A Fiddler, a Juggler & Mrs Champ. Scenario for a play set at Port Arthur: https://petermacfiehistorian.net.au
The concept of a play to be performed at Port Arthur, based on the story of the Commandant bringing talented convicts in to entertain his family.
1848 was a pivotal year for Port Arthur. Commandant W.T.N. Champ’s brief period was about to end, but he had introduced long standing changes to the appearance of Port and to the Commandant’s House. The ornamental gardens and fountain were added by him, and structural additions to the Commandant’s House transferred the building from a colonial Georgian cottage to a Victorian residence. Major additions were the main bedroom, and parlour.
THE SCENARIO. The Scenario uses real events plus some optional ones, with the aim of making an entertaining yet revealing insight into the lives of entertainers/musicians, caught in the convict system. The scenes are located around the site, some based on actual occurrences and others invented, with the idea that the audience could move with the performers in a production that began late afternoon, ending at either the Church or the Parlour of the Commandant’s House.
Venues. The ornamental gardens and the Commandant’s House parlour are suggested as venues for two scenes in the play. Other locations for scenes are the Workshops, centred on repairing a violin, (Foggo was an instrument maker) and the Church, where Foggo played the cello and trained a string quartet of staff members. (This latter actually occurred during the time of Commandant Boyd however.)
Music/Performance. Melodies suggested played include those remembered being played by Foggo by the former Port Arthur official. These were The Last Rose of Summer, Blue Bells of Scotland, and Caller Herrin., Others are taken from a Fyvie’s Embrace, – the Golden Age of the Scottish Fiddle, a CD by Australian fiddler, Chris Duncan . This features melodies by both Neil and Nathaniel Gow, among others.
Nathaniel Gow’s most popular melody was a ‘pop’ song of its day, Caller Herrin’. The song uses the cries of the ‘Newhaven fishwives’ who carried fish – herring- caught overnight around the town for sale. This was done by carrying a large creel or basket resting on their back, supported on the forehead by a broad leather band. ‘They accoutred their walk through even the best streets of Edinburgh, bringing their wares to the door of the consumer.’ The second melody within the composition is derived from the bells of St Andrews Church, then recently erected in George Street, Edinburgh.
The popularity of the Caller Herrin’ was wide spread. (The recent History of Dover, Vol 2 by Norm Beechey, records the song being sung at a local concert at Port Esperance, Tasmania in the late 1870s.) So there is the real event of a Scottish convict fiddler playing a melody, Caller Herrin, written by his great uncle, being performed at Port Arthur by Neil Gow Foggo, yet being almost forgotten by posterity.
Joseph Crapp. The second entertainer was also a musician, playing the accordion, as well as being a juggler, skills useful as a seaman in his pervious life- as had Foggo. The period approach to juggling needs to be developed, but the combination of a fiddler and a juggler lends itself to lively action. Crapp could be used as the commentator on prison life.
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MacFie, PH The Forgotten Convict Fiddler, Neil Gow Foggo, draft text, 2003.