Wild Colonial Boy, The [Laws L20]
DESCRIPTION: Transported from Ireland to Australia, (Jack Doolan) turns bushranger but robs only the rich. At last intercepted by troopers Kelly, Davis, and Fitzroy, he chooses to fight rather than surrender. He kills Kelly but is in turn shot by the other two
EARLIEST DATE: 1905 (Old Bush Songs); Shepard's broadside claims to be the "original version first printed 1880"; Paterson's version is very close to that which Jack Bradshaw (according to Manifold) must have learned by 1800 although it wasn't published until later
KEYWORDS: transportation outlaw death
FOUND IN: US(MA,MW,NE,Ro) Canada(Mar,Newf,Ont) Australia Ireland Britain(Scotland(Bord))
REFERENCES (37 citations):
Laws L20, "The Wild Colonial Boy"
McMorland/Scott-HerdLaddieOTheGlen, pp. 68-69, 151, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Meredith/Anderson-FolkSongsOfAustralia, pp. 72, 124, 148-149, 255, "The Wild Colonial Boy"; p. 152, "Jack Dowling"; pp. 185-186, "John Doolan" (5 texts, 6 tunes)
Anderson-StoryOfAustralianFolksong,pp. 122-125, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Paterson/Fahey/Seal-OldBushSongs-CentenaryEdition, pp. 72-74, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text)
Ward-PenguinBookOfAustralianBallads, pp. 74-75, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, one of the versions in which Jack Donohue is the hero)
Stewart/Keesing-FavoriteAustralianBallads, pp. 12-13, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text)
Friedman-Viking/PenguinBookOfFolkBallads, p. 374, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text)
Cazden/Haufrecht/Studer-FolkSongsOfTheCatskills 113, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Gardner/Chickering-BalladsAndSongsOfSouthernMichigan 133, "The Wild Colloina Boy" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Flanders/Brown-VermontFolkSongsAndBallads, pp. 130-131, "Jack Dolden" (1 text, 1 tune)
Beck-FolkloreOfMaine, pp. 98-99, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leach-FolkBalladsSongsOfLowerLabradorCoast 54, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Mackenzie-BalladsAndSeaSongsFromNovaScotia 128, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text)
Ives-DriveDullCareAway-PrinceEdwardIsland, pp. 77-78,257, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Manny/Wilson-SongsOfMiramichi 99, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hodgart-FaberBookOfBallads, p. 229, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text)
Beck-SongsOfTheMichiganLumberjacks 90, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text)
Beck-TheyKnewPaulBunyan, pp. 241-243, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text)
Beck-LoreOfTheLumberCamps 94, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text)
Lomax/Lomax-OurSingingCountry, pp. 320-321, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Henry/Huntingdon/Herrmann-SamHenrysSongsOfThePeople H750, pp. 120-121, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Manifold-PenguinAustralianSongbook, pp. 52-54, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Meredith/Covell/Brown-FolkSongsOfAustraliaVol2, pp. 134-135, 299-300, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Grigson-PenguinBookOfBallads 97, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text)
Fahey-Eureka-SongsThatMadeAustralia, pp. 80-81, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fahey-PintPotAndBilly, pp. 44-45, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Scott-ACollectorsNotebook-31TraditionalSongs, p. 29, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cohen-AmericanFolkSongsARegionalEncyclopedia2, pp. 562-563, "The Wild Montana Boy" (1 text, minimally adapted to a Montana setting)
Darling-NewAmericanSongster, pp. 110-111, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 201, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text)
DT 427, COLONBOY* COLONBY2*
ADDITIONAL: Leslie Shepard, _The Broadside Ballad_, Legacy Books, 1962, 1978, p. 179, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (reproduction of one of John Manifold's prints, with text and tune); p. 180, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (reproduction of a modern broadside claiming to be "The Original Version)
Willie Scott, "The Wild Colonial Boy," School of Scottish Studies Archive SA1962.027,Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches accessed 14 September 2013 from http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/57720/1
Bill Wannan, _The Australians: Yarns, ballads and legends of the Australian tradition_, 1954 (page references are to the 1988 Penguin edition), p. 14, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text)
A. K. MacDougall, _An Anthology of Classic Australian Lore_ (earlier published as _The Big Treasury of Australian Foiklore_), The Five Mile Press, 1990, 2002, pp. 117-118, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, clearly mixing "The Wild Colonial Boy" [Laws L20] and "Jack Donahue" [Laws L22])
Bill Beatty, _A Treasury of Australian Folk Tales & Traditions_, 1960 (I use the 1969 Walkabout Paperbacks edition), pp. 265-266, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text)
Margaret Barry and Michael Gorman, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (on Voice08)
John Greenway, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (on JGreenway01)
A. L. Lloyd, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (on Lloyd4, Lloyd10)
Ernest Poole, "Wild Colonial Boy" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
cf. "Jack Donahue" [Laws L22]
NOTES [986 words]: Philips Barry connects this song to the career of a Jack Dowling who was a bushranger in the 1870s. John Greenway, however, believes that Jack Doolan/Dolan/Duggan was an improved version of the historical Jack Donahue. He based this on the fact that two share initials, they were credited with many of the same feats in popular imagination, they shared similar fates, and the two ballads sometimes exchange tunes and choruses. Compare, however, Cazden et al. - RBW
Another candidate from Yates, Musical Traditions site Voice of the People suite "Notes - Volume 8" - 1.3.03: "It has been suggested that the story is based on the life of one John Donaghue, a Dublin man who was transported for life in 1825, and who was killed by troopers in 1830." - BS
Nunn, p. 76, in fact reports that the song "Bold John Donoghue sung in the early 1830s glamorised his fictional deeds an heroic death. It was banned only to re-emerge, with minor variations, as ['The Wild Colonial Boy]."
On the other hand, Wannan, p. 13, declares firmly that "Jack Doolan, or Dowling, is not... one and the same person as Bold Jack Donahoe," offering as evidence the fact that "Donahue was a convict who excaped... and became a bushranger in the eighteen-twenties. Doolan was native-born and his bushranging activities belong to the period of the sixties, ten years or so after the main gold rushes had taken place. It would certainly not have been possible for the Wild Colonial Boy to have stuck up the Beechwood mail coach at the time... [of] Donahoe.... There was no such coach in existence then."
To which one can only say, "Folk process!" Even Wannan admits that "history has left us no facts about [Doolan]."
Given that this song is so widespread, though, I almost suspect that this song PRECEDES "Jack Donahue," and that the Australian song of that name is a conflation of this with the native Australian ballad referred to herein as "Bold Jack Donahoe." This is similar to the opinion of John Manifold; he notes John Meredith's classification of five different Jack Donahue ballad-types, of which #2 (represented by four texts and a fragment, making it the best-known) has Donahue be the wild colonial boy. Manifold, p. 35, says, "Meredith beleives that all these are interconnected; that they are in fact all about the one man. I don't."
In addition, though Laws does not list a broadside publication, one suspects that this piece began life in print, as the names of the troopers who killed Doolan almost never show variants.
In my personal library, as of this writing, I find twelve substantial texts of this song from verified sources. Seven of these do not give an internal date for the song; of the five that do, three list (18)61, one 1862, and one (18)65. I suspect that this is, however, an error for the convict's age of "sixteen years" (based on "sixty" for "sixteen" -- an easy error of hearing).
Manifold, p. 36, makes a similar observation; he counts ten different points of fact about Donahue which might be found in ballad -- and which most of the Donahue ballads get right. But in three of his four "Colonial Donahue" ballads, the text gets none of them right.
There is one thing in the ballad which is somewhat historical when it refers to "Judge McEvoy" or similar: "Mr Justice Macoboy, while making the Bendigo Circuit, was bailed up near Beechworth by a bushranger who took no booty from the coach but read the judge a sever lecture against oppressiveness and harsh judgment. At the end of this the bushranger made off, and disappeared from history but not from legend" (Manifold, p. 45). This, however, was in 1861, so the bushranger cannot have been Donohue.
Manifold, pp. 36-40, attempts to reconstruct the archetype of the "other" Donohue ballads; the result is interesting but perhaps not entirely convincing. His suggestion that "The Wild Colonial Boy" started as a local ballad about the robbing of Judge Macoboy, to the tune of one of the Jack Donohue songs (p. 46), which would explain why the two got mixed up -- but I'm not sure it explains how this song became so internationally popular; it seems to me that any explanation about "The Wild Colonial Boy" must explain both its relationship to "Jack Donohue" and how the song managed to spread to the entire English-speaking world -- a feat no other native Australian song except "Waltzing Matilda" has managed.
Manifold thinks that the versions of the song in which the Boy is born in Ireland are a corruption, because someone born in Ireland would not be called a "Colonial" (Manifold, p. 47) -- but while an Australian might be alert to that point, I doubt anyone else would. So I don't consider that strong evidence about the source of the ballad.
One small point regarding the date: The troopers are said to have been mounted, and Australia didn't get a mounted police force until 1825. Even then, it was only 13 troopers; it didn't grow to as many as 150 men until 1839 -- by which time transportation to New South Wales was effectively ended. Thus Wannan's point has some truth: the song as usually found seems based on Australia in the period around 1850-1870.
Robert Hughes, who prints a version he took down in 1958 (p. 242) says that "there used to be as may ways of singing 'The Wild Colonial Boy' as there were pianos in Australian parlors" -- which, in context, strikes me as an underestimate.
There is a clear allusion to this song in Steele Rudd's (Arthur Hoey Davis's) book Our New Selection (1903), Chapter VII, "A Surprise Party," in which the brother, Dave, when drunk, sings "Poorsh honish parensh, born in Cashl-ic-maine... No stransher he-hic-didsh fear."
It's interesting that both Jack Doolan and the troopers who shot him have Irish names. OxfordCompanion, p. 31, notes that the Irish represented about a quarter of the migrants to Australia -- and that they were over-represented among both the convicts and the police. - RBW
Last updated in version 5.2
- Hughes: Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's founding, Knopf, 1986
- Manifold: John S. Manifold, Who Wrote the Ballads? Notes on Australian Folksong, Australasian Book Society, 1964
- Nunn: Harry Nunn,Bushrangers: A Pictorial History, Ure Smith Press, 1979, 1992
- OxfordCompanion: S. J. Connolly, editor, The Oxford Companion to Irish History, Oxford, 1998.
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