David Lewis Paget
Saltwater Creek - Poem by David Lewis Paget
The first time he came into the light
He thought that his eyes had gone,
The sun was shining, ever so bright
With nothing to focus on,
They led him out to sit on a rock
And hacked off his ball and chain,
It took a week of his ticket of leave
Before he could see again.
Richard Dawson, a broken man
Had finally done his time,
He’d spent three years in shovelling coal
In the colony’s first coal mine,
They said it was only his just desserts
For a pocket, picked in the Strand,
And sent him out on a convict ship
To the hell of Van Diemen’s Land.
At first they set him to breaking rocks
For laying the first rough roads,
He worked while tethered in iron chains
That chafed his skin and his bones,
He wasn’t allowed to take a rest
From swinging the pick or axe,
For the guards would follow the line of men
And lay the whip on their backs.
He lost his God and he lost his soul
Or he thought that he had, out there,
Where men were hung as a matter of fact
And nobody seemed to care,
He slaved four years with the other men
But his future was looking bleak,
When he hit a man who was guarding them
He was sent to Saltwater Creek.
If ever there was a hell on earth
It was called Saltwater Creek,
The devil had got in the minds of men
And they formed a barbaric clique.
The cells were buried, were underground,
There wasn’t a spark of light,
And the men were taken out of the mine
When it was dark, at night.
They started before the sun was up,
They finished when it was gone,
Were locked and chained in their pitch dark cells
In a terror that just went on,
And while they were buried and mining coal
They’d think of the old country,
While their judge sat cool in his stately robes
And finished his morning tea.
A man turns into a surly brute
When he’s kicked and cursed, and beat,
But take the sun from his daily run
And his soul admits defeat.
Richard Dawson, later in life
At night, would take to the street,
And never could quite explain to his wife
The Hell of Saltwater Creek.
1 October 2013
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