Other people’s songs: Jim Jones

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: This song is usually known by its longer title “Jim Jones at Botany Bay”. It is a traditional Australian folk ballad dating from the early 19th-century.

One of the earliest recordings is by Marian Henderson from 1964

Tony: That two note counter melody from the flute but it is incredibly effective and when it suddenly turns into a short solo wow that is good.  Brilliant arrangement, and good work from the flautist Don Burrows.  In fact the who group of musicians are, I think, classical musicians.

To me, this is exactly what should happen if one is resurrecting traditional folk songs – and indeed the fact that it as an Australian folk song is something that should be noted because this is an Australian ensemble recreating and expanding the song with such care and feeling.

Aaron: Gary Shearston  recorded his version on his debut album Folk Songs And Ballads Of Australia.

Tony: This is another Australian version (and this focus on Australia is rather a coincidence given that my youngest daughter and granddaughter, live in Australia but are currently in England, and indeed are visiting me this evening – a great treat for me).  It’s a more straightforward rendering of the song, which of course would have originally been sung unaccompanied.

Gary Shearston was quite an interesting fellow, who was very much at the forefront of seeking out traditional Australian folk music and bringing it to a much wider audience than ever before.   He actually had a hit in the UK with “I get a kick out of you” in 1974.

Botany Bay is famous of course as being the site of James Cook’s first landing in Australia in 1770.  (Six days later most of the fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour).   Cook called it Stingray Harbour (for reasons I don’t need to explain) but changed the name after the naturalist on the expedition (Joseph Banks) pointed out just how many new varieties of life he was noting.  (Sydney Harbour is the largest natural harbour in the world, and one of the few places I ever proclaim as one that “you really ought to visit” to anyone who is silly enough to be listening to me at the time).

Aaron: Dylan’s version appears on Good As I Been To You.

Tony: I’d love to know how much of this is a re-invention of the song by Bob and how much is taken from a recording by someone else.

The lyrics of the song change from singer to singer, as is of course common with songs this old, each choosing a different moment in the history of the song on which to base their version.  There’s another version of the song yet to come but I’d like to drop in the lyrics Bob has used.

Come and listen for a moment, lads
And hear me tell my tale
How across the sea from England
I was condemned to sail
Now the jury found me guilty
Then says the judge, says he
"Oh, for life, Jim Jones, I'm sending you
Across the stormy sea
But take a trip before you ship
To join the iron gang
Don't get too gay in Botany Bay
Or else you'll surely hang
Or else you'll surely hang", says he
"And after that Jim Jones
It's high above on the gallows tree
The crows will pick your bones"

And our ship was high upon the sea
When pirates came along
But the soldiers on our convict ship
Were full five hundred strong
For they opened fire and somehow drove
That pirate ship away
But I'd rather have joined that pirate ship
Than gone to Botany Bay
With the storms ragin' round us
And the winds a-blowin' gale
I'd rather have drowned in misery
Than gone to New South Wales
There's no time for mischief there they say
Remember that, says they
Or they'll flog the poaching out of you
Down there in Botany Bay

Now it's day and night and the irons clang
And like poor galley slaves
We toil and toil, and when we die
Must fill dishonored graves
And it's by and by I'll slip my chains
Well, into the bush I'll go
And I'll join the bravest rankers there
Jack Donohue and co
And some dark night, when everything
Is silent in the town
I'll shoot those tyrants one and all
I'll gun the floggers down
Oh, I'll give the land a little shock
Remember what I say
And they'll yet regret they've sent Jim Jones
In chains to Botany Bay

Jack Donohue is an interesting reference: he was another deportee who was part of a gang called The Strippers, who were very well known in NSW in the early 19th century – and it is said, often supported by the servants of rich landowners in the state.

The gang was caught and sentenced to death in 1828 but Donohue repeatedly escaped capture – and became famous as one of the Wild Colonial Boys gang.  £20 reward (later increased to £200) was offered from his capture and the notices in 1829 announced him as being 22 years old and five feet four inches tall.

The gang were effectively highwaymen – and their reputation was enhanced by the notion that they only stole from the rich and gave some of their income to the poor.  An Australian Robin Hood in fact – although in this case a real person.

He was finally killed in a gun battle on 30 September 1830.

Aaron: More recently the song was sung live by Jennifer Jason Leigh in the Quentin Tarantino movie The Hateful Eight

Tony: Aaron has sent me a further video which doesn’t work in the UK – I’ll include it below but I can’t comment on it as I can’t see it .   Aaron – do you want to add a note as to what it is?

Tony: Aaron, thanks very much for this one.  Having no connection at all with Australia until my youngest daughter moved there, I’ve gradually been learning more about the country through regular visits (until covid put a stop to that) to see my daughter and her new family.  This is one more bit of knowledge about the country and its history to add.  I’m slowly getting the hang of the place.

Previously in this series…

  1. Other people’s songs. How Dylan covers the work of other composers
  2. Other People’s songs: Bob and others perform “Froggie went a courtin”
  3. Other people’s songs: They killed him
  4. Other people’s songs: Frankie & Albert
  5. Other people’s songs: Tomorrow Night where the music is always everything
  6. Other people’s songs: from Stack a Lee to Stagger Lee and Hugh Laurie
  7. Other people’s songs: Love Henry
  8. Other people’s songs: Rank Stranger To Me
  9. Other people’s songs: Man of Constant Sorrow
  10. Other people’s songs: Satisfied Mind
  11. Other people’s songs: See that my grave is kept clean
  12. Other people’s songs: Precious moments and some extras
  13. Other people’s songs: You go to my head
  14. Other people’s songs: What’ll I do?
  15. Other people’s songs: Copper Kettle
  16. Other people’s songs: Belle Isle
  17. Other people’s songs: Fixing to Die
  18. Other people’s songs: When did you leave heaven?
  19. Other people’s songs: Sally Sue Brown
  20. Other people’s songs: Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
  21. Other people’s songs: Step it up and Go
  22. Other people’s songs: Canadee-I-O
  23. Other people’s songs: Arthur McBride
  24. Other people’s songs: Little Sadie
  25. Other people’s songs: Blue Moon, and North London Forever
  26. Other people’s songs: Hard times come again no more
  27. Other people’s songs: You’re no good
  28. Other people’s songs: Lone Pilgrim (and more Crooked Still)
  29. Other people’s songs: Blood in my eyes
  30. Other people’s songs: I forgot more than you’ll ever know
  31. Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.

One comment

  1. The album did cause a bit of controversy, though, since several songs were inaccurately credited. Australian folksinger Mick Slocum sued Dylan’s music publisher over the arrangement credit in “Jim Jones.” Slocum recorded his arrangement with his band, The Original Bushwhackers, in 1975, and Dylan’s publisher was forced to concede their error.

    Source https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Music/GoodAsIBeenToYou

    I remember at the time of the suit seeing extensive correspondence between Slocum and Dylan’s representatives on the web somewhere.

    There is also an interesting entry on the song at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *