Article MT194

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No.  24: Poaching and transportation - the case of William Graham1

In the teasing out of the strands of broadside printers' treatment of poaching (as begun in Musical Traditions article 168) and of transportation (MT articles 176, 178 and 181) ballads concerning one singular case have been located which also have a bearing on the kind and presence of execution ballads as previously surveyed (MT articles 156, 157, 158 and 168).

William Graham was born in Langdales (now Longdales), a hamlet near to Ainstable, Cumbria (then Cumberland), in 1830, the second eldest in a family of eight, four sons and four daughters, and spent his early working life as a farm labourer.2  In 1856 he and his two brothers, Henry and Joseph, were involved in a fracas with a keeper on Charles Featherstonehaugh's estate outside Penrith, Cumbria, during the course of which the keeper was bludgeoned and died.  All three brothers were taken up but Henry and Joseph, were not, in the end, charged with the keeper's death.  William Graham was; but received the help of two counsels, one named Monk (or Monck as spelled in some newspaper reports), in his defence - what circumlutory routes led to this is not at all clear - and was eventually lodged, first in Penrith gaol and then at Carlisle, to await his fate, the case of murder eventually unproven and the offence of manslaughter replacing it.  This meant that he escaped the death penalty normally imposed and normally carried out when a life had been lost.

He was, instead, sentenced to transportation for life, the last person from (then) Cumberland to be so sent.3  We should remember that during the whole period between 1788 and 1868 when transportation to Australia ceased altogether there were but three hundred incidences of transportation (out of a total of 130,000-odd male convicts) for poaching offences.4  William Graham, then, was, comparatively speaking, amongst a select group whose offenders most often received sentences of seven or fourteen years depending on the offence, the former the most likely although, after 1828, if three or more persons assembled for the purposes of poaching and if one of them carried an offensive weapon, they were liable to fourteen years' transportation.  In William Graham's case, to be precise, although the offence was connected with poaching, the transportation order was for manslaughter - hence for life. 

In the event, after sentencing in February 1857, William Graham languished (perhaps in the hulks, though they were abolished in 1857 but perhaps, equally, in Carlisle gaol or even at the point of embarkation) for a total of eighteen months before records indicate that he was conveyed from Plymouth on board the vessel Edwin Fox to Fremantle, Western Australia, arriving after an unremarkable voyage in November 1858.  His time in confinement before transportation was not unusual.  Convicts were frequently kept in hulks which, it must be remembered, were, initially, but an extension of the existing prison system, for a year or more.  Inmates, then, might be used as labour for work such as the construction or expansion of docks.  In 1788, for instance, accommodation in the hulks at Portsmouth and Woolwich was expanded for precisely this purpose.  Prisoners could be and were released from hulks after serving their sentences; but some prisoners, awaiting transportation, never proceeded any further.  Robert Hughes records how some even died there not so much, perhaps, because of the total time spent but because conditions were so bad, hardly an improvement on already overcrowded prisons.5  As it happens, another Cumbrian case, the murder of Bernard Burns at Cockermouth in 1833, involved two witnesses, Joseph senior and Joseph junior Allison, convicted of perjury, who were sentenced to five months' hard labour and seven years' transportation each and who found that their five months extended to two years before their journey to Australia.6  There was, at the same time, much debate in England about the whole efficacy of hulks; about the moral effects on prisoners, especially juveniles (see text below - the Parkhurst boys).  William Graham, it might be thought, was well off out of the hulks even though he went to the ends of the known earth.

Carlisle newspapers give us more detail of the William Graham affair.  The name of the bludgeoned keeper, for instance, was Thomas Simpson, a young man, according to the newspaper, not yet in the prime of life, but strong, active, and, apparently, courageous to a fault.  He was a married man whose wife was expecting a baby, and, apparently on his own initiative, was supposed to have investigated the sound of gunshots and had been struck about the head.  He was also a former poacher, who had turned Queen's evidence against some of his companions in a case in 1849.7  Given that this may have been known, he would certainly have been unpopular amongst the poaching fraternity and, to underline the essentially local situation, judging by his wife's evidence, he was expecting the Grahams to be where he found them.  These possibilities mirror shared details of the respective knowledge of the movements and character of both poachers and keepers as, for instance, in the cases of James Rutterford, of Bill Brown and of the Blackburn and the Liverpool poachers, as already described on this site.8

At any rate, after the affray involving Thomas Simpson and William Graham, fragments of a gunstock and some brains together with much bloodstaining were found at a particular spot above the river Eden into which Thomas Simpson's body had been dragged.9  Medical examiners found that Thomas Simpson had been struck again after the fatal blow had been given.  This detail was given in a first newspaper report which also included news that William Graham and his two brothers, Henry and Joseph, had been apprehended; and that William Graham had, only a few months previously, assaulted Thomas Simpson's predecessor, named Clement Richardson10, had then had absconded and had not been seen in the neighbourhood until a night or two before the Thomas Simpson affray.  Clement Richardson, perhaps a little surprisingly, lost his job and William Graham, cheekily, actually applied to fill the vacancy that he himself had created.  Clement Richardon's insistence that he had been assaulted, however, put paid to that scheme.

A further newspaper report highlighted William Graham's assault on Clement Richardson in tones of disapprobation that nobody could mistake:

If honest men are to be struck down insensible to the ground for merely performing their duty, and the murderous assailants allowed to go 'Scot free' all sense of security will be at an end in the remotes districts of the county, where idle an dissolute fellows are beyond the wholesome dread of the law and its officers.11
In January 1857, where the Thomas Simpson case is concerned, it was noted that first Joseph Graham was discharged, then William Graham charged and then that Henry Graham was discharged - he had, it should be added, made a statement (amounting to a confession).  The newspaper granted Henry Graham some benefit of doubt as regards his involvement in the affair:
We understand that it has been ascertained that Henry Graham did not assist to drag the body to the river Eden, but that his participation in the crime consists in, his having concealed the gun with which the murder was committed the next day.12
It was also noted that William Graham had become ill whilst lying in gaol and Henry Graham's statement, as reported, included the observation that his brother thought that he was going to die.  Further, one newspaper report stated that
William Graham…now lies dangerously ill in the Penrith lock-up…It is thought that the unfortunate man William is desirous of anticipating his fate by voluntary starvation, for he has expressed a wish to die, and partakes most sparingly of what is offered to him to eat and drink.13
William Graham, in the end, signed a confession - an important aspect of case-history for an expectant public.14  During trial William Graham denied all the charges against him, claiming that he had been drunk and incapable.  This stand was confirmed by all witnesses.  William Graham's neighbours and his mother, baptised Nanny (who also attempted to get the offending gunstock burned) - had tried to prevent him going out on a predetermined poaching errand.  Still: together with his illness and its evidently fatal potential the confession may just suggest that he was squaring his conscience in respect of the involvement of his two brothers.  A report in the Carlisle Journal, referring to William Graham's illness in prison, suggested that because William Graham was in such a very 'low way' then 'the greater reliance is therefore to be place on the veracity of that confession'.15  Henry Graham's own statement confirmed his brother's part in the killing of Simpson (how William had scuffled with and beaten Simpson and 'trailed the man away into Eden') and followed William's recounting of events after he had returned to the family house whilst the brothers Henry and Joseph were in bed.  Henry's statement also detailed the aftermath of the event over the weekend of 16th and 17th November 1856 during which time the brothers had apparently and, somewhat bizarrely, assisted to some degree in the search for Thomas Simpson's body.16

The inquest jury found William Graham guilty of murder but the trial jury found him guilty of manslaughter.  This finding may have been affected by the general claim that William Graham had been drunk on the night of the affray.  It also followed an assessment of the evidence of one Frank Bowstead who claimed that William Graham had boasted to him about how he was going to confront Simpson and beat his brains out which judge and jury thought was a fabrication - one wonders why Bowstead so swore unless he had a reward in mind (see below) - and we do know that in November 1861 Joseph Graham assaulted Frank Bowstead and is supposed to have threatened him with the same fate as the unfortunate keeper.17  Frank Bowstead would, surely, have become alarmed and, perhaps, vengeful.  Together, these factors were probably instrumental in Frank Bowstead's attempt to blacken William Graham but also may have backfired because, in the end, the charge of wilful murder was reduced to that of manslaughter: William Graham had admitted a tussle but insisted that Thomas Simpson had first fired at him and then grappled with him.18  All told the evidence for premeditated murder was not absolute although the circumstances and William Graham's confession proved beyond reasonable doubt that he had killed Thomas Simpson.

There was evidently a degree of sympathy for William Graham, hard to account for in detail (see note in red at the end of this piece).  The Carlisle Journal report of April 1861 did declare that, after his recovery from illness, William Graham was 'a much better man', chiefly through the ministration of a member of the Wesleyan church.19  And throughout the area, only Frank Bowstead swore against William Graham, presumably in order to claim a reward of one hundred pounds that had been offered for aid in William Graham's conviction.  One newspaper report suggested that that the people of Longdales were:

peculiarly clannish, as their long-continued silence in respect to this murder, notwithstanding the £100 reward offered for evidence that would lead to a conviction abundantly proves.20
In this connection, during summing-up, the judge told the jury that he thought Frank Bowstead's evidence was nothing more than 'a vile concoction simply and solely for the purpose of obtaining the reward of £100'.21

Press reports also indicated that at William Graham's trial there had been a rush for admission, clothing was torn, women fainted and there was scratching and bruising amongst spectators - but this may be less convincing as any kind of support for William Graham than as a chance to gloat at spectacle.22  William Graham was hardly a paragon either.  He had been noted for a somewhat lawless way of life that the Clement Richardson episode exemplified.  He was, apparently, often drunk and belligerent. 

So, as a character, he might seem unlikely to have had an appeal to his fellows unless in vicarious enjoyment of a life that consistently defied authority.  Nevertheless, a report appeared detailing the immediate effect of William Graham's sentencing:

In place of the silence of suspense which usually prevails while the verdict on a capital charge is in debate, the densely thronged audience gave relief to their feelings in a buzz of expectancy.  But at the call of the crier for 'Silence' as the jurors turned to the court, there was a solemn stillness, and no one could have failed to hear the deliverance of the Foreman -

'We find the prisoner GUILTY OF MANSLAUGHTER ONLY'

A hearty and even enthusiastic cheer burst from every part of the crowd, in loud clapping and stamping - which was several times repeated, despite the cry of scandalized officials for 'Silence'.23

Popular feeling, then, gives out a certain message in this instance; but must have wavered as time went on.  For William Graham, as noted above, stayed in prison for a considerable time before being transported and it is to be expected that his case faded a little from public view.

As already indicated it was not unusual for prisoners to languish after sentence which appears to explain why William Graham did not leave England until 1858; but on August 26th 1858, the Edwin Fox, built in Calcutta in 1853 and previously used as a transport ship during the Crimean war (1854-1856) whilst under exclusive contract from the East India Company but at the time of William Graham's case sailing under charter to the British government, departed Plymouth, with Joseph Ferguson in command, for the Swan River Colony (as western Australia was first known).  The ship carried the twenty first of thirty-seven shipments of male convicts destined for western Australia and the voyage took eighty six days.

There were, all told, 280 convicts, a crew of 42 and a Pensioner Guard of 38, plus a Surgeon-Superintendent and a Religious Instructor.  Pensioner Guards were a special group of military pensioners drawn from British regiments who, with their military training, could be expected to be loyal and malleable.  Often, after their initial service, they took up land work and, as free settlers, were eventually granted a successful plot.  Many of them had brought out their families.24

The Edwin Fox arrived at Fremantle on November 20th 1858 with her cargo of convicts and supernumaries - the pensioner guards, sixteen wives, ten sons and twelve daughters; and fourteen passengers who have not been accounted for but were possibly cabin passengers or regular soldiers.

It is worth mentioning again that the voyage was uneventful.  There were no deaths aboard and, apparently, no troubles with the convicts.  This, despite tales that do expose the most horrible voyages, was the norm during the years of transportation; and it was also rare for a vessel to be lost.  There were, in fact, only five shipwrecks during the eighty years of transportation to Australia - one just off the French coast which, in a way, then, does not count and another including Guardian, strictly speaking still a naval ship, not contracted out and, in the end, able to make port.  Our foremost authority, Charles Bateson, wrote that only 55O convict lives were lost as a result of shipwreck, far fewer than died through diseases during voyages.25

William Graham's Fremantle prison record indicates that he had been convicted of manslaughter and sentenced accordingly (as above) but that he could be in receipt of ticket-of-leave by 1861.26  Ticket-of-leave was a system devised during the early years of transportation in order to maximise convict labour but also, in some measure, to exercise (almost) a kind of mercy that might have an effect in transforming criminal behaviour for the benefit of the new colony and (given the generally severe bias against transportees and so coming very much at the heel of the hunt) for the benefit of the offender.  As far as the government of the colony was concerned it appears that, first and foremost, by allowing ticket-of-leave, money was saved by transferring care and keep from the government to the individual convict; and less because skills could be put to good effect in the community, most convicts, in any case, in the earlier days of transportation being un-useful, having few manual or clerical skills.  It is worth remarking that when transportation to the Antipodes began, even whilst there were noises about founding a colony, not a single farmer was sent to a country where it had been estimated that farming would encourage self-sufficiency; nor, indeed, were seeds or implements sent along with the convicts of the First Fleet (1788) and after.  Western Australia, it should also be noted, saw several changes in connection with farming and, indeed, with all trades and professions, as will be seen below. 

Ticket-of-leave first found footing in the more general application of a system of assignment, as discussed in a previous article in this series, that prevailed as the mainstay of transportation except when superseded by the grosser schemes of probation such as that introduced by Lieutenant Governor Arthur in Van Diemen's Land.  In the assignment system, there were convicts assigned to government projects - roads, bridges, public buildings - but they could be employed by settlers who, supposedly, provided necessary food, clothing and shelter; thus, as in the case of the concession of ticket-of-leave, saving the government any expense. 

The variations in the operation of ticket-of-leave meant that convicts were not roped inevitably to settlers.  Further, with a ticket-of-leave, whilst convicts were not allowed to leave the district of their original assignment, they might, at the end of term, be released from servitude and then fend for themselves as if a pardon had been granted directly.  Strictly speaking, pardon or conditional pardon was under the control of the home government but there were many instances of on-the-spot administration where conditional terms were offered; and, again, although the granting of ticket-of-leave was thought by the home government in some cases to have been too freely administered (most especially in New South Wales), it was nonetheless left to successive governors to administer as they thought fit.27  The history of the system, then, is somewhat complex with a greater or lesser degree of implementation according to the determination of both the home government and successive colonial governors but the general regulations for eligibility for the receipt of a ticket-of-leave were that convicts normally sentenced to seven year terms could qualify for a ticket after four years while those serving fourteen years could expect to serve between six to eight years.  'Lifers' could qualify for their ticket after about ten or twelve years.  In view of the variations in local administration, it is not perhaps surprising that William Graham would qualify as he did in respect of the figures noted above, his time under sentence being less than four years in advance of his ticket-of-leave when he ought, perhaps, according to normal procedure, have served his ten years or more.  Ticket-of-leave could of course, be revoked, and was - though not in the case of William Graham.  There are also one or two points to be raised that had special significance in western Australia. 

Western Australia was never set up as a convict colony but began life with free settlers.  The first ingress was at King George's Sound, site of present-day Albany on the south coast - next stop, Antarctica - in 1826; the second at the mouth of the Swan River, at a place named after the first governor, Charles Fremantle, in 1829.  These settlements were first set up to thwart any possible imperial ambitions of other countries, notably France (this is an old story).  Extra labour, though, was frequently needed as the Swan River colony developed in and around Fremantle and Perth and, in 1842, a group of boys, originally destined to serve their time in Parkhurst prison, was sent out from England and, as it were, 'apprenticed', mainly on farms as servants.  They were precursors and arguments continued as to the use of convict labour even as debate in England gradually turned towards abolition; with pressure coming from the pastoralist factions in the colony in favour until, in 1848, the British government was persuaded and, in 1850, the first convicts arrived in Fremantle to pursue a limited scheme of employment of convicts that soon became the norm.  From then until 1868 the pattern of convict settlement found earlier in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land obtained though, apparently, without the wilder excesses of martinets or indifference or outright vicious exploitation amongst settlers.28

By the time that William Graham arrived in western Australia a prison or convict Establishment had been built at Fremantle.  Other such Establishments (also called Depots) were built throughout the fledgling state: in North Fremantle, Mount Eliza, Toodyay, York, Bunbury, Guildford, Albany and Port Gregory - and they served up until 1856 when most were closed.  This date coincides with the opening of Perth prison (1855-1856) and with the building of Fremantle prison completed in 1859.  And, at this stage, owing to revisions of policy in England, convicts were arriving who were immediately eligible for ticket-of-leave; and, even more interestingly, with various levels of practical skills.

William Graham was released from prison; and he lived and worked in Western Australia, first, by the terms of ticket-of-leave, as a lime-burner around Fremantle, a village (then) built on and of limestone29; and then up-country as a small farmer, this implying a grant of land.  An entry in the Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians would seem to confirm this, indicating that an application for a grant of land was made in 1878 at Dandaragan and that William Graham resided in or around Dandaragan during 1886-1887; even that he made a living as a kangaroo hunter in the Hill River district.30  In fact, a letter from William Graham in Australia, sent to the man who helped restore his health and state of mind whilst in prison, indicated that he was 'about to get his liberty' - this noted in a newspaper report of April 1861.31

At almost every turn William Graham had, sometimes unwittingly, defied the odds against his continued existence until a natural demise overtook him.  His date of death is recorded on a gravestone in Ainstable as 1891.  Evidently gravestone details have turned out to be usually accurate.  In addition, there is a death certificate for the only William Graham to have died in Western Australia during the relevant period - in 1891.32  The age given does not match with William Graham's birth in 1830 but, if no relatives were living with him at the time, the doctor might well have made a guess as to the particulars and it does match the date of demise on William Graham's gravestone.  The certificate shows thus:

Regn No            597/91
When and where: 1st October 1891, Hill River, Dandaragan
Name and surname: William GRAHAM
Sex            M
Age            70
Rank or Profession: Sheep Farmer
Cause of death: Natural causes
Signature, description and residence of Informant: Abram L Evans, MD, Victoria Plains
When Registered: 20th October 1891
Registrar:            B Troy
So much for an outline life history.

The main concern in this piece, of course, is with printed ballads and one was issued (it can be found in the Bodleian Allegro archive) which takes the story up to transportation; only, in other words, dwelling on the poaching offence and the sentencing.33  It begins:

Now you gallant lads of England, just listen unto me,
It's the last song I shall pen in my own country,
For I have received my sentence as you shall understand
I am transported for life, my boys, into some foreign land.
This is typical enough of ballad style (including poaching ballads).  In comparison, for example, in Johnstone's Escort Into Better Clime, an encounter is described where the keepers won out (a date of 1850 is given in the ballad) and the beginning provides us with exactly the kind of ballad convention just referred to:
You merry lads of Westmorland attend unto my song,
And I'll try to gratify your taste and not detain you long,
I beg you'll give attention wherever you reside,
To take delight in a moonlit night to shoot the feathered tribe.

            Young men all think on me,
            An exile doomed to cross the sea.
The chorus here has echoes of other choruses, another suggestion of well-worked conventions (see also below). 

At one point, though, the ballad degenerated as the protagonist was found guilty on the evidence of 'A man with visage long' and he 'Was sold unconsciously for California's gold' despite his counsellor having disproved the witness's statement.  The jury then returned a verdict of 'guilty … to merit nobles smiles' and the judge passed sentence of fifteen years' transportation

A convict bound to work in chains beyond the baltic [sic] sea
These references, apparently confusing, suggest how the piece was fabricated around a general principle, thus exposing a clash against the supposed specificity of the date given in the ballad: often the ballad way and relevant in general principle where ballads concerning William Graham have emerged, detail some times leaving questions in the air. 

Again, in The Blackburn Poachers, based on an incident that took place in December 1839, there is, amongst other features that we recognise from the generality of murder ballads, a conventional opening:

Come all you wild and thoughtless youths, come listen unto me,
A dismal tale I will relate that should a warning be,
'Tis of four men from Blackburn town, on killing game intent
Upon the lands of Billington one night a poaching went.
          Now all be aware lest you're drawn into a snare. 
Like the chorus in Johnstone's Escort …, this one, too, echoes another, even more similar, found in the ballad Young Henry the Poacher:
Young men all beware,
Lest you are drawn into a snare. 
The Blackburn… ballad continues to illustrate the ballad way with material.  Thus, four keepers arrived and they insisted that the poachers lay down their arms but:
Some angry words arose, and then began the bloody fray,
Which ended in the keeper's death upon that fatal day.
The poacher was taken and lay 'In Lancaster' to await trial.  The ballad continues with an echo of literature generally connected with the murder and the gallows (and again relevant in the William Graham case):
Oh! what must be the torturing pangs that ring the guilty breast,
As lingers on the dreary night his soul can have no rest. 
The poacher, we learn, has 'gone beyond the grave to meet his Maker face to face'.  And, finally, there is a warning:
Ye wild young men from this sad tale a solemn lesson learn,
If e'er enticed by wicked men, from their allurements turn,
The ways of virtue are the best, they bring us peace at last,
Contented is the poor man when all his toil is past.34
With this context established, we return to the Graham ballad to find that it continued by giving the date, 15th November, of the killing of a keeper whose name does not appear but who first fired at Graham before they grappled and Graham 'struck the blow that laid him low'.  On the 17th November, 'I was taken a prisoner and laid up in a cell'.  Graham's two brothers were also 'taken up' but 'it was me that killed the game' - perhaps a somewhat jaunty summary.  Subsequently, 'I was committed to the assizes' - and it was thought that he would hang.

Then comes a hiatus when Frank Bowstead, already mentioned above, 'came to swear my life away' but Graham's two Counsellors 'were very good'.  It is noteworthy in respect of what may have appeared to be a substantial involvement in William Graham's defence that this support throws a slightly benevolent light on a justice system normally reviled.  Moreover, in the ballad as in actuality, the jury did not believe Frank Bowstead's story.  So William Graham was not hanged and his sentence was - in the ballad - for 'life across the raging main'.

Finally in the ballad William Graham admitted to two wives, one living at Appleby and the other at 'Eden Hall'; and a child.  We do know of one marriage that did not last: William Graham returned to his family.35

Meanwhile, another text, without imprint, has been located in Carlisle library and entitled, like the Bodleian copy, 'A New Song', thus suggesting a basis on some earlier ballad - perhaps the one discussed immediately above but possibly even referring to yet another ballad, as yet undiscovered.36  The title 'New' in both cases reminds us of the process as found in the succession of one ballad after another in which, whilst the content was the same, a new title was given so as to encourage fresh buying - The Irish Girl and The New Irish Girl and The Transports and The New Transports have already been mentioned during the course of this series.  Of course, the piece may be original rather than imitative.

This second William Graham piece appears with a header block consisting of a well-dressed man in gaiters and hat, carrying a gun under his arm and smoking a pipe (there is no header block on the Bodleian Graham text).  The text again begins with conventional broadside ballad expression:

Come all you feeling christians [sic], wherever you may
One moment give attention and listen unto me;
It is of Graham, the poacher, for all do know his doom,
For life he is transported, all in his youthful bloom.
This ballad, like the first one reviewed, takes us up to transportation.  There is nothing about William Graham's subsequent history.  It is not yet possible to pinpoint respective dates of issue of the two ballads discussed here but, judging on the content of each ballad and the lack of any posited 'after-life', they must have been more or less contemporary with the events.  One should add, in terms of ballad convention, that, in the second piece under discussion, there is a chorus like that of Young Henry the Poacher ('Young men, all now beware, Lest you are drawn into a snare') that might suggest the employment of the same tune:
Young men all pity me,
Doomed for life across the sea.
and Young Henry… has been shown to have been printed well before the William Graham ballad (it seems that it was issued around 1829-1830) so, as a model, could have been in mind.37

At any rate, the next William Graham stanza is again full of conventional broadside expression (my italics):

My parents reared me tenderly, good learning gave to me,
Till I became a poacher, which proved my destiny;
I was brought up at Langdale, the truth to you I tell,
Near to the village of Ainstable, in Penrith known full well.
The piece then recounts the encounter with the gamekeeper, although with precious little detail, and William Graham's incarceration in Penrith gaol where 'a charge of wilful murder' was laid against him and where “I was taken ill'.  At length, he was transferred to Carlisle for trial at the Assizes ('On the 26th of February') and witnesses appeared against him who, whilst Frank Bowstead's name is not mentioned, 'most horrid lies did state'.
I was tried for wilful murder but thanks to a feel-
          ing judge,
The jury to manslaughter the charge they did
Now for to receive my sentence I was called upon
          to stand,
Which was, that I for ever should leave my
          native land.
The prisoner then cries farewell to his 'native hills' and to 'poaching lads' but a clear sympathy for poachers comes next:
I hope the time it soon will some that poaching will
          be no crime,
And gamekeepers there will be none within our
          native isle.
Finally, 'God bless my aged parents' and his brothers - and:
when I think about them, oh, how my poor
          heart bleeds. 
Both ballads discussed here can be seen to have corresponded reasonably accurately with actuality. 

Helping to bring the story a little more up-to-date for us: a song has been located which would seem to have connections in wording with the Bodleian printed ballad already discussed.  This song, got in recent times from a Mr C Johnstone (of North Park, Brisco, Carlisle - the ballad was deposited in Carlisle library) came to him when he as a child, he thought, from an uncle on his mother's side - not, then, a Johnstone - which complicates further new possibilities for the song's provenance (strictly speaking, for a song's provenance).38  It opens with the two lines that conclude the opening printed stanza as given above in discussion of the first printed ballad save that certain phrases differ - 'Ten thousand knew me well', for example, as opposed to the Bodleian 'some thousands knew it well' ('it' being William Graham's name).  There is then a set of lines with no correspondence:

Where ere the lofty pheasant
T'was (sic) there I loved to be;
With my gun at night was my
To bring them from the tree
And then there is a reversion to the Bodleian text version describing the encounter with the keeper and, in fact, compressing two stanzas.  The stanza in the Bodleian text version describing the taking up of William Graham's brothers and how his testimony 'did them relieve' does not appear in Mr Johnstone's version; and only two lines paralleling those in the next Bodleian stanza can be found:
It was sworn throughout the
That William Graham would
And that he would hang upon,
          a string,
On top of Carlisle gaol.
Then in Mr Johnstone's version the whole of the Bodleian final stanza appears, albeit altered in expression just as the opening lines were.

The reduction in content here would suggest that the piece came from a fuller piece (perhaps a printed text as discussed above) and that, as well as there being omissions, oral additions accrued ('Where ere the lofty pheasant' is also found in numbers of other songs about the countryside). 

To add to the intrigue a copy of the second printed ballad described above has surfaced from Longdales itself.  The present occupant, Marlene Bowes, writes that it came from one of the previous owners of Longdales, Mr Dennis Johnstone, who has confirmed that he has a copy - but that he is not related to the C Johnstone of the song (above).39  It should be added that William Graham himself was supposedly experienced in the making of ballads and may even have been the author of this piece.  If, too, we take various references to his reputation in the area into account (admittedly so far unsupported) he could have sung it as well.  All of this, certainly, with our present state of knowledge, is a matter of speculation.  On the other hand, one newspaper report indicated that:

After Graham was sentence, an attempt was made by some 'padding ken' muse to make him a popular hero.  The song, is such it could be called, was sung in the market towns of Cumberland, but fell still born on the public ear.  It is probably that Graham would not now elect to be the object of such hero-worship.  40
This, a typical reaction to the circulation of ballads from a supposedly superior social standpoint, is very much contradicted in the continued presence of such songs and printed matter as described above.  A 'padding ken' would have been a place of popular entertainment - probably a pub and possibly involving dubious characters - in a social context where singing was a normal path for the circulation of news and observations, whether exaggerated or not.  The claim that William Graham would not have liked to be a character referred to in this way cannot be proven (nor, of course, can the reverse case); this is journalistic rhetoric.  The whole history of oral transmission makes a mockery of such confident assertion.

Unfortunately, the links between William Graham, the songs and their history of transmission and the printed ballads, if tantalisingly close, are not susceptible, at this stage, to a more clear assemblage of pedigree.

Finally, if we accept the combined fragments of information about William Graham - his assault on Richardson before his encounter with Simpson; the degree of feeling for him amongst the spectators at his trial; and the unsupported assertions that he was a well-known but not appealing character - we come up with a portrait of a person who may be described less as 'famous' than as 'notorious', whatever views on poaching may have prevailed at the time. 

In this sense, perhaps, the ballads discussed above concealed actuality as they did with the murder of Susan Owen in Banbury, suggesting that she was a victim ('poor' Susan) rather more than a participant in dissolute and somewhat violent living.  The danger, there, of course, is of falling into the trap of intimating that she might have, in some way, deserved her fate.41  Continuing to look sceptically at ballads, though, is not necessarily a bad thing.  If we took the execution ballad on the case of Edmund Pook as the last word we would never have known that he was found not guilty of murder.  It is a salutary reminder to remain wary.42

Yet in the very progress of such ballads into the popular mind fascinating glimpses of the times are often offered.  Was William Graham's support amongst the populace just the result of personal community feeling, of some kind of sympathy engendered for the particular occasion; or more in opposition to the undoubted severity of game laws and their application?  We remember, in this connection, as recounted in a previous piece in this series, how prisoners from Warwick assizes had their route to Woolwich and transport ships changed so that the convoy need not run the gauntlet of a hostile reception in and around Coventry, near to the scene of their poaching offences.43  We cannot help but stray into the realms of social history when ballads refer to known events and characters since such questions are inevitably raised - if, frequently, not satisfactorily answered.

Similarly, as in William Graham's case, we learn that transportation did not always end up in total misery.  Obviously, in this, we should never overlook the full horror of banishment and the accumulated incidences of gratuitous cruelty, but it is still true to say that some convicts, whether justly or unjustly condemned and whatever the circumstances of their previous lives, came good and in Australia a nation rose out of totally unpromising beginnings.

Roly Brown - 6.11.06
Oradour sur Vayres, France

Since the publication of this piece, the following additional information has come to light.  Our thanks to Matthew Edwards for this:

This article by Roly Brown and the two ballads about the 1857 trial of William Graham of Ainstable seem to indicate that Graham had a local reputation as more than just a notorious and violent poacher.  In the nearby village of Wreay, nearly a century later, Len Irving was recorded singing The Lish Young Buy-a-Broom, and he added that it was said that William Graham, the Cumberland poacher, had written this song.  Len Irving was then aged around 74 and he had been singing the song for forty years.  As far as he knew the song had always been sung in Wreay.

The performance of this song by Len Irving then goes on to demonstrate just why this song had endured so well in local memory.  You can hear the audience delight in joining the chorus, and enjoy the interplay between them as he leaves some of the words for them to sing.  You can tell that Len Irving has lived with this song for a lifetime, and, despite a short bout of coughing, this recording captures the intimacy of a group of local men celebrating a popular local tradition.  In short, the song celebrates a wandering musician getting drunk and getting laid, and bragging about it all afterwards!

If indeed William Graham was the author (or even the reputed protagonist) of this song, it is easy to see why he was remembered in Cumberland so fondly a century after his transportation to Australia.  Sadly there is no way to prove that William Graham was indeed the author of The Lish Young Buy-a-Broom, but thanks to Roly Brown's researches there is now a better picture of the man.  Further enquiries may yet give still more detail.

Note:  The 1953 recordings of Len Irving and other Cumberland singers were made by a local sound recordist, Jack Little, for the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.  The acetates were forgotten until Sue Allen found them again in 1975; she issued them on an LP for Reynard Records RR002 in 1982, and this LP was reissued on CD by Veteran in 2001 - VT134CD.

Matthew Edwards - 12.11.06

And further, Sue Allan (mentioned above) has recently written:

Being only a very occasional Musical Traditions visitor, today was the first time I've visited the website for many months.  So I was very interested to read Roly Brown's article on the poacher William Graham and Matthew Edward's letter (see below) referring to the Pass the Jug Round recordings (vinyl and CD) - where Len Irving claims that the Lish Young Buy a Broom was written by William Graham.  I am that very Sue Allan (not Allen, please note, Matthew!) who produced the first vinyl and wrote notes for both that and the subsequent Veteran CD.  And I'm still researching and writing about, singing and playing songs and tunes from the old counties of Cumberland and Westmorland which now make up the county of Cumbria.

Roly Brown refers to the William Graham broadside in Carlisle library in his article, and in fact I reproduced the image of the man with the gun from that broadside in the sheet of notes on songs and singers enclosed with the 1983 Pass the Jug Round vinyl. I attach a photo of the broadside here.

Copies of the Lish Young Buy a Broom can be found in the Bodleian broadside ballad collection, published by Harkness of Preston, dated between 1840 and 1866.  But it's impossible to say who wrote the song.  What is certain is that it was still being sung enthusiastically not only in 1954 by Len Irving and his cronies, but by many people in Cumbria up to and including the present day ... both in a self-conscious 'folk' context (sessions and clubs) and in an unselfconscious 'traditional' context (hunt meets and shepherds meets).  Conclusion: it's just a bloody good song!

With best wishes,

Sue Allan - 6.1.07
Wigton, Cumbria


Article MT194

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