> The Watersons > Songs > The Poacher's Fate
> The Albion Country Band > Songs > Gallant Poacher
> Peter Bellamy > Songs > The Poacher's Fate

The Poacher's Fate / Gallant Poacher

[ Roud 793 ; Laws L14 ; Ballad Index LL14 ; trad.]

The Watersons sang The Poacher's Fate in 1966 on their album A Yorkshire Garland. Like most of the tracks from this LP, it was re-released in 1994 on the CD Early Days. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

As large-scale capitalist agriculture grew during the eighteenth century, more and more of the common ground and woods where ordinary people grazed a few sheep and shot a few rabbits were fenced off as private property. Especially in the Midlands and South Yorkshire, where commoners had a strong anti-authoritarian tradition since Robin Hood's days, the enclosures were bitterly resented, the more so as new rationalised farming methods meant widespread unemployment, and it was doubly hard to keep the family pot boiling. So from this time, and from this area, we get a large number of songs reflecting the widespread “poaching war” between the keepers, representing the landlords, and the poachers, whom the ordinary folk regarded as their champions against injustice.

The Poacher's Fate was published as a broadside by Pocklington of York, also by Walker of Durham. The Watersons sing it to the tune of James Waller the Poacher, communicated to Frank Kidson by a Mr. Anderson of Leeds.

Harry Cox's sang The Poacher's Fate in a recording by Bob Thompson and Michael Grosvernor Nyer on November 15, 1970. This was included in 2001 on his Topic anthology, The Bonny Labouring Boy. Steve Roud commented in the liner notes:

Traditional songs, such as this which focus on confrontations between keepers and poachers, are always clearly on the side of the latter, as were the feelings of most of the working country populace in the 19th century. Under various titles such as The Gallant Poachers, this particular song was collected a number of times in England (and once in the USA), and well-known post-War recordings by Walter Pardon, George Dunn, and Becket Whitehead have been issued. It was also reasonably popular with broadside printers, and surviving sheets suggest a mid-19th rather than an early-19th century provenance, although Roy Palmer (Everyman's Book of English Country Songs (1979)) maintains that it must have been in existence from at least 1811 or 1812 as its textual influence can be seen on a Luddite song of that period.

George Dunn sang The Gallant Poachers in a recording made on December 4-5, 1971 by Bill Leader on his eponymous Leader album, George Dunn. Another recording made by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger in 1971 was included in 2002 on Dunn's Musical Traditions anthology Chainmaker.

Martin Carthy sang and recorded Gallant Poacher with the Albion Country Band in 1973. It took until 1976 for their album Battle of the Field to be releases, though. Martin Carthy also sang The Gallant Poacher at the Sidmouth Folk Festival in 1979. This BBC recording was released in 2013 on his digital download album Live in Sidmouth 1979.

Walter Pardon sang The Poacher's Fate in his home in a recording by Bill Leader on May 11, 1974. This was included both on Pardon's 1975 Leader LP, A Proper Sort, and on the Topic anthology To Catch a Fine Buck Was My Delight (The Voice of the People Vol. 18, 1998).

Peter Bellamy sang The Poacher's Fate on his 1975 eponymous LP, Peter Bellamy. He accompanied himself on concertina and commented in the sleeve notes:

Versions of this ballad have been collected all over the British Isles. This composite verson is drawn partly from Harry Cox and partly from Walter Pardon, both of Norfolk, and I have myself taken distinct liberties with both the text and the melodiy, which is very similar (even before I got at it) to that of the Copper Family's When Spring Comes In.

Lyrics

The Watersons sing The Poacher's Fate The Albion Country Band's Gallant Poacher

Come all ye lads of high renown
That like to drink strong ale that's brown
And pull a lofty pheasant down
With powder, shot and gun.

Now come all you lads of high renown
That like to drink strong ale that's brown
And pull a lofty pheasant down
With powder, shot and gun.
He's a gallant youth, I will tell the truth,
Oh he's crossed all life's temptations ways,
No mortal man his life could save
Now he's sleeping in his grave,
His deeds on earth be done.

I and five more a-poaching went
To get some game was our intent
Our money being gone and spent
We'd nothing else to try.

The keeper heard us fire a gun
And quickly to the spot he run
And swore, before the rising sun
That one of us should die.

Now me and five more a-poaching went
To get some game was our intent
Our goods were gone and our money all spent
We had nothing left to try.
Now the moon shone bright, not a cloud in sight,
Oh, the keeper heard us fire a gun,
To the spot he quickly run,
He swore, before the rising sun
That one of us should die.

The bravest lad in all the lot
'Twas his misfortune to be shot
His memory ne'er shall be forgot
As long as we have life*

For help he cried, but it was denied
He rose again to join the fight
While down upon his gallant breast
The crimson blood did flow

Now, the bravest youth amongst our lot
'Twas his misfortune to be shot
His deeds will never be forgot
By all of us below.
Now for help he cried, but he was denied
Oh his memory ever shall be blessed
For he stood up, he fought the rest,
While down upon his gallant breast
The crimson blood did flow.

 
 
 
 

Deep was the wound that the keeper gave
No mortal man his life could save
He now lies sleeping in his grave
Until the judgement day.

Now this youth he fell down on the ground,
In his breast a mortal wound,
While through the woods the shot did sound
That took his life away.
In the midst of life he fell in suffering full-well,
Deep was the wound that the keeper gave,
No mortal man his life could save,
Now he's sleeping in his grave,
His deeds on earth be done.

Now the murderous man that did him kill,
Caused his precious blood to spill,
Must wander far against his will
And find no resting place.
Destructive things, his conscience stings,
He must wander through the world forlorn,
Ever feel the smarting thorn
Be pointed at with the finger of scorn,
And die in sad disgrace.

Harry Cox sings The Poacher's Fate

Me and three more went out one night;
To get some game was our intent.
Our money being all gone and spent,
We'd nothing else to do.

The keepers heard us fire our guns
And to the spot they quickly run,
And swore before the rising sun
That one of us should die.

He was a gay young youth,
I'm telling you the truth.
The bullet went right through his breast
And felled him to the ground.

He rose no more to stand the test
As down upon his scarlet breast,
Down upon his scarlet breast,
The crimson blood did flow.

No more locked up in the castle cell
To hear the key-turner ring the bell,
And all his comrades bid farewell
The rattling of his chains.

No more locked up in the castle cell
To hear the key-turner ring the bell,
he now lay slumbering in his grave
Until the judgement day.

Walter Pardon sings The Poacher's Fate Peter Bellamy sings The Poacher's Fate

Come all you lads of high renown
Who love to drink strong ale that's brown
And pull a lofty pheasant down
With powder, shot and gun.

Come all you lads of high renown
Who love to drink strong ale that's brown
And pull a lofty pheasant down
With powder, shot and gun.

I and five more a-poaching;
To kill some game was our intent.
Our money gone and all was spent,
We'd nothing else to try.

Me and five more a-poaching went
For to get some game was our intent.
Our money being all gone and spent,
And we'd nothing else to do.

And the moon shone bright,
Not a cloud in sight,

And the moon shone bright,
Not a cloud in sight,
As we wandered through the woods that night
For to pull the pheasant down.

The keeper heard us fire a gun
And to the spot did quickly run,
He swore before the rising sun
That one of us must die.

But the keeper heard us fire our gun
And to the spot he swiftly run.
He swore before the rising sun
That one of us should die.

'Twas the bravest youth among the lot
'Twas his misfortune to ger shot;
In memory he'll ne'er be forgot
By all his friends below.

And the bravest youth of all our lot
It was his misfortune to be shot;
His memory ne'er shall be forgot
By all his friends below.

He was a brave young youth,
I'm telling you the truth.
But the bullet it went right through his breast
And it felled him to the ground.

In memory he ever shall be blessed.
He rose again to stand the test,
Whilst down upon his gallant breast
The crimson blood did flow.

For help he cried
But was denied

It was the wound the keeper gave,
No mortal man his life could save.
He lies now sleeping in the grave
Until the judgment day.

That youth he fell upon the ground
Within his breast a mortal wound.
Whilst from the woods a gun
Did sound that took his life away.

The murderous man that did him kill
And on the ground his blood did spill,
Shall wander far against his will
And find no resting place.

Now that murderous man who did him kill
And on the ground his blood did spill,
He must wander far against his will
And find no resting place.

Destructive things,
His conscience stings,

He must wander through this world forlorn
And always feel the smarting thorn:
He pointed out with finger scorn
And die in sad disgrace.

He must wander through this world forlorn
And always feel the smarting thorn:
He pointed out with finger scorn
And die in sad disgrace.

And destructive things,
His conscience stings,
And make him always rue the day
That he ever fired his gun.

To prison then we all were sent,
We called for aid, but none was lent.
Our enemies they were full bent
That there we should remain.

And to prison then we all got sent,
We called for aid, but none was lent.
Our enemies they were all full bent
That there we should remain.

And for help we cried,
But we were denied;
In the castle cell we were locked away
For to never see the sky.

But fickle fortune on us shine
And unto us did change her mind:
With heartfelt thanks for liberty
We were let out again.

But fickle fortune changed her mind
And unto us she did prove kind:
With heartfelt thanks for liberty
We were soon let out again.

No more locked up in the midnight cells
To hear the turnkeys ring the bells,
Those crackling doors I bid farewell,
the rattling of the chain.

And now no more locked up in the midnight cells
To hear the key-turner ring the bells,
To crackling doors I bid farewell
And the rattling of my chain.

Notes and Acknowledgements

The Poacher's Fate was transcribed from the Early Days CD by Garry Gillard. This is somewhat different from the version in the Digital Tradition database. Digitrad here* has “Until the judgement day”. Other versions have: “By all his friends below”, “By all of us below” and “By all those he loved below”. Thanks to Wolfgang Hell, and to Tony Rees.

The lyrics of Gallant Poachers were copied from the Ashley Hutchings songbook A Little Music.