The Stockman’s Last Bed
On the Road, Black Forest, Vic., c. 1860, watercolour, S. T. Gill (Courtesy State Library of NSW)
‘The Stockman’s Last Bed’ is the ninth and final song on Burl Ives’ 1953 album ‘Australian Folk Songs.’ It was actually recorded in Australia before Burl Ives, by Tex Morton, in the 1940s. It appears in multiple newspapers throughout the late 19th century. However, the website of the State Library of NSW tells us that the song was written by the two daughters of Coionel Grey in 1846, as a parody of ‘The Last Whistle’. This website also displays a handwritten manuscript showing the words.
Dr Graeme Skinner fleshes out the details considerably in the ‘Australharmony’ website (University of Sydney). Elizabeth Anne (‘Bessie’) Gray was born in Scotland in 1826 or 1827, the older daughter of Charles George Gray and Jane Grogan. Her younger sister, Maria Catherine, was born in 1829. The family travelled out to Australia on the John Barry, leaving Dundee on 25th March 1837, and arriving in Sydney on 13th July. The ship spent some time in quarantine upon its immediate arrival, due to there being fever on board. Maria and Elizabeth are both described as ‘songwriter, amateur vocalist.’
Maria Catherine Leith Hay – nee Gray, c. 1860 (Courtesy Australharmony, University of Sydney)
(Courtesy State Library of NSW)
Quoting directly from Australharmony:
Colonel Gray…determined to settle in Port Macquarie, then and for several years after a penal settlement. He accordingly took up his land-grant on the River Hastings, about twenty mils from the township, where he remained until 1848, when he was appointed Police Magistrate of Gladstone.
The website ‘An Australian Folk Song a Day’ tells us that ‘The Stockman’s Last Bed’ was first published in Australia in the ‘Queensland Native Companion Songster’ in 1865. However, Dr Graeme Skinner on Australharmony shows us that the song was published before that in Ireland, in the Cork Constitution, on 22nd January 1856.
(Courtesy Australharmony, University of Sydney)
It was also published in ‘Bell’s Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle’ in 1857, and ‘The Illustrated Melbourne Post’ and ‘The Illustrated Papers – Hamilton Spectator and Grange District Advertiser’ in 1865. It continued to be published in many newspapers throughout the latter half of the 19th century.
“THE STOCKMAN’S LAST BED. AN AUSTRALIAN SONG. Music arranged by S. H. Marsh.”, The Illustrated Melbourne Post 25th August 1865, 128 (Courtesy Australharmony, University of Sydney)
‘Fresnostate.edu’ tells us that Hugh Anderson believed the song was derived from ‘The Boatswain’s Whistle’ by Charles Dibdin, though also notes that John Manifold was not convinced.
According to Wikipedia,
Charles Dibdin (before 4 March 1745 – 25 July 1814) was an English composer, musician, dramatist, novelist, singer and actor. With over 600 songs to his name, for many of which he wrote both the lyrics and the music and performed them himself, he was in his time the most prolific English singer-songwriter.
However, Dr Graeme Skinner at Australharmony tells us that ‘The Last Whistle’ was composed by W. Shield.
The Last Whistle, a favourite song composed by W. Shield, sung by Mr. Steward, published by Carr’ Music Store in Baltimore, U.S.A.
(Courtesy the Lester. S. Levy Sheet Music Collection, Sheridan Libraries and University Museums, Johns Hopkins, via Australharmony, University of Sydney
According to Wikipedia,
William Shield (5 March 1748 – 25 January 1829) was an English composer, violinist and violist. His music earned the respect of Haydn and Beethoven.
State Library of NSW
Evans Early American Imprint Collection
(The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil, 5th May 1986 – Courtesy Australharmony, University of Sydney)
The Dying Stockman
(National Archives of Australia)
‘The Dying Stockman’ is the second of nine tracks on Burl Ives’ 1953 album, ‘Australian Folk Songs’, that did so much to revive Australia’s interest in its own folk song history. It has since been recorded by many others, including Slim Dusty, Lionel Long, Dennis Gibbons, Alex Hood, The Wayfarers and the American singer, Paul Clayton.
The website SecondHand Songs reminds us that a dying person of any of a number of occupations (including that of lumberjack and sailor) issuing “a final request to comrades, including to be wrapped in work clothes” (after his death) is a common theme in folk songs.
It is certainly buried deep in the Australian psyche. Even Rolf Harris introduced his smash hit, “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport”, with the following spoken word introduction:
There’s an old Australian stockman, lying, dying, and he gets himself up onto one elbow and he turns to his mates who are gathered round, and he says…
The website ‘Australian Folk Songs’ (by Mark Gregory) tells us that the song was first published in the Portland Mirror (in Victoria) in 1885, and that it was written by Horace Flower. It goes on to say:
“The brothers Horace and Charles Flower, Queensland station owners, were keen songwriters in the 1880s – 90s.”
It credits the Flowers with also writing ‘Broken Down Squatter’ and ‘A Thousand Mile Away’.
‘The Dying Stockman’ was included in Banjo Paterson’s collection of folk songs, ‘Old Bush Songs Composed and Sung in the Bushranging, Digging and Overlanding Days’, published in 1905 by Angus & Robertson. This was only ten years after the song’s first publication though it may, of course, have been written several years earlier.
Hugh Anderson devoted an entire chapbook to ‘The Dying Stockman’. It was published, together with linocuts by Ron Edwards, by The Rams Skull Press in Ferntree Gully in 1954 (a year after Burl Ives’ album). Anderson tells us that the song “is widely known in Australia as sung to the tune of ‘The Tarpaulin Jacket’, composed by Charles Coote.”
The first verse of ‘The Tarpaulin Jacket’ is as follows:
A tall stalwart lancer lay dying,
And as on his deathbed he lay,
To his friends who around him were sighing,
These last dying words he did say:
“Wrap me up in my tarpaulin jacket
And say a poor buffer lies low;
And six stalwart lancers shall carry me
Carry me with steps solemn, mournful and slow.”
The first verse of ‘The Dying Stockman’ is as follows:
A strapping young stockman lay dying,
His saddle supporting his head.
His two mates around him were crying
As he rose on his pillow and said,
Wrap me up with my stockwhip and blanket
And bury me deep down below
Where the dingoes and crows can’t molest me
In the shade where the coolibahs grow.
Flower has done a good job of adapting the words to Australian conditions, but I don’t think it is necessary to credit him with too much creative genius.
Anderson goes on to tell us, however, that
“Coote was not inspired as a composer – he in turn worked upon an earlier original. The original of both the tune and the words for ‘The Tarpaulin Jacket’ belongs to England and Ireland. The tune of ‘Rosin the Beau’ as printed in A. E. Wier’s ‘The Book of a Thousand Songs’ (1918) and also in ‘Franklin Square Song Collection 1881 – 91’, is very similar to Coote’s song, ‘The Tarpaulin Jacket’.”
‘Rosin the Beau’ has been recorded by many folk musicians, including A. L. Lloyd, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, The Dubliners and Jim McCann, and The Corries. It begins as follows:
I’ve travelled all over this world,
And now to another I go,
And I know that good quarters are waiting to
Welcome old Rosin the Beau.
To welcome old Rosin the Beau, etc.
When I’m dead and laid out on the counter,
A voice you will hear from below,
Saying send down a hog’s head of whiskey to
Drink with old Rosin the Beau,
To drink with old Rosin the Beau, etc.
Then get a half-dozen stout fellows,
And stack them all up in a row.
Let them drink out of half-gallon bottles to
The memory of Rosin the Beau.
To the memory of Rosin the Beau, etc.
The website ‘Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music” credits ‘Rosin the Beau’ as having spawned ‘Wrap Me Up in My Tarpaulin Jacket.’ ‘The Dying Stockman’ is sometimes known as ‘Wrap Me Up in My Stockwhip and Blanket.’ Interestingly, Burl Ives also recorded ‘Wrap Me Up in My Tarpaulin Jacket’.
The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library records ‘Old Rosin the Beau’ as appearing in ‘Howe’s Comic Songster’ in about 1879. The song is also very popular in the U.S., where there are many songs with the same tune. The California State University, Fresno, website notes Rosin the Beau as first appearing in sheet music published by Osbourn of Philadelphia in 1838.
Adam Lindsay Gordon’s poem ‘The Sick Stockrider’ first appeared in ‘Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes,’ a collection of Gordon’s poems published in 1870. It is a (highly detailed) variation on the theme, but ends a little differently:
Let me slumber in the hollow where the wattle blossoms wave,
With never stone or rail to fence my bed;
Should the sturdy station children pull the bush flowers on my grave,
I may chance to hear them romping overhead.
© Stephen Whiteside 15/05/2022