September 17th, 1864 - BILL HARVEY’S SONG.

There’s a ship on the ocean that gallantly rides,
And she floats like a swan on the murmuring tides;
Thro’ the breeze of the summer she shoots her light form,
And glides like a falcon through tempest and storm.
Ride on, thou proud vessel! bound swift o’er the sea,
No home is there left me, no country save thee!
No home and no country – off, off let me roam;
‘Tis not in the palace, the king finds a home,
‘Tis not the bare wall or the desolate hearth,
Is a home, - nor our country a cold spot of earth.
Where food’s to be gained, and where fields blossom free,
Oh! there shines a home and a country for me.
Sail on, thou gay vessel! far over the wave
I’ll find me a country or find me a grave;
Far better to die in the swamp or the wood,
Than to creep through long life on the mendicant’s food.
A grave or a homestead beneath the green tree,
For death or good fortune alike set me free!
The shaded Savannah has pestilent brakes,
The wood has its tigers, the swamp has its snakes.
He fears no Savannah who’s toil’d in a drain,
The snake on the pauper glares fearful in vain.
From priest, squire, and farmer but let me go free;
The tiger and serpent are welcome to me!
What boots it to us that our country is rich?
The best of our life-time is spent in a ditch;
We know she is powerful – she tramples us down;
And plentiful too, though our bread is so brown.
There’s a land quite as lovely far over the sea,
For the land that gives food is the fairest to me.
Oh! give me the wood where the axe never swung,
Where man never entered, and voice never run;
A hut made of logs, and a gun by my side,
The land for my portion, and Jane for my bride.
That hut were a palace, a country for me –
Dash on, thou proud ship, o’er the wide rolling sea!

Title:Bill Harvey's Song

Author:Ebeneezer Elliot

Publication:The Blackburn Times

Published in:Blackburn

Date:September 17th, 1864

Keywords:emigration, poverty, work


This poem by the great ‘Corn Law Rhymer’, Ebenezer Elliot (1781-1849), celebrates the possibilities of emigration as a fresh start for working people. There are familiar tropes of uncut forests and wide open spaces, but these are contrasted with a lack of opportunity, or even food, at home. The Cotton Famine saw a great many Lancastrians emigrating, especially as it wore on through the early 1860s. As well as poems like this written within the UK we have examples of poems written from colonies enticing economically disadvantaged people in the region to emigrate. – SR