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The Ballad of Henry and Susannah

[Peter Bellamy]

Peter Bellamy as narrator a.k.a. Street Singer sang The Ballad of Henry and Susannah in his 1977 ballad opera The Transports. He was accompanied by fiddler Dave Swarbrick.

Mossy Christian sang The Ballad of Henry and Susannah on his 2020 CD Come Nobles and Heroes. He noted:

This song tells the true story of Henry [Cabell] and Susannah Holmes, adapted from songs written by Peter Bellamy for his ballad opera The Transports.


The Ballad of Henry and Susannah (1)

Come all you gentle people and listen to my tale,
Concerning a poor convict, from Suffolk he did hail.
For fourteen years transported as you shall understand
For to lead a poor and wretched life upon Van Diemen’s Land.

Young Henry Cabell was his name and in Mendham he did dwell.
His poor but honest parents, they reared him right well
Till cruel hardship overcame them and his father in despair
To feed his family did embark upon a wild career.

The Ballad of Henry and Susannah (2)

So his father with a band went out when all lay sound asleep
Into a house in Alburgh town those desperate men did creep.
Young Henry he went with them, having reached his nineteenth year;
His part it was to stand a watch and see the coast was clear.

But fortune was not with that band, kind favour passed them by,
For the constables they soon did come and did raise the hue and cry.
They was quickly overtaken and carried to the gaol
For to wring their hands and curse their fate until their strength did fail.

It was at Thetford assizes at the bar they soon did stand;
And the sentence it was given that all three of them should hang.
But up spoke Henry’s mother, crying, “Spare my only son,
For his years are few, and for one crime his race should not be run.”

Fourteen years of transportation became Henry’s punishment
And to the cells of Norwich Castle this young man was sent,
Leaving his tender mother for to tear her hair in woe
As her husband and Abe Carman to the gallows-tree did go.

The Ballad of Henry and Susannah (3)

He had not been in Norwich Gaol nine months unto a year
When a pretty Norfolk serving-maid she also was sent there
For stealing silver teaspoons, she from Thurlton village came
For fourteen years a transport far across the raging main.

The Ballad of Henry and Susannah (4)

For three long years and upward in that dark and bitter cell
Young Henry and Susannah they lovingly did dwell.
And in Seventeen-and-eighty-six, she bore him a baby boy;
Who would believe that such a pit could ever hold such joy?

But sorrow quickly followed which did pierce them to the heart
For the news was to them carried that their family must part.
Young Henry was to stay in gaol, as he did understand,
While Susannah she was to be sent to far Van Diemen’s Land.

Down on his knees he pleaded, all from his breaking heart,
That from his own dear loved-ones he would not be forced to part.
But in that dreary dungeon young Henry had to stay
As his sweetheart and his little son to Plymouth were conveyed.

The Ballad of Henry and Susannah (5)

It was in the month of January Australia’s coast drew near
And in that fair clime the sun did shine which filled their hearts with cheer.
And soon in peaceful Sydney Cove at anchor they did ride
And admired the green and pleasant shore beyond the foaming tide.

Then up spoke Captain Philip, for so richly dressed was he:
“Some man must bear me through the surf and keep me from the sea!”
Then up stepped Henry Cabell, being one both stout and tall,
Saying, “Captain, I will be that man and will not let you fall.”

Andso they sat them in the jolly-boat and the crew did pull for land
And when they reached the shallows, Henry o’er the gunwale sprang.
He took the captain up on his back and he waded to the sand—
The very first of exiles in that distant part to stand.

And a fortnight later Henry took Susannah for his wife,
The comfort of his darkest days to comfort him through life.
And when their years of sentence passed, their happiness did grow
With property, prosperity and children also.

And so come all you gentle people who are lost in dark dismay,
And remember that the blackest night must some time yield to day;
Remember that the wildest storm eventually must pass
And like Henry and Susannah may you find your joy at last.