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Halamus Publishing - Archive Articles - # 13, April, 2003



The Articles from the Monthly Newsletters

Written by

M. Lesley Halamek

April, 2003:–

SONG:"Click Go The Shears" – Australia, from an American Song

"Click Go the Shears" is a rollicking Australian Bush Ballad, and one of the best known of the Shearers' Songs.

"The whole concept of shearing as we know it is uniquely Australasian (...from the Australian and New Zealand region).

"The large gangs of men who once plodded, (...on foot) then rode, (...on horseback) and who now drive from (...sheep) station (...ranch) to station, are not found elsewhere. Also peculiar to Australasia are the huge shearing sheds and their accompanying living quarters, and the many shearers' songs and ballads that are our heritage.

"When the wool industry first became established, conditions were rough, as were the men. Shearing was invariably done either by assigned convicts or old hands (freed convicts), in the open, or under crude bush shelters. The nomadic nature of the profession admirably suited the old hands, who, until the rising generations of Currency Lads (...i.e. born in the colony, cf "Pound Stirling", for English-born settlers) took over from them, accepted such occupations as shearing and bullock driving as being in their particular domain. In the early days of last century (...i.e. 19th C.) shearers were looked down on ... by the stockmen and drovers, who considered themselves to be the Úlite among bushmen ...

"... As shearing became more and more a skilled craft, and the routine became better organized, with rouseabouts, shed hands, washers, pressers, and so on, the shearers too became an Úlite. The great aim of every rouseabout is to become a shearer ... Similarly, the great aim of every shearer was to get the century – a hundred sheep a day, this being much more difficult to attain with the blades than with the machines used today. The uncrowned king in any shed is the ringer – the man who shears the most sheep, and consequently collects the biggest cheque...

"... Some of the great (sheep) stations were able to carry well over a hundred thousand sheep. Sheds with fifty and more stands were built, which must have meant a shearing team of more than a hundred men, for those days the wool was scoured on the stations to lighten it, in order to cut freight expenses, and this required more hands. ... nowadays the average shed would be about eight stands. Yet even while standing in an eight-stand shed that is in full swing, one cannot help sensing the tension and excitement in the air. The ordered confusion of shed hands packing sheep in crush pens; pickers-up hurrying up and down the board with fleeces and sweeping and throwing; rousies skirting fleeces on the rolling table; the presser and his off-sider packing wool in the press. The expert sharpening combs and cutters in the engine room; the classer mentally appraising the quality of every fleece. The ringer chases his highest tally, the second man chases the ringer, and the young fellow down in the learner's pen chases his 'fifty'.

"When unionism came to Australia, shearers played an important part in introducing it. Unionism was actually merely formalizing the code of ethics that already existed in the bush – that of 'sticking by your mates' and helping one another. Many shearers' songs relate to those early days of the fight for workers' rights, glorying in the victories over the squatters who wouldn't pay the pound (per hundred) and reviling the non-union worker, the scab. Others of course are the normally cheerful songs of tallies, ... ringers, and inevitably, benders (...bender – a short period of extreme drunkenness, preceded and followed by much longer periods of total abstinence, the 'bendees' often, unlike alcoholics, enjoying a long and mostly healthy life).

[For more info on bushmen and their 'benders' read "Bony and the Mouse" and "The Battling Prophet" by Arthur Upfield].

Click Go the Shears

"Most Australians can boast of knowing two bush songs. One is "Waltzing Matilda", the other is "Click Go the Shears", a favourite old shearers' song of the blade days. "Click Go the Shears" tells of one of those rough old bushmen one still meets occasionally, to whom the thought of stopping work never seems to occur. But the song also gives a vivid description of a shed in full swing and tells of the once customary fate of the bushman's cheque. "Click Go the Shears", sung as it nearly always is to the tune of "Ring the Bell Watchman", seems to capture completely the atmosphere of a busy shed. There is something just a little sad, yet not pathetic, about the vision of the old snagger in the last two verses, and if anything, the effect is heightened by the rollicking tune and the outwardly devil-may-care attitude of the singer."

The above quote is from:

"Favourite Australian BUSH SONGS", compiled by Lionel Long and Graham Jenkin.
The (... comments) above are mine.

The words of "Click Go the Shears", below are from the same source, as
sung by Lionel Long, the well-known (in the 1960s) Australian Country singer, with the addition of two extra verses from "Old Bush Songs", found on a website: , along with the melody, and more info.

Listen to the melody at: .

Click Go the Shears

Out on the board the old shearer stands,
Grasping his shears in his long bony hands;
Fixed is his gaze on a bare-bellied yoe;
Glory if he gets her, won't he make the ringer go.

Click go the shears boys, click, click, click,
Wide is his blow and his hands move quick;
The ringer looks around and is beaten by a blow;
And curses the old snagger with the bare-bellied yoe.

In the middle of the floor in his cane-bottomed chair
Sits the boss of the board, with eyes everywhere;
Notes well each fleece as it comes to the screen,
Paying strict attention that it's taken off clean.

The colonial-experience man he is there, of course,
With his shiny legging's, just got off his horse;
Casting round his eye like a real connoisseur,
With brilliantine and scented soap and smelling like a ——
who said that?

The tar-boy is there, awaiting in demand,
With his blackened tar-pot in his tarry hand;
Sees one old sheep with a cut upon its back;
This is what he's waiting for; it's 'Tar here Jack!'

Now shearing is all over and we've all got our cheques;
Roll up your swag, boys, we're off on the tracks;
The first pub we come to, it's there we'll have a spree,
And everyone that comes along it's 'Come and drink with me!'

Down by the bar the old shearer stands,
Grasping his glass in his thin bony hands;
Fixed is his gaze on a green-painted keg,
Glory, he'll get down on it, before he stirs a leg.

There we leave him standing, shouting for all hands,
Whilst all around him every 'shouter' stands;
His eyes are on the cask, which now is lowering fast,
He works hard, he drinks hard, and goes to hell at last!


You take off the belly-wool, clean out the crutch;
Go up the neck, for the rules they are such;
You clean round the horns, first shoulder go down;
One blow up the back and you then turn around

Click, click, that's how the shears go,
Click, click, so awfully quick;
You pull out a sheep he'll give a kick,
And still hear your shears going click, click, click.

(yoe, or joe = ewe )

The tune for "Click Go the Shears", by Henry Clay Work appears on Page 19 of

"Folksongs for the Violin", Part 2: The Violin in Major Keys
(A Graded Selection of Melodies for Beginners of All Ages).

Details on the MUSIC PAGE

Ring The Bell, Watchman

by Henry Clay Work, 1865 *

High in the belfry the old sexton stands
Grasping the rope with his thin bony hands
Fix'd is his gaze as by some magic spell
Till he hears the distant murmur
Ring, ring the bell

Ring the bell, watchman! ring! ring! ring!
Yes, yes! the good news is now on the wing.
Yes, yes! they come and with tiding to tell
Glorious and blessed tidings. Ring, ring the bell!

Baring his long silver locks to the breeze
First for a moment he drops on his knees
Then with a vigor that few could excel
Answers he the welcome bidding
Ring, ring the bell

Hear! from the hilltop, the first signal gun
Thunders the word that some great deed is done
Hear! thro' the valley the long echoes swell
Ever and anon repeating
Ring, ring the bell

Bonfires are blazing and rockets ascend
No meagre triumph such tokens portend
Shout! shout! my brothers for "all, all is well!"
'Tis the universal chorus
Ring, ring the bell

*The Music of Henry Clay Work

Henry Clay Work

Henry Clay Work was born in Middletown, Connecticut, on 1 October 1832,
a son of Alanson Work and Amelia (Forbes) Work, with three sisters and at
least one brother, named Alanson. He married Sarah Parker in January
1857, and had four children: Waldo Franklin Work, Willie Lovejoy Work,
Ellen (or Nellie) Work, and Clara Etta Work. Henry Clay Work apprenticed
as a printer in Hartford.

Work published his first song, We Are Coming, Sister Mary, in 1853. He worked for the periodical Song Messenger of the Northwest (published by Root and Cady), and died, at the age of 51, in Hartford, CT on 8 June 1884. In 1868 he published a book of a serio-comic poem called The Upshot Family.

Among his most popular songs were:

  • Brave Boys Are They! (1861),
  • Kingdom Coming! (1862),
  • Grafted into the Army (1862),
  • Little Major (1862),
  • Babylon Is Fallen! (1863),
  • Come Home, Father! (1864),
  • Marching Through Georgia (1865), and
  • Grandfather's Clock (1876).

A quote from Digital Tradition, in the Thread
Lyr(ic) Add: Strike the Bell

" ...Interesting to see this later Ring The Bell song.
Of course, the well known Australian song Click go the Shears is a straight parody of H.C. Work's Ring The Bell Watchman, written to celebrate the end of the American Civil War (maybe as an apology to Sherman for Marching Thru' Georgia ;-) ... also by Work.

I suspect that the Sea song version is roughly contemporary with Click go the Shears, i.e. from around the 1870s, when the original was still relevant and well known..."

Date: 13 Sep 00

Strike the Bell Second Mate

Up on the poop deck and walking about,
There is the second mate so steady and so stout;
What he is a-thinkin' of he doesn't know himself
And we wish that he would hurry up and strike, strike the bell.

2. Strike the bell second mate, let us go below;
Look well to windward you can see it's gonna blow;
Look at the glass, you can see it has fell,
Oh we wish that you would hurry up and strike, strike the bell.

3. Down on the main deck and workin' at the pumps,
There is the larboard watch just longing for their bunks;
Look out to windward, you can see a great swell,
And we wish that you would hurry up and strike, strike the bell.

4. Forward on the forecastle head and keepin' sharp lookout,
There is Johnny standin', a-longin' fer to shout,
Lights' a-burnin' bright sir and everything is well,
And he's wishin' that the second mate would strike, strike the bell.

5. Aft at the wheelhouse old Anderson stands,
Graspin' at the helm with his frostbitten hands,
Lookin' at the compass though the course is clear as hell
And he's wishin' that the second mate would strike, strike the bell.

6. Aft on the quarter deck our gallant captain stands,
Lookin' out to windward with a spyglass in his hand,
What he is a-thinkin' of we know very well,
He's thinkin' more of shortenin' sail than strikin' the bell.

["...At the end of the watch (8 hours), everyone is ready to lay below, and the last thing anyone wishes to hear is a call for all hands."]

( ).

[Note: A reader has pointed out that

"The figure of 8 hours for a watch, mentioned at the foot of the article, is incorrect. The length of a watch was generally four hours in British and American ships. In some countries, the day watches were 5 hours and the night watches 3 hours.

The exception to the 4 hour rule was the afternoon 4-8 watch, which was split in two, from 4-6 and 6-8, so that seamen working four hours on, four hours off, would not keep the same watches each night."

I am aware of the usual length of shipboard watches, but I do not know what conditions existed on that particular ship at the time the words for "Ring the Bell Second Mate" were written. The information on the 'Mudcat' site may be incorrect, or the ship may have been a 'Hell-ship', with work conditions set by the Captain and the Mates...]

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