It was 1803 when we sailed out to sea
And away from the sweet town of Derry
For Australia bound and if we didn’t drown
The mark of the fetter we’d carry.
Our ship was The Gull, fourteen days out of Hull
And on orders to carry the croppy
Like a ghost in the night she sailed out of sight
Leaving many a wee’an unhappy.
In our rusty iron chains well we sighed for our wee’ans
And our good wives we’d left in our sorrow
And the main sails unfurled our curses we hurled
At the English and the thought of tomorrow.
At the mouth of the Foyle we bade farewell to our soil
And the sea turned as blue as the heavens.
The breeze filled our sails of a yellowish pale
And the captain lay drunk in his cabin.
The Gull cut the sea carving our destiny
And the sea spray rose white and came flying.
O’Docherty screamed, awoken out of his dreams
By a vision of bold Robert dying.
The sun burnt us cruel as they dished out the gruel
And Dan O’Connor lay dying with fever.
Sixty rebels today, bound for Botany Bay,
God, how many would reach the receiver.
I cursed them to hell as our bows fought the swell
And we danced like a moth in the firelight.
White horses rode by as the devil passed by
Taking ten souls to Hades in the twilight.
Five weeks out to sea we were now forty-three
And the strongest wept bitter like children.
Jesus, we screeched and our God we beseeched
But all we got was a prayer from a pilgrim.
In our own smelling slime we were lost in time
Hoping God in his mercy would claim us.
But our spirits shone high like stars in the sky
We were rebels and no man would tame us.
We were all about lost, two round score was our cost
When the man on the mast shouted, “Land hoe!”
The crew gave a cheer as we cradled our fear
And the fathoms gave up and we swam low.
Van Diemen’s land a hell for a man
Who would live out his whole life in slavery,
Where the climate was raw and the gun made the law
And neither wind or the rain cared for bravery.
Twenty long years have gone and I’ve ended my bond
And my comrades’ ghosts walk behind me.
A rebel I came and I died just the same
It’s on the cold wind at night that you’ll find me.
(The singer Christy Moore adapted this poem as a song entitled
“I Wish I Was Back Home In Derry”)