Francis Macnamara

Miner, thief, celebrity poet
Arrived 1832 on Eliza
With their ‘flash’ slang words, convicts could undermine the control of the authorities. The rebellious verse of Macnamara, who clearly had the gift of the gab, must have struck a chord with his fellow convicts.

In 1832, Francis Macnamara, an articulate 21-year-old miner from Wicklow, Ireland, was sentenced to seven years’ transportation for stealing cloth.

In the colony he became a popular poet and balladeer, famous for describing the horrors and injustices of the convict system – and few were more qualified to write about convict life.

For nearly two decades, while ‘Frank the Poet’ entertained colonists with witty writings, the real Macnamara endured punishment in irons, multiple floggings, stints on the treadmill and long periods in solitary cells. His poem ‘A Dialogue between two Hibernians in Botany Bay’, published in The Sydney Gazette, was written at the Hyde Park Barracks.

The defiant Macnamara also wrote about notorious fellow convicts William Swallow and Israel Chapman. Macnamara was finally freed in 1849.

Listen to Irish convict Francis Macnamara introduce himself and recite an excerpt from one of his poems:

Source: ‘A Dialogue between two Hibernians in Botany Bay’, published in the Sydney Gazette, 8 February 1840. Voice: Martin Considine, recorded at Hyde Park Barracks Museum, 2013.