Biographical Poetry posted October 11, 2014

This work has reached the exceptional level
Historical Ballad

Ballad of Joseph Firth

by kiwisteveh

In Yorkshire's west lived Joseph Firth
A weaver by his trade
And though he toiled both day and night,
A pittance he was paid.

In Barnsley town the weavers met
And cursed their sorry plight:
"Our labour makes the owners rich,"
They cried, "It is not right!"

"Our wives and children all must starve
To meet their wicked rent.
On workers' sweat, the lords grow fat --
The law forbids dissent."

At dead of night the union met,
Believers true and brave,
Though each man knew the path he trod
Might lead him to his grave.

"To Huddersfield we'll boldly march,
The town is lightly armed.
The barracks we can take with ease
And no man need be harmed."

"From all of Yorkshire men will rise
To join the common cause.
A revolution starts this night
To change these cruel laws."

And so the rag-tag army marched
With flag and pike and drum.
From Dodworth and Monkbretton too
More infantry would come.

At Grange Moor near to Huddersfield,
They paused and peered around,
The looked-for reinforcements
Were nowhere to be found.

"We are betrayed!" a lone voice cried,
For soldiers had been seen.
The rebels scattered for their lives --
All save for seventeen.

For Joseph Firth and sixteen men
Were taken off to jail.
High Treason was the charge they faced;
Conviction could not fail.

That grim and gray September day
At York Assizes there,
The Judge addressed the prisoners
And fixed them with his stare,

"Your crime against the King is grave --"
The crowd all held their breath --
The Judge then donned his hood of black:
"Your sentence shall be death."

"But stay! It seems your guilty plea
Has spared the hangman's noose.
The law will show its mercy
And your sentence I'll reduce."

"From hence you'll be transported
By this warrant in my hand;
In prison you will spend your life
In far Van Diemen's Land."

Now Joseph's wife cried out as though
A dagger pierced her heart.
"My love, I'll send for thee," he called,
"We shall not dwell apart."


We Want To Know What Happened! contest entry


This is really only the first half of Joseph's story. Luckily for him and for me, the second part ends much more happily - he is my wife's great-great-great grandfather (that's right, three greats) I owe my knowledge of the story all to her genealogical research. If I ever get round to writing the rest of his story, I will connect the two halves together.

I have tried to make this more of a traditional ballad, although the contest conditions allow for a great deal of freedom in style.

The West Riding Rebellion of April 1820 is a little-remembered incident amongst the social upheaval in Britain at the start of the 19th Century. The facts are as I have stated them here, although I have 'imagined' some of the detail.

One of the more curious facts is that the Judge sentenced the men to death, although it was pre-arranged that he would commute the death sentence to transportation.

Van Diemen's Land was the name used at the time for Tasmania. The rebels were sent to the penal colony in Hobart.

The artwork shows York Castle where the rebels were tried in September 1820
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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