Chapter Seven 5


Hey Ho Raggedy-O

Chapter 7 – page 6

 

Barlow was back performing in Brisbane in 1873. He still had his rock harmonicon, so the shipwreck before this date is unlikely. He had, by now, added two characters to his act based on clever puns. Chang the Giant had appeared in Melbourne and in New Zealand at the same time as Barlow. Barlow’s new characters were Shang High, the Giant and Dwarf Little, Hong Kong. Shanghai and Little Hong Kong were cities well known to everyone.
Castlemaine was to see Barlow again in 1876. Barlow again played at the Theatre Royal. An advertisement and an article in the Creswick and Clunes Advertiser gives us some details of this return visit. He was given top billing just above:

“Baby Osborne. The Infant Wonder, from the Theatre Royal Melbourne”.

Dorothy Daisy, Smiling Tom, and The Young Squire were some of his new characters. There is another earlier mention of a cross-gender character in his repertoire, when his make-up was pronounced excellent. Many of the minstrel troupes had quite beautifully presented female characters, played by men. The examples recorded of Barlow, as a woman, indicate that he used them as comic characters, convulsing the audience with laughter each time.

For the next four years Barlow made appearances in Melbourne and performed in Sydney during the Exhibition of 1877. In May 1880 he gave a farewell concert in Melbourne. Although he was now sixty-one years old he left for Capetown to start a new life as a farmer. It’s no surprise that, whatever his original intentions, he soon returned to performing. He and Jane survived another war — known as “the Majuba Disaster” (because the Boers won). They had previously survived the Opium Wars in China.

Barlow performed in Perth, Western Australia, at the end of 1881 and was still performing there in April of 1882. As usual he played to crowded houses.

1882 saw them back in Gympie, Queensland, making it their home base. In 1886 Barlow performed on the same bill as Harry Rickards, in St George’s Hall in Melbourne. The people of New Zealand followed the careers of Australian performers with the help of reprinted articles in their local newspapers. They were particularly fond of Barlow and there are several references to him when he was between tours there. In 1890 it was sadly reported that he was “stranded in Brisbane Hospital without friends or means”. At a distance of over a hundred years it’s impossible to know how this could be. His daughter and son-in-law still lived nearby. Busy with their young family maybe?

Barlow seems to have completely recovered and from the end of 1891 until the end of 1893 Barlow took his last tour in New Zealand. There is mention of a recovery from illness. The reports are glowing. At seventy-three, it seems, Barlow’s voice was as pure and strong as ever, his dancing as agile and sprightly, and his acting superb. There is a description of his act involving the dual characters of a soldier and a sailor. His entertainment called “Around the World” had a special mention.

“… nearly every nation under the sun was represented, not only in costume, but by songs and dances in illustration of them.”

As always, he sang The Blue Tail’d Fly – the song that had been with him for nearly fifty years.

There are several reviews of Barlow’s performances at this time. Rarely do we get a better glimpse of him as an entertainer than the one given by an unknown reviewer writing for the Taranaki Herald. It is unclear where this reviewer is quoting another source, and where he is using his own words, because of missing quote marks. That doesn’t matter now. Here it is as it was written in 1892:

MR BARLOW, who for many years has been engaged in entertaining the public, will give a performance in Alexandra Hall on Monday evening, when, no doubt, he will be well patronised. Ever since Barlow has been Barlow, Barlow has been inimitable. As a Melbourne paper says “Inimitable in his versatility of talent, in his mirth-provoking qualities, and in his power to touch the best feelings of our nature, with the natural pathos of his more quiet melodies. The queer quaintess (sic) of some of the appliances of his entertainment, the thorough mastery of the various instruments, and the entire abandon with which he threw himself into the spirit of whatever he took in hand, all contribute to fix on him the characteristic. Time adds to his excellence too, and good as he was dozens of years ago when “Sal Valentine” rang with laughter at his lively sallies, or became subdued when he appealed to those other feelings he know so well how to appeal to, he is better now, and so the audience at the theatre last night evidently thought, for their applause was hearty, sincere, and continuous. Where excellency so abounds, it is difficult to particularise, and those who failed to avail themselves of the privilege afforded last night will have another opportunity of so doing. Mr Barlow has been round the world more than once, and wherever he has been his entertainments have proved extremely popular; and we expect he will command a good house in New Plymouth.

From Taranaki Herald, 16 June 1892.

In 1894, Barlow was performing at the Alhambra in Melbourne. That’s the last public performance I’ve found, but it wouldn’t be surprising to find other later performances.

In February 1905, a New Zealand paper reported that Barlow and his wife were “living in straitened circumstances in Gympie”. The same report again appeared in a New Zealand newspaper over a year later with the added,
“…he and his wife are very infirm.”

This was the year the Barlows celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of their wedding. Barlow, then aged eighty-six,
“… entertained his guests with great spirit, playing the banjo and singing some of his favourite songs.”

On the twelfth of February, on a Saturday morning in 1907, the Inimitable Barlow died. He lies in an unmarked grave in the Gympie cemetery beside Jane, who died three years later.

The Australian magazine Theatre carried a small obituary:
” Poor old Billy Barlow the “Blue-tailed fly” of days of yore, died recently at Gympie, Queensland at a ripe old age.”



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IN THIS SECTION:

 

 

HEY HO RAGGEDY-O:

 

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

 

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