Thursday, April 7, 2011

Old Songs of female convicts and words of sunshine...

Recently we have been spending some time playing the guitar and singing, something we both enjoyed doing BC (before children...). I'd forgotten how much I love singing and slowly my brain and fingers are getting used to the guitar again. I have a long long way to go before I can get back to playing anything that sounds good but it is a really pleasant way to spend an evening. We have a favourite Bob Dylan songbook as well as quite a few old treasured songs we're finding hidden away in the piano stool and in other more obscure places.

above: The Anson female convict ship to Tasmania

I've been looking for sheet music online and found it's just such an amazing resource. Gone are the days when we have to travel to a music store to buy music. I've been following through decades, going backwards in time and finding pure gems. Songs I have known and forgotten and songs I have never heard before.

Today I found old Australian songs and especially love the female convict songs. The lyrics are sometimes quite moving and really conjure up a sense of the lives and histories of these women. Though we Aussies do not all necessarily have "convict blood" many of us can relate to the idea of exile and imagine these women's need to adjust to a new and sometimes strange land.

There is often an incredible sense of sadness and a strong portrayal of the distance between these women and their home countries which many would never have set foot on again.

One of these songs is entitled "Female Transportation". That may be a title given to this song by others later...
here are the last verses..

We labour hard from morn to night
until our bones do ache

Then every one they must obey
their mouldy beds must make

We often wish when we lay down
we ne'er may rise no more
To meet our savage Governor
upon Van Diemen's shore

Every night when I lay down
I wet my straw with tears

While wind upon that horrid shore
did whistle in our ears

Those dreadful beasts upon
that land around our cots do roar

Most dismal is our doom upon
Van Diemen's shore

Come all young men and maidens
do bad company forsake

If tongue can tell our overthrow
it will make your heart to ache

Young girls I pray be ruled by me
your wicked ways give o'er

For fear like us
you spend your days
upon Van Diemen's shore

above: Parramatta Female Factory, c 1826

In New South Wales female convicts were either assigned to families as servants or immediately sent to a "Female Factory". It has been estimated that 1 in 5 Australians had a female ancestor who worked in one of these factories. If the women had children they lived with them there, in the factories.

Besides the old Australian, British and Irish folk songs, I've also been enjoying songs from all eras..songs I think of as bright and simple..songs of happiness. Our world is so complicated and sometimes so filled with cynicism, darkness and hate. These songs can still bring a bit of sunshine...

You Are My Sunshine
My only sunshine.
You make me happy
When skies are grey.
You'll never know, dear,
How much I love you.
Please don't take my sunshine away

The other nite, dear,
As I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms.
When I awoke, dear,
I was mistaken
And I hung my head and cried.

You are my sunshine,
My only sunshine.
You make me happy
When skies are grey.
You'll never know, dear,
How much I love you.
Please don't take my sunshine away.


  1. Nice post! I like to think of you singing the old songs!

  2. My mother used to sing 'You are my sunshine' to my babies when they were small.

    Fascinating post, Tess XX

  3. Annell..I do too!
    Deborah, more blogs like this coming up.
    It's funny how many people have memories of You are my Sunshine. My husband's german grandfather used to sing it as he worked around his fruit farm.