They Locked Me Up In Bonavist' Jail
(Lehr and Best)

O early in the morning
when the breakfast bell did ring,
Down came Mister Parrot
and he passed me in the beans.
The coffee like tobacco juice
and the bread so hard as stale,
I'll never forget the time I spent
down in Bonavist' Jail.

O they locked me up in Bonavist' Jail,
the key upon the wall,
A hundred and fifty bedbugs
playing a game of ball;
The coffee like tobacco juice
and the bread so hard as steel,
They locked me up in Bonavist' Jail
and threw away the keys.

####.... Author unknown. Partial variant of a traditional ballad .... ####
Collected by Genevieve Lehr and Anita Best in 1977 from Moses (Uncle Mose) Harris [1911-?] of Lethbridge, Bonavista Bay, NL, and published as #106 in Come And I Will Sing You: A Newfoundland Songbook, p.182, edited by Genevieve Lehr (University of Toronto Press © 1985/2003).

Genevieve Lehr noted that she didn't know whether other verses exist to this song and these were the only ones Uncle Mose could remember, or if these verses are the only ones. Uncle Mose knew a store of these ditties, some of which were used to accompany tunes. Apart from being a good singer, he could also play a variety of musical instruments - fiddle, accordion, mouth-organ, handsaw, and others he himself invented from cans, bottles, etc. The first violin he ever played he made himself: he was at a dance one night where a man was playing a fiddle; he asked to borrow it for a few minutes during the break, ran home, and traced its shape out on some cardboard. He made the fiddle soon after and taught himself to play.

See more songs by Lehr and Best

The editors of the University of California, Fresno, Ballad Index make a good case for this song being a partial variant of The County Jail, because the tune published in 1939 by Lehr and Best is close to a version published as #147 by Emelyon Elizabeth Gardner and Geraldine Jencks Chickering in Ballads and Songs of Southern Michigan, p.357. The editors site additional similarities with some of the lyrics which were obtained in the Detroit Detention Home by Mrs Lillian Ammerman of Detroit, from a sixteen-year-old boy from Memphis, Tennessee.

As I was standing on a corner,
not doing any harm,
Along came a policeman
and took me by the arm.

He took me to the corner,
there he rang a little bell;
Along came a police patrol
and took me to the jail.

I woke up in the morning
and looked up on the wall.
The bedbugs and the cockroaches
were playing a game of ball.

The score was four and twenty;
the bedbugs were ahead.
I got so darn excited that
I fell right out of bed.

I went downstairs to breakfast;
the bread was hard and stale;
The coffee tastes like tobacco juice
in the damned old county jail.


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