Cruise of the “Crow”

A “Recruiting” Yarn

May 1892

Henry Lawson

TIS a tale of the land and the sea of the south, and a tale of the times,
When the country was starved for the greed of the wealthy—and cursed for the crimes;
Of the days when the healthy young heart of the south was beginning to bleed,
And the flesh of the white man was growing too dear for the coffers of greed.

On the deck of the Crow that was ploughing the luminous billow to yeast,
Alexander Steersoftly sailed out to the islands that lie in the east,
And he swept the horizon as though for a friend, or a prize, or foe,
Yet the flag of the pirate was not on the mast, nor the plunder below.
He had water, tobacco, and rum, and provisions for double the crew,
And the hull was as sound as a bell, and the masts and the rigging were new.

Now, it all was according to law, and the law had an agent on board,
Though they say that for most of the trip the said agent was drunk as a lord.
Perhaps it was strange that the captain should doctor the agent with rum,
That he always avoided a port where a vessel was likely to come;
But he anchored in lonelier bays, where he sighted the huts of “the boys”,
And he landed with clothing and rum (and revolvers and rifles) and toys.

There were dark bloody scenes on the shores of those beautifal islands at night;
There was crime in the day, when no sail save the sail of the Crow was in sight;
There were rescues attempted by men who, though black, had their dear ones to lose;
And the marks of the bullets are still to be seen on the carven canoes.
There was innocent blood on the sand, on the tropical green of the turf;
There were murdered Kanakas, who rolled by canoes overturned in the surf.

There are tales to be told of the cowardly wrongs of the islanders’ girls,
(Who had eyes that were brighter than stars, who had teeth that were purer than pearls),
Of the graces in bronze, finely fashioned by nature, untrained and free,
Who swam out through the rollers to gambol and dive in the luminous sea—
Swimming out in the glorious day, when the beautiful sea was aglow,
To be trapped and most foully ill-used by the well-chosen crew of the Crow.

Alexander Steersoftly sailed westward, and fair were the breezes that blew,
But he loitered awhile on high seas, for a reason well known to the crew;
Of the scenes on the deck of the Crow there are tales that shall never be told—
Of the sounds like the struggle of slaves, battened down in the depths of the hold—
There are truths that shall never be heard, or officially hinted—at least,
Not while England has honour at stake in the islands that lie in the east.

There were lessons to teach on the Crow ere the captain could steer for the land,
And he drilled his “recruits” every day with a loaded revolver in hand.
There were obstinate spirits to weaken, or break with the aid of the lash,
Or to vanish for good to the sound of a shot, or a thud—and a splash.
Then the captain steered west till the coastline of Queensland was sighted at last,
And the glorious flag of the English was raised to the head of the mast.

The “recruits” were sent out to plantations, where broken-in islanders saw
That ’twas not for “three moons” they must serve—they were slaves for three years by the law.
And the crew of the Crow had a rest and spree for a season, and then
Alexander Steersoftly sailed out to the beautiful islands again,
And he anchored once more in a bay to the sound of the islanders’ drum,
And he rowed to the shore with his toys (and revolvers and rifles) and rum.

But a just and poetical fate was in store for those civilized brutes.
For the captain was killed, and the mate, while in chase of unwilling “recruits”.
And the carpenter “potted a nigger” and barely escaped with his life,
And the cook of the vessel was clubbed for ill-using an islander’s wife.
(It is said in the fo’c’sle of vessels that trade in those latitudes low,
That the lady in question assisted in cooking the cook of the Crow.)

So a warship was sent for the sake of the “honour” that must be upheld,
And the sailors had sport with the blacks who escaped when the village was shelled.
And we fancy the tribe is extinct, for a sailor was heard to declare
That the captain bombarded the huts, while the women and children were there.
But a national crime is avenged to the full, as our children shall know,
And the fields of the south shall be red for the crimes of the cruise of the Crow.

But all this was in times when we knew by the Bible that went with the sword—
When we knew by the crimes that were done in the name of the Son of the Lord—
When we knew by the bayonet, red with the blood of the “children of Ham”,
By the toady who crawled in the slime of hypocrisy, falschood and sham—
When we knew by a people’s decay—when we knew by the national blare—
When we knew—by the drivel o’er all—that the Flag of the English “was there”!

[May 1892] Truth, 29th May 1892*

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