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Maria and Bessie Gray and The stockman's last bed (1846)

Dr GRAEME SKINNER (University of Sydney)


To cite this:

Graeme Skinner (University of Sydney), "Maria and Bessie Gray and The stockman's last bed (1846)", Australharmony (an online resource toward the history of music and musicians in colonial and early Federation Australia):; accessed 14 December 2017

GRAY, Elizabeth Anne

(Bessie GRAY; Mrs. Robert GRAHAM; Elizabeth Anne GRAHAM)

Songwriter, amateur vocalist

GRAY, Maria Catherine

(Maria GRAY; Mrs. James LEITH HAY; Maria Catherine LEITH HAY; LEITH-HAY)

Songwriter, amateur vocalist

Born UK, ? c. 1827 (? 1830)
Arrived Sydney, NSW, 1837
Married Ipswich, QLD, 19 September 1854
Died Ipswich, QLD, 7 June 1875

Maria Catherine Leith Hay (Gray) c.1860 (SL-QLD)

Maria Catherine Leith Hay, c.1860; SL-QLD 

Documentation (Gray sisters)

"MARRIED", The Sydney Morning Herald (8 June 1846), 3

"MARRIED", The Moreton Bay Courier (23 September 1854), 2

"Deaths", The Queenslander (12 June 1875), 4

"Early Settlers: THE LEITH-HAYS AND RANNES STATION", The Central Queensland Herald (14 July 1949), 3

The Stockman's Last Bed (arr. Marsh, 1865)

"The Stockman's Last Bed, arranged by Stephen Marsh", The Illustrated Melbourne Post (25 August 1865), 128 (DIGITISED)

Stockman's last bed, MS, SL-NSW

"Undated manuscrript], The stockman's last bed ... SL-NSW (DIGITISED)

Documentation and bibliography (The stockman's last bed)'s+last+bed (TROVE tagged by Australharmony)

[Undated manuscript, ? Annabella Boswell] "The stockman's last bed": a parody on the popular song, Last Whistle written by the two daughters of Colonel Grey, 1846; MS, SL-NSW, MLDOC 2714 (DIGITISED)

"MASONIC - (COMMUNICATED) TO THE EDITOR", The Constitution; or, Cork Advertiser (22 January 1856), 2

Mr. Editor - As many of our citizens and country folk have numerous friends and relations in Australia, the annexed song, which was sung few evenings since at the 3d Lodge of Ireland by an Australian "Stockman," may be interesting, conveying, as it does, a faithful outline of an incident by no means uncommon in the colony. It has been written on the death of "old chum." His body was accidentally discovered 'neath a gum tree (some three weeks after the accident), to which he had crawled his last moments, and carved his name on its bark, having also made his will on a leaf of his pocket book, in which was found large sum of money. The Brother who kindly furnished the words had several men killed in a similar manner. It scarcely necessary to add that he faithfully carried out his friend's last wish. W. A. H.


Ye Stockmen* who're not, to my story give ear,
Poor Jack's gone at last, and more shall you hear
The crack of his whip,+ or his steed's lively trot,
His clear "go ahead" or his jingling quart pot;
He rests where the "Wattle"** their sweet fragrance shed,
And tall gum-trees++ shade the Stockman's last bed.

When drafting one day he was gor'd by a cow,
Alas, says poor Jack, its all up with me now -
I'll never return to my saddle again,
Or bound like a "Wallaby"*** over the plain;
I'll rest where the "Wattle" its sweet fragrance shed,
Where tall gum-trees shadow the Stockman's last bed.

My "whip" will be silent, my dogs they will mourn,
My steer'l look in vain for his master's return;
Unknown and forgotten, unpitied I die,
Save Australia's dark sons, none will know where I lie.
I rest where the wattle its sweet fragrance shed,
And tall gum trees shadow the Stockman's last bed.

Oh, stranger, if ever you're passing this way,
Or after the herd you may happen to stray,
Remember the spot where poor Jack's bones are laid,
Far, far, from the land where in childhood he stray'd;
Tread lightly, where wattles their sweet fragrance shed,
And tall gum-trees shadow the Stockman's last bed!

* Large proprietor of cattle.

+ This formidable Instrument has a whip of untanned leather, four yards long; the handle of hard, heavy, native wood, about 16 inches. Its crack is fully as loud as that of a rifle.

** WATTLE. - The mamosa, a beautiful evergreen, bearing bright yellow blossom, and grows in flats interspersed with the gum-tree.

++ GUM-TREE. - This gigantic tree has been found 30 feet in diameter at three feet from the ground. Straight planks have been taken from it 200 feet long.

*** WALLABY. - A swift species of Kangaroo.

"BUSH LYRICS. THE STOCKMAN'S GRAVE", Bell's Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle (24 January 1857), 4 

Be ye bushman or not, to my story give ear,
Poor Jack's breathed at last, and no more shall ye hear,
The crack of his stock whip, his steed's lively trot,
His clear "go-a-head," or his jingling quart pot.
He sleeps where the wattles their sweet perfumes shed,
And the tall gum-trees shadow the stockman's last bed.

Whilst yarding one day, he was horned by a cow;
"Alas", cried poor Jack, "It's all up with me now,
"No more to the saddle shall I vault again,
"Nor bound like a wallaby over the plain.
"I shall sleep where the wattles their sweet perfume shed,
"And the tall gum-trees shadow the stockman's last bed.

"My whip will be silent, his dog now may mourn,
"My steed look in vain for his master's return.
"Unknown and uncared-for, unpitied I die,
"Save Australia's dark sons, none will pass where I lie.
"I'll sleep where the wattles their sweet perfume shed,
"And the tall gum-trees shadow the stockman's last bed."

But, stranger if ever at some future day,
In search of wild cattle you may happen to stray,
To where lone and forgotten poor Jack's bones are laid,
Far, far from the land where in childhood he played.
Tread light where the wattles, their sweet perfume spread,
And the tall gum-trees shadow the stockman's last bed.

"THE STOCKMAN'S LAST BED. Arranged by S. H. Marsh", The Illustrated Melbourne Post (25 August 1865), 128 (DIGITISED)

Be ye stockman ...

"CRICKET MATCH. THE DINNER", Border Watch (18 March 1868), 2 

... The Vice-President proposed the toast of "the President." Song - Mr. Singleton, "The Stockman's last bed."

"WESTERN VICTORIAN NOTES", Border Watch (10 June 1876), 3 

Mr. W. Rutledge. of Franham Park, near Warrnambool died on June 1, from dropsy at the age of 70 years. The decesased gentleman was a very old colonist, having arrived in Sydney in 1831 or the year following, from whence he proceeded to Port Phillip. Having been deputed (states the Hamilton Spectator) by Lady Farnham to purchase property in the Australian colonies as a speculation intended for the benefit of her four nephews, Mr. Rutledge, came to Port Fairy in the year 1843. The fine property of Kalangadoo, in South Australia, was purchased, and the Messrs. Hunter, the nephews in question, were afterwards settled thereon. The youngest of them named Frank [? Alix], was killed by a bull at Mount Gambier, and to his memory the now well-khown song, "The Stockman's Last Bed," was composed - it is believed by the young gentleman's sister-in-law, Mrs. James Hunter ...

"NOTES AND QUERIES", The Australasian (26 September 1885), 7 

"The Stockman's Last Bed" was published on page 552 in "The Australasian" of last week. A correspondent kindly sends me the following particulars concerning this verse:-

"The words were sent to me by Mr. Brodribb, of Sydney, one of the earliest settlers in the colonics. He knew 'Poor Jack' well, also the gentleman who composed the words of the song, a Mr. Townsend, one of the first surveyors in New South Wales, who has since died in London. 'Poor Jack' was a stockman who led a solitary life in the Maneroo or Monaro Mountains, where he was buried after having been fatally gored by a steer. It was in the year 1885 that Mr. Broodribb knew both Mr. Townsend and 'Poor Jack.'"

According to this alternative origin story, the author of the song was Thomas Scott Townsend (d.1869), who worked in the surveyor general's department in the 1830s. The informant was probably William Adam Broadribb (d.1886)

"THE STOCKMAN'S GRAVE", The Capricornian (22 December 1883), 11s 

Ye bushman or not to my story give ear ...

"THE STOCKMAN'S LAST BED", Once a Month: An Illustrated Australasian Magazine (1885), 373

Be ye stockman ...

"The Stockman's Last Bed", Evening News (17 October 1885), 7 

Be ye stockman ...

"THE STOCKMAN'S LAST BED", Kerang Times and Swan Hill Gazette (2 March 1886), 4 

Be ye stockman ...

"The Stockman's Last Bed", The Port Augusta Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle (10 May 1886), 3 

In a late issue reference was made to this song in connection with the absurd colored supplement of the last Australian Skeicher. That journal states that the author is unknown, and that "Poor Jack" is believed to have been a Manaroo stock man; but though the song is certainly an old one (for Australia), its origin is not yet lost in the mists of antiquity, and there must still be in Victoria and Riverina a considerable number of men who, 20 years or so back, heard the author, "Long Murphy," sing it, and tell the story of its composition at many a camp fire. The air, like the verses, is decidedly original, and the refrain when artistically sung has a very pleasing effect. Murphy wrote the verses on a Wangaratta station (Victoria) in memory of a stockman who was killed there while branding, and the original draft was afterwards revised and enlarged by himself and three or four of his comrades, who among them managed to piece together an air to suit it. Murphy was a noted horseman and stockman in his day, though, having held a commission in the cavalry before coming to Australia, his seat betrayed the dragoon, in spite of his having served his noviciate under that now forgotten worthy, "Billy-go-round 'em." Adam Linsday Gordon might have had poor Murphy and his song in mind, when writing the following lines in the "Sick Stockrider": -

"Aye! nearly all our comrades of the old colonial school,
Our ancient boon companions, Ned, are gone;
Hard livers for the most part, somewhat reckless as a rule,-
It seems that you and I are left alone,

There was Hughes, who got in trouble, through that business with the cards,
It matters little what bccame of him;
But a steer ripped up Macpherson in the Cooraminta yards;
And Sullivan was drowned at Sink-or-swim,
And Mostyn - poor Frank Mostyn - died at last a fearful wreck,
In the " horrers" at the Upper Wandinong;
And Carisbrooke, the rider, at the Horsefall broke his neck;
Faith! the wonder was he saved his neck so long."

We give below the song as Murphy used to sing it; the version differs in some points from that printed by the Sketcher some one having apparently revised it for the Press, without improving it. A cow is just as poetical as a steer, and the expression, "It's all up with me, here," has been manifestly coined to rhyme with "steer." ...[song text]

In this origin story, the supposed author is perhaps Francis Murphy (1809-1891).

Sladen 1888c, 543 

BUSH SONGS. By the kindness of The Hon. Mrs. W. E. Cavendish [Elizabeth Janet Baillie (c.1865-1935), daughter of the former squatter-pastoralist Thomas Baillie (1823-1889)], herself an Australian, the editor has been enabled to lay before English readers the three Australian songs most sung in the Bush - all of them thoroughly racy of the soil.


I. Whether stockman or not,
For a moment give ear
Poor Jack, he is dead,
And no more shall we hear
The crack of his whip,
Or his steed's lively trot,
His clear "go ahead,"
Or his jingling quart pot.
For he sleeps where the wattles
Their sweet fragrance shed,
And tall gum-trees shadow
The Stockman's last bed!

[544] II. One day, while out yarding,
He was gored by a steer.
"Alas ! " cried poor Jack,
'"Tis all up with me here;"
And never shall I
The saddle regain,
Or bound like a wallaby
Over the plain.
So they've laid him where wattles
Their sweet fragrance shed, &c.

III. His whip at his side,
His dogs they all mourn,
His horse stands awaiting
His master's return;
While he lies neglected, -
Unheeded he dies;
Save Australia's dark children,
None knows where he lies;
For he sleeps, &c.

IV. Then, Stockman, if ever,
On some future day.
While following a mob,
You should happen to stray -
Oh ! pause by the spot:
Where poor Jack's bones are laid.
Far, far from the home
Where in childhood he strayed.
[545] And tread softly where wattles
Their sweet fragrance shed,
And tall gum-trees shadow
The Stockman's last bed.


I. Lift me down to the creek-bank, Jack;
It must be cooler outside:
The long hot day is well-nigh done,
It's a chance if I see another one.
I should like to look on the setting sun,
And the waters cool and wide ... (9 stanzas)


I. His other name ? 'Well, there Em stumped
He was tall, sir, dark and slim,
And we - that is, my mates and I -
Just called him " Careless Jim,"
That was all we knew - to his other name
No thought we ever gave,
Until one day, at the foot of the mount,
When we laid him in his grave ... (7 stanzas)

"THE DYING STOCKMAN", The Bulletin (23 June 1888), 6

Whether stockman ...

"THE DYING STOCKMAN", Kerang Times and Swan Hill Gazette (6 July 1888), 1 

Whether stockman ...

Nehemiah Bartley, Opals and agates: or, scenes under the Southern Cross and the Magelhans: being memoirs of fifty years of Australia and Polynesia (Brisbane: Gordon and Gotch, 1892), 133 

[131] ... let me resume my recollections of people and places in the olden days (say) in October, 1857 ... [132] ... I was glad to reach Warwick at night. Here I met Arthur Macarthur, Dalrymple, and McEvoy, the chief constable. Willy Campbell and Jack Lamb, of Sydney, arrived next morning to [133] breakfast, from New England, and I travelled to Ipswich with them ... Our conversation, as we rode eastward in the rain, was of the folly of mere money-grubbing, and Campbell sung us the "Stockman's Grave," a plaintive bush ditty. We were all bachelors, with small waists then ...

"Country Notes", Australian Town and Country Journal (14 October 1893), 17 

The shearers at Paika held a little concert the other day in the woolshed, and among the songs were "The Stockman's Lone Grave" and "The Used Up Stokman". Australian poets seem to have selected the stockman and boundary riders as objects at which to pelt all sorts of pathetic situations. The stockman of the songs is generally experiencing something depressing, and enough songs and poems have been written about lonely graves to smother all the lonely graves in Australia. There ought to be more "Clancys of the Overflow".

"THE STOCKMAN'S LAST BED", The Queenslander (6 October 1894), 644 

A Victorian correspondent, "C. W.," in forwarding a copy of the song "The Stockman's Last Bed," which we published some weeks ago, gives the following account of the origin of the song, the author of which was the late Mr. Thomas Townsend:-

Far away from the haunts of men, near the lonely Manaroo Mountains, many years ago there lived, in his solitary log hut, "Poor Jack," a stockman, well known to a few of the early settlers in that district and to Mr. Thomas Townsend, one of the earliest surveyors in New South Wales, and long since dead, who has made the lonely stockman famous in his simple bush ballad, "The Stockman's Last Bed," which many people have imputed to Adam Lindsay Gordon, confusing it, I suppose, with his "Sick Stockrider." The simple words strike straight home to the heart of all true Australians, and to any one else who has spent much of his time in the lonely bush of any of the colonies. It is not only some other stock man who lends a willing ear to the story of "Poor Jack," though to him, of course, it must appeal more directly than to any one else, but all over the colonies you will come across some man, woman, or child who knows the words by heart. Occasionally you will hear it sung in the drawing-room, though more often it is one of the great songs of the drover's camp, sung by some stalwart Australian youth with his clear, pleasant voice. It is one of the favourite songs in our house, even to the baby boy of 4, who asks " Mother" to sing the story of "Poor Jaok" as the little chap prepares to curl up to sleep for the night. For the benefit of those who know the words and not the air I may say that they are sung to the tune of "The Bosun's Last Whistle," but I tried to get the music even in London, and could not; so, knowing the air, I just arranged a few chords for the accompaniment. The lonely grave was marked only by a rough bush headstone placed there by the one or two men who knew of his sad death, and gave him the only burial possible in that out-of-the-way place in their tough but kind way. Long years afterwards I heard him spoken well and kindly of by an old squatter who knew "Poor Jack" well; and the same gentleman told me that he knew Mr. Townsend too, and remembered when he wrote "The Stockman's Last Bed," some time after "Poor Jack's" death.

"The Stockman's Last Bed", Australian Town and Country Journal (2 December 1903), 42 

Be ye stockman ...

"The Stockman's Grave", The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People (20 February 1904), 22 

(A once famous Australian song, seldom heard now.) Be ye stockman ...

"CORRESPONDENCE. THE STOCKMAN'S LAST BED. To the Editor", Sporting Times [London] (6 August 1904), 11

Sir, - ln your issue of May 28 I notice a letter signed Charles L. Auld asking for the words of a song, of which he gives the last verse, called the "Stockman's Last Bed.".Here they are: -

Be ye stockman or not, to my 'story give ear ...

I have only heard the song once. It was sung by a shipmaster at a whisky fight on board a country ship in Calcutta somewhere about 1870. I was only a second mate at the time and, according to the traditions of the sea, not eligible to attend the drinking, but heard it through the skylight and persuaded the singer to furnish me wth the words afterwards. - Yours faithfully, PAGODA. Rangoon, June 27.

"CORRESPONDENCE. THE STOCKMAN'S LAST BED. To the Editor", Sporting Times [London] (3 September 1904), 10

Dear Sir, - In your issue of May your correspondent, Mr. Charles L. Ault [sic], asks for the words and music of an old Australian song called "The Stockman's Last Bed." It was written anonymously about twenty-five years ago, and I or my friends have never seen any music published to it. I have inquired at the big Melbourne music warehouses, and have been informed that the music was never published. When as boys used to sing it on my father's cattle station[.] I have heard many various versions and renderings the song. If Mr. Ault is still desirous having the music, I shall happy to tranacribe the air as we used to sing it, and post it him if ho writes to me direct. - I am, Yours sincerely, A. NORMAN McARTHUR, 74, Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, July 13, 1904. P.S. - I attach the words of the verses.

THE STOCKMAN'S LAST BED. Be ye a stockman or no, to my story give ear ...

Boswell 1911 (? Boswell 1908), 107-108

In 1846 our friend, Mr. William Mackenzie, went to China, and his partner, Mr. Robert Graham, married Miss Grey [Gray], and took his bride to the Cape, where they settled permanently, but before that Colonel Grey had brought both his daughters to stay with is. I shall never forget Maria's first visit. She was then about 16, and the prettiest little creature imaginable ... We all succumbed at once to her many charms ...

After dinner the sisters sang to us sweetly. Maria sang a perfect second, though she did not know a note of music. Both the girls were good French scholars and well read, as Colonel Grey possessed a good library. Their education had been carried on under his direction, assisted by an accomplished and eccentric gentleman, who for some time employed himself as tutor to their brothers. Bessy [108] wrote some pretty poems, not without merit, and together they composed a parody on what was then a very favourite song, "The Last Whistle" - which they called "The Stockman's Last Bed." I here give a copy of it.



Whether stockman or not, for a moment give ear,
Poor Jack's breathed his last, and no more shall we hear,
The crack of his whip or his steed's lively trot,
His clear go a-head and his jingling quart pot.
He rests where the wattles their sweet fragrance shed,
And the tall gum trees shadow the stock man's last bed.

Whilst drafting one day he was horned by a cow.
Alas, cried poor Jack, it's all up with me now,
I'll no more return to my saddle again,
Or bound like a wallaby over the plain.
I'll rest where the wattles their sweet fragrance shed,
And the tall gum trees shadow the stock man's last bed.

My whip must be silent, his steed he will mourn,
My dogs look in vain for his master's return.
Unknown and forgotten, unheeded I die,
Save Australia's dark sons none will know where I lie.
I'll rest where the wattles their sweet fragrance shed,
And the tall gum trees shadow the stock man's last bed.

Oh! stranger if ever on some future day,
When after a herd you may happen to stray,
Where lone and forgotten poor Jack's bones are laid
Far, far from the land where in childhood he played.
Tread lightly where wattles, there [their] sweet fragrance spread,
And the tall gum trees shadow the stock man's last bed.

But it was as a "Siffleuse" that Maria most distinguished herself and astonished us. In these days she might have rivalled the lady of American fame, but when we were girls, no lady was supposed ever to do such a manly thing as to whistle, so perhaps having to listen to her with closed doors or in the open air when none of our elders were near, added a charm. Her brother Charlie was equally accomplished, and when they whistled a duet together it was inexpressively charming, unlike any music I ever heard, so thrillingly clear and effective.

"MORE ABOUT GORDON. By W. FARMER WHYTE", Sydney Mail (13 November 1912), 20

... THE three bush poems to which, reference is here made are "The Stockman's Last Bed," "The Bushman's Lullaby," and "Careless Jim.' Of "The Bushman's Lullaby" Mr. Sladen remarks: "Attributed also to Henry Kingsley." Of "The Stockman's Last Bed;" "I have been told that it was written by the beautiful Miss Hunter, who afterwards became Mrs. Charles Rome, but I think there is better ground for supposing that it was written by her sister-in-law, Mrs. James Hunter. Mr. C. D. Mackellar, who stayed at Kalangadoo station when it belonged to the Hunters, believes that Gordon wrote it himself; and gave it to one of the Hunters." It is generally accepted that Gordon did not write them.

"AUSTRALIA'S POET", Western Mail (13 December 1912), 57 

... Still more ridiculous is the insertion of three "bush songs," which Mr. Sladen I says are "attributed to Gordon." Who attributes them is a mystery. Certainly not "Banjo Patterson," who printed one of them in his collection of bush songs of unknown authorship. The best and most widely known of the three - "The Stockman's Last Bed" - was, in fact, written on the Goulburn in 1846 - when Gordon was a schoolboy in England. It was even 6ung in a Cork theatre, as an interlude to an amateur dramatic performance, in 1851 - two years before Gordon saw Australia. A Victorian on a home trip sang it. He appeared in blue jumper, moleskin pants, blucher boots, and a cabbage-tree hat, and made a sensation with his stockwhip cracking accompaniment. It is a pity Mr. Sladen, whose one year in Australia seems to have given him the wildly erroneous idea that he knows the continent, was not better informed on his subject generally ...

"ON THE TRACK. By 'Bill Bowyang' ... "OLD BUSH SONGS", Townsville Daily Bulletin (14 May 1924), 9 

Since I first published in one of my articles a version of "The Stockman's Last Bed," several readers have named the author of these lines. Tt appears they were right off the track. The following is from Mr. Thomas Dunn, a resident of Charters Towers: -

Dear Bill. - In 1868 Jack Horsapple was killed at McNab's station, at the head of the Dawson. If I remember rightly his horse struck an antbed. A man named D. Rankin and myself, after listening to an account of the accident, wrote the words of the :Stockman's Last Bed." Others claiming; authorship of those verses are guilty of plagiarism.

(It is a pleasure to hear from Mr. Dunn, and his letter should set at rest all doubts as to the true authorship of the above-mentioned old bush song. I also thank Mr. Dunn, for the words of another of his songs, The Country Carrier." This will appear in my next article.)

The following is Mr. Dunn's version of "TheStockman's Last Bed."


Come stockman or not, to my story give ear ...

"THE POETS' CORNER AT DINGLEY DELL", The Argus (26 May 1934), 9

THE SICK STOCKRIDER. By J. B. COOPER ... In a letter he wrote to his friend, John Riddock, under date October 10, 1868, Gordon said: "I am going to send you the new 'Colonial Monthly.' It is a very good magazine. Marcus Clarke, the editor, is a very nice young fellow." Clarke at the time was 22 years of age, and Gordon was 35, and they were great friends; but their schooling in life had been different. Clarke was "a man about town," a literary Autolycus, and a clubbable companion, a man Dr. Johnson would have liked. Gordon was a man from the bush, a son of fantasy; a child of melancholy. The poem "The Sick Stockrider" first appeared under Clarke's editorship in the "Colonial Monthly" in January, 1870, and it was written at Yallum (S.A.), in January, 1869. Douglas B. W. Sladen, a hero worshipper of Gordon, and who was educated at the same school as Gordon, Cheltenham College, was for a time resident in Melbourne, Sladen wrote, in collaboration with Miss Humphris in England, a book called "Adam Lindsay Gordon and His Friends," published by Constable and Company in 1912. In this book, alluding to "The Sick Stockrider," Sladen says, "This poem is the euthanasia of Adam Lindsay Gordon." Marcus Clarke was fond of quoting the second last verse of "The Sick Stockrider," beginning with the lines, "I've had my share of pastime, and I've done my share of toil." The poem "The Sick Stockrider" is regarded as the peak of Gordon's genius. Douglas Sladen states: "There are three songs very much sung in the bush, but I think without reason, attributed to Gordon. They are 'The Stockman's Last Bed,' 'The Bushman's Lullaby,' and 'Careless Jim.'. I have been told that 'The Stockman's Last Bed' was written by the beautiful Miss Hunter, who afterward became Mrs. Charles Rome, but I think there is better ground for supposing that it was written by her sister-in-law, Mrs. James Hunter. Mr. C. D. Mackellar, who stayed at Kalangdoo Station when it belonged to the Hunters, believes that Gordon wrote it himself and gave it to one of the Hunters." I found by chance, in the newspaper, "Bell's Life in Victoria," afterwards incorporated in "The Australasian," some verses called "The Stockman's Grave." They were published on January 24, 1857, and were unsigned, and the verses are the same as those quoted by Sladen under the caption "The Stockman's Last Bed." Gordon was a constant contributor to "Bell's Life," and he probably saw the verses and committed them to memory. He had the gift, in an exceptional degree, of remembering anything he had read. To me it seems that Gordon partly owed the finished poem of "The Sick Stockrider" to the crude ideas expressed in "The Stockman's Grave," and also that Gordon was indebted to "The Bushman's Lullaby," "The Stockman's Grave" has a varying refrain. One is:

He sleeps where the wattles their sweet perfume shed,
And the tall gum trees shadow the stockman's last bed.

And also "Tread light where the wattle their sweet perfume shed." In Gordon's last verse in "The Sick Stockrider" the "tall gum trees" become the "tall green trees," and the sick stockrider asks to be allowed to "slumber in the hollow where the wattle blossoms wave." Over the stockman's grave the visitor is asked to "tread light," Gordon, essentially a poet of movement, wants his "sick stockrider" to "hear the sturdy station children ... romping overhead."

Some time alter finding the verses of "The Stockman's Grave" in "Bell's Life," Mrs. Florence A. Gibson informed me that "The Stockman's Grave" was written by her mother, Mrs. J. Leith-Hay, nee Maria Gray, daughter of Colonel Gray, an old Waterloo officer. This information rather tends to discount Mr. Douglas Sladen's suppositions.

[Advertisement], The Advertiser (11 May 1940), 16

TEX MORTON'S AUSTRALIAN BUSH BALLADS. Tex Morton's Australian Bush Ballads and Old Time Songs. Just out. Contains "The Black Sheep" and Tex's new Australian songs, "Eumerella Shore," and "Stockman's Last Bed," also old favorites, "Let the Rest of the World Go By," "Fatal Wedding," "Letter Edged in Black," "Face on Bar Room Floor," "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane," "The Lone Prairie," &c., altogether 18 songs for 2/6, posted 2/9. Beautiful two-color portrait cover, ukulele and guitar chords. From ALLAN'S LIMITED, Rundle street - or any Music Seller.


The Last Whistle (Shield, c.1807)

The Last Whistle. A Favourite Song Composed by W. Shield. Sung by Mr. Steward

(Baltimore: Carrs, [n.d.]) (DIGITISED)

The stockman's last bed (arr. Lavater, 1938)
Modern editions (words and music)

"The stockman's last bed. Music [arranged] by Louis Lavater", in Swagman's treasure five camp-fire ditties; words from "Old bush songs" collected by A. B. Paterson

(Melbourne: Allan & Co., 1938) (DIGITISED)

The stockman's last bed (arr. Jones, 1953)

"The stockman's last bed. Collected and arranged by Dr. Percy Jones", in Burl Ives' folio of Australian folk songs

(Sydney: Southern Music, 1953) 

The stockman's last bed an Australian song [arranged by] Stephen Hale Marsh; arr. & orch. Richard Divall, MS, NLA (DIGITISED)

Music concordances (original words and tune)

[Words] "An EPITAPH, to the Memory of an honest Sailor", The London Magazine (1771), 655 

[Words] "Epitaph on an Honest Sailor", Extracts, elegant, instructive, & entertaining ... Books third, fourth and fifth

(London: Printed for Messrs. Rivingtons, Lomgman et al., 1791), book 5, 323 

[Words and music; minor key original] The Last Whistle. A favorite song sung ... by Mr. Incledon, in his new entertainment, called "A Voyage to India"

(London: by Goulding & Co., and Dublin [1807])

[Words and music; minor key original]:The Last Whistle. A Favourite Song Composed by W. Shield. Sung by Mr. Steward

(Baltimore: Carrs, [n.d.]) 

[Words] "THE LAST WHISTLE. A POPULAR NAUTICAL BALLAD. Composed by Mr. Shield, and sung by Mr. Incledon, with universal applause", in Fairburn's Naval Songster, or Jack Tar's Chest of Conviviality for 1812

(London: J. Fairburn, 1812) 

[Words]: "The Sailor's Epitaph", The Musical Miscellany: Being Chiefly a Collection of Popular Comic Songs

(Ramsgate: Langley & Company, [n.d.]), 216 




Hugh Anderson 1962, Colonial ballads (2nd edn.), 217

Kassler, Music entries at Stationers' Hall, 1710-1818 (2013), 598

Cites an 1863 source that attributes the song to "George Morn".

Graeme Smith 2017, "Australian songsters and the folk song movement", 227-28 (PREVIEW)

Smith's note 21 appears to confuse The last whistle", sometimes headed "Sailor's epitaph", with Charles Dibdin's "Sailor's epitaph", i.e. Tom Bowling.

© Graeme Skinner 2014 - 2017