Chapter Thirteen 7

Hey Ho Raggedy-O


Chapter 13 – page 8     

Where Did Billy Barlow Go?

Billy Barlow was, at one time or another, a performer in taverns, clubs, music-halls, theatres, the streets of London, and tent-shows. He performed in the British Isles, North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, China, and France, and probably other parts of Europe. His audiences were:
The upper-classes and the elite including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the street people of London, lower and middle-class city workers, soldiers on and off various battlefields, gold-miners in California and in Australia, settlers, cowboys and cattlemen, shearers, drovers, transported convicts, farmers and small-town dwellers, and more.

Billy himself was at one time or another an immigrant, a tramp, a gold-digger, an American Civil War soldier, the resident of a London poor-house, a happily married man with children, a single gentlemanly flirt bent on seduction of every pretty woman he met and of Queen Victoria and the wives of generals. He was adviser to kings and queens and military leaders on both sides of all the battles of the 19th century. He attended all the main events of the century in all parts of the English-speaking world. Sometimes he gave a little help and advice — or would have if he had been asked — but mostly he observed the world around him, and commented on events as they unfolded.

He mixed with actors famous and forgotten, famous and remembered, and others never known well — beyond their own small circle of admirers. He knew performers of all manner of amazing feats. He was the close acquaintance of singers, poets, writers, grand-orators, innovators and inventors.

His name was used for a famous female opera singer who chose to become a music-hall star and a player of Principal Boys in the Pantomime. Billy Barlow’s name was also used by dozens of men and a few women, for pets and working animals, for a pocket-knife, and for a showboat in Australia.

For nearly one hundred years there was such an explosion of Billy Barlows that it must have seemed that he would always be with us. Then, as suddenly as he had appeared, he was gone and forgotten.


Today — April Fools’ Day in the year of 2003, “Hey Ho” is being used in the streets of Philadelphia by gaily-dressed Clowns protesting with outrageous sarcasm and humour against the war in Iraq. They are not calling themselves Billy Barlows, and it’s doubtful that any one of them has ever heard of Billy.

However, the costume of The Clown, and his way of using humour to influence the course of human events remains unchanged.

Hey Ho — the refrain of The Clown, still echoes down the years.
Billy Barlow is just one of his names.
Billy Barlow is dead
but his spirit will live on.


long live Billy Barlow

ballad seller


All that’s bright must fade,
The brightest still the fleetest;
All that’s sweet was made
But to be lost when sweetest.

Thomas Moore


All that’s bright must fade
and people can’t expect to make
a hundred and fifty per cent for ever

Old Resident of Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia. 1869
– referring to Robert “Billy” Barlow and the good times generally.






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

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