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Early Street Entertainers & Beggars


Northern Territory Times 14 Aug 1931

Brisbane (By our own Correspondent)

Probably the proximity of the Exhibition has something to, do with the army of street entertainers I encountered in Elizabeth Street the other ‘day. Standing on the comer of Edward, Street, this is what I saw. On one corner two men, both playing cornets with wonderful power; on the opposite a man playing a miniature organ, while beside him stood a bright looking young lad, and I am sure both heartily blessed the cornet men; then on another comer was a tall young man doing his best with a violin cello; and on the other corner was a man playing popular tunes on a gumleaf from which shrill notes sounded high up above the dim. He had the simplest and cheapest instrument, yet he was heard. A little further down Elizabeth Street I came upon an outdoor orchestra of which I am sure no theatre could be ashamed-violins, a cornet, a harp and a trombone all blending in perfect harmony. In Creek Street I passed a blind man who pathetically shook his tin box every now and then, whilst in Adelaide Street I encountered a man who loudly proclaimed the fact that he had no street licence but hoped somebody would throw him a penny. In order to convince his audience that it was worth a small coin he .sat a small brown dog on a case, tied a baby’s bonnet on its head, roughly pushed a cigarette into its mouth, left it there for a few seconds then pulled it oat of the dog’s mouth, placed it in his own and puffed powerful gusts of smoke round, the group Maybe to show that it a real cigarette. Thus it can be seen that it would require a small fortune daily to satisfy the pleadings of all these men and some are genuine, some doubtful and some frauds.
The Sydney Herald 18 Oct 1832

Mary Mahony, with a fine, rich, thick and tangible brogue, that might have been cut with a knife, was charged with being found supping in Kent Street, and entertaining her entertainers with “Oh say not woman’s heart is bought, With gold that empty treasures….”
When the unlucky staff bearer seizing her by the waist, walked her to the lock up. One month to the third class!

The Argus 9 Feb. 1922

Busking for 37 Years – Street Singer’s Earnings.

A ‘busker’, or street singer, stated in the city court yesterday that he was not afraid of heavy work, but that he earned from 4 to 5 pounds a week singing in the street. William H. Smith, another street singers who lives in Latrobe Street, said proudly, “I’ve been a street singer for 37 years. I’m the oldest ‘busker’ about here.”
Smith was charged with having carried liquor about for sale in a public highway.
When Lewis stated how much he earned Mr N. Sonenberg (who defended Smith) exclaimed sharply, “For goodness sake be careful! Don’t you know that there’s such a thing as income tax!”

The Mercury (Hobart) 26 August 1916

Surprise is sometimes expressed that so many itinerant singers and other musicians are allowed to attract crowds in the streets of Sydney. We have the ‘buskers’, the street bands – some of them good fiddlers, hand organs, and other music makers, and they seem to be increasing. One writer, evidently a nervous victim, describes them as ‘pavement pests’. It is quite true that the roving singers are a source of torment; they usually attract crowds that impede the traffic, especially at night, and their organs help to make life miserable, grinding out the most dismal tunes night and day. Men who work in offices over columns of figures are sometime driven to despair. The busker comes along, and gives a curious version of a popular song; as soon as he leaves the spot the street organist takes his place, and he is, perhaps, followed by another gentleman of the same profession. It is a terrible infliction upon the business people, and the authorities should take some steps to deal with it. The street bands are in a different category. They give the public good music, which is heard by this means, increasing an income which musicians find very small in these days.

The Argus 89th June 1899

Street Musician.

In answer to the name of Dominico Caracillo, a very small boy, with a very large accordion, marched into the City Court yesterday and started open eyed at the bench. According to the statements made in court, Caraccillo, filled with dreams of wealth, arrived in Victoria six months ago, and having invested in a very large accordion, followed the example of others of his countrymen, and played music in the streets of Melbourne. But last Tuesday misfortune befell him, for while performing to a large audience in Swanston Street, and thereby obstructing the footpath, Constable Foley approached. In view of Section 3 of the Police Offences Act, the constable did not appreciate the music produced by the accordion , and took the boy to the watch-house. There he was charged with being a neglected child, and still accompanied by his accordion, was placed under care of Miss Sutherland for the night.

The father stated the boy was born in Chile, but the lad said he was a Spaniard.
Mr Panton (to the father) – How much money does the boy bring home every day?
The Father – 6d or one shilling.
Mr Panton – We will make inquiries into this case. In this man’s country begging is a profession, and they think that the same thing can be done here. I am very glad that the police are taking notice of it. I doubt whether the lad is this man’s son, for sometimes these boys are kidnapped.

Argus 16 June 1899

A Street Musician.

Dominico Caracillo, the boy who appeared before the City Court last Thursday and was remanded for a week on the charge of being a neglected child, appeared yesterday, before Mr Paton P.M. and a number of J.P.s The father of the boy was given instructions that the lad must not be allowed to roam about the streets playing his accordion, for it appeared as if the father had been living on the money earned by the boy. Professional begging would not be tolerated in the Colony!

The Argus 11 Dec 1893
A Street Musician Shot Dead.

Wilcannia, Sunday. A most deliberate murder was perpetrated here last night shortly after 8 O’Clock. I appears that a man named Fellowes. Aged between 50 and 60, who gained his livelihood by playing a violin in the street, came into Wilcannia from the White Cliff opal field yesterday at about half-past 7. He began playing his violin in front of the Royal Hotel, Reid Street. After playing there for some time, he proceeded across to the Punt Arms Hotel, where he played for a few minutes. From there he went down to the Cricketer’s Arms Hotel, in the same street. He was playing his violin in the front of the hotel when a son of the hotelkeeper, Myles McGrath, aged about 26, rushed out of the bedrooms with a double barrelled gun and, directing his aim from the door, shot Fellowes in the abdomen. Fellowes immediately cried out, “Murder, murder! My God, I’m shot!” and ran fully 60 yards, holding his violin all the time. He then dropped. He was at once conveyed to the hospital, but expired 10 minutes after his admission.

The police arrested McGrath shortly after the occurrence, He was found lying on the bed in one of the bedrooms in his father’s hotel. On the way to the lock up he admitted having shot Fellowes, and said that he only meant to shoot him in the legs. He further told the police that for several days past he had been ill and unable to eat or sleep, and was being annoyed by drunken men, and was determined to put a stop to it.

The Argus 3 Nov. 1898

A Street Musician’s Death.

Happily it is seldom that any death is recorded with terrible word starvation given as a cause, but in that of a man, whose name is supposed to be Joseph De Leo, a complication of phthisis and insufficient food is believed to have led to death. The dead man, who was an Italian street harpist, had been living at taylor’s lodging house, at 322 Russell Street.

Courier Mail 7 March 1934

For a solid three hours, at least, on Saturday morning a street musician performed outside of the Criterion Hotel in George Street. This was pretty nerve-racking to the tenants of surrounding shops and offices. The usual street noises, to say nothing of rowdy shop proprietors who yell the price and quality of their wares, is surely sufficient without a musical (?) instrument being played for hours at a stretch. Of course, street musicians must earn a living the same as the rest of us, but could not their efforts at one particular stand be limited to, say, half an hour?
Think of all those other folks who are missing what we have ceased to appreciate after half an hour or so!! I am, sir, &c., “FRAZZLED.”

SMH 28 May 1859
PROFANE SONGS IN THE PUBLIC STREETS. To the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald,

Sir,-About a fortnight ago you inserted the letter of a correspondent, complaining of a profane parody on the Lord’s Prayer having been allowed to be sung in a public street. He was probably not aware that he might have given the offender into custody at once under the authority of the Vagrant Act, 15 Victoria, No. 4. Allow me therefore to request your insertion of the 5th section of that Act, which is as follows :
“Any person who shall sing any obscene song or ballad, or write or draw any indecent or obscene word, figure, or representation, or use any profane, indecent, or obscene language, in any public street,
words in a public street shall be conveyed before any justice of the peace; and that such offender being convicted in a summary way he or she shall forfeit any sum not exceeding five pounds, and in default of immediate payment shall be committed to the common gaol or house of correction for any period not exceeding three calendar months.” LEX.

Mention of Wild Colonial Boy and Ten Thousand Miles away being sung – The Mercury, 20 Nov. 1889
Mention of the WCB – On the eve of the fight Mrs Jones gave her boy 6d to sing the WCB. Brisbane Courier Mail 27 May 1881

Beggars and Homelessness

I live in Potts Point, a suburb which includes Kings Cross. It is also where the Wayside Chapel was established many years ago as an outreach service of the Uniting Church. The Wayside, originally run by Ted Noffs and now by an equally committed down to earth christian minister, Graham Long, does a remarkable job in assisting Sydney’s homeless and disturbed. Homelessness is a fact of life and a major social issue that needs understanding. Historical accounts show that were not always that compassionate. WF

SMH 18 April 1904

Fanny Fisher, 53, pleaded guilty at the Central Court on Saturday before Mr Payton H.M. on a charge of begging in George Street. A sentence of four day’s imprisonment with hard labour was inflicted.

SMH 20 March 1906

Thomas Robs, a tinker, convicted before G H Smithers S.M. at Central Police Court, upon a charge of begging alms on Elizabeth Street, was sentenced to 14 days imprisonment.

SMH 19 Tuesday 1909

An elderly man, named Edward Fahey, was yesterday at the Paddington Police Court, sentenced to seven day’s hard labour for begging alms in New South Head Road, on Jan 17th. Defendant had been begging from house to house, and also from persons in the street.

SMH 11 Feb 1909

Walter Hawkins, a fish hawker, was charged at the Water Police Court, before Mr Donaldson S.M., with begging alms in O’Connell Street. Constable Lennox stated that on Sunday night about 8 O’Clock he was on duty when he saw accused accost several persons, one of whom handed him something. When accused of begging in the streets Hawkins denied having done so. Accused, who said he only asked for matches, was sent to goal for seven days.

The Advertiser sat 25 May 1912

White-haired and meek-looking, nobody would have suspected that William Nancarrow, who stood in the dock at the Adelaide Police Court on Friday to answer a charge of having begged alms, had as many as 146 convictions against him. For years he has been constantly under the notice of the police, and on Thursday was arrested for having begged for coppers in Hindley Street. He had accosted people with the request for a few pence, because he said he was starving. A penalty of two months’ imprisonment was imposed.

The Argus. Tues 13 1911
Notes to Boys. Donald McDonald.

Begging boys. About the gates of many of the leading football grounds in Melbourne I notice every Saturday will be noticed a number of small boys,whose usual appeal is “Give us a penny, mister. I want threepence to get into the match.” Many of them seem to be well dressed and properly cared for, and their appeal amuses most men. This is a very bad and demoralising habit to encourage in young boys, and the football clubs apparently encourage them by charging threepence for children. Everything is xxx that comes to the football net. They would do a much better service to the boys , as far as their future and their character is concerned, by keeping them out of the grounds altogether. Every boy ought to be encouraged to play some sort of game for himself rather than to become a mere ‘barracker’ in sport.

The Argus Wed 9 March 1887

A begging vagrant. At the Collingwood Police Court yesterday, a blind phrenologist, from Sydney, named George Smith, was charged with vagrancy. He had been in the habit of going around begging and hawking, but when he got food instead of money he would throw it away. He was a well-educated man, and made a plausible defence, but was ordered one year’s imprisonment.

The Argus 12 June 1896

Three children, one of them just able to walk, were brought before the City Police Court yesterday with being neglected. They were begging in Collins Street when arrested. Two of them – Minnie Henley, aged eight, and James Henley, aged three – had been deserted by their father, and the mother, who was in court, stated that the girl Minnie used occasionally to bring money home. The reason why she had not been sent to school was because she had no boots. The arresting constable stated that Mrs Henley’s husband had a pension from the Imperial Government, and his whereabouts might be ascertained from the Pension’s Office. Mrs Godfrey, the mother of May Godfrey, aged five years, pleased extreme poverty, and the little money that the child brought home was very acceptable, and kept them in food.

Mr Panyon P.M. said he was pleased to see the police were giving attention to the matter of mendicancy in the streets, and if they kept their eyes open they would find plenty of instances of this begging nuisance. On the previous afternoon in Collins-street, near the Block Arcade, he had observed an old woman begging from every foot passenger she met, and no notice was taken of her by the police.

The children were remanded for a week in order that the police should make further inquiry concerning them.

SMH Wed 30 April 1844 (From Chambers’ Journal.)

Perhaps no social feature of our country has been more changed since George 1V was King, than that of begging. In my early days, this set of people, generally old and disabled: some went on crutches, some sailed along in things like bowls, a small select number were carried on from door to door in hand-barrows, and a precious set of tyrannical old men of the sea these were by the way: for, if a servant grumbled at their weight, or stopped too long to rest from it, they never scrupled to make hearty use of both tongue and stick. nor were they ever known to give any thanks for the trouble taken with them. There were, indeed, a very few of a respectable sort of beggars, who came half us volunteer guests, and were of such delicacy and propriety of behavior that they frequently sat with the master and mistress. Generally, however, the beggars former days were a poor, humble, and despicable sort of people, trusting to their very wretchedness for a means of exciting the compassion of the public. Now, when everything has been so much improved, begging has been improved too, only in a far greater degree than anything else. In fact, begging has taken its place amongst the political and economic arrangements of our land. ¡ The greatest people resort to it, and the most wonderful things are done by it.

It is very remarkable how a science of such capabilities should have been allowed to slumber so long in an undeveloped state amongst the mere outcasts of society. Some one has remarked of printing, that it remained as Guttenberg made it for the first four centuries. But then took a sudden start, and went through a series of splendid improvements, terminating in the first cylinder machine, all in the space of thirty years. Somewhat similar has been the history of begging A poor sniveling employment for the first 6000 years of the world’s history, but at length expanded to one of magnificent system and detail in the course of about half an ordinary life-time. Both facts form striking proof’s of the condition of the human mind down to a recent period. Men dreamed long ago. They are now awake. There lies the difference. It would be absurd, however, to suppose that begging is oven yet a pet feet science, or generally understood. It is going on well, but it is not at all what it might be made in the hands of thoroughly skilled and active men, women, and young ladies; and there is a vast portion of society who know as little of it as they do of printing. With a view to promote the advance of the science, I beg to submit a few of its fundamental principles to general consideration. “

The first great principle concerned in begging is, that one has always a chance of obtaining a thing by seeking it. Few things fall swoop into one’s mouth like Ben Tibb’s friends. Most things require to be asked for, sought for, or grasped at; but when this trouble is taken about them, they are very apt to be got. So truly is this the case, that, theoretically speaking, there is scarcely anything in this world which may not be had for the asking that is to say, had in some sort of way or degree the sleeve if not the gown.

Many rebuffs, many failures, much grumbling and groaning, may be encountered in the course of the requisition; but some share of success will also be sure to accrue. The world, let my readers depend upon it, is divided among those who seek it. Nor is it, after all, difficult to sea how this should be; first, the seeker is the man ready to take, the catches what occurs, while others not on the outlook let things pass. Then it is far more pleasant for any one who gives, to give to one who seeks, than to one who does not seek, for he is sure of being appreciated, j and is always getting quit of a trouble in the person of the petitioner. Modest merit, sitting, quietly behind backs, ought, no doubt, to be encouraged; everybody owns that; but then | modest merit can wait, and does not get angry | for being put off a little longer. So even let the pestilent fellow have what he wants and be done with him, and thus he takes the spoils of fortune, whose only claim upon them is his making his ‘claim so pertinacious; while simple worth sits quietly by, with only the empty reward of good opinion. A second great principle is the habit of the courtesies of society. An honest unthinking gentleman, who pays his bills, read the news-papers every day, goes occasionally out to dinner, and performs in a decent way all the other duties of a respectable person, is informed in his dressing-room, between ten and eleven one morning, that two ladies have called for him, and are sitting in the parlour. As soon as he can get himself properly trimmed, he goes down to see them, and finds two very gentle-women-like persons in possession of his two arm-chairs, they rise at his entrance-he greets them, and desires them to be seated. The beauty of the morning, and the unpleasantness of the weather of Thursday last week, are fully admitted on both sides. He thinks they may be wishing to inquire respecting the character of a servant, or something of a similar nature : no matter, he is by habit a gentleman, and of course converses civilly. At length, after a few remarks on miscellaneous subjects, one of them draws forth a book from her muff or reticule, and addressing him on the merits of a scheme for furnishing shoes and stockings to the women of the Blackfeet Indians, begs he will have the goodness to subscribe to it.

Now, really, he thinks this is a most preposterous affair; but on the other hand, these poor ladies have no personal interest in it; on the contrary, under the pure influence of charitable feelings, they are taking a great deal of trouble, and exposing themselves to many collisions of a disagreeable nature, in order to promote an end which they think good. He cannot, then, but still treat them kindly, however annoying he may think their application. He therefore enters into an amicable argument with them, and, in the politest terms, endeavors to excuse himself from a subscription; there are feet requiring shoes and stockings nearer home. He has many things to subscribe for ; only yesterday, lie put down his name for a sovereign to the three burnt-out families. He really cannot afford much in these days of reduced interest. Ho had a monument last week; has just himself been getting up a testimonial for a friend, and is looking for the soup kitchen ever day. How can he be expected in these circumstances to disburse to the Blackfeet ? Well, they hear his objections, but they never appear one whit affected by them: for always, after allowing that what he says is true, they immediately glide back to the matter of their book, and at him again. At length it becomes a fair matter of calculation. A crown buys him off genteelly, the alternative is coining to a harsh or rude point with these fair petitioners. Being a man of courtesy, he prefers keeping up his usual | tone with them, strangers as they are ; and so he twitches out his five shillings with the best grace he may. They then rise to take leave; he sees them to the door; good morning on I both sides; all ends well. The Blackfeet, the shoe sand stockings, and the gentleman has preserved his self-respect. The whole affair shows how forcible manner the imposture of good genteel appearances in begging. A really poor object, half fed, half dead, half soaked, (to use Burns’s vigorous words)-gets only a copper, though he would require at least three or four, to purchase him a supper and a bed, and keep him off the streets for the night. But two well-dressed Indians are quite another thing, and their object becomes almost vanishing beyond the horizon of human sympathies. With them polite observance must be kept up, while a growl is but a proper accompaniment to the copper. In this respect, begging is like business in general. The bare-footed waitress of a w ay side ale-house is well rewarded with a penny; but the elegantly dressed attendant of a third rate hotel would be underpaid with a shilling. The dross and undress in these matters is every-thing’, and this brings us to the

Third principle, which is simply that faculty of our sentimental system called love of approbation, or desire of standing well with, our neighbours. People in general do not like to be thought shabby, or even suspected of shabbiness ; therefore they give. They like to see their names in a respectable subscription list, and that, for a respectable sum, and therefore they give, and that liberally, in comparison with their means. The application is always felt as a thing involving two interests -first, that of the object of the application; second and chief, the personal feelings of the party applied to. What will be expected of me ? What will look fair as my donation ? These are questions asked almost before the necessity of the case is thought of. Even Byron, with all his enthusiasm for that Greece in whose cause he lost his life, wrote to a friend that, with regard to the philhellenic subscription, he did not think he could get off under four thousand pounds. There are, indeed, some of a sufficiently stoical constitution to be able to resist all weak impulses : these are the men who ” never give upon principle,” but like the wise in all ages, they are but a limited exception to a great rule. You are tolerably sure of a man when you can bring him under the compulsion of his wish to stand well with the (world, or even the individual applicant. Lastly, there is such a thing as a favorable disposition to particular objects calling for contribution. Each man has some bent or prejudice on behalf of which ho will yield cash, when the application is properly made. Every man may be said to have his mendicable side call it his weak one or not as you choose. Some are tender of heart toward widows and orphans ; others delight in local improvements, and will subscribe for pieces of causewaying, when their hearts would be found already paved if attacked on any softer subject. Oppressed patriots interest some, they will bleed for nobody who has not been tried for h s life, or suffered at least a year’s imprisonment. It is necessary for a petitioner to know the parties who have predilections in behalf of the matter in question : for if he were to speak of widows and children to a patriot, or of captive martyrs to a man who only delights in getting streets widened, and pavement laid down where no pavement was before, or only a bad pavement, lie would probably be wasting his charms upon the deaf adder. On the contrary, when he assails the proper persons, all is easy and smooth, and he accomplishes his task in a surprisingly | short space of time.

Not that he should be scrupulous in addressing only favourably disposed parties, if there be need to go further; for even amongst the disaffected ho has always the first three principles to come and go upon; and possibly upon one of these he may strike down his bird; but if certainty is true, that it is by far the kindliest work when you have the prepossession of the party in accordance with I your object, it is taking things with the grain. By favour of one or other of these principles, or of all together, it is wonderful how potent a thing is begging. Few persons have, as yet, I the faintest idea of it; it is a great power known only to, and practised by, some scattered individuals’, who themselves, not with Handing their success, are, perhaps, not fully aware of the virtue which resides in it. Almost fear to go further in developing the philosophy of this great subject, like the wife of Swanky Bean, the Forfarshire cannibal, who said that if people were generally aware of the delicious nature of human flesh, they would all wish to eat of it, and of nothing else. It seems much to be apprehended that the pursuance of the mediatory principle becoming better known, we shall find more persons taking advantage of it, and the world made almost intolerable ; the time for such fears is past, and the only hope for those who at present do not beg is to begin to beg too. It seems as if we must all be beggars together, merely to stand on equal terms with our neighbours.

On this ground, it cannot be anything but right and generally understood, as by no other means can any one cope with and defend himself from those around him ; and clearly, when once it comes to a fair stand-up fight of box against box, book against book, we may all expect to be computable once more. A man will then take his subscription paper with him when he walks out, as he takes his umbrella or great coat, or a gentlemen long ago took a pistol or bludgeon in their pockets. It will be his deeds and his safety and his distinction; young ladies in bonnets and veils cruising about, book in muff, for money to furnish school books; the slave children of South Carolina will come to know that such and such a gentleman has one for a silver cup to the chairman of the county committee for the fox hounds, and will give him a wide berth accordingly. People will come to have a respectful dread of each other’s ruled paper blunderbusses, and none will then be-come prey but the silly fools who have not the sense or wit to take the trouble to keep weapons offensive and defensive of the like nature. Viewing the matter in this light, I believe I am doing nothing but good service to mankind in impressing upon their, the great power of begging, and instilling into them a knowledge of its fundamental principle. They may be assured that it is a science as yet only in its infancy. Thirty years ago, it thought of no-thing above copper. It afterwards rose through silver to bank notes.

Now it collects its hundred« and thousands, or occasionally, by way of a great stack of work its hundreds of thousands Once it was a solitary ragged vagrant; then it became a single, lady or gentleman; now it is a regiment. But begging may yet be mi occupation for an army, a crusade, and for hundreds of thousands it may yet gather its millions. Only organise a proper force, and it might rival taxation in its results. There may yet be a central office in London, for a mendacity mission, which overspreads the world, collecting alike from the Esquimaux and the Terra del Fuegans, the Japanese and the Kaffirs. The way is clearly open for these and other such operations, for man is not only a begging animal. He is formed by nature to give to him who strenuously seeks; to give for the sake of fair reputation, and for the sake of doing good. He therefore lies fairly exposed to the begging power, ready to yield it the richest crops when-ever the proper means are taken, just like a field which has as yet been in a state of nature, but could give seventy tons of turnips per acre if properly tilled and” drilled. Some inconvenience may be experienced by individuals, while things are going on to this pass, for some will naturally be more ready than others to take up the new weapons; but at length all will be fully armed and accoutered, and of course, on a perfect equality in point of mendacity redoubtableness; so that no one will have anything to complain of beyond his neighbours, while the funds so realised will be producing effects of a kind heretofore undreamt of, for the general benefit of mankind.

The Mercury – Hobart 20 Nov. 1906


At the Crystal Palace, Sydneham, on the occasion of the National Band Festival early in October last, over 200 bands waged musical war, representing six thousand performers, and prizes amounting to £2,000 were awarded. The concertina competition attracted at least 4,000 “persons. A great many people expected to eo amused. The concertina, being associated with Italian beggars and Margate excursion trains, has long been regarded as a comical instrument. The effect produced by twenty concertinas, modulated in tones ranging horn those of soprano comets to double basses, was extremely beautiful and astonished the audience.