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Lyr Add: Black Bess

Jim Dixon 23 May 13 - 09:14 AM
Jim Dixon 23 May 13 - 10:28 AM
Jim Dixon 23 May 13 - 10:55 AM
Jim Dixon 23 May 13 - 01:13 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 23 May 13 - 02:57 PM
Jim Dixon 23 May 13 - 04:21 PM
Jim Dixon 23 May 13 - 05:15 PM
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Subject: Lyr Add: BLACK BESS (W H Ainsworth)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 23 May 13 - 09:14 AM

From a novel, Rookwood, Volume 2 by William Harrison Ainsworth (New York: J. F. Taylor and Company, 1903), page 140.

[I have presented the text, including punctuation and footnotes, as it appeared in the above edition; however, the novel first appeared in 1834.]


1. Let the lover his mistress's beauty rehearse,
And laud her attractions in languishing verse;
Be it mine in rude strains, but with truth, to express
The love that I bear to my bonny Black Bess.

2. From the West was her dam, from the East was her sire,
From the one came her swiftness, the other her fire;
No peer of the realm better blood can possess
Than flows in the veins of my bonny Black Bess.

3. Look! look! how that eyeball glows bright as a brand!
That neck proudly arches, those nostrils expand!
Mark that wide-flowing mane! of which each silky tress
Might adorn prouder beauties—though none like Black Bess!

4. Mark that skin sleek as velvet, and dusky as night,
With its jet undisflgured by one lock of white;
That throat branched with veins, prompt to charge or caress!
Now is she not beautiful?—bonny black Bess!

5. Over highway and by-way, in rough and smooth weather,
Some thousands of miles have we journeyed together;
Our couch the same straw, and our meal the same mess:
No couple more constant than I and Black Bess!

6. By moonlight, in darkness, by night, or by day,
Her headlong career there is nothing can stay;
She cares not for distance, she knows not distress;
Can you show me a courser to match with Black Bess?

7. Once it happened in Cheshire, near Dunham, I popped
On a horseman alone, whom I suddenly stopped;
That I lightened his pockets you'll readily guess—
Quick work makes Dick Turpin when mounted on Bess.

8. Now it seems the man knew me; 'Dick Turpin,' said he,
'You shall swing for this job, as you live, d'ye see;'
I laughed at his threats and his vows of redress;
I was sure of an alibi then with Black Bess.

9. The road was a hollow, a sunken ravine,2
Overshadowed completely by wood like a screen;
I clambered the bank, and I needs must confess
That one touch of the spur grazed the side of Black Bess.

10. Brake, brook, meadow, and plough'd field, Bess fleetly bestrode,
As the crow wings her flight we selected our road;
We arrived at Hough Green in five minutes, or less—
My neck it was saved by the speed of Black Bess.

11. Stepping carelessly forward, I lounge on the green,
Taking excellent care that by all I am seen;
Some remarks on time's flight to the squires I address,
But I say not a word of the flight of Black Bess.

12. I mention the hour—it was just about four—
Play a rubber at bowls—think the danger is o'er;
When athwart my next game, like a checkmate at chess,
Comes the horseman in search of the rider of Bess.

13. What matter details? Off with triumph I came;
He swears to the hour, and the squires swear the same;
I had robbed him at four!—while at four they profess
I1 was quietly bowling—all thanks to Black Bess!

14. Then one halloo, boys, one loud cheering halloo!
To the swiftest of coursers, the gallant, the true!
For the sportsman unborn shall the memory bless
Of the horse of the highwayman—bonny Black Bess.

1 Set to music by Mr. F. Romer.

2 The exact spot where Turpin committed the robbery, which has often been pointed out to us, lies in what is now a wooden hollow, though once the old road from Altringham to Knutsford, I clambered the bank, and I needs must confess skirting the rich and sylvan domains of Dunham, and descending the hill that brings you to the bridge crossing the little river Bollin. With some difficulty we penetrated this ravine. It is just the place for an adventure of the kind. A small brook wells through it; and the steep banks are overhung with timber, and were, when we last visited the place, in April, 1834, a perfect nest of primroses and wild flowers. Hough (pronounced Hoo) Green lies about three miles across the country—the way Turpin rode. The old Bowling-green is one of the pleasantest inns in Cheshire.

[Recorded by Daniel, Fred, & Julie, on "Daniel, Fred, & Julie" (2009)]

[The DT contains a version collected by Vance Randolph in the Ozarks, called BONNIE BLACK BESS (3). It is missing verses 1-4, and has several differences in wording.]

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From: Jim Dixon
Date: 23 May 13 - 10:28 AM

From Modern Street Ballads edited by John Ashton (London: Chatto & Windus, 1888), page 366:


1. Dick Turpin bold! Dick, hie away,
Was the cry of my pals, who were startled, I guess,
For the pistols were levelled, the bullets whizzed by,
As I leapt on the back of Black Bess.
Three Officers mounted, led forward the chase,
Resolv'd in the capture to share;
But I smil'd on their efforts, tho' swift was their pace,
As I urg'd on my bonny Black Mare.
So when I've a bumper, what can I do less,
Than the memory drink of my bonny Black Bess?

2. Hark away, hark away! still onward they press,
As we saw by the glimmer of morn,
Tho' many a mile on the back of Black Bess,
That night I was gallantly borne;
Hie over, my pet, the fatigue I must bear
Well clear'd! never falter for breath,
Hark forward, my girl, my bonny Black Mare,
We speed it for life or for death.
But when I've a bumper, what can I do less,
Than the memory drink of my bonny Black Bess?

3. The spires of York now burst on my view,
But the chimes, they were ringing her knell,
Halt! Halt! my brave mare, they no longer pursue,
She halted, she staggered, she fell!
Her breathing was o'er, all was hushed as the grave,
Alas! poor Black Bess, once my pride,
Her heart she had burst, her rider to save,
For Dick Turpin, she lived, and she died.
Then the memory drink of my bonny Black Bess,
Hurrah for poor bonny Black Bess!

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Subject: Lyr Add: BLACK BESS (Eliza Cook)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 23 May 13 - 10:55 AM

From Eliza Cook's Journal, Vol 7, No 174 (London: Charles Cook, August 28, 1852), page 297:

By Eliza Cook

1. Turpin had his Black Bess, and she carried him well,
As Fame with her loud-breathing trumpet will tell;
She knew not the lash, and she suffered no spur,
A bold rider was all that was needed by her.
That rider grew pallid and cautious with fear,
There was danger around him and death in the rear:
But he mocked at the legion of foes on his track,
When he found himself firm on his bonnie steed's back.

2. She carried him on as no steed did before,
She travelled as courser will never do more;
Bounding on like the wild deer, She scarce left a trace
On the road or the sod of her antelope pace.
The pistol was levelled, what was it to Dick?
The shot might be rapid, but Bess was as quick:
"Ha! ha!" shouted Turpin, "a horse and a man
Are fair marks for your bullets to reach if they can."

3. The mountain was high, and the valley was deep,
She sprung up the hill and she flew down the steep;
She came to the waste rough with furrow and weed,
But the brushwood and gap were no checks to her speed.
She dashed through the stream and she climbed the broad bank,
With no word to urge forward, no heel to her flank;
The gate with its padlock might stand in her way,
It took more than five bars to keep Black Bess at bay.

4. She kept her career up for many a league,
With no slackening of pace and no sign of fatigue;
Right onward she went till she staggered and dropped,
But her limbs only failed when her heart pulse had stripped.
Her dare-devil rider lived on for a while,
And told of her work with a triumphing smile:
And the fame of Dick Turpin had been something less
If he'd ne'er rode to York on his bonnie Black Bess.

5. Here's a health to her memory! shirk it who dare—
If you love what is noble, pledge Turpin's brave mare;
And the draught will be welcome, the wine will be good,
If it have half the spirit and strength of her blood.
May the steed that comes nigh her in courage and fire
Carry rider more worthy to make its heart tire;
Though she saved him, and died to prove what she could do,
Yet her life was most precious by far of the two.

6. I live on the sea, and I'm lord of a ship,
That starts from her rest like a hound from the slip;
Her speed is unrivalled, her beauty is rare,
But her timbers are black as the highwayman's mare.
From her keel-spanning beam to her sky-greeting spar
She's as dark as a midnight without moon or star:
Her name, boys! her name, you may easily guess,
She is christened, right nobly, "The Bonnie Black Bess."

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Subject: Lyr Add: MY POOR BLACK BESS
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 23 May 13 - 01:13 PM

A version of this song is found in the DT as BONNIE BLACK BESS (2). It was taken from Cowboy Songs: and Other Frontier Ballads edited by John Avery Lomax (New YorK: The Macmillan Company, 1920), page 194, where it is called BONNIE BLACK BESS.

The following version is a composite of several broadsides found in the Bodleian collection, for example, Firth c.17(214).

I have boldfaced the words that are different from those in the DT:


1. When Fortune, blind goddess, she fled my abode,
And friends proved ungrateful, I took to the road.
To plunder the wealthy, to aid my distress,
I bought thee to aid me, my poor Black Bess.

2. No vile whip or spur did thy sides ever gall,
For none did'st thou need; thou would'st bound at my call;
And for each act of kindness thou did'st me caress.
Thou wert never ungrateful, my poor Black Bess.

3. When dark, sable midnight its mantle had thrown
O'er the bright face of nature, how oft have we gone
To famed Houndslow Heath, though an unwelcome guest,
To the minions of fortune, my poor Black Bess.

4. How silent thou'st stood when a carriage I've stopped!
And their gold and their jewels its inmates have dropped.
No poor man I plundered or e'er did oppress
The widow or orphan, my poor Black Bess.

5. When Argus-eyed justice did me hotly pursue,
From London to York like lightning we flew.
No toll-bar could stop thee; thou the river did'st breast,
And in twelve hours reached it, my poor Black Bess.

6. But fate darkens o'er me; despair is my lot,
The law does pursue me through a cock which I shot.
To save me, poor brute, thou did'st do thy best.
Thou art worn out and weary, my poor Black Bess.

7. Hark! The bloodhounds approach; they never shall have
A beast like thee noble, so faithful and brave,
Thou must die, my dumb friend, though it does me distress,—
There! there! I have shot thee, my poor Black Bess.

8. And in after ages when I'm dead and gone,
This tale will be handed from father to son.
My fate some may pity, but all will confess
'Twas in kindness I killed thee, my poor Black Bess.

9. No one can say that ingratitude dwelt
In the bosom of Turpin,—'Twas a vice he ne'er felt.
I shall die like a man and soon be at rest;
Then farewell for ever, my poor Black Bess.

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Subject: Lyr Add: BONNIE BLACK BESS (from Randolph/Ozarks)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 23 May 13 - 02:57 PM

Three versions are found in Vance Randolph, Ozark Folksongs,, vol. 2, pp. 153-155.
One is a fragment (Arkansas)

The gold and the silver
From the rich man did drop,
No por man we plundered
Wherever we press,
No widow nor orphan,
My bonnie black Bess.

In Randolph, Coll. Arkansas
Mrs. Frances Oxford

The gods of misfortune have led me abroad,
Kind friends proved ungrateful, I took to the road,
To plunder the wealthy and leave my distress
I bought you to aid me, my bonnie black Bess.
When the dark clouds of midnight are mantled and thrown
O'er the face of green nature, how often we've gone
From the points to the low heath, though an unwelcome guest,
To plunder the wealthy, my bonnie black Bess.
Oh how gentle you stood when a mail coach I'd stop,
And the bright gold and silver from its inmates we got,
No poor man did we plunder, nor did we ever distress
The widow nor orphan, my bonnie black Bess.
When Augustus the justice had us pursued,
From London to Yorktown like lightning we flew,
No toll-bars could stop us, wide rivers we'd breast,
In twelve hours I rode it, my bonnie black Bess.
Hark, hark, I hear the bloodhounds, they never shall have
A beast so noble, true and brave,
I must kill you, my bonnie, though it does me distress,
Oh there, I have shot you, my bonnie black Bess!
In age after ages when I'm dead and gone
My history'll be handed from father to son,
Some will pity while others confess,
And so I will die with my bonnie black Bess.

I'll die like a man and soon be at rest,
Farewell to my kind friends and bonnie black Bess.

Version C, pp. 153-154

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Subject: Lyr Add: HARK AWAY, BESS! (from Bodleian)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 23 May 13 - 04:21 PM

The Bodleian collection has two copies of this song: Harding B 15(126b) and Harding B 11(757):


1. When bold Turpin mounted his bonny black steed,
His pursuers were close at his heels,
Like the whiz of a ball from a cannon that speeds
Until distance between them he feels,
And as he rides by, the hue and the cry,
They urge the bold robber to stay,
As onward he flies, the bold robber cries,
"My bonny Black Bess, hark away!"
Hark away, Bess!
As onward, &c.

2. As the sight of a turnpike-gate being nigh,
E'en Dick's heart began for to quail.
"We have gained on him now," his pursuers they cry.
"We shall catch Turpin now without fail!"
The gate shut appears; Bess pricks up her ears.
"Right, master," she seems next to say,
And over she flies, while Dick Turpin cries,
"My bonny Black Bess, hark away!"
And over, &c.

3. The gate being cleared, without any fear,
Dick's pursuers' hearts began for to quake.
They one and all cried, "I fear we ne'er shall
This bold daring rider o'ertake."
The gate being cleared, Bess prances and rears,
And onward she now takes her way.
So now they are foiled, the bold robber smiled,
"My bonny Black Bess, hark away!"
So now, &c.

4. Now Dick Turpin bold, with his bonny black steed,
(We never shall see them again.)
Through many a night and a sunshiny day,
They were chased over meadow and plain.
At length forced to part, which grieved him at heart,
For a better he never could have,
For now she is dead, an on her green bed,
She'll never more hark away!
For now, &c.

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Subject: Lyr Add: BLACK BESS (John Kirkpatrick)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 23 May 13 - 05:15 PM

As sung by John Kirkpatrick on "Mazurka Berserker" (2001)

1. Well, I once rid a pony, a fine coal-black mare.
Well, I rid her; I saddled her; I made her my care.
And we rode the king's highway for seven years or more.
Now her riding day's over; she'll never ride no more

2. Thee shall die, my dumb friend, and your soul go to rest,
And for kindness I'll shoot thee, my bonny Black Bess.
No toll-bar could stop her, nor river express,
And for kindness I'll shoot thee, my bonny Black Bess.

3. Well, we rode the king's highway for seven years or more.
I would rob from the rich and I gave to the poor,
And to jail we were taken both times two and three,
But there's no jail can hold us, my fine mare and me.

4. Well, the man in the prison, oh, he asked it of me:
Could he bridle my pony and ride her so free?
But as I held that bridle, and 'twas I gave the word,
How she tossed him; how he tumbled; she throwed him so hard!

5. And then I took that bridle, and I gave the word,
And we rode around that prison so fine and so proud,
And then over that wall like a bolt from a bow,
It was over she went and away we did go.

6. Well, the officers chased after; oh, how they did ride!
For so great was their bounty, so worthy their prize.
Oh, but me and Black Bess, well, we have 'em no spare.
They had to give over; they never got their share.

7. Well, we rode all that day and then all the night through
With never a thought of my fine mare so true.
No toll-bar could stop her, nor river express,
Till her poor heart was bursting, my bonny Black Bess.

8. Right into York City, oh, we flew like the wind,
Till her breath came no longer, my loyal fine friend.
As she lay there quite broken, how her eyes they did stare!
I shall ne'er see your equal, my bonny coal-black mare.

9. Thee shall die, my dumb friend, and your soul go to rest,
And for kindness I'll shoot thee, my bonny Black Bess.
No toll-bar could stop her, nor river express,
And for kindness I'll shoot thee, my bonny Black Bess.

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