The daring young man in question was Jules Léotard, the famous French trapeze artist. Léotard made his music hall debut in 1861 in London's West End; it was he who invented the leotard
, the one-piece garment to allow the unrestricted movement which was so vital in his death-defying act, and which would later become standard wear for ballet dancers.
Léotard was paid £180 a week for his act, the equivalent of £5,000 today, but died aged only 28, from an infectious disease rather than from a fall. Thomas Hischak says the song was first heard in American Vaudeville in the 1870s, where it was popularized by Johnny Allen.