Song Story: Buffalo Stories

A song composed in April 2024 for the 70th Reunion commemorations of the descendants of John William and Susanna Adams, who arrived in South Australia in December 1836 aboard HMS Buffalo. The song is a combined shanty and lullaby. The shanty parts tell of the animals, smells and noises on the deck and all the minor and major irritations of the long journey. The lullaby parts imagine Susanna calming her children, who were with them on the ship, with real and made-up stories!

The video made using photos from the family, and original art work by one of the descendants of Susanna and John, who is also my mother-in-law, Gaynor Day!

Originally inspired by a story Gaynor told me of the feather pillows that John William and Susanna took with them to South Australia, and which were coveted by Captain Hindmarsh, whose offer to buy them was declined, I set out to find out more about this journey. I was directed to a sort-of diary by John William himself, some of which is about the journey on the Buffalo, and much of which is about their early lives in the new colony of South Australia. I was delighted to find that when the ship stopped off in Rio to take water on board, he went ashore himself and brought back bananas amongst other things. Naturally, these bananas had to be included, and add to my large range of banana-related songs!

If you want to read John’s diary, you can find it here: BOUND FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA – BUFFALO 1836 by DIANE CUMMINGS (

I also found another diary by George Stevenson, the private secretary of Governor Hindmarsh. Stevenson’s language and writing style is entertaining and his descriptions of life on the ship piqued my interest. I especially enjoyed his talk of all the different animals on board and his frustrations with the Captain’s attitudes and abilities… and the difficult effect they all had on the lives of the settler travellers. These descriptions inspired the shanty parts of the song.

You can read extracts from Stevenson’s journal here: Bound for South Australia | Characters Archive | George Stevenson (

Elsewhere I found a reference to a parrot called Buzby, who apparently came aboard somewhere in the tropics and amused the passengers for the rest of their journey. HMS Buffalo Original | HMS Buffalo Australia ( I imagined Susanna elaborating a story about Buzby to entertain or soothe her children, and this made up the second of the three lullaby stories: pillow; Buzby; bananas.

Once I’d written the lyrics, I sent them to Gaynor and she produced six illustrations, one for each verse, which I have included in the video above, and in this Song Story.

I then set to with the music, and have ended up with a jaunty shanty and a soothing lullaby, each for three voices (melody and two harmony parts), and in addition the lullaby has a lilting accompaniment for piano, guitar or harp. The shanty has a steady beat, which nonetheless does slightly throw you slightly off balance with different phrase lengths, rests and frequent reiterations of the word “cats” (then “hogs” and “dogs” in subsequent verses). However, I still think the beat is steady enough to accompany sailors hauling ropes! The lullaby is less steady, with the rhythms dictating the lyrics, and the lilting feel being dictated by the ocean waves gently nudging the ship.

Not only do I use Gaynor’s pictures in the video, but also some relevant photos sent to me by her sister and brother-in-law Dympna and Peter King, and by the organiser of the reunion event Mostyn Krollig. There are also other random pictures of the ocean and tall ships rigging that I’ve taken over the years.

As I write this Song Story, on May 2nd 2024, the reunion event in Balaklava and Adelaide has not yet started, but the video is sent. I’ll write an update, when I hear more…

The Lyrics:
1. There are cats on the deck.
Mewling cats, stinking cats,
Hiding under berths.
We’re rolling in effluvia,
Catty effluvia!
Cleaning up the decks.
Put ‘em ashore! Confine to a hutch!
Swill them out with chloride of lime and seawater.
Six o’clock. Shorten sails!
Make the Buffalo snug for the night,
Then listen to the qualmish Mammas’ stories:

2. Come rest your bonny head on this soft, cocooning pillow.
The rarest and the featheriest pillow on the Buffalo.
The Captain craved it, offered shillings for it,
Stamped his gilded foot when I refused it.
So shun the cats and bury your nose in the home-scented pillow
And dream the rolling night away as the baffling breezes blow.

3. There are hogs on the deck.
Captain’s hogs, stinking hogs,
Drinking lots of water.
They’re sleeping in effluvia,
Hoggy effluvia!
Fingers to the nostril.
Rio ahoy! Captain’s ashore!
Back aboard with more hogs, turkeys, guinea fowl, geese.
Six o’clock. Shorten sails!
Make the Buffalo snug for the night,
Then, listen to the thirsty Mammas’ stories:

4. Buzby told a tragic tale when I chatted to him earlier.
He flew aboard a man-o-war anchored near Australia.
The sailors prized him, offered morsels to him,
Then set sail for England: kidnapped him!
They crossed the line, he flew ashore, he’s been stranded there a year,
Now he’s with the hogs and us, heading home to South Australia.

5. There are dogs on the deck.
Captain’s dogs, running dogs.
Beastliness of every kind.
The air’s blue with effluvia!
Cursing effluvia!
Fingers in the ears.
Hammering! Sawing, planing!
Building houses for the Captain’s dogs.
Six o’clock. Shorten sails!
Make the Buffalo
snug for the night,
Then, listen to the patient
Mammas’ stories:

6. The Captain went to buy more hogs,
the dogs have gone ashore,
Daddy’s back aboard from Rio
bringing gifts galore:
Onion rapps for seed; oranges so sweet;
Knick-knacks, green bananas we can't yet eat.
While we wait for Daddy’s bananas to ripen and turn yellow,
Come rest your bonny head on this soft, cocooning pillow.

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2 Responses to “Song Story: Buffalo Stories”

  1. Jacqui May 3, 2024 at 9:39 am #

    Wow, what an amazing amount of work that went into this. Thank you for your efforts (Jacqui, Dympna’s daughter)

  2. Ron May 7, 2024 at 4:22 am #

    This should be in a South Australian historical collection. I’m sure the Adelaide Museum would loved to display it.
    Congratulations Cheryl and Jamie, Gaynor, Peter and Dympna. An amazing group collaboration. What a wonderful memory for all the Adam’s family members.

    One of your best, Cheryl.

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