Ballad Analysis · Blog Post

Murrumbateman Mystery Poet

Photo of Ross Memorial at Goulburn

Murrumbateman is a small village about 20 minutes away from where I live on the road south to Canberra. While I have published three albums of material about the history of the Yass Valley, I haven’t set any of those songs in Murrumbateman.

In an attempt to correct this, I went looking for stories about Murrumbateman in the National Library of Australia’s Trove collection. I found this poem and set it to music.

The poem was published in both the Goulburn Herald / County of Argyle Advertiser on 27 September 1856. However, the poet is un-named and is simply titled “Murrumbateman”.  The full poem is included below:


Yes, Nature once again has laid
Her wintry robes aside,
And once again she is array’d
In Spring’s most winning pride;
She seems no longer old and grey,
But youthful, blooming, fresh, and gay,
As if ’twere only yesterday
This lovely world was made.

See! countless multitudes of flowers
Adorn the verdant hills,
And, big with life-promoting showers,
Behold a thousand rills!
Feel! every breeze is loaded with
Perfume’s delicious, scented breath,
And hark! what music sweet from ‘neath
The rich, green forest thrills.

Blythe, snow-white lambs are scattered o’er
Each valley and each plain;
And all are now preparing for
The shearer’s busy reign:
The master makes his shed all right,
And views his press with vast delight;
The shearer whets his shears so bright,
Till both blades shine again.

The shepherd, too, with anxious care
Attends his fleecing flock,
So that they may in order fair
Yield up their annual coat;
And with well-founded expectation,
The publican makes calculation,
That half of all that’s earned this season
Will be his easy lot.

Oh! how I wish, dear Spring, that thou
Could’st stay with us for ever,
For then all things would smile as now,
And gloom return, oh! never;
But ardent Summer soon, alas!
Will snatch thee to his fierce embrace,
When every youthful charm and grace
Will sicken, fade, and wither.


So who is this mystery poet? There are several other poems labelled with this curious ‘Murrumbateman’ label, The Sabbath Day in 1855, Solitude, He is Gone, Australia the Bright! and this poem (Spring) in 1856. Nothing then until a final poem in 1858 called A Dream, where the poet reveals themselves to be from Scotland.

The poem He is Gone likely relates to the death of William Henry Simpson on the 10th of July 1856 in Yass. According to this article on 12 July, William was kicking a fire-ball related to the peace proclamation fireworks (Crimean War) and fell down a bank near the ‘new’ Yass bridge. At the time it seems it was thought he would recover, but his death notice was published on 19 July. In the paper of the 12th, there is also a notice saying that the Scots’ Kirk will not meet on Sunday as the Rev. Mr. Ross  needs to go to Yass to attend to his brother-in-law Mr. Simpson.

Reverends in the Yass Valley have a habit of also being poets (see John O’Brien of Around the Boree Log fame), so it is conceivable that Mr Ross is our nameless author. The full name of Reverend William Ross is given in this January 1856 marriage notice.

A brief summary of the life of Reverend Ross is given in his obituary here from 23 January 1869. It  indicates that William was born in Ross-shire, Scotland in 1815 and may have been an officer in the Royal Navy. Sadly no mention of  a penchant for Poetry.

This source confirms that William Ross was a Freemason and provides some imagery of his grave. The home where William’s wife continued to live after his death, and ran a boarding school is here. This history covers William’s involvement with the building of St Ann’s church in Paterson from 1838-1846.

So William’s connection to the subject of the He is Gone poem is strong evidence that either he, or his wife could well be the author of these poems, but sadly nothing conclusive. Hopefully someone in the region will be able to provide confirmation.

Possibly a red-herring, but this history of the Presbyterians in New South Wales from 1905 suggests there was another Rev. William Ross from South Australia, who was active in Wentworth and returned to Scotland and died in 1899. This Ross is linked to the poet, Dr George Macdonald. This Ross is probably not the one associated with Yass/Goulburn.






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