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Folk Music/Revolutionary Ballad


Hi Kaye,

I'm researching a song called The Grand Conversation Lies Under A Rose. It was allegedly sung by a convict being held on Sarah Island (off the Tasmanian coast) in the 1830s.

I'm working for a television production company producing an Australian documentary-drama about the exploits of convicts on Sarah Island and one such convict named James Porter apparently sang this song while labouring. Have you heard of it and, if so, would you know where I could find a copy of the song so we could hear the tune?

Pascal Adolphe
61 2 9797 6325

Hi Pascal

For a start, this is definitely not a traditional Scottish  song, so forgive the following, if I seem a little unsure. However, I love a challenge! Apologies in advance if anything here duplicates your own research.

I had a look around the web and it looks like this song generally goes under the title 'Under the Rose' and has references to the American Wars and the Napoleonic Wars: not to be mixed up with the song by the metal band H.I.M. of a similar name!

I've found  the sheet music and the lyrics and have provided the links just to make sure this is the same song.

I found it listed under 'Union Songs'  - here and has a link to an e-book of Australian unions songs in general.

You can find a (slightly dreadful) instrumental version <a href=">here</a>

I always find the best bet for queries such as this is - it is a music forum and you have  world-wide access to people who know an awful lot about very different types of music and song.

... and just in case what he was singing was actually The Grand Conversation on Napoleon - the last line which is 'The Grand Conversation on Napoleon arose', you can find that on Spotify - look for Jon Boden's version for a more pleasant option!

I add this as the tunes seem very similar, which can be a good marker for related songs.

The man who is credited for collecting The Grand Conversation Lies Under a Rose' is Alfred Williams and you may find more information in this web archive -

The English Folk Dance and Song Society may also be able to help you - - and they may be able to pinpoint where the song originated

There is also the Roud Index. This provides information on English traditional songs recorded all over the world and in different media. You can access that via the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library - - and you could try contacting them directly if you feel you are floundering.

I wish you well and I hope that some of this may be of use.

All things good


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Kaye McAlpine


My main field of expertise in in traditional ballads - those commonly known as the Child ballads. Those containing executions are my particular speciality, but I am also interested in ballad structure formula, functions and narrative constructs. However, I also have interest in - and academic knowledge of - bothy ballads, and the singing tradition of Scotland - although not Gaelic song. This includes Jacobite song, political song, songs about the trades, and so on. I'm pretty au fait with traditional singers and bands too. And while I enjoy singing the songs, I'm not so sure others might enjoy listening!


I studied ballads academically, as well as Scottish literature. This extended into Scottish social customs and social history. I was the traditional music reviewer for the Edinburgh Evening News for 4 years, and have several publications to my name. I have been a freelance tutor in outreach courses from Edinburgh University on Scottish Culture and Tradition, including lifecycle customs, broadsheet ballads in Scotland, the traditional ballad and history. I am a freelance writer, have been a guest presenter on Ch4 History Hunters programme, and was a contributor to BBC Radio Scotland's 'Songlines' series on 'The Dowie Dens of Yarrow', and have advised BBC Radio Scotland researchers regarding Scottish songs and ballads from the Borders.

Books: Forthcoming: The Gallows and The Stake. Published: Compendium of Scottish Ethnology, vol. 10 'Oral Literature and Performance Culture', chapter on The Traditional and the Border Ballad; The Harris Repertoire (Scottish Text Society, co-editor), The Ballad in History (chapter on Border ballads). Journals include Folklore, The Review of Scottish Culture, Scottish Studies, and The Scottish Literary Journal. Music reviews appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News

Ph D, M. Phil, BA (Hons)

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