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Poll the Grogseller

A character in a Charles Thatcher song, ’Poll’ could be seen as representative of a particular type of enterprising goldfields woman. Where most contemporary accounts paint female grog-sellers as morally degenerate, Thatcher’s young, clever, cheeky Polly, with her ‘innocent face’ and ‘good head of hair’, is an attractive character. The song also gestures in a non-judgemental way to the close links between the illicit liquor trade and prostitution. As Robyn Annear points out, Thatcher’s song suggests that the diggers found the ‘good looking’ Poll just as seductive as the grog she served. Polly, it appears, may have been enterprising in more ways than one.

Here is the original poem by Charles Thatcher:

Big Poll the Grogseller 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.
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;
And they keep dropping in handsome Polly to court,
And she smiles and supplies them with brandy and port,
And the neighbours all say that the whole blessed day
She is grog-selling late and early.

Caitlin Mahar

Annear, Robyn, Nothing but gold: the diggers of 1852, The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, 1999. Details
Moore, Bruce, Gold! Gold! Gold!: a dictionary of the nineteenth-century Australian gold rushes, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, 2000. Details
Thatcher, Charles, Thatcher’s colonial songs: forming a complete comic history of the early diggings (1864), Libraries Board of South Australia, Adelaide, 1964. Details