Willie Williamson [McCaffery] SA1971.213.10
Willie Williamson learned this convict song from a Welsh Stoker named Willy Jones, while on a tramp steamer sailing from the Tyne around 1926. Jones apparently used to sing it while shovelling coal but Willie got him to teach him it during their 4-hour shifts off watch. The song was apparently one of the many songs published by Chas. Sanderson of Edinburgh in his series of song sheets entitled Favourite Songs in Country Districts and some Whalsay folk used to write away for these sheets. The sad tale of Patrick McCaffery is a true one, which according to the Wikipedia account, ‘found popular ear amongst the large Catholic Irish population of the North West of England’. See No. 1148 in the Roud index which includes 45 versions.
Come all you men, listen to my sad tale
As here I lie in Kirkdale Gaol,
My thoughts and feelings no man can tell
As I live my life in a prison cell.
When I was scarcely eighteen years of age,
To join the army I did engage,
So I left my factory and fully bent
To join the Royal Irish Regiment.
To Clonmel barracks I did go
To serve seven years at that depot,
And out of trouble must always be
Until my captain took a dislike to me.
As I stood on sentry-go one day
Some soldiers’ children came round to play;
From officers quarters my captain came
And ordered me for to take their names.
They were my orders I must fulfil,
But I did it sternly against my will;
I took one name not the other three,
Neglect of duty was then charged against me.
To the orderly room I did then appear;
My colonel my sad tale refused to hear,
And then my sentence was quickly signed
And to Fulwood Barracks I was then confined.
But when I returned on duty again
A burning thought entered my mad brain;
With loaded rifle I did prepare
To slay my captain on the barrack square.
I took deadly aim but the shot went wide
When I saw what I’d done, “My God!” I cried,
Twas Captain Harman I meant to kill
But I shot my colonel against my will.
I’d done the deed, I shed his blood,
And at Liverpool Assizes my trial stood;
The judge he said “John McCaffery,
Prepare yourself for the gallows tree”.
I had no father to take my part
Nor yet a mother to break her heart,
But I had one friend and a girl was she
Who’d lay down her life for to set me free.
Now all you men take wise from me
And treat your men with decency.
‘Twas cruel spite and jealousy
That caused the death of McCaffery.
Twas in old England this sailor died
In a felon’s grave his body lies;
Now I ask you men who may pass my grave,
Say “The Lord have mercy on McCaffery”.