Week 137 – Van Diemen’s Land

Learned from the singing of Walter Pardon, via his debut LP, A Proper Sort. And it’s a particularly fine performance by Walter as well – you can hear the same recording, made in 1974 by Bill Leader and Peter Bellamy, on Farewell, My Own Dear Native Land (The Voice of the People Volume 4).

Van Diemen’s Land, in case anyone is unaware, was the former name for Tasmania. I retain Walter Pardon’s pronunciation of “Die-man” rather than the more usual “Dee-man”. There are actually two related, but distinct, songs which share the title Van Diemen’s Land. Roy Palmer believes that this one – Roud 221, originally Young Henry the Poacher – may have been a sequel to the original Van Diemen’s Land,  Roud 519. Writing in the Folk Music Journal in 1976, Roy argued that both songs were prompted by two major trials of poachers in Warwickshire, in 1829. This followed the enactment of  a new law in 1828 which stated that “if three men were found in a wood, and one of them carried a gun or bludgeon, all were liable to be transported for fourteen years” (FMJ Vol 3 No 2, p161). This ballad in particular, Roy says, appears to have been influenced by the events in Warwickshire.

Young Henry the poacher - ballad sheet printed by H Such between 1863 and 1885; from the Bodleian collection via Ballads Online.

Young Henry the poacher – ballad sheet printed by H Such between 1863 and 1885; from the Bodleian collection via Ballads Online.

I have a very distinct memory of singing this song at “One for Ron”, an event held to celebrate the life of Sussex singer Ron Spicer, a year or so after his death. There was a massive singaround in the afternoon – it must have gone on for around 3 hours, but there were so many singers present that hardly anyone got the chance to sing more than one song. When I got to the chorus of this one, I started to sing it in my normal way

Young men, all now beware
Lest you are drawn into a snare

But I quickly realised that a stronger force was at work in the room. In the far corner sat the mighty Gordon Hall – a big man, with a big voice. Gordon never liked to rush a song, and his way of singing the chorus was more like

Young men, a—-ll now bewa——re [pause]
Lest you are drawn int–o a sna——-re

There was nothing to do but go with the flow, and sing it at Gordon’s pace. Which was, clearly, the right way to sing it!

Van Diemen’s Land

One Comment to “Week 137 – Van Diemen’s Land”

  1. Nicely sung. I heard Walter Pardon sing many times and rank those as highly as any in a life of very varied musical experiences, and I count myself privileged. The status English traditional singers have been accorded in this country’s life and culture is pitiful, when you consider the greatness of a man like Walter. I use that word deliberately, for all his quietness and modesty – a great singer, with a great understanding of what he had and what it meant. I treasure his records. I heard Gordon Hall a few times, too, and I’m glad I never had to compete with that mighty voice, as you did in your story! Extraordinary singer and character.

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