Jim Jones (of Botany Bay)


Classic Australian traditional song - arranged by Graham Dodsworth

play mp3 of Jim Jones

The records of personnel and goods carried onboard the transport ships to early Australia were comprehensive.
Many people believe hundreds of convicts were sent to Australia. In fact hundreds of convict 'ships' were sent to Australia. 608 ships conveying 162,000 convicts in total. It is also assumed by many people that most convicts were transported for merely stealing a loaf of bread, were game poachers or hardened criminals. In fact the worst of the crimes committed in England were dealt with by hanging and although each member of a small gathering of Irishmen could be transported for merely being amonst a small gathering, only 0.3 percent of the convicts were transported for poaching. That isn't three per cent, it's zero 'point' three percent. Hardly any at all. So the many music hall songs about convict poachers, have perhaps unintentionally but collectively, misrepresented the true figures. These songs were most likely designed to discourage potential poachers and disuade crime generally. Printing presses predate Australia and were exclusively in the hands of the clergy and the government and many of these songs found their popular release on broadsides (the side of a broadsheet) which were sold on the streets by street singers. A printing press is listed among the goods of the first fleet.

Ten convicts with the name James Jones were sent to Van Diemans Land or Botany Bay for life. Only three of these, about the time of Jack Donahoe (mentioned in the song) and only one that fits the time frame. This Jim came out on the Surrey in 1821. The ships surgeon for this trip happens to have writtten the most comprehensive ships logue of all time and I'm interested to read the full account. The pages I have accessed have thus far indicated the Surrey was sent back to port three times, due to storms, which fits the song. If there is also information about a pirate attack, assuming the song is in any part factual, this James Jones could be the Jim Jones to which the song refers (see below lyrics on this page for more detailed information).

In this set of lyrics the half verse referring to prison hulks and references to the Surrey are my additions, the rest is traditional, give or take a shuffling of words within a line or two.

guitar is tuned in DADGAD
This is one of the first Australian traditional songs I ever arranged, in the early 1970s, however this particular arrangement of the song is recent. As mentioned above, I added half a verse to fill the gap in the story between sentencing and the voyage as well as the gap formed by a seemingly half verse missing from the song format. Any changes have been done only after reasonable research. The guitar used for recording was a Variax which was in DADGAD mode and the signal sent through an A2 ZOOM via a personal configuration of parameters.

download lyrics of Jim Jones

This version: 2016-05-21

Listen for a moment lads and hear me tell me tale.
How o'er the sea from England I was compelled to sail.
The jury said 'he's guilty Sir' and said the judge says he,
'For life, Jim Jones, I'm sending you, across the stormy sea.

'But take me tip before you ship to join the iron gang.
They'll flog the poaching out of you, or next time you will hang.
You'll have no chance for mischeif there, remember that Jim Jones.
Or high upon the gallows tree, the crows will pick your bones.'

They stowed us into prison hulks for nine months and a day.
Then four on board the Surrey, bound for Botany Bay.
Four months rolling on the sea while winds blew up in gales.
I'd rather have drowned in misery than come to New South Wales.

The waves were high upon the sea when the pirates came along.
The soldiers on our convict ship were full five hundred strong.
They opened fire and somehow drove that pirate ship away.
I'd rather have joined the buccaneers than come to Botany Bay.

For night and day the irons clang and just like poor galley slaves,
We toil and toil and when we die must fill dishonoured graves.
But by and by I'll break my chains into the bush I'll go,
And join the bold bushranger there, Jack Donohoe and Co.

And one dark night when everything is silent in the town.
I'll kill the bastards one and all. I'll shoot those floggers down.
I'll give the law a little shock, remember what I say!
They'll yet regret they sent Jim Jones, in chains to Botany Bay.


Jim Jones of Botany Bay is an Australian traditional folk ballad.
Although seemingly autobiographical, it was most likely written for a music hall character to sing in one of the many shows touring the music halls of England, Scotland, Ireland and other parts of the world including Australia during its colonial era.
We can't assume this song is specifically factual however given the song's vintage, should recognise that much of the detail is factual and possibly based on one of the actual Jim Jones convicts, perhaps just after he was sentenced or after arrival in the country now known as Australia.
There were 93 convicts with the name James Jones transported to Australia. As mentioned above, only ten of these convicts were given life sentences, as was the Jim Jones in the song. Three of those ten were transported during the time Jack Donohue the bushranger was still at large, also a feature of the song. This sets, at least that verse during a time after the 14th of December 1827 and prior to the 1st of September 1830 when Donahoe (another spelling) was fatally shot in a shoot-out. The song might have been written slightly later if written in England, due to the delay of news arrival (http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/donoh...)
One of the three above mentioned convicts, with the name of Jim Jones, was aboard the Surrey which was beset by unusual storms. The ships surgeon, who wrote an extensive logue of the journey mentions having to put back to port three times. Although I've read a few pages of the surgeons journal I am yet to sight the rest of the text, with an interest as to whether they were also attacked by pirates, also mentioned in the song.
Some elements of the song, if originally factual, could have been added later as embellishments or borrowings from other songs of the time.
Most interestingly, despite the many songs that cite poaching as the crime for which the convict had been transported, only 0.3% of convicts were recorded as having been transported for 'poaching'. Therefore, far less than one percent were transported for poaching (http://www.convictrecords.com.au/facts).
This tune is considered to be a traditional accompaniment for the lyrics and follows the rhythm of other traditional folk song settings of the era, including the song Bold Jack Donohue itself and others. The setting Bob Dylan uses for the song and which he apparently considered to be traditional when he recorded his version, is actually a modern tune composed by Mic Slocum, former member of the Original Bushwackers and Bullockies Bush Band (Melbourne, not older Sydney Bushwhackers) who also performed with the Melbourne band, The Sundowners.
I originally heard this song sung in the early 1970s by Danny Spooner, Brendan Walker and Declan Affley. I've always liked it and began singing it early to mid 1970s in a former chunkier arrangement that didn't inspire me to sing it very often. The arrangement featured here grew wings October 2012.

Although this is the song that is featured in the Tarrantino Movie 'The Hateful Eight', the movie rewrites the end of the song and despite the earlier authentic reference to New South Wales in Australia finishes with an odd reference to Mexico. Not something possible or perhaps even desirable for an English convict such as Jim Jones.

Of the 160 convicts aboard the Surrey leaving 2nd October 1822 and arriving 2nd of June 1823, the record of a James Jones can be found at the following web address - http://www.convictrecords.com.au/conv...
There is a photo of a James Jones, convict, taken in 1874 at Port Arthur. Of the 93 convicts of that name transported to Australia, this one is almost certainly not the James Jones in the song. Even were the song factual, it is unlikely he would have lived long enough to appear less than 60 years of age in the photo. The photo is available for viewing online at the National Library website address of http://www.nla.gov.au/apps/cdview/?pi... with the following label - James Jones, per Theresa, taken at Port Arthur, 1874 - nla.pic-vn4270043

This recording is a high quality, casual recording, as yet unreleased

vocal & guitar - Graham Dodsworth