Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Frank the Poet

Francis MacNamara

According to convict indents Francis MacNamara, later known as Frank the Poet, was born Wicklow c. 1811.

He was convicted of stealing plaid in Kilkenny city 15th January 1832 and sentenced to 7 years transportation. He was 21 years of age with grey eyes and fair hair and a fresh complexion.[4]

Francis Macnamara was transported to Australia on the convict ship Eliza in 1832. The Eliza departed Cork on the 10th May with one hundred and ninety-eight male prisoners and arrived on Thursday evening 6th September. Surgeon Superintendent was Thomas Bell, R.N., and the guard consisted of 29 rank and file of the 4th 17th and 63rd regiments under command of Lieutenant Hewson and Ensign Nicholson of the 4th regiment.

Arrival in Australia

The convicts were disembarked on Saturday 15th September 1832. Had he been able to procure a copy of the Sydney Gazette that morning perhaps Francis Macnamara may have been amused (or not) with the enthusiastic ditty heading the editorial.....

You may think as you like, you may say what you may,

There is no Bay on earth like our Botany Bay

It wasn't long before Francis Macnamara was in trouble....

On 3rd January 1833 he was admitted to the Phoenix hulk from Sydney Gaol. He remained there until 24 May 1833 when he was returned to Hyde Park Barracks.[3]

Hyde Park Barracks - Hyde Park Barracks

He was in and out of various gaols and iron gangs over the next few years. In 1837 had was again sent to the Phoenix.[2] -

Between 1825 and 1837 the prison hulk Phoenix was used to house an overflow of felons from Sydney Gaol. It was moored in Sydney Harbour at Lavender Bay - known then as Hulk or Phoenix Bay and held up to 260 prisoners at a time, including those awaiting trial, convict witnesses, those awaiting transport to Port Macquarie as well as prisoners under colonial sentence[3]

By 1838 MacNamara had been assigned to the Australian Agricultural Company as a shepherd at the Company's holdings in the vicinity of Peel River. Here, at the Peel River on 23 October 1839, he composed one of his well known pieces - A Convicts Tour of Hell.

Newcastle Coal Mines

A.A. Company Coal Mines, Newcastle

Francis MacNamara apparently had skills more useful to the Company than shepherding. The convict indents record that he was a miner from County Wicklow. This is probably the reason he was re-assigned to the Company coal mines at Newcastle. At Wicklow he may have worked at the gold mines but the Coal mines at Newcastle were dreaded places and Macnamara put pen to paper to write the poem 'For the Company Under Ground', which voiced his antipathy toward working in the A.A. Company mines.

For the Company Underground

When Christ from heaven comes down straightaway
All his Father's laws to expound
MacNamara shall work that day
For the Company under ground

When the man in the moon to Moreton Bay
Is sent in shackles bound
MacNamara shall work that day
For the company under ground

When the Cape of good Hope to Twofold Bay
Comes for the change of a pound
MacNamara shall work that day
For the company under ground

When cows in lieu of milk yield tea
And all lost treasures are found
MacNamara shall work that day
For the company under ground

When the Australian Company's heaviest dray
Is drawn 80 miles by a hound
MacNamara shall work that day
For the Company under ground

When a frog, a caterpillar and a flea
Shall travel the globe all round
MacNamara shall work that day
For the company under ground

When turkey cocks on Jews harps play
And mountains dance at the sound
MacNamara shall work that day
For the Company under ground

When Christmas falls on the 1st May
And O'Connell's King of England crown'd
MacNamara shall work that day
For the Company under ground.

When thieves ever robbing on the highway
For their sanctity are renowned
MacNamara shall work that day
For the Company under ground

Nor over ground

Newcastle Chain Gang

Perhaps after that he was sent to the chain gang at Newcastle as around this time he wrote the poem A Petition from the chain gang at Newcastle to Captain Furlong the Superintendent, praying him to dismiss a scourger named Duffy from the cookhouse and appoint a man in his room. Allowing for the harshness of the times, Captain Furlong wasn't a cruel man and he may well have listened to MacNamara's 'Petition'.

Newcastle Boats Crew

In any case Francis MacNamara didn't remain in the ironed gang. He was transferred to the boat's crew. Rowboat CrewThis was difficult, dangerous work and he didn't like it any better that shepherding, mining or working in the ironed gang. He was probably on duty when the steamer King William IV was wrecked at Nobbys in July 1839.

On the 25th October 1839 Francis MacNamara and three other convicts - Thomas White, John Simpson and John Marsh were reported as having absconded from the boat crew at Newcastle. Francis McNamara's description was posted - he was 5' 4 3/4' with a ruddy complexion, light brown hair, grey eyes, a scar on the outer corner of the right eye, and features broad and full. In this notice he was recorded as being a miner from Co. Wicklow. All four were captured after only about two weeks on the run.


After being sent to an iron gang further south near Braidwood, MacNamara embarked on the life of a bushranger when he joined with several other absconders to form a formidable band of outlaws whose members included

John Jones, per Lady McNaughten;
Edward Allen, per Asia;
William Thomson, per Asia and
William Eastwood, per Patriot.

In 1842, they were convicted of being illegally at large with fire-arms...... On Thursday, the 26th May, as ten prisoners on their route from Berrima to Picton under warrants to be forwarded to Sydney for various charges, five of them effected their escape from the two constables in charge by securing them and depriving them of their aims, and afterwards handcuffed them to a tree, where they remained a short time, the other five prisoners gave themselves up to the proper authorities. The escape of those five ruffians has caused a great deal of excitement in this district, so much so, that the police have been on the look out for them on all the roads leading to the capital. [3]

The Sydney Gazette reported on 2nd June 1842....

About ten o'clock, on the night of the 30th ultimo, Sergt. Michael Doyle, and two troopers of the Mounted Police, fell in with a party of five armed bushrangers, at the foot of Razorback, and succeeded in apprehending them. The bushrangers are the same parties who escaped from the constables on the 25th ultimo, on the road between Berrima and Campbelltown. The police found in their possession the carbines which they took from the constables at the time of escape. They are now safely lodged in the gaol at Campbelltown. Their names are - Francis McNamara, per Eliza ; John Jones, per Lady Macnaughton; Edward Allen, per Asia; William Thomson, per do; William Eastwood, per Patriot. The bravery and indefatigable zeal which Sergeant Doyle has at all times evinced in his pursuit of, and encounters with, bushrangers, strongly entitle him, not only to pecuniary remuneration from Government, but, in our opinion, to the consideration of his Commanding Officer, Major Nunn.

Doyle has, for a number of years, been the terror of the Southern bushrangers, and perhaps there is not another in the colony, who is better acquainted with the fastnesses to which, on being hotly pursued, these villains retire. He has scarcely ever been foiled in his pursuit of the bushrangers on his skirmishes with them, and his scent is said to be most unerring. We are astonished that the settlers of the southern counties do not confer some public mark of their approbation upon Doyle, whose perseverance and activity cannot but be well known to them
. [1]

After this Francis MacNamara was sometimes referred to as Francis Razorback MacNamara.

Cockatoo Island

Francis Macnamara and his companions were sentenced to transportation for life to a penal settlement - Van Diemen's Land. They were admitted to Sydney Gaol on 8th June and transferred to Cockatoo Island on 11th June 1842 to await transportation (5). They were eventually sent to Van Diemen's Land on the Waterlilly.

Vigors, Philip Doyne 'Convicts' Letter writing at Cockatoo Island N.S.W. 'Canary Birds' 1849. State Library NSW - Convicts' Letter writing at Cockatoo Island N.S.W. 'Canary Birds', by Phillip Doyne Vigours - State Library NSW. The men in the painting above are probably wearing Cabbage Tree Hats which were known to be made by convicts on the Island

Cockatoo Island Convict History....

Cockatoo Island was largely undisturbed until 1839 when it was chosen by Governor Gipps as a harsh gaol for secondary offenders due to its proximity to Sydney Cove. The first convicts were moved from Goat Island and locked in wooden boxes at night until they had built their own stone barracks.
Convicts were put to work initially quarrying stone for various projects around the colony. They also built stone prison barracks, a military guardhouse, granary silos and official residences.

In 1842 there were 323 convicts living on the island and later as many as 500 men were crammed into the inadequate dormitories. In Sydney, the place developed a reputation enough 'to send a thrill of horror through every honest member of society'
. Visit Cockatoo Island


Francis Macnamara is said to have died in August 1861 near Mudgee. The following account of the inquest is interesting in that it gives an alias - Francis Macnamara alias Hill.....

An inquest was held on Friday morning, by W. King, Esq , M.D., coroner for this district, at the Fountain of Friendship, on the body of Francis MacNamara, alias Hill, better known as 'Frank the Poet.' Robert Welsh, having been sworn, said that the deceased had resided with him the last five months, on the Pipe Clay Creek diggings. They came into Mudgee together on Wednesday, deceased left him, and promised to meet him by a certain time at Mr. McQuiggin's. He then went to Phillips', and found him in bed. He asked for some water; he was half drunk. He advised deceased to get up; he replied, 'Put your hand in my pocket and take out what is there.' Had known him eight years. He had a complaint which caused him to spit blood. He earned a great deal of money, and spent it very freely. Had known him to obtain 'hundreds a week' at Tambaroora. The wind used to annoy him very much in the hut in which he resided. He was no better for his visit to Mudgee. The day before they had been drinking together all day off and on. John McDermid deposed : That he had been working with previous wit- ness since the end of last month. He came into Mudgee on Thursday, to see what was keeping him and deceased. He met Welsh, who was nearly tipsy, in Phillips' tap- room, and said 'You promised not to get drunk ;' he replied, how can I help it, Frank is very bad. He then went to see deceased, who wade no reply to a question he put to him respecting his health. Shortly after, he called Welsh and told him to get same money owing to him in Mudgee, and to give him (witness) half, and died directly after. He used to complain of a pain in his shoulder. During the time he resided with them his appetite was good. He had no effects, excepting some papers. He never cared for clothes.—Arthur Thomas Piggott Cutting, being duly sworn, stated that he was a duly qualified medical practitioner. He had viewed and examined the body, and it was his opinion that the deceased came to his death by the effects of cold and inanition. The jury found a verdict accordingly. Empire 4 September 1861

Tribute to Frank the Poet

The following letter was printed in the Maitland Mercury in June 1862: Clarke's Creek, Meroo...

A DAY or two since I got up from the perusal of the beautiful extract from the Lost Genius published in a late impression, of the Empire, and almost immediately heard a mixed conversation on the character of an unfortunate Irishman, known as Frank, the poet, who lived some time with a storekeeper on this Creek. In as few words as possible his history is as follows. He was of a respectable family, was well educated, and possessed an original, and indeed very eccentric genius, greatly degraded by a perpetual love of mischief, and occasional offences of a very grave character. For forging at home, he was condemned to be hung, and was reprieved as the rope was being adjusted round his neck for execution. When he reached this country, he never would work as a government man, and was repeatedly flogged. Perhaps to avoid endangering his life with the whip, he was sent to a station in the interior. The first duty appointed him was to drive off the cockatoos from a paddock of newly sown grain. Frank performed this duty in the following provoking manner ; he wrote out a number of threatening notices to the cockatoos, that they were prohibited from crossing the fence to the grain, and these notices he put at the tops of poles which he fastened at regular distances all round the paddock fences. When asked by the Super, what all those papers meant, he replied. ‘Did you not tell me to order the cockatoos off the ground ?’

Though reared in the Catholic faith, it was his delight to profess to be an unbeliever, for the sole purpose of mischief. He had every part of scripture at his tongue's end, and he scorned to have studied the Bible to justify himself as an adept at puzzling and irritating criticism ; and where he could take provoking liberties with clergymen, he was not backward in doing so. It was his boast that he had confounded two or three just after they had been preaching. On one occasion he obliterated a whole verse, and inserted in its place with his pen a sentiment utterly unscriptural. He did this so cleverly that it looked in no way different from the other print on the leaf ; and he had the audacity to assert in the face of a clergyman, that it was apart of the Protestant Scripture. With one of his own clergymen, he took unpardonable liberty. Frank was reading the Illustrated London News. The Rev. Gentleman spoke very kindly to him. He immediately pretended that he had turned Protestant, and began to feign an anxiety to convert him to the Protestant faith. Father ——— rose up and left him to his own reflections.

Frank was offensively eccentric in his manners, he never put a string to his shoes, assigning as a reason, ‘that God never made man to stoop to anything so low as his feet,’ he generally wore his small clothes inside out. Some times he was better employed, his penmanship seemed almost miraculous; and many persons who admired demonstrations of that kind, employed him to write on the blank leaves of prayer-books, bibles, and other valued books. On the soft leaf of a prayer-book now before me, he wrote besides the name, the following lines impromptu :

THE GIFT OF AN AFFECTIONATE MOTHER. [Then follows the name very beautifully written.]'

'Tis not a little toy That I give to thee, my boy,

As your good sense will see,

'Tis a book of prayer

Keep it with fond care

In remembrance of me.'

' In another Prayer-book before me on a leaf equally soft, he has printed distinctly with his pen : - ' Presented, April 10, 1859, by the dearest Friend in the world, to......,' and then in very beautiful italic : - 'The Lord hath chastened me sore : but He hath not given me over unto death.' Ps. CXVIII, 18 v.

Whether he really possessed poetical abilities, I cannot say, having seen nothing of that kind, beyond the above lines, which can hardly be called poetry. I am told he was the author of a published volume of sarcasm on the Government ; but, so far as I can learn, it was an imitation of that presumptuous and unpardonable part of Dante, in which he puts lately dead, yes, and living characters into hell, and assigns them horrible torments. To speak of such a state at all, as that of final perdition, except in religious teaching, and in the language of Scripture, is pitifully contemptible ; and to put living men into eternal torments is disgustingly malignant, and is only less revolting than artistic pulpit oratory on such a painful subject.

But the great crime of Frank was intemperate drinking, the crime from which all his mischievous pretensions took their origin. When sober he was generally a quiet, harmless man. All I know of him more, is, that I read in the Mudgee News, some time back, that he died from exhaustion, the consequence of too much drink and too little food. What a ruinous thing drink is ! Frank was unquestionably a man of unusual powers of mind, and but for habitual drinking, might have been a very useful man. If Frank had been my enemy I should not like the idea of his thus dying, without some notice of his abused gifts and perverted genius. And if you will find a place for this little notice of him in the Free Press, I shall feel greatly obliged.

Moreton Bay

'Moreton Bay' has also been attributed to Francis MacNamara although Captain Logan who is mentioned in 'Moreton Bay' as well as 'A Convict's Tour of Hell' died under mysterious circumstances two years before Francis MacNamara arrived in the colony...........

One Sunday morning as I went walking
By Brisbane waters I chanced to stray
I heard a convict his fate bewailing
As on the sunny river bank I lay

I am a native from Erin's island
But banished now from my native shore
They stole me from my aged parents
And from the maiden I do adore

I've been a prisoner at Port Macquarie At Norfolk Island and Emu Plains
At Castle Hill and at cursed Toongabbie
At all these settlements I've been in chains

But of all places of condemnation
And penal stations in New South Wales
To Moreton Bay I have found no equal
Excessive tyranny each day prevails
For three long years I was beastly treated
And heavy irons on my legs I wore
My back from flogging was lacerated
And oft times painted with my crimson gore
And many a man from downright starvation
Lies mouldering now underneath the clay
And Captain Logan he had us mangled
All at the triangles of Moreton Bay
Like the Egyptians and ancient Hebrews
We were oppressed under Logan's yoke
Till a native black lying there in ambush
Did deal this tyrant his mortal stroke
My fellow prisoners be exhilarated
That all such monsters such a death may find
And when from bondage we are liberated
Our former sufferings will fade from mind

Notes and Links

1). A Convict's Tour to Hell- State Library of New South Wales

2). A Dialogue between two Hibernians at Botany Bay


[1] Sydney Herald 1 June 1842

[2] General Return of Convicts in New South Wales 1837

[3] State Records Authority of New South Wales; Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia; Title: Phoenix Hulk: Entrance Books, 1831-1833; Volume: 4/6282

[4]. New South Wales, Australia Convict Ship Muster Rolls and Related Records, 1790-1849 Original data: New South Wales Government. Musters and other papers relating to convict ships. Series CGS 1155, Reels 2417-2428. State Records Authority of New South Wales. Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia.

[5] Source Citation State Archives NSW; Roll: 855 Source Information New South Wales, Australia, Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.