1879: Capt. Jemmy Jones

I’ve been to the one on Tillicum Road, and I’ve seen baby strollers on the ice, but never a rascally rogue like Jemmy Jones!

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Jenny Jones (image credit: Welsh Costume / Gwysg Gymreig)

(Hat tip to reader Alex Code for sending today’s find our way!)

At the skating rink in Victoria, British Columbia in 1879, in the late winter, you could’ve sat through a unique kind of follies, when the notorious Captain Jemmy Jones himself delivered a “Grand Lecture” on the subject of…

Jemmy Jones himself!

This is someone who merits a whole chapter in any truly fun BC history book.

I used to live near Cadboro Bay’s Jemmy Jones Island, where he famously ran the schooner Caroline aground.

A blog that you should already have been reading, Offbeat Oregon, has an article telling how Welshman James “Jemmy” Jones came to California for the gold rush, built possibly the world’s first steam-powered schooner, survived 5 shipwrecks, and stowed away on his US Marshal-impounded ship.

That ship was named the Jenny Jones, probably after a hit song from Captain Jemmy’s youth about the lady love of sailor Ned Morgan. I imagine that when he dressed as a woman to escape jail in Victoria, he might have thought himself a sort of “Jenny Jones”!

Ah, anyhow, now to the reason Captain Jemmy shows up in a blog devoted to the Chinook Jargon.

Appended to his lecture (which was one of the main forms of public entertainment in the English-speaking world of the 1800s) was a concert featuring, as usual for the era, some very heavily racialized material that would cause a riot nowadays.

304px-The_Bone_Player“The Bone Player” by William Sidney Mount, 1856 (image credit: Wikipedia)

Some of the listed songs sound like “Negro minstrel” stuff, likely done in blackface. “Old Black Joe” and “Old Snow” resemble minstrel stage names, and “accordeon [accordion] and bones”, or “accordéon et os“, was a standard instrumentation for such acts.

That genre was so titanically popular with White folks that, inevitably, we’ve found several Settler Chinuk Wawa translations of some of its best-known tunes.

None of that’s listed on the card below, but one song was indeed in Chinuk Wawa, and it sounds like it was in the typical plaintive-dusky-maiden-who-loves-a-White-guy mode…Hmm…I don’t suppose it was a Northwesternized version of a minstrel song?

jemmy jones

A GRAND LECTURE

WILL BE DELIVERED BY

CAPT. JEMMY JONES

ON THE SUBJECT OF “JEMMY JONES,”

AT THE SKATING RINK

On Wednesday Evening the 19th inst[ant]. [i.e. of February]

AFTER WHICH

A CONCERT WILL BE GIVEN.

———-

PROGRAMME.

SONG — Old Black Joe by Old Snow.
POEM — My Dear Old Pipe, Mr. J.W. Bishop.
ACCORDEON SOLO by D.C.L. Romano
DUETT [sic] — Accordeon and Bones — Romano and Bishop.
LEGERDEMAIN by Old Black Joe.
SONG — Nika man clattawa Caliboo — Mr. J.W. Bishop.
SONG & DANCE — Mr. J.J. Lewis.
JIG — Mr. J.J. Lewis.
Several other pieces by Amateurs.

———-
Doors open at 7; performance to commence at 7½.
Admission, 50 cents.
Don’t fail to go, as the entertainment will be one of the greatest events in the history of British Columbia. Capt. Jones’ lecture will be a stirring affair.

— from the Victoria (BC) Daily Colonist of February 15, 1879, page 2, column 3

That “Nika man clattawa Caliboo” = nayka mán ɬátwa Ø kálibu* = ‘My man’s gone to Cariboo’. (Ø = ‘silent preposition’, frequent in motion expressions as an alternative to kʰapa.) I don’t want to belabor the obvious, but no Settler woman would be heard singing such a thing in public, in Jargon! I’ll bet you an 1879 pound sterling that it’s a local Victoria composition, imitating the well-known genre of Indigenous people’s love songs in Chinook, most of them composed in Victoria.

I haven’t tracked down much information on the performers. I first wondered if “DCL Romano” was a joke (i.e. “650 in Roman [numerals]” in Latin!), but I think he may have been one of the earliest Settlers on the BC mainland.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?