India’s burning sands, song

Bill Quigley, singing in English
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In blithe and bonny fair Scotland where bluebells there do grow
There dwelt a fair and comlie maid down in yon valley low,
The whole long day she herded sheep along the banks of Clyde
And although her lot and her cot was poor she was called the village pride.

An officer from Paislie town rode out for to fowl one day
And wandering by those lonlie dells where Mary’s cottage lay
A long and loving look he took, gazed on her form so fair
And he wondered to see such a fair flower had grew and flourished there.

And oftentimes he had came that way and many’s a visit paid,
The flattering tongue of this young man soon won the village maid;
Alone together they did roam through many’s a hill and vale,
No tongue could tell how love could steal those gentle hours away.

Then Henry came to Mary, his heart oppressed with woe,
Saying, – Mary, lovely Mary, far from you I must go;
Our regiment has received the rout and I must give command,
I must forsake these lonelie dells for India’s burning sand.

– Oh Henry, dearest Henry, it grieves me for to part,
I wish that we had a-been married for I love you in my heart;
Oh Henry, dearest Henry, you are my heart’s desire
And as your servant I will go, dressed up in men’s attire.

Then he marched her down through Paislie town and much they wondered there
To see sukch a fine recruit he’d got, so comelie, young and fair;
The ladies all admiréd her as she stood on parade
But little they knew that a soldier’s cloak concealed such a comlie maid.

Then they soon sailed over the raging sea for India’s burning sand,
No tongue could tell what Mary bore on India’s foreign land,
And when she found that her strength gave way her woe she tried to hide
And turning round and smiling, young Henry by her side.

Young Henry fought right manfully till a bullet pierced his side,
He never flinchéd from his post, it’s where he fought he died;
She picked him from his bleeding gore and in her arms pressed
And as she stooped for to heal his wounds a bullet pierced her breast.

When she received this fatal blow she sank unto the ground
And in the arms of her true love young Mary she was found
And as these couple lived and loved till death they done the same
And as their true heart’s blood run cold mixed up in one red stream.

Then come all you maids of fair Scotland wherever you may be,
Respect the name of Henry by either land or sea
And if you meet a soldier lad just take him by the hand
And think on Mary’s royal task on India’s (spoken) burning sands.

Spoken: There you are now
Tilly Quigley: You should have sung that out.



This song is common in Canada and various American States, particularly of the northeast; one American MS text goes back to 1884. There are broadsides from Durham and Manchester. Oddly enough I have seen no references to Scots versions. Our fullest references come from the northern half of Ireland. Henry drew on six different Derry and Antrim informants, and we have full versions from two Magilligan singers. Perhaps ‘India’s burning sands’ is actually an Irish song in disguise; perhaps the author was an Irishman living in Scotland or the North of England. The Irish rhyme same:stream (9.3–4) is only a tenuous clue; but the melodic tradition seems more Irish than Scots. A somewhat literary Ulster song entitled ‘Diarmuid and Mary’ shows stylistic similarity and some textual correspondence (see Notes), but not enough to determine which song borrowed from the other.

On 1 May 1926 the Northern Constitution reported that Miss Denne-Parker, from Oxford but evidently Scottish, adjudicating at the Coleraine music festival, gave Miss Lily M’Ginnis of Limavady second prize in the folk-song competition for this song, though declaring herself ‘not at all sure that the poem was worthy of the tune, in fact she was afraid she was not in sympathy with it’.