This rhyme has a troubling history. Today "Tory" refers to a British political party. But when the rhyme was written, the meaning was different. Originally "Tory" meant "outlaw". With that meaning, the rhyme talks of hunting robbers. But "Tory" could also mean "Irish Peasant", which would mean it refers to the long, sad history of violence between the British and the Irish.


Halliwell (a 19th century collector of nursery rhymes) wrote, "The word tory has changed greatly in its meaning, as it originated in the reign of Elizabeth, and represented a class of "bog-trotters," who were a compound of the knave and the highwayman. For many interesting particulars see Crofton Croker's 'Researches in the South of Ireland,' 4to, 1824, p. 52."

Thanks and Acknowledgements

This rhyme can be found in "The Nursery Rhymes of England", 5th edition (1886), collected by James Orchard Halliwell and illustrated by W. B. Scott.