains and to the bush I'll go
And I'll join the brave bushrangers there, Jack Donahue and Co.
And some dark night all is right and quiet in the town,
I'll get the bastards one and all, I'll gun the floggers down.
I'll give them all a little treat, remember what I say
And they'll yet regret they sent Jim Jones in chains to Botany Bay.


References in popular culture[edit]

  • In the computer strategy game Sid Meier's Alien Crossfire, the last part of the ballad is used upon faction selection to describe the Free Drones, a labourer faction.
  • In The Hateful Eight, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) sings the song in reference to her captivity, altering "And I'll join the brave bushrangers there, Jack Donahue and Co." to "And you'll be dead behind me John when I get to Mexico", specifically to goad her captor, bounty-hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell). This performance is available on the film's soundtrack, The Hateful Eight. The Hateful Eight takes place during the Reconstruction Era, several decades after the song is thought to have been written[4] but before it was published in 1907. It was sung to the tune of Skibbereen.

See also[edit]

Cross references[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.vwml.org/search?qtext=Jim%20Jones%20in%20Botany%20Bay&ts=1486473572280&collectionfilter=HHA;SBG;LEB;JHB;GB;COL;CC;DCD;GG;AGG;PG;HAM;MK;FK;EML;MN;TFO;CJS1;CJS2;FSBW;RVW1;RVW2;AW;RoudFS;RoudBS#
  2. ^ "Sleeve notes to The Great Australian Legend, A Panorama of Bush Balladry and Song; A.L. Lloyd, Trevor Lucas & Martyn Wyndham-Read, Topic Records TSDL203
  3. ^ Charles MacAlister, Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-52777702/view?partId=nla.obj-244136796#page/n87/mode/1up pp 72-3
  4. ^ Scott, Bill (1979). The Complete Book of Australian Folk Lore. ISBN 9780867772821. 
  1. Charles MacAlister, Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South (1907), "Jim Jones at Botany Bay" (1 text)
  2. Geoffrey Grigson (editor), The Penguin Book of Ballads (1975), 96, "Jim Jones at Botany Bay" (1 text)
  3. Warren Fahey, Eureka: The Songs that Made Australia (1984), pp. 28–29, "Jim Jones at Botany Bay" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. J. S. Manifold, The Penguin Australian Songbook (1964), pp. 12–13, "Jim Jones" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. ST PBB096 (Partial)
  6. Roud Folksong #5478