1857, the Jim Crow Hotel

2 Aug

In 1857, the comedian William Hoskins was performing with a company at Castlemaine, a Victorian goldfield town. Up rolls the proprietor of Hepburn’s Jim Crow Hotel, offering money and ‘conveyances’ to poach them from their present employ. (I can’t help picturing him with a paunch and a cigar dangling from his mouth, but that’s just Hollywood talking). Seventy-five quid he’d give them for the first night, he said, so long as they printed their handbills in three langauges (English, French, Italian) to cater for his polyglot clientele.

When Hoskins and his crew arrived at Hepburn late Sunday night, they thought they’d made a mistake. The only buildings were a large store and pub combined, a blacksmith’s forge and a butcher’s stall – where was the audience going to come from? As the evening of their show came on, however, ‘the whole place was alive with figures bearing candles stuck in gin-bottles, and before the time announced for commencing the room was thoroughly packed, till, at last, some of the people climbed over the shoulders of the others and perched on the beams that went across the building’. (Candles stuck in gin-bottles! No wonder those goldfield venues were always burning down). When the show finished, the diggers kept up the pace, knocking back the drink, dancing and singing, and finishing up ‘by riding horses in the most reckless manner all over the place’.

(Extract c/o The Lorgnette, a paper-cum-theatrical program distributed in Melbourne venues, 30 April 1887).

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