Australian Circus Timeline

 

Year

Event

1768     

Phillip Astley gives open-air displays of horsemanship on Ha’penny Hatch, London

1779     

Astley opens his Amphitheatre Riding House in London

1833     

George Croft, dances on a tightrope in the Theatre Royal, Sydney

1841     

Signor Luigi Dalle Case’s Foreign Gymnastic Company performs in Sydney

1842     

Signor Luigi Dalle Case’s Foreign Gymnastic Company performs in Hobart Town

1847     

George Croft opens his amphitheatre in Moreton Bay, today’s Brisbane

1847     

Robert Avis Radford opens his Royal Circus in York Street, Launceston

1848

Robert Avis Radford opens his Royal Amphitheatre in Hobart Town

1848     

John Quinn walks a tightrope on the vessel Junior anchored in Hobart Town harbour

1848     

Golding Ashton, ‘British horseman’ performs in Radford’s Amphitheatre, Hobart Town

1849

Ashton performs in Hayes’ short-lived circus in Little Bourke Street, Melbourne

1850     

Royal Australian Equestrian Circus [later Malcom’s Amphitheatre], opens in Sydney

1850

Taylor’s Amphitheatre opens in Adelaide

1850

Beaumont & Waller’s Zoological Gardens, a pleasure resort, opens at Botany Bay

1851     

John S. Noble’s circus troupe, from Cape Town, performs in Adelaide

1851     

Henry Burton opens his Royal Circus at Parramatta, visits the Turon River goldfields

1851     

Young Aboriginal performers presented in Burton’s Royal Circus

1852     

J. A. Rowe, from San Francisco, opens his North American Circus in Melbourne

1853     

Travelling circus proprietors begin to adopt canvas tents  

1853     

From Sydney, Burton’s Circus travels overland to the new Victorian goldfields

1854     

George B. W. Lewis opens his version of ‘Astley’s Amphitheatre’ in Melbourne

1854     

Jones, Noble & Foley’s Circus visits Ballarat during the Eureka Stockade incident 

1855

Ashton leases Malcom’s Amphitheatre in Sydney, opens as Ashton’s Amphitheatre

1855

Circus horses shod with legendary golden horseshoes entertain Beechworth

1859     

The Wieland Troupe, from London, give the first colonial trapeze exhibitions

1862     

Cassim & Abdallah, exponents of kalarippayattu, tour with Burton’s National Circus

1863

Melville’s Australian Circus tours the American mid-west

1865     

The St Leon Family, a gymnastic troupe, opens at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne

1866     

Cooke, Zoyara & Wilson’s Great World Circus, from San Francisco, opens in Sydney

1866     

Billy Jones, an Aboriginal ropewalker, walks a high rope over Argyle Street, Hobart

1867     

Japanese acrobatic troupes land in Melbourne, the first of many to visit Australia

1869     

Stebbing’s Intercolonial Circus opens in Fremantle, the first to visit Western Australia

1870     

Bird & Taylors Great American Circus inaugurated in Sydney, tours the colonies

1872     

Chiarini’s Royal Italian Circus visits Australia, the first of three tours

1873     

Hippodrome contest between Burton’s and Bird & Taylor’s circus companies, Adelaide

1873     

Henry Burton and Robert Taylor form their Grand United Circus Company

1874     

First visit to Australia of the French ropewalker Blondin, ‘Hero of Niagara’

1875     

St Leon’s Royal Victoria Circus organised in Melbourne, begins touring the colonies

1876     

Wilson’s San Francisco Palace Circus commences Australian tour in Rockhampton

1876     

Cooper, Bailey & Co.’s Circus, from San Francisco, opens in Sydney

1877

L’Estrange, ‘The Australian Blondin’ walks a tightrope across Middle Harbour, Sydney

1878     

Henry Burton’s Great Australian Circus tours New Zealand

1880     

Henry Burton sells his circus to William and Jenny Woodyear

1880     

W. W. Cole’s Concorporated Shows tours NSW, Victoria and South Australia

1882     

Wirth Bros Circus formed and commences touring the Australian colonies

1885     

St Leon’s Royal Palace Circus tours New Zealand

1888     

Wirth Bros Circus visits Noumea

1888     

Wirth Bros Circus replaces its horse drawn wagons with rail transport

1889     

Insolvency of Matthew St Leon, veteran colonial circus proprietor

1889     

James Henry Ashton, veteran colonial circus proprietor, dies at Gladstone, Queensland

1890     

Wirth Bros Circus engages ‘Happy Jack’ Sutton’s Wild West Show from San Francisco

1890     

Harmston’s Circus, organised in San Francisco, opens Australian tour in Sydney

1891     

Sells Bros Circus ships from San Francisco to tour Australia by rail

1893     

With the outbreak of a colonial recession, Wirth Bros Circus ships for South Africa

1893     

W. G. Perry and his family organise their own circus, promoted as Eroni Bros Circus

1893     

Archduke Ferdinand, assassinated in 1914, visits Sydney, sees FitzGerald Bros Circus

1894     

May Wirth, the world’s greatest lady bareback rider, born at Bundaberg, Queensland

1895     

FitzGerald Bros tour their New London Company throughout Australasia 

1895     

Wirth’s Pacific Circus, under the direction of Harry Wirth, tours Southeast Asia

1896     

Ellsworth L. Probasco, American horse trainer, organises his own circus in Dunedin

1896     

Peart, high diver, critically injured performing in FitzGerald Bros Circus in Sydney

1897     

The Flying Jordans’ Circus & Carnival commence tour of Australia in Sydney

1896     

Wirth’s Australian Circus visits England, performs for the Prince of Wales

1899     

Probasco’s Circus & Equescurriculum tours New South Wales and Victoria

1899     

Con Colleano, later famous as ‘The Wizard of the Wire’, born at Lismore, NSW

1900

Wirth Bros Circus returns to Australia, opening in Fremantle, after seven years absence

1900     

Henry Burton, veteran colonial circus proprietor, dies at the Dramatic Home, Melbourne

1902     

FitzGerald Bros Circus divided into two circus companies

1902     

FitzGerald Bros permitted occupancy of the Olympia on Princess’s Road, Melbourne

1903     

Matthew St Leon, veteran colonial circus proprietor, dies at Oakleigh, Melbourne

1906     

Deaths of the FitzGerald brothers, Dan and Tom, circus proprietors, only months apart

1906     

Wirth Bros Circus take possession of the Olympia, Princess’s Road, Melbourne

1906     

Bostock & Wombell’s Circus, Menagerie & Vaudeville Show tours Australia

1906     

James Ashton & Walter St Leon circus companies combine to tour NSW and Queensland

1906     

Billy Jones, veteran Aboriginal circus performer, dies in Sydney

1908     

Mrs Tom FitzGerald’s Circus entertains sailors of the US Great White Fleet, Albany, WA

1909     

Gus St Leon’s Great United Circus organised at Liverpool, NSW, commences touring

1909     

Showmen’s Association of Australasia organised to represent travelling showmen

1910     

Colleano’s Circus organised at Lightning Ridge, NSW, commences touring

1911     

Mr Jack, agent for Ashton’s Circus, travels ahead of the company in  his automobile

1912     

May Wirth, Australian rider, makes her debut with Barnum & Bailey, New York

1912     

Bud Atkinson’s American Circus & Wild West Show opens in Moore Park, Sydney

1914     

Perry Bros Circus organised by James Perry, a son of W.G. Perry

1915     

May Wirth & Troupe tour Australia with Wirth Bros Circus

1916     

Sole Bros Circus organised by Elizabeth Sole, a daughter of W.G. Perry

1917     

Amusement Tax imposed as a wartime measure by Commonwealth Government

1919     

Wirth Bros Circus the first circus to cross the Nullarbor Plain by rail

1920     

Holden Bros Circus adopts electric lighting with portable electric generator

1922     

Excessive rail costs force the closure of Colleano’s All-Star Circus

1923     

Holden Bros Circus, replaces circus wagons with motorised transport

1923     

Bullen’s Circus commences travelling Australia

1923     

Explosion of acetylene gas kills the proprietors of Sole Bros Circus at Blayney, NSW

1923     

The Wirth and Ringling circus managements formalise agreement of cooperation

1925     

Con Colleano, the ‘Australian Wizard of Wire’ in Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey’s

1925     

George Wirth publishes his autobiography, Round the World with a Circus

1926     

Sole Bros Circus tours southern Africa for three years

1930     

George Wirth retires and Wirth Bros Ltd Circus becomes Wirth’s Circus Ltd

1933     

Philip Wirth publishes his autobiography, The Life of Philip Wirth

1934     

West’s Circus crosses the Nullarbor Plain in horse drawn wagons

1936     

Ivan Bros Circus organised by Major Tasman Conder but soon fails

1937     

Death of Philip Wirth, a founder of the original Wirth Bros Circus

1941     

Death of George Wirth, a founder of the original Wirth Bros Circus

1946     

Silver’s Circus launched at Kogarah by Mervyn King and the Hardie family

1953     

Wirth’s Olympia destroyed by fire, the site later occupied by the Victorian Arts Centre

1960     

Con Colleano gives final performance in the E.K. Fernandez Circus, Honolulu

1963     

Spread of television and excessive rail costs force the closure of Wirth’s Circus

1964     

Great Moscow Circus tours Australia under management of Bullen Bros Circus

1969     

Bullen Bros Circus gives final performance at Parramatta, NSW

1973     

New Circus launched in Adelaide and begins touring

1973     

Con Colleano, tightwire artist, dies in Miami, Florida

1973     

Philip Petit walks a tightrope between the southern pylons of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

1974     

Alfred Percival Bullen, founder of Bullen Bros Circus, dies

1978     

Circus Oz launched in Melbourne, a combination of Soapbox Circus and New Circus

1978     

May Wirth, bareback rider, dies in Sarasota, Florida

1979     

Flying Fruit Fly Circus launched by the Murray River Performing Group, Wodonga

1984     

Circus Oz performs in the Los Angelos Olympic Arts Festival

1990     

Circus Summit, a national circus conference, held at the Arts Centre, Melbourne

1997     

Australia Post issues postage stamps to celebrate Australia’s circus sesqui-centenary

2000     

National Institute of Circus Arts opens in Prahran, Melbourne

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