Chapter Six

Hey Ho Raggedy-O

CHAPTER 6:   The Spider of Billy Barlow

George Coppin in Melbourne, Victoria – Victoria’s Gold Rush – American Entrepreneurs – Entertainers on the Central Victorian Goldfields – Gustavus Vaughan Brooke’s Last Farewell – The Spider of Lola Montez – Coppin on Tour –
The Artful Dodger – The Lovely Billie Barlow – Death of George Coppin.


More About George Coppin

George Coppin returned to Australia, from his successful first tour of America, to settle first in Adelaide, South Australia, and then in Melbourne, Victoria. Melbourne, unlike Sydney, had not been founded as a penal colony, and from the start had considered herself far less brash and wild than her tarty sister. Sydney, of course has always considered Melbourne dowdy and dull.

Oh me name it is Macarty and I’m a rorty party
I’m rough and tough as an old man kangaroo.
Some people say I’m crazy, I don’t work because I’m lazy
And I move along with that boozing throng the push from Woolloomooloo

The Woolloomooloo Lair: Author unknown. Early Sydney song


Gimme old Melbourne, an’ gimme a tart;
An’ then I am simply orlright.
Can any bloke point to a better old joint,
Than Bourke Street on Saturday night
When me and me Maudie is strolling along
Me cobbers orl try to be smart
“Git out of ther way, that’s Billo,” they say
Walkin’ out with ‘is fair dinkum tart.”

Bourke Street on Saturday Night : Melbourne song by P.C. Cole and Fred Hall, 1918

Gold-Fever in Victoria

The discovery of gold in central Victoria changed the immigration pattern to Australia just as it changed forever the pristine bushland of the area. Would-be gold-diggers arrived by the shipload from the British Isles and from all over Europe and America, as well as from China. Poor miners from Wales and — in huge numbers — from Cornwall, with a head-start in the skills needed for gold-digging, left their homes forever and sailed, in conditions only slightly better than those on convict ships, the long journey into an unknown future. Maps of the seas had, not too long before, carried warnings like, “Here be Mermaids and Sea Monsters.”

Shades of ev’ning close not o’er us, leave our lonely bark awhile.
Morn alas! will not restore us yonder dark and distant isle;
Still my fancy can discover sunny spots where friends may dwell.
Darker shadows round us hover, isle of beauty, fare thee well.
Isle of Beauty Fare Thee Well, by Thomas Haynes Bayly

Melbourne, Victoria’s capital city, woke from her genteel slumbers to find herself a bustling, busy assembly point for the diggers preparing to make the journey inland to the new gold-towns. For a time she was to produce drunken, delinquent larrikins of her own who were easily as dangerous as those in Sydney. Ships lay idle in Port Philip Bay, their captains unable to find sailors willing to man them, while in the tent-cities of Bendigo and Ballarat more and more places were being given names like Sailor’s Gully, Sailor’s Creek, and Sailor’s Flat.

Hundreds of families and single men simply walked inland from Melbourne, or from the nearby port at Geelong, but there was soon a thriving coach-service, for those who could afford it, set up by the American, Freeman Cobb, and his American partners. Cobb initially brought everything from America: his coaches, his drivers, his horse-handlers, even his horse-feed. Cobb & Co became a familiar name all over Australia, surviving even the coming of the railways, to be finally put out of business, after the First World War, by the motorcar.

Americans were conspicuous from the start, for their entrepreneurial skills. The only warehouse where diggers could get their supplies and top-grade mining tools was begun by an American. Here you had a choice of either red or blue shirts. All the stock was imported from America, where the earlier goldrush had produced high-quality tools, and slaves harvested the cotton for the mills that made the shirts. The finest hotel boasted an American owner, American bartenders, and the main coach-station for Cobb & Co.

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The fast Yankee clipper-ships, sailing around Cape Horn, bringing supplies and immigrants, easily outran heavy English sailing ships taking the long route around Africa.

As you wallop around Cape Horn
Heave away Haul away.
You’ll wish to God you’d never been born
Bound for South Australia.

American Capstan Shanty. Traditional.

The entertainers came along with the rush, sometimes deciding that they were actually gold-diggers, and staying on. British and American music-hall/vaudeville stars, theatre companies, singers, and actors of comedy and tragedy, and of course the Minstrel troupes (from both England and America) arrived in Melbourne to set up tours of the goldfields. The few women who appeared on stage in the gold-towns were showered, not with flowers, but with gold nuggets, as were many of the men. The performers carried with them the tools of their trade: banjos, fiddles, flutes, fifes, drums, bones, triangles, tambourines, makeup bags with burnt cork and pearl dust, and trunks of costumes.





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

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