‘Hughie’ (Australian usage): meanings and origin

MEANING AND ORIGIN OF HUGHIE

 

In Australian English, Hughie is a familiar name jocularly given to a fanciful deity reputed to be in command of the weather. (This name has been variously spelt.)

Hughie especially occurs in the phrase send it down, Hughie!, and variants, used to ask that deity to send the rain down from the heavens.

The name Hughie is similar to Steve as recorded in Digger Dialects: A Collection of Slang Phrases used by the Australian Soldiers on Active Service (Melbourne and Sydney: Lothian Book Publishing Co. Pty. Ltd., 1919), by the Australian barrister and lexicographer Walter Hubert Downing (1893-1965):

SEND HER DOWN, STEVE!—Let it rain on. (Compare French soldiers’ phrase: “Envoyez, Dieu, Ia pluie en bas” 1).
[…]
STEVE—Common designation for a casual acquaintance.

1 French Envoyez, Dieu, Ia pluie en bas translates literally as Send, God, the rain down.

The name Hughie is also similar to David and Davy as they appeared in:

– In Tommy Talks, published in The Sport (Adelaide, South Australia) of Friday 14th March 1919:

It had begun to rain, and some chaps called out: “Send it down David!”

– In Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1925), by Edward Fraser and John Gibbons:

DAVID (or DAVY), SEND IT DOWN: A soldiers’ greeting to a shower of rain likely to postpone a parade.

A parallel can perhaps be drawn between those uses of the familiar names Hughie, Steve, David/Davy, on the one hand, and the jocular name Jupiter Pluvius, on the other hand. Jupiter Pluvius, which denotes Jupiter as the dispenser of rain, occurs, for example:

– In the following extract from My Holiday, a story published in The Sydney Mail (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 10th August 1861:

I forthwith invoked the Jupiter Pluvius, of the Austral hemisphere, that he might pour down “cats and dogs,”—the hardest kind of rain that is supposed ever to be experienced—from now until to-morrow morning.

– In the following from a correspondence from Ipswich, Queensland, published in The Brisbane Courier (Brisbane, Queensland) of Wednesday 5th April 1882:

We had a glorious downpour of rain on Friday night. Old Jupiter Pluvius didn’t stay to send it down gently, but appeared to throw it at us in a very promiscuous manner.

 

ADDITIONAL MEANING OF HUGHIE

 

In the Australian surfboarders’ lingo, Hughie is the name given to the god of the waves. The following for example is from Surf-riders’ Dictionary, published in The Australian Women’s Weekly (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 24th October 1962:

HUEY: The surfboard-riders’ god of the waves. They often call, “Come on, Huey, send the waves up,” as they wait for a big one beyond the line of breakers.

 

EARLY OCCURRENCES OF HUGHIE

 

These are, in chronological order, the earliest occurrences of Hughie, and of the phrase send it down, Hughie!, that I have found:

1-: From A Wet Shearing, by ‘W. T. P.’, published in The Riverine Grazier (Hay, New South Wales) of Friday 28th September 1906:

Tis dawn of day at Murgal, on the Riverina plains,
The shearing started just three weeks ago,
But work’s been at a standstill, on account of heavy rains;
It’s eight days since the shearers struck a blow,
But the sky is clear this morning, the rain seems gone at last,
From the shearers’ hut come sounds of life and fun.
[…]
Then the boss steps out towards them, “I’m sorry, lads,” he said,
“I’m afraid the sheep are still too wet to shear,
They’ll be dry enough to-morrow, if we get no rain to-night.”
The shearers swore—the rousies 2 gave a cheer.
[…]
That night before they go to bed, the clouds collect again,
[…]
Another hour, then on the roof they hear some spots of rain.
[…]
From the rousie’s hut sounds laughter (no need for them to care)
And a voice calls “Good old Hughie, send it down.”

2 The noun rousie is a shortened form of rouseabout, designating a general worker on a farm or sheep station, especially one employed in a shearing shed.

2-: From A Winter Night’s Tale. Or How Bill Lasselett Brought Much Needed Rain to Footscray, by ‘W. D.’, published in The Independent (Footscray, Victoria) of Saturday 4th July 1908:

The winter was dry out on West Footscray plain.
Many weeks had gone by, and there had been no rain.
[…]
So all the good citizens in Footscray town
Began to pray for the rain to come down.
But the air currents were bad, or the wind was too high,
For their prayers never seemed to reach up to the sky;
[…]
And the weeks they flew by, but no rain ever fell.
So at last they got tired, and they chucked up the job,
And they said to each other, “Well, so help me Bob,
What fools we have been, what made us forget
That wise man up West, old Bill Lasselett—
He is a great Prophet, and can things foretell;
At reading the future he oft takes a spell.
No doubt, in a vision, he’ll tell us quite plain
The day and the hour we are going to have rain;”
So off to the Prophet away they all cut—
[…]
Old Mrs. Talkative step’d boldly out,
And with all due decorum old Bill thus addressed—
“O hear me, Great Prophet, wise man of the West:
The land around here and out back on the plains
Is all parched and dry; there’s been no winter rains.
The goats are all dying, and right well you know
Without we get rain that the grass will not grow.
We have prayed to Old Hughie this last week, and more,
But he just cocks a deaf-’un, and won’t send a shower.”

3-: From “An Ought-to Biography”, published in The Bunyip (Gawler, South Australia) of Friday 10th September 1909:

On Wednesday, August 25th, an intelligent, inertesting [sic], and intellectual drag load of individuals left this fair “city,” intent on gaining fresh laurels for Colonel Athens at the Hamley Bridge competitions.
It was an enjoyable afternoon. The clouds had rolled away, and “Old Hughy” shone forth in all his splendour.

4-: From the beginning of At the Beehive, by ‘Mosquito’, published in The Bendigo Independent (Bendigo, Victoria) of Saturday 8th January 1910:

“SEND IT DOWN, HUGHIE!”

The above was the exclamation of one of a couple of youths of about 20 who raced past me up the street last Sunday evening about 10 o’clock, when lightning was flashing, thunder growling, and a smart burst of rain was descending on the parched earth. Each youth had the fag-end remnant of about a foot of beer in him (say four “long sleevers”) with about 4ft 5in of the earth’s new wine (the natural youthful sprightliness and irresponsibility)—total height of youths 5ft 5in. But they were a sturdily set pair, with well developed chests and limbs, and they strode along as the rain beat down and the storm flashed and growled around them as if it was not the slightest concern of theirs. “Send it down, Hughie!” exclaimed one as he rushed past.
Not just the remembering ever having heard the phrase before, I as quickly as possible appealed for information to the first “knowledgeable” young man whom I met. He was a little surprised that I didn’t know, but forthwith explained that Hughie is the new juvenile name for Providence, and therefore that the passing exclamation of the first mentioned young men was their way of voicing a prayer for rain.

 

FOLK ETYMOLOGIES

 

The origin of Hughie was lost very early, and many dubious explanations were—and still are—put forward.

These are the earliest explanations that I have found:

1-: From the end of At the Beehive, by ‘Mosquito’, published in The Bendigo Independent (Bendigo, Victoria) of Saturday 8th January 1910—I have quoted the beginning above:

I had nothing whatever to do with these rabbit-brained young scamps with their “Send it down, Hughie.” They remind me of the latter days of pagan Rome and Greece (particularly of Greece) when the populace took to making fun of the gods, and of inventing more or less amusing stories in which the gods often played very human parts. As a matter, however, of purely philological interest, where did the odd and seemingly senseless phrase come from here to Bendigo, and whoever originated it? It seems as before remarked, to be in regular use amongst our most newly arrived generation of young men.
Stop at once! I have it. A piece of jetsam from my memory cells has suddenly come to the surface. Years ago in this Bendigo and North Western District there was a man named Hughie McColl 3. He was an original in the highest degree, but with a quaint and cheerful humor withal. His great hobby was “Watter! Watter! Watter!” People who flattered themselves that they were ever so much wiser than he was used to laugh at him. Mr. McColl was one of the three members of the old Mandurang electorate which in the “sixties” and “seventies” extended from Sheepwash to Swan Hill and away down and up the Murray. In Parliament one day he therefore thus replied to one of his critics—those would be thought clever people—
“They say I’ve watter on the brain; I’ll no rest till’ts on the plain.”
Mr. McColl is really the father of all our water schemes in Northern Victoria as we have them to-day, and as we are going to have more and more of them. He died about 20 years ago, and if a monument was well deserved by any man, the Northern agriculturists and irrigators should put up a good one to Hugh McColl. For several years after he was dead and a fine fall of rain came down, it used to be customary to say that “Hughie” was sending it. When “Hughie” left the Water Department here below, it was quite natural to suppose that (if at all possible) he would take charge of the Water Supply Department in the place whither he had gone. Now, however, a new generation of Bendigonias [sic] is using the adjuration to “Hughie,” hardly one of them having the opportunity to know who the good Hughie was to whom their adjurations are addressed.

3 Hugh McColl (1819-1885) was a Scottish-born politician and irrigation promoter. In 1874, he became secretary of the Grand Victorian North West Canal, Irrigation, Traffic and Motive Power Co. Ltd. This visionary project was to supply water and provide transport for six million acres (2,428,180 ha) of Victoria’s northern plains through a canal running westerly from the Goulburn River near Murchison to the Wimmera.—Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography.

2, 3, 4 & 5-: From a lengthy discussion on the origin of Hughie, in Aboriginalities, published in The Bulletin (Sydney, New South Wales):

2-: Of Thursday 14th November 1912:

“McLevy”: I demand some information. Up in Queensland shearers invoke Providence for rain, when it is a fair thing for a holiday, thus: “Send it down, Hughie.” Thought it was purely local until I happened on Manly Beach the other day, when a storm-cloud banked up and a sun-browning nude arose and remarked to the sky, “What’s the game, Hughie?” Does any Abo-liar know the origin of the term? I believe the Queensland black’s word for cloud is something like “ugon,” and the shearers and surf-bathers may have misapplied it to the man behind the gun. If that is not the explanation, what in fury is?”

3-: Of Thursday 5th December 1912:

“R.B.M.”: Re the shearer’s “Send it down, Hughie!” (B. 14/11/’12), when needed rain is threatening. I first heard the expression in Narrandera (N.S.W.), where it was common among the boys of the village when J. Pluvius cut loose. I believe that it originated in that district, by reason of a Mr. Huie, formerly station manager of Widgeon and Buckinbong, being an amateur meteorologist, who had luck in prophesying rain, a cyclone, or water-spout or something. The success boomed Mr. Huie in the prophet business. Hence, “Send it down, Huie.”

4-: Of Thursday 19th December 1912:

“Douglas T.”: The invocation, “Send it down, Hughie” (B. 14/11 /’12), originated, I believe, in the strenuous efforts of the late Hugh McColl in the cause of irrigation in Victoria. McColl was an old-time M.L.A. in that State, and fought with Caledonian persistency for great water-conservation schemes. The Bulletin, many years ago, contained frequent allusions to “Hughie” and his “canawls,” and as these “canawls” or channels ultimately took the place of Providence in drought seasons, “Hughie” gradually drifted into the position of a sort of deity in the business. (Thor and Wodin and a good many more of the gods of auld lang syne got into the catalogue on evidence of an equally shadowy nature.) Only a few days ago, after a very heavy fall of moisture in this district (Wakool), I heard a boundary-rider remark: “My oath, good old Hughie has been on the job.” Senator McColl is a son of the “rainmaker.”

5-: Of Thursday 26th December 1912:

“A.McI.”: Hugh McColl, the father of irrigation in Victoria, had nothing to do with the origin of the bush saying, “Send it down, Hughie!” when rain is falling or is wanted. I heard it first as a boy in the navy in ’85, and about once a week for 14 years after. “Old Hughie” would be “having a go” when it rained a bit out of the ordinary; and when it meant “pipe down” for a day or two (which it often did on the West Indies station) we would sing “good ole Hughie,” parodying Mother Shipton. I have also heard “Elijah” spoken of in the same manner, and I think it probable that “Hughie” is a corruption of ’Lijah.