Monday, February 12, 2018

Captain Edward Goldsmith and the conundrums of the Ethiopian Serenaders 1851

BLACKFACE performance

The resources in this article contain offensive language and negative stereotypes. Such primary historical documents should be seen in the context of the period and as a reflection of attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times.  The items are part of the historical record, and do not represent the views of this weblog. Please note that this example of a mid-19th century performance genre called "blackface" and the use of the "N" word here will offend 21st century readers.
Proceeding is your responsibility.

Source: Library of Congress Front cover and sheet music of 'Music of the Ethiopian Serenaders', a touring blackface minstrel troupe, New York, USA, circa 1830-1860.

Please note that this example of a mid-19th century performance genre called "blackface" and the use of the "N" word here will offend 21st century readers; proceeding is your responsibility.

Friday 14th February, 1851, what a night! There was Captain Edward Goldsmith in the audience at the Royal Victoria Theatre, Hobart, a celebrity among other local notables - those "sparkling orbs" of Hobart colonial society - whose names and deeds the American blackface minstrels up there on stage cleverly wove into their shtick of conundrums, songs and dances. And who got top billing - well, after the Monarchy and the Supreme Court Judiciary- Captain Goldsmith, no less! Given credit to have more sense than the Anglo-Saxon king Canute who failed in his efforts against the elements to hold back the tide swamping his throne, the pun on the word “wave” referred to Captain Goldsmith’s voyages in command of the barque Wave from the 1830s until the early 1840s when he retired from its command in favour of the fast Rattler, a superior merchant vessel commissioned for him by ship owner Robert Brooks which ensured his second wind, i.e. non-retirement. Accompanying him on several voyages to Hobart was Captain Edward Goldsmith’s wife Elizabeth (nee Day). She may well have attended this performance as one of many “ladies so lubly an’ fair” addressed in the audience from the stage.

How did Capt. Goldsmith of de "Rattler" show more good sense dan one ob our earliest and proudest monarchs?
'Cos Canute commanded de wave to retire, but Goldsmith retired from de wave [barque Wave]
Why am de Theatre dis evening like de milky way?
'Cos it contains a cluster ob sparkling orbs.

Title: Boston minstrels. The celebrated Ethiopian melodies ...
Date Created/Published: New York : published by C.G. Christman, [between 1830(?) and 1860(?)]
Medium: 1 print : lithograph.
Summary: Music cover illustrated with caricatures of six minstrels in two scenes.
Library of Congress at

Please note here that this example of a mid-19th century theatrical genre called "blackface" and use of the "N" word will offend 21st century readers; proceeding is your responsibility.

Source: The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 - 1859) Wed 19 Feb 1851 Page 2 AMATEUR ETHIOPIAN SERENADERS.


We publish below the list of songs and conundrums given on Friday evening last by the Amateur Ethiopian Serenaders, at the performance at the Royal Victoria Theatre. "We come from de States," an original song, written by Mr. Cane, we publish entire.

Overture - MEDLEY
Bones! Suppose you was placed in charge od de letter-bags on de mail, why would you be the most diresputable character dere?
'Cos you would be de only black-guard on de coach.
What member ob de British royal family would be de most welcome visitor to de South Sea Fisheries?
Why, de eldest son of Her Majesty; 'cos he am de Prince ob Wales (whales).
When am a sleepy juryman in de Supreme Court like Mr. Sharland's hounds?
When he am roused by de notes of a Horne (horn).
How did Capt. Goldsmith of de "Rattler" show more good sense dan one ob our earliest and proudest monarchs?
'Cos Canute commanded de wave to retire, but Goldsmith retired from de wave [barque Wave]
Why am de Theatre dis evening like de milky way?
'Cos it contains a cluster ob sparkling orbs. etc etc
Source: Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 - 1859), Wednesday 19 February 1851, page 2

The performers played on the names of these eminent individuals - the Prince of Wales, Member of Parliament Mr Sharland, Justice Horne, Captain Goldsmith, Lord Palmerston, Dr McCarthy, Mr Gunn and the Launcestonians, the Society of Odd Fellows, solicitor Mr. Wynne, Mr. Gaylor of the Government and Mr Booth of the Orphan school before throwing in a joke about the lack of women in the new Hobart City Council. A member of Parliament must be a "he" to be elected and also must speak educated English , that is, by not placing the aspirate "h" before a word beginning with a vowel which they demonstrate with the aspirated "he-lective" to heffectively parody the usage of the huneducated female who spoke henglish like that!
Now, den, you learned Niggers dat knows every ting, can you told me why de ladies cannot be returned for de new Council?
Why, 'cos de Act says him must be a he-'lective assembly
Samuel Page's coach also got a mention by twinning "conveyance" with "settlement of a property"; Mr. Turnbull's hop fields were twinned with circumnavigating the globe, or hopping from pole to pole, all with a view to amusing the women in the audience.They finished with this pledge of loyalty as "niggers" no less -

We've come here as strangers to Van Diemen's Land,
De 'appiest of countries dat ever was manned;
We wish to be loyal, dat shall be our care, And amuse all de ladies so lubly an' fair.
Our music &
Den success to dis land, as' success to its friends,
Success to you all whom its interest extends;
May ebbery good wish we niggers can gib,
Attend you an' yours so long as you lib.
Our music &
Blackface performance mocks those of African descent. A white man paints his face black, and performs a song and dance repertoire caricaturing a mainstream misrepresentation of an unschooled African American - his heritage, his culture, his physicality and his speech patterns - den for then, de for the, ting for thing, ob for of, gib for give: berry for very etc - in this example. The Amateur Ethiopian Serenaders toured their performances around the Australian colonies during the 1850s, and were immensely popular. Their stereotypic manifestations about the black servant class for the amusement of their white middle class audiences allowed them to mock with impunity until mid-20th century when changing attitudes about race and racism effectively ended the prominence of blackface makeup used in performance in the U.S.

There was one member of the Ethiopian Serenaders who was in reality African-American. In his routines he imitated white minstrel dancers caricaturing black dance. He was known as "Boz's Juba" following Charles Dickens's graphic description [under his pen name Boz] of the New York dancer in American Notes (1842).

The corpulent black fiddler, and his friend who plays the tambourine, stamp upon the boarding of the small raised orchestra in which they sit, and play a lively measure. Five or six couple come upon the floor, marshalled by a lively young negro, who is the wit of the assembly, and the greatest dancer known.  He never leaves off making queer faces, and is the delight of all the rest, who grin from ear to ear incessantly. Among the dancers are two young mulatto girls, with large, black, drooping eyes, and head-gear after the fashion of the hostess, who are as shy, or feign to be, as though they never danced before, and so look down before the visitors, that their partners can see nothing but the long fringed lashes.

But the dance commences. Every gentleman sets as long as he likes to the opposite lady, and the opposite lady to him, and all are so long about it that the sport begins to languish, when suddenly the lively hero dashes in to the rescue.  Instantly the fiddler grins, and goes at it tooth and nail; there is new energy in the tambourine; new laughter in the dancers; new smiles in the landlady; new confidence in the landlord; new brightness in the very candles.

Single shuffle, double shuffle, cut and cross-cut; snapping his fingers, rolling his eyes, turning in his knees, presenting the backs of his legs in front, spinning about on his toes and heels like nothing but the man’s fingers on the tambourine; dancing with two left legs, two right legs, two wooden legs, two wire legs, two spring legs—all sorts of legs and no legs—what is this to him? And in what walk of life, or dance of life, does man ever get such stimulating applause as thunders about him, when, having danced his partner off her feet, and himself too, he finishes by leaping gloriously on the bar-counter, and calling for something to drink, with the chuckle of a million of counterfeit Jim Crows, in one inimitable sound!
Charles Dickens, American Notes, New York, Chapter VI
Source; Gutenberg's American Notes for General Circulation, by
Charles Dickens, Illustrated by Marcus Stone

Dickens's piece referred to Juba performing the single and double shuffle, which are black-derived steps. Juba blended dance from African tradition with European dance to produce a new form, "an Afro-American dance that had a great impact on minstrelsy":
Juba's dancing style ... was percussive, varied in tempo, lightning-fast at times, expressive, and unlike anything seen before. The dance likely incorporated both European folk steps, such as the Irish jig, and African-derived steps used by plantation slaves, such as the walkaround. Prior to Juba's career, the dance of blackface performance was more faithful to black culture than its other aspects, but as blackfaced clowns and minstrels adopted elements of his style, Juba further enhanced this authenticity. By having an effect upon blackface performance, Juba was highly influential on the development of such American dance styles as tap, jazz, and step dancing.
Source: Master Juba - Wikipedia

The song performed by the Ethiopian Serenaders immediately following their delivery of the conundrum for Captain Edward Goldsmith was "Dance de Boatmen". This is the music they played while dancing, transcribed as the "Boatman's Dance" in 1845:

Music of the Ethiopian Serenaders
by Music of the Ethiopian Serenaders
Publication date 1845
Collection conncollsheetmusic; additional_collections
Contributor Connecticut College
Language English
Additional sheet music at:

NOTES: Library of Congress
"Music of the Ethiopian Serenaders
nine songs and a set of cotillions for twenty-five cents
Dandy Jim of Caroline -- Miss Lucy Long -- Boatman's dance -- Old Dan Tucker -- My old Aunt Sally -- Miss Lucy Neale -- The ole gray goose -- Going ober de mountain -- 'Twill neber do to gib it up so -- The Virginia minstrels' cotillions: Lucy Long. Dandy Jim. Boatman's dance. Lucy Neale. Dan Tucker jig -- De lip hung down : a celebrated Ethiopian song -- In de darkey's life you read -- Settin' on a rail, or Raccoon hunt -- I dreamed dat I libed in hotel halls -- Den you'll remember me -- Come with the darkey band -- De ole jaw bone -- Tis sad to leave our tater land -- The coal black rose -- Long time ago : a Negro song
Philadelphia. E. Ferrett and Co. 68 South Fourth Street
Some of the resources may contain offensive language or negative stereotypes. Such materials should be seen in the context of the time period and as a reflection of attitudes of the time. The items are part of the historical record, and do not represent the views of the libraries or the institution.
Recommended CitationMusic of the Ethiopian Serenaders, "Music of the Ethiopian Serenaders" (1845). - Historic Sheet Music Collection.683."

Conundrums Contest in Hobart 1850
The Ethiopian Serenaders first appeared at a benefit held at Hobart’s Albert Theatre on 7 August 1848. The performance reportedly saw them introduce “the American melodies [that had been] received in London with the upmost applause” (Colonial Times 4 Aug. 1848, 1). They performed in the major centres of Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney, and in the smaller cities such as Geelong (Vic) and Woollongong (NSW): This advertisement which appeared in the Illawarra Mercury, April 1856, and additional information comes from The Australian Variety Theatre Archive;

Source: Illawarra Mercury 28 Apr 1856, 7

Please Note: “Ethiopian Serenaders” was a commonly-used minstrel troupe name in Australia between the late-1840s and 1860s (generally preceded by the name of its leader). Such troupes include: The Ethiopian Serenaders (ca. 1848-49), Howard’s Ethiopian Serenaders (ca. 1852), Woods Ethiopian Serenaders (ca. 1857), White’s Ethiopian Serenaders (ca. 1858-59), and several “Amateur Ethiopian Serenaders” troupes between 1859 and the mid-1860s.
Courtesy of The Australian Variety Theatre Archive;

Audiences delighted by the visit to the colonies of the Ethiopian Serenaders responded to a request by the Hobarton Guardian in 1850 for their readers to submit their own conundrums -
to compete for the Prize of a Silver Cup, presented by Mr. B. Waterland, on the night of his Benefit at the Royal Victoria Theatre, Hobart Town, on 27th Aug., 1850
Source: Hobarton Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania (Hobart, Tas. : 1847 - 1854) Sat 31 Aug 1850 Page 4 CONUNDRUMS

Hundreds of punsters contributed their entries which were duly printed across several columns of the newspaper; read them all here. This one is very clever: it puns on livers and graves, alluding to liver damage of women offenders who were habitual drinkers, their inevitable imprisonment, and sometimes burial at the gaol called the Female Factory, South Hobart, barely a few hundred metres from the Cascade Brewery owned by Mr. Peter Degraves.
Why are Women on their way to the Factory not likely to be long livers?
Because every step they take brings them nearer to Degraves (the graves)
But this is the conundrum which won the prize of the Silver Cup. At best guess, it succeeded as the prize winner probably because it relied on a specific local or dialect pronunciation of the word "hone" ("hoon" perhaps) but retained the meaning of honing wood with carpenters' tools - i.e. sharpening one's wits against the Justice system - and at a carpenter's bench referencing the Bench of the Court of Quarter Sessions which was chaired by the eccentric Justice Joseph Hone. His face-pulling antics in court made him a comedic figure across the board for both the judiciary and for the recalcitrant convicts who appeared before him, some of whom were carpenters, of course:
Which is the best place in Hobart Town for a carpenter to sharpen his tools in?
The Court of Requests - Because there's an excellent Hone in it.

[This conundrum won the prize, and at the close of the performances the Silver Cup was pesented to its fortunate author, Mr. S Wyatt, who received it from the hand of Mr. Blythe Waterland amidst loud, long and vociferous applause from all parts of the house.]

According to Joseph Hone's biographical entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography,
George Boyes, the diarist, said that he [Hone] knew 'as little about the law as any of us', and made fun of his idiosyncrasies in court. Gilbert Robertson, the editor, said that he was 'universally looked upon as only a few degrees removed from an idiot'. But for more than thirty years he discharged a variety of legal duties for the Crown to the apparent satisfaction of four lieutenant-governors.

State Library Tasmania
Title: [Joseph Hone]
Publisher: [Hobart : Frederick Frith [185-?]
Description: 1photograph : sepia ; oval image 12 X 9 cm
Format: Photograph
ADRI: AUTAS001139592703
Source: Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts

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