On the 29th April 1770 a British ship named the Endeavour, under the command of Captain James Cook, anchored in what was later named Botany Bay. The first fleet Botany Bay on January 19, 1788 with eleven vessels. They carried about 730 convicts and 250 free settlers. Today Botany Bay is surrounded by the suburbs of Sydney.
This song is about a convict being transported to Botany Bay. It has been recorded several times by various artists including a well-known version by Bob Dylan.
Botany Bay has become synonymous with being sent to prison in Australia, despite the penal colony being moved from Botany Bay to Sydney Cove.
What the words mean
- gay ~ happy (the original meaning of the word)
- iron gang ~ chain gang, convicts who work while wearing leg fetters.
See also another version of this song Jim Jones
Oh, listen for a moment, lads, and hear me tell me tale,
How o’er the sea from England’s shore I was obliged to sail.
The jury says: He’s guilty, sir, and says the judge, says he:
For life, Jim Jones, I’m sending you across the stormy sea.
And take my tip before you ship to join the iron gang,
Don’t be too gay at Botany Bay or else you’ll surely hang.
Or else you’ll surely hang, says he, and after that, Jim Jones,
High upon the gallows tree the crows will pick your bones.
You’ll have no chance for mischief then, remember what I say:
They’ll flog the poaching out of you down there at Botany Bay.
The wind blew high upon the sea and the pirates come along,
But the soldiers in our convict ship was nigh five hundred strong.
They opened fire and somehow drove that pirate ship away.
I’d rather have joined the skull-and-bones than go to Botany Bay.
Now night and day the irons clang, and like poor galley-slaves
We toil and strive and when we die, we fill dishonoured graces.
But by and by I’ll break me chains and to the bush I’ll go,
And join the brave bushrangers there like Donahue and Co.
And some dark night when everything is silent in the town,
I’ll kill them tyrants one by one and shoot the 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.
Convicts being transported
to Botany Bay say goodbye.