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Thatcher, Charles Robert

Minstrel and Songwriter

The inimitable Charles Robert Thatcher, dubbed by his contemporaries ‘the Colonial Minstrel’, was one of many talented young men who left England in the early 1850s in search of gold. He was the eldest son of a Bristol curio dealer. A natural showman and notable satirical wit, Thatcher was drawn to the music halls which were prevalent at this time, and it was no doubt in these most democratic of entertainment houses that he learned many of the popular songs he was later to exploit so successfully in Australia.

Thatcher evidently responded swiftly to the news of gold discoveries in Victoria, arriving in Melbourne in November 1852. He was fortunate to fall in with some congenial companions and together they set off on foot for Bendigo. Their early attempts at digging were discouraging, but after trying several different claims they eventually chanced on a winner. Thatcher’s share of the profits was a very satisfactory £1000 and, like many others unused to heavy manual labour, he promptly, and with great relief, abandoned digging.

His most lasting legacy is a number of topical songs and verses. He drew on the scenes around him for humorous lyrics, which he then set to well-known tunes of the day. Thatcher enjoyed immense popularity, particularly throughout the goldfields. His work accurately portrays many of the social practices that were forming the civic culture of the goldfields in the 1850s. He subsequently travelled to New Zealand where he enjoyed similar success before returning to Victoria.

Keir Reeves

Anderson, Hugh, The colonial minstrel, F.W. Cheshire, Melbourne, 1960. Details
Hoskins, Robert, Goldfield balladeer: the lLife and times of the celebrated Charles R. Thatcher, Collins, Auckland, 1977. Details
Thatcher, Charles, and Hugh Anderson, Charles Thatcher's gold-diggers' songbook. Volume 1: When first I landed here, Studies in Australian Folklore; No.2, Red Rooster, Melbourne, 1980. Details
Thatcher, Charles, Hugh Anderson, and Ron Edwards, Goldrush songster, 1st edn, Rams Skull Press, Ferntree Gully, Victoria, 1958. Details
Gold!, http://www.sbs.com.au/gold. Details