Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Rum Song . . .

Rum was the favored drink down by the waterfront in Hobart Town in 1842. Robert  Hughes, in The Fatal Shore (292-293) asserts that it was the unusual man (does he mean working class man?) who did not drink, for conditions were so bad. Apparently men drank themselves oblivious -- sailors, soldiers, ticket-of-leave men or pass holders (those convicts lucky enough to have permission to work outside one of the many prisons or probation stations).

The Rum Song was written around 1830 and is helpful in establishing the mood (defiance) and slang of the time.

Cut yer name across me backbone,
Stretch me skin across a drum,
Iron me up to Pinchgut Island
From today till Kingdon Come!
I will eat yer Norfolk dumplings
Like a juicy spanish plum,
Even dance the Newgate Hornpipe
If ye'll only give me Rum!

I tried once to figure out what grog tasted like, a mix of water and rum served on sailing ships, but I didn't like it. I probably watered it down too much. Hughes explains that "Norfolk dumplings" are 100 lashes and the "Newgate Hornpipe" is a rather visceral description of how those hanged at the infamous Newgate Prison would kick their heels and twitch as they died.

I'm writing about men in prison this week, so my thoughts are rather grim. Usually I sink down into the story and try to feel what my character might have felt, a rather intuitive approach. And I've been told that my writing needs more sensory detail to create something called "deep point of view." This means that the reader is so pulled into the character through description that uses the five senses that the reader can't stop turning pages.

For example, if a character is beaten (and this week I have two characters roughed up), I can't very well have them popping back up like live-action dolls without an ache or groan. Well, deep point of view is more than simply adding description. Here's a longer definition (complete with purple prose) at Wow! Women on Writing.

So originally, I was going to write about R is for Roughed Up . . . I have some experience to draw upon, the student who came to my office so beaten she could barely walk, how my body felt after a car accident (I was pinned underneath the car for a time; luckily only dislocated a hip, but I remember how that felt). Once I was backhanded and my lip puffed out immediately (I was a mouthy teenager). But I'm having a hard time imagining a place where floggings of 100 lashes were routine. Sigh. Time for granola and back to today's writing.


  1. Holy crap! Deep point of view sounds hard as shiz to write. Good luck on getting that done. Your story sounds really awesome, by the way!

  2. I can't imagine how these prisoners lasted after the 100 lashings. Why were people so cruel back in the old days? Now, prisoners are supplied with everything they need--even a few luxuries. The only thing they're lacking is a normal, free life.

  3. Paul Saltis9:00 AM

    Do you have a record of the music to the Rum Song?