James Lester Burke, Martin Cash and Frank the Poet


A manuscript version of The Adventures of Martin Cash, held in the Archives Office of Tasmania, throws important light on several poems which have been attributed to Francis MacNamara or 'Frank the Poet'. The first edition of Cash's often-reprinted biography, published in Hobart by Mercury in 1870, is a fuller text than the later editions, containing, among other things, a ballad about the bushranger which has been excised from later printings. All editions contain two short poems which are said to have been recited by Frank the Poet. John Meredith and Rex Whalan's important account of Francis MacNamara's life and work, Frank the Poet (Melbourne: Red Rooster, 1979), uses the first edition as a source for the three pieces, all of which they attribute to the convict poet. Meredith and Whalan title them 'Epigram of Introduction', 'Epigram on Solitary Confinement', and 'The Ballad of Martin Cash', although they are unnamed in their source. The manuscript on which the first edition is based, however, gives a slightly different (and preferable) text for the 'Epigram of Introduction', and it suggests strongly that 'The Ballad of Martin Cash' is the work of James Lester Burke.

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Published 1 May 1992 in Volume 15 No. 3.

Cite as: Butterss, Philip. ‘James Lester Burke, Martin Cash and Frank the Poet.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 15, no. 3, 1992, doi: 10.20314/als.4bb5086751.