gallery ~ US circus in Australia


» back to gallery index


Scenes in Cooper, Bailey & Co's Great International Allied Shows, Melbourne, January 1877
One of America's largest circuses, Cooper, Bailey & Co's, the ancestor of the latter-day Barnum & Bailey's Circus, toured Australia in 1876-77 and again in 1877-78. This circus carried the additional attraction of its own menagerie of wild and exotic animals, some of which were presented in the circus ring. Many of these animals were rarely seen in Australia.

Scence from the Cooper, Bailey & Co's Great International Allied Shows in Melbourne 1877



 

An Australian acrobatic act with Cole Bros Circus, 1942
An all-female troupe of acrobats, The Australian Wallabies, arrived in the United States in 1941 only a few months before the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Unable to return to Australia, the troupe remained in the United States and toured with Cole Bros Circus for the duration of the war.

The Australian Wallabies an Australian acrobatic troupe with Cole Bros Circus



 

The dancing acrobat of the tightwire, Con Colleano, the Australian center-ring star of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Combined Shows, 1929
In 1925, shortly after his successful American debut at the Hippodrome in New York, the great Australian dancing and somersaulting acrobat of the tightwire, Con Colleano, was engaged by the huge Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows. The young Indigenous Australian was one of the prestigous 'center-ring' attractions of the huge circus. This poster dates from 1929 and illustrates Colleano's second-most difficult feat on the tightwire, a backward somersault. His most difficult act on the tightwire was a forward somersault.

Con Colleano Ringling Bros and Barnum & Combined Shows



 

The Australian Wirth Family, an Australian center-ring attraction with Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows, 1920
The Wirth Family of riders featured May Wirth, 'the world's greatest lady rider', and Phil St Leon Wirth, billed as 'Phil the Marvel, the hurricane riding comedian. May Wirth also performed her own solo act on the circus program. This poster dates from 1920, shortly after the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey circuses were merged into one.

The Australian Wirth circus family appeared with Ringling Bros and Barnum & Combined Shows



 

Miss May Wirth, the somersaulting queen of the arena, with Ringling Bros Circus, 1917.
After touring Australasia with Wirth Bros Circus, 1915-16, May Wirth and her troupe returned to the United States and opened with Ringling Bros Circus at the Coliseum, Chicago. As many as 12,000 people attended each performance and the Australian girl was the star of the long bill.

POster featuring Australian May Wirth appearing in Ringling Bros Circus



 

Sell Bros Circus, 'just returned from Australia', 1892-93
The last large American circus to successfully tour Australia was Sell Bros. On its return to the United States, Sells Bros dressed all of its posters with the banner line 'just returned from Australia' and presented its American audiences with the novelty of a menagerie of native Australian animals.
Sell Bros Circus Poster




 

P.T. Barnum's Greatest Show on Earth with The Great London Circus, 1885
In 1883, the great American showman, P.T. Barnum, dispatched his agent, a Mr Cunningham, to Australia to engage a troupe of Aborigines for his circus. Cunningham returned with a party of Aborigines who Barnum promptly promoted to audiences throughout the United States as his 'Australian Cannibal Boomerang Throwers'. Few of these Aborigines ever saw Australia again.

POster promoting PT Barnum and The Great London Circus



 

P.T. Barnum's Greatest Show on Earth with The Great London Circus, 1882
Although the great American showman, P.T. Barnum harboured ambitions to bring his circus to Australia, these ambitions were never realised. However, in 1882, Barnum joined forces with James A. Bailey who had toured his Cooper, Bailey & Co circus through Australia for two successive seasons in the late 1870s. This poster gives a rather exaggerated impression of the disembarkation of the Cooper, Bailey & Co circus in Melbourne in 1877.

PT Barnum with The Great London Circus 1882



 

The Australian Trio, aerial bicyclists, with W.W. Coles Great Circus, Menagerie & Congress of Living Wonders, 1882.
During his one and only Australasian tour of 1881-82, the American showman W.W. Cole engaged these Australian 'aerial bicyclists' who he presented to his audiences throughout the United States on his return.
W.W Coles Great Circus, with The Australian Trio, Menagerie & more




 

Chiarini's Circus, Belmore Park, Sydney, January 1884
During 1883-85, Chiarini's Circus made its third and last tour of Australasia. The Roman-born Chiarini was a descendant of one of Italy's oldest families of travelling entertainers. However, his circus was substantially comprised of American performers. In Sydney, Chiarini erected his circus on Belmore Park, one of the city's popular circus sites. From the Australian Graphic, 23 February 1884.

Chiarini's Circus 1884 -  Belmore Park, Sydney



 

Cooper, Bailey & Co's Great International Allied Shows, Australian tour, 1876-77
Nat Austin, the ringmaster for Cooper, Bailey & Co's Circus during its Australasian tours.
Nat Austin Ringmaster 1876-77




 

Cooper, Bailey & Co's Great International Allied Shows, Australian tour, 1876-77
A troupe of smartly-dressed acrobats who appeared with Cooper, Bailey & Co's Circus during its Australasian tours.

Acrobat troupe for Cooper, Bailey & Co Circus 1876-77



 

Cooper, Bailey & Co's Great International Allied Shows, Australian tour, 1876-77
Cooper, Bailey & Co's circus was accompanied by a 'museum' of freaks and human oddities, one of whom was the college-educated Ann E. Leak. Born without arms, she used her toes to write, sew and scissor.
Ann E Leak in Cooper, Bailey & Co Circus




 

Cooper, Bailey & Co's Great International Allied Shows, Australian tour, 1876-77
Much of the success of Cooper, Bailey & Co's two Australasian tours, 1876-77 and 1877-78, could be attributed to this man, its agent-in-advance John B. 'Deafy' Gaylord. A veteran of the US Civil War, Gaylord acquired the nickname of 'Deafy' after a cannon blast severely impaired his hearing.

Advance agent for Cooper, Bailey & Co,John B. 'Deafy' Gaylord



 

Sell Bros Circus, 'just returned from Australia', 1892-93
The last large American circus to successfully tour Australia was Sell Bros. On its return to the United States, Sells Bros dressed all of its posters with the banner line 'just returned from Australia'. This poster displays the ss Monowai, the vessel that had conveyed the circus from San Francisco to Sydney in October 1891.

Sells Brothers Circus Poster lauding their succesful tour of Australia



 

Sell Bros Circus, 'just returned from Australia', 1892-93
The last large American circus to successfully tour Australia was Sell Bros. On its return to the United States, Sells Bros dressed all of its posters with the banner line 'just returned from Australia'. This poster displays the renowned equestrians, William Showles and Daisy Belmont.
Sells Brothers Circus with equestrians William Showles and Daisy Belmont




 

Sell Bros Circus, 'just returned from Australia', 1892-93
The last large American circus to successfully tour Australia was Sell Bros. On its return to the United States, Sells Bros dressed all of its posters with the banner line 'just returned from Australia'. This poster displays the renowned equestrienne, Polly Lee.
Sells Brothers Circus touting their return from Australia and featuring Polly Lee




 

W.W. Cole's Concorporated Shows, Melbourne, November 1881
Some scenes inside W.W. Cole's large American circus which opened in Melbourne in the spring of 1880.

Scenes from W.W. Cole's Concorporated Shows



 

Cooper, Bailey & Co's Great International Allied Shows, Melbourne, January 1877
Australians rarely saw exhibitions of wild and exotic animals until Cooper, Bailey & Co brought their own complete menagerie. The landing of these animals in Melbourne from ss Macedon generated enormous crowds to witness the proceedings.

Cooper and Bailey's Circus Great International Allied Show in Melbourne, Australia



 

Cooper, Bailey & Co's Great International Allied Shows, Sydney, November 1876
The large American circus of Cooper, Bailey & Co inaugurated its first Australasian tour in Sydney in November 1876. Its complex of tents, paraphernalia and billboards were situated on the Haymarket Reserve, Sydney's customary circus site.

Cooper, Bailey & Co at the Haymarket Reserve, Sydney 1876



 

Chiarini's Royal Italian Circus, Melbourne, 1873
The Italian circus man, Giuseppi Chiarini, brought his Royal Italian Circus to Australia for the first time in 1873. Chiarini's large, single-pole circus tent is seen here, nestled amongst buildings in the inner-city area.

Chiarini's Royal Italian Circus Melbourne 1873



 

Cooper, Bailey & Co's Great International Allied Shows, Melbourne, 1877
In Melbourne, the large American circus of Cooper, Bailey & Co set up its enormous spread of canvas tents on the south side of the Yarra River.

Cooper, Bailey & Co - Yarra River, Melbourne 1877



 

Fryer & Co.'s Circus, Sydney 1886
The American circus man, 'Professor' W. Fryer brought his circus of highly-educated animals to Australia in 1886. In Sydney, Fryer presented his circus on Belmore Park.
Fryer & Co.'s Circus




 

Rowe's Pioneer Circus, San Francisco, 1850
The American circus man, Joseph A. Rowe, brought the 'pioneer' circus to California. Rowe was touring South America in 1849 when he received word of the discovery of gold in California. He quickly shipped for San Francisco and followed the throngs of miners onto the goldfields. Returning to San Francisco, he opened his circus at the Corner of 5th and M Streets. However, competition from other entertainments continued to mount and, early in 1851, Rowe shipped his circus for Honolulu, the first leg of a crossing of the Pacific that would eventually see him open his circus in Melbourne in June 1852, just as the Victorian gold rushes were breaking out.
Rowe's Pioneer Circus





 

Chiarini's Royal Italian Circus, Sydney, June 1880
In 1879-80, Giuseppi Chiarini undertook his second tour of Australasia with his Royal Italian Circus. Despite its name, the company was comprised of substantially American performers. In Sydney, the Royal Italian Circus opened on the city's customery circus site, the Haymarket Reserve. A Vice-Regal performance was give on the evening of Friday, 11 June 1880 for the Governor of New South Wales, Lord Loftus, Lady Loftus and their 'suite' of personal guests. The event was marked by the production of this special program, printed on silk.

Chiarini's Royal Italian Circus program printed on silk



 

Cooper, Bailey & Co's Great International Allied Shows, Sydney, December 1877
The large American circus of Cooper, Bailey & Co inaugurated its second Australasian tour in Sydney in December 1876. This time, its complex of tents, paraphernalia and billboards were situated on the vacant ground at the corner of College and William Streets, just opposite Hyde Park.

Cooper, Bailey & Co's Great International Allied Shows opposite Hyde Park Sydney