Thatcher's Colonial Minstrel | State Library of New South Wales

Thatcher's Colonial Minstrel

A flautist in London orchestras, Charles Thatcher arrived in Melbourne in 1852 keen to try his luck on the Bendigo diggings. Not finding much success as a miner, he returned to his original profession of entertainer. He wrote lyrics to popular tunes which described life on the diggings. His songs became so popular that many were published in newspapers and broadsides.

One of Thatcher's song was called, Poll the grog seller, which memorialised the women on the gold fields who surreptitiously sold illicit alcohol to diggers. His song seems to suggest that grog selling was just one form of income for these women. Prostitution also seems to have been linked with the female grog sellers;

Big Poll the grog seller gets up every day,
And her small rowdy tent sweeps out,
She’s turning in plenty of tin, people say,
For she knows what she’s about,
For she knows what she’s about.

Polly’s good looking, and Polly is young,
And Polly’s possessed of a smooth oily tongue;

She’s an innocent face and a good head of hair,
And a lot of young fellows will often go there…

Women were involved in the transport and provision of grog on the gold diggings, sometimes concealing under their clothes a bulky tin container of grog. The tin belly, the size of a family bible, was originally designed to be filled with hot water and applied to the chest for treatment of lung infections. Instead, this was filled with grog. The wearer would waddle along the gullies dispensing serves costing a shilling each via a tube poking out the side pocket of her dress.

The alcohol that was sold was highly potent. A Victorian government inquiry in 1853 into the sly-grog industry heard that the grog, sold as brandy, was concocted from cheap liquor with additives such as tobacco and pharmaceutical spirits. A cocktail called, Blow my head off was found to contain Cocculus indicus (poisonous Indian berries), spirits of wine, Turkey opium, Cayenne Pepper, rum and water.  

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Thatcher's colonial minstrel: containing all the choice local songs, parodies … of the celebrated Charles R. Thatcher, Melbourne, 1865, DSM/042/P162

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