Tenuous Ties to Tarantino

Convicts & Cthulhu B&W Logo sml

One of the things that Geoff and I have tried to do in writing the Convicts & Cthulhu sourcebook is to make sure that the historical detail included for the setting is more than just the facts and figures. It’s easy enough for Keepers to look up mountains of that kind of information themselves using Wikipedia or many other online sources. And while that stuff is interesting and helpful, it doesn’t do much to give you a sense of what life was really like in the historical setting. Finding and capturing that kind of detail is much harder.

A source that I have found especially rich for the Australian convict era has been the sometimes lurid folk tales and folk songs that were created by the convicts of the day and passed down the generations (verbally at first, then published in the late 19th Century). I happened upon one great example late in the writing of Convicts & Cthulhu — the Ballad of Jim Jones at Botany Bay. It’s lyrics offer an insight into the harshness and dangers of the convict life, as well as the uncertainty of being sent half-way round the world to the infamous prison colony. All of that stuff is what makes this era such a great one for Call of Cthulhu (in my humble opinion, of course :)).

The Ballad of Jim Jones at Botany Bay

Come gather round and listen lads, and hear me tell m’ tale,
How across the sea from England I was condemned to sail.
The jury found me guilty, and then says the judge, says he,
Oh for life, Jim Jones, I’m sending you across the stormy sea.
But take a tip 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, he says, and after that, Jim Jones,
Way up high upon yon gallows tree, the crows will pick your bones.

Our ship was high upon the seas when pirates came along,
But the soldiers on our convict ship were full five hundred strong;
They opened fire and so they drove that pirate ship away
But I’d rather joined that pirate ship than gone to Botany Bay.
With the storms a-raging round us, and the winds a-blowing gales
I’d rather drowned in misery than gone to New South Wales.
There’s no time for mischief there, remember that, they say
Oh they’ll flog the poaching out of you down there in Botany Bay.

Day and night in irons clad we like poor galley slaves
Will toil and toil our lives away to fill dishonored graves;
But by and by I’ll slip m’ chains and to the bush I’ll go
And I’ll join the brave bushrangers there, Jack Donahue and Co.
And some dark night all is right and quiet in the town,
I’ll get the bastards one and all, I’ll gun the floggers down.
I’ll give them all a little treat, remember what I say
And they’ll yet regret they sent Jim Jones in chains to Botany Bay.

Ironically, it was only after reading this folk song lyric that I realised that not only did I own a recording of it (by Bob Dylan in 1992) but I had also recently heard it in a major film … Quentin Tarantino’s sort-of-Western crime thingamy “The Hateful Eight.”

hateful-eight-martin

If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know that at a pivotal point in the plot (just before all Hell breaks loose) Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character — a captured criminal — sings a haunting song (and plays it on an antique guitar). Although it’s hard to make out the words … that’s “Jim Jones at Botany Bay” (even though the film has nothing to do whatsoever with Australian convicts; you’re welcome to speculate for yourself why it was included).

[Trivia Note: this scene was also famous because due to a miscommunication on set it also ended with Kurt Russell destroying an antique 1870s guitar on loan from the museum of manufacturer Martin. Ooops!]

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