Hugill cites this well known song as a forebitter and a shanty but there is much debate about its origins. It bears a resemblance to the music hall song Darling Nelly Gray – but which was a parody of which? Wikipedia dates it at 1830, but others argue that references in the song suggest it is 50 years younger than that. There are many versions and it was popularized during the skiffle era last century – even the Beatles sang it. Most versions mention Liverpool, but there are London, Glasgow and Swansea versions too. Van Dieman’s Land was, until 1856, Tasmania – to which Maggie and many others were deported. Our version owes much to Bob Roberts, skipper of the last commercial Thames Barge under sail.
I was paid off at Greenhithe
from a voyage just north of Blyth -
Four pounds ten a month was all me pay -
With me pockets full of tin
I was very soon taken in
by a pretty girl they call her Maggie May.
Oh Maggie, Maggie May
they’re taking you away
to toil upon Van Diemen’s lonely shore -
‘Cause you done so many sailors
and you robbed so many whalers,
but you’ll never walk down Lime Street any more.
When first I met Miss Maggie
‘twas on a wet July
cruising up and down in Woolwich place:
With me barge just home from sea
she seemed just the girl for me,
so, like a bargeman I gave chase!
I caught her all aback,
and she shifted her main tack,
but Maggie, she had busted her main stay -
And next morning when I woke,
with me heart all sore and broke,
found that Maggie had skedaddled with me pay.
Not only was it me pay
that that girl had taken away -
no vest no pants no waistcoat could I find!
I wrote to her where they were?
She replied, ‘My dear Sir -
In Greenhithe, the pawnshop, number nine,’
To the pawnshop I did go,
but I couldn’t find me clothes,
so the Officers came and took that girl away -
And the judge he guilty found ‘er
of robbing of a homeward bounder -
And sent he down to toil in Botany Bay.