The Hulks

The Hulks

A Poem by David Lewis Paget

I was wandering down by Woolwich

Next to a magistrate, one time,

The smell, it was overpowering

From the hulks that lay in line,

We could hear the moans of the convicts

And the rattle of countless chains,

‘There lies the scum of England,’ said

My friend, with a great disdain.

 

We saw some down by the river bed,

Driving the posts in deep,

Trying to stop the erosion

Of the banks from the tidal sweep,

They worked in fetters from neck to legs,

And some were double chained,

‘How could you call this human,

All this misery, and this pain?’

 

‘They’re felons, they deserve it

They have earned their bowl of gruel,

Coiners, thieves, pickpockets…’ - I said,

‘Can’t you see that it’s cruel?

Their only crime is they haven’t got

What raises us from them.’

‘We can’t have ruffians tainting the lives

Of well-bred gentlemen!’

 

He turned and left at the Warren, where

His friends were building a ship,

While I went wandering on to where

The ‘Lady Penrhyn’ sits,

The women crowded the outer rail

To catcall and to cry,

‘What do you want, a Doxie?

Here’s a hundred you can try.’

 

They laughed and jeered, as women do

When they’ve fallen far from grace,

Selling themselves on London’s streets

And now, this terrible place.

‘We’re going to go to New South Wales

Do you want to come on board?

We need some pretty boys in the crew,

Get a wife for you, Milord.’

 

A guard appeared by the group up there

And beat them with his cane,

They scattered back to the inner hulk,

I didn’t see them again,

But a girl alone on the after deck

Was weeping, fit to burst,

So I stopped and stared back up at her

And spoke, but she spoke first.

 

‘Oh John, it’s awful, I can’t go on,

What brings you walking here,

I hoped you wouldn’t see me like this,

These rags, and me in tears,’

She wiped her eyes, and I said, ‘My God!

It’s Mary Gold, my friend,

What terrible thing have you done, my girl,

What brings you to this end?’

 

‘Oh John, my father’s been out of work,

And mother has been so ill,

I only borrowed a loaf of bread,

Took sixpence from the till.

Now I’m transported for seven years,

For seven years of hell!

They said they’ll make me a servant girl,

I’ve been raped on board, as well.’

 

She burst again in a flood of tears

As I stood in disbelief,

Mary, she was a lot of things

But the girl was not a thief.

She’d only wanted to feed her folks

And for just one loaf of bread,

The weight of the British Penal law

Had descended on her head.

 

A soldier on the wharf came up,

Told me to move along,

‘You can’t converse with these slatterns

Be on your way, it isn’t done!’

So I left her there with a sorrowful wave

And blew her a kiss goodbye,

They sailed next morning on the tide

And I watched her mother cry.

 

She went to the Parramatta Gaol

So I heard, and stood in line,

To wait for a man to pick her out

As a wife, a hundred times,

She died next year of the cholera

It was more than sad, he said,

The magistrate who had sentenced her

All for a loaf of bread!

 

David Lewis Paget

© 2013 David Lewis Paget


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Oh, David....such a sad, sad story!! Yet, I can understand how a horror as this could happen with the strict, often senseless laws governing "the little" people! The reason why the act was committed didn't matter as they were often heartless, and the situations in the land were such that so many had need for more than they could obtain with the little, or often times, no pay received. She was sentenced to be an indentured servant but even in that her "servant" status killed her!! And there was likely not a way for the man who came upon her to save her. The law is too often the final word.

Your ballads/stories are always wonderful! I just wish we weren't able to relate to this as we know it happens too often!

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

and the underprivileged suffer at the hand of the magistrate and those more fortunate souls...sad story, well penned as always

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Such a sad story. You have some great stories to tell.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Such a sad, sad story but a great write. As usual - your poetry draws me in and I can't take my eyes away of course until the very end. Bravo!!!!

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I sat here laughing as I thought of all the people with family trees running to check if anyone was a ``magistrate`` and hiding it. Good work.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Hi David. I'm a new writer. I chose you at random from the list and this poem at random from your list... Very powerful stuff and you're obviously a seasoned pro! and your work is very historically correct...people did get shipped to Australia from England for a life of hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread on the streets ( and for the record for you Yanks - New Zealand was never a penal colony - we have quite a different history of settlement to Australia, although many historical/cultural parallels as well - e.g. The ANZACS, Captain Cook, Rugby, Pavlova-->>LOL ;) I loved this piece and will read more; and please , give me an honest review of my story if you get the time. cheers cobber!

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Oh, David....such a sad, sad story!! Yet, I can understand how a horror as this could happen with the strict, often senseless laws governing "the little" people! The reason why the act was committed didn't matter as they were often heartless, and the situations in the land were such that so many had need for more than they could obtain with the little, or often times, no pay received. She was sentenced to be an indentured servant but even in that her "servant" status killed her!! And there was likely not a way for the man who came upon her to save her. The law is too often the final word.

Your ballads/stories are always wonderful! I just wish we weren't able to relate to this as we know it happens too often!

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

WOW!!! I wanted to cry. I was hoping it would not end that way. I wanted to see her rescued. All the same, David, another well composed offering.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

What a harsh conclusion for poor Mary.
You captured a snapshot from the past perfectly once again :)

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

As to the history of England depicted here, It would be interesting if someone could point out a country that did not have a history of injustice and cruelty to some segment of its own peoples.
What is especially memorable about a Paget poem is the people characterized in it are always drawn with vivid strokes and walk off the page and into your heart as if they are real.
I do not know the ins-and-outs of old British law, but was this well-bred gentleman narrator part of the injustice in that he didn't try to "buy" her out of her sentence, or send off to Australia a message for a lawyer to buy the girl's services as a house maid for 7 years? Nor does he try to help out the girl's mother when he sees her at the dock? Am I expecting too much of that gentleman?

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Another nice one. Yes, the "Les Misérables" allusion is clear.

Posted 7 Years Ago



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Added on January 16, 2013
Last Updated on January 16, 2013
Tags: convicts, chains, moans, bread

Author

David Lewis Paget
David Lewis Paget

Moonta, South Australia, Australia



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