Chapter Five 4

Hey Ho Raggedy-O

Chapter 5 – page 5     

Jemmy Green in Australia is the story of Billy Barlow as told in the song Billy Barlow in Australia. The reason for the change of name can only be guessed at, but there are connections associated with the names Jemmy Green and Billy Barlow.

Jemmy Green was a character in the very popular play Tom and Jerry or Life in London, which was dramatized from an equally popular book written by Pierce Egan in 1821. It is set in London’s East End. This play was performed over and over at the Adelphi theatre in London through the 1820s and well into the 1830s. Jack Reeve, a singer of Billy Barlow songs, usually played the part of Jerry Hawthorn. At least one play which was called Jemmy Green in Paris, with Jemmy Green as protagonist, followed the original play. The main characters in the original play Life in London: Corinthian Tom, Jerry Hawthorn, and their friend Jemmy Green were well-known in London before Tucker was transported to Australia. The street clown, claimed as the “original Billy Barlow”, was from also from London’s East End.

The name of the London printer who produced the Billy Barlow broadsides and also printed what would today be called “pirated” copies of Pierce Egan’s book Life in London, was James Catnach. He was affectionately called Jemmy, and was another well-known Londoner. Jemmy was of course Tucker’s own name and that is the simplest explanation. Green was a useful name for puns using the meaning of “green” as “naive”.

Dusty Bob

Tucker’s Jemmy Green speaks in a Cockney accent. This would have been the accent common to James Tucker, Jemmy Green of the play Life in London, “Original” Billy Barlow and his street-clown successor. It was also the accent adopted by Jack Reeve, and singer Sam Cowell for many of their comic songs. It was probably the natural accent of George Coppin.

Whatever the influences on James Tucker, his play Jemmy Green in Australia has the freshness of a new story that has been developed from the bare framework of the song Billy Barlow in Australia. Jemmy bounces back from all of his many trials and setbacks, and finally settles down to a happy-ever-after life.

Of the play Jemmy Green in Australia, Leslie Rees says in his book Towards Australian Drama, “… Through it all shines the Chaplinesque figure of Jemmy, a cork who, however often doused and held under, insists on bobbing up again without any great loss of equanimity…. he never parts with his sense of humour.”

These statements could just as fittingly be said about James Tucker, George Coppin, Sam Cowell, and of course Billy Barlow — in all of his many manifestations.

The real-life James never did achieve the happy state finally enjoyed by his alter ego Jemmy Green, but he did manage to stay on the right side of the law after serving his time at Port Macquarie. During his four years there he wrote at least two plays and “three histories”, only one of which, his novel Ralph Rashleigh, has so far been found.
Tucker’s health slowly deteriorated after 1850, and he died a hopeless alcoholic in 1866. The cause of death was given as “decay of nature”. In his sad decline, and in death, James Tucker’s circumstances resembled those of at least two Billy Barlows.

Oh give me a gill of fluid ink,
Then grant me a goose quill pen,
That I may write by the midnight light
The histories of nations and men.
James Tucker – Date unknown.

Dusty Bob

An interesting side trail leads from another character out of Life in London to the town of Dubbo in New South Wales. Dusty Bob, like several of the characters in Life in London, is also found in ritual street-theatre in England. Australian Dusty Bob was a ticket-of-leave man transported from England at about the same time as Tucker. He was one of the first settlers in Dubbo, giving his name to the place called Dusty Bob’s Paddock.

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The Australian Ghost of Billy Barlow?

The ghost of Billy Barlow still lurks in the outback regions of New South Wales, left behind by George Coppin and others. A fragment of what sounds like a children’s song was sung to me in May 2002, by Mr. Frank Drinkwater, in the town of Forbes.

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Just where it fits with the Billy Barlow story is not apparent.

Little Billy Barlow what shall I do ?
Little Billy Barlow what shall I say?







A Study of the Billy Barlow Phenomenon
(written by Joy Hildebrand)

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