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    Adelaide - Entertainment and the Arts


    Circuses in Adelaide

    (Taken from Geoffrey H. Manning's A Colonial Experience)


    In the halcyon days of the mid-nineteenth century the appearance of a circus in the city or provincial town was always hailed with delight by old and young. Paterfamilias would attend the performance in the evening just to give the children a treat, but it was noticeable fact that the parents always appeared to take as much interest in the performance as the children.

    The vagaries of a trick pony, the bareback riding, the ground and lofty tumbling, daring feats performed on the trapeze and the merriment of the clowns would provoke parental laughter often in excess of that emanating from the children.

    In this class of amusement Burton's Circus was well and favourably known throughout South Australia, as well as in neighbouring colonies. The proprietor was popular and his circus had a long career. Another well-known circus was Ashton's while, later, Bird and Taylor's came on the scene and produced a good show, once running in opposition to Burton in the city.

    A great draw was the time-honoured farce of 'Dick Turpin's Ride to York' and this item alone always ensured a crowded house. The 'Liverpool Grand Steeplechase' was another popular item. The riders, some dressed as jockeys, others in grotesque costumes would take their horses at racing speed over hurdles erected in the centre of the tent and strange to say accidents rarely happened.

    Adelaide's First Circus

    [In 1855] the only circus in Australia, known as Burton's, was a frequent visitor to Adelaide and the names of Henry and Walter Burton (father and son), Pablo Fanque, Ord Gillham and the mare, Black Bess, may be best remembered by oldsters. They may also not forget that on one occasion the troupe was to make a 'triumphal entry' into Adelaide. The papers announced that such was to happen and that one of its members would drive a chariot to which would be attached twelve horses.

    The spirit of emulation was thereby occasioned in the breast of Mr John Rounsevell, then connected with his father's coaching establishment in Pirie Street, now Hill & Co's, and he yoked up sixteen horses to one of their coaches and, with hooks braced to his arms wherewith to hold some of the ribbons, he successfully drove all through Adelaide, down to the Black Forest, and on his return turned from Currie Street into Leigh Street and thence into Hindley Street. To those who can gauge the turning of such corners with such an elongated team may without fear of 'blowing' say that this beat the circus and the record, as far as South Australia is concerned. [An Editor's note says - 'Mr John Rounsevell states that he drove twenty-four greys on this occasion...']

    In 1865 the circus band was the cause of a nuisance and an irate citizen wrote to the local press complaining that his carriage was standing in King William Street with two ladies and two children in it. 'Suddenly the band let forth with a furious burst of martial music and my horses started off and if it had not been for the courage of a bystander, who bravely seized the reins, a serious accident would probably have happened.

    In 1897, aged 72, Henry Burton, 'the pioneer circus proprietor of the colonies', was rendered all but helpless with paralysis of the right side and could not move either arm or leg without assistance. A newspaper report at the time said that 'his well known and his many donations to hospitals and other charitable objects, public and private, amounted to many hundreds of pounds.' This, indeed, entitled him to some claim on the kindness and generosity of his friends and others. He held Life Governorship in the following hospitals - Ballarat, Castlemaine, Bendigo, Beechworth, Wangaratta and many others.

    In 1896 Adelaide lost a large-hearted man and one of the most popular citizens through the death of Mr Leon Maurice Tier, who had been a familiar figure in the city for many years, and particularly noteworthy for the zeal with which he promoted the charitable expedients for relieving of the poor.

    Many a South Australian of my vintage has revelled in the humour, comicalities, sallies and athletic feats of 'Mick' Tier, the cleverest clown of his time in Australia, when Burton's Circus was considered the greatest combination under canvas then 'doing the Antipodes'. Mr Tier joined Burton's Great National Circus from Victoria in 1871 and was a sort of understudy to the late Tom Wieland, at that time regarded as the Australian Grimaldi.

    Burton's was then pitched on a vacant acre in Pirie Street and Mr Tier used to play Tom King to Henry Burton's Dick Turpin. He was then a thick-set, muscular, exceedingly active all-round acrobat and on Wieland leaving the business to take Tattersalls Hotel in Hindley Street - at one time the Blenheim - Mr Tier succeeded him in the favour of the public as clown and exceedingly good clowning his was, as he possessed a 'pretty wit' and knew how to apply it.

    He travelled with Burton's for many years but retired from the business to marry Miss Greenshields, daughter of the then landlord of the Freemason's Tavern, and took the Morning Star Hotel at Chain of Ponds, after removing to the Commercial Hotel, Port Adelaide and later to the Tattersalls Hotel. About 1880 he was landlord of the Princess Hotel, Melbourne, and on his return from an overseas trip a few years prior to his death he became landlord of The Royal, a house which the famous lamented 'Bob, the Railway Dog' made his headquarters.

    He was never appealed to in vain for assistance to the needy, especially in connection with theatrical benefits, and was always ready to take part in the programme or contribute in kind to the fund which was raised. He could sing a good song, was an excellent low comedian and altogether a most attractive performer on the variety stage. He had his failings as all men do, but in his character were many lovable traits which well entitled him to be regarded as 'a rough diamond.'

    General Notes

    Burton's circus is described in the Register,
    16 July 1856, page 2e,
    5 and 20 April 1858, pages 3d and 2h,
    19 January 1859, page 3c,
    3 January 1857, pages 3h-5h,
    10 April 1858, page 8c,
    8 May 1858, page 1e (supp.),
    2 January 1862, page 3d,
    9 January 1863, page 2g,
    16 October 1869, page 2f; Advertiser,
    12 and 20 March 1877, pages 5f and 6b.
    Information on Henry Burton is in the Register,
    16 September 1865, page 3e (prosecuted),
    22 September 1897, page 5a,
    25 September 1897, page 12a.

    Reminiscences of early circuses are in the Register,
    30 July 1921, page 12e.

    Adams's Circus is reported upon in the Observer,
    24 December 1864, page 7f and
    Ashton's Circus on
    1 April 1865, pages 7g-1f (supp.).

    Information on the Great World Circus is in the Register,
    4 July 1866, page 2e.

    Cooke & Zotara's circus is discussed in the Register,
    5 July 1866, page 2d,
    7 July 1866, page 7h.

    "The American Circus" is in the Observer,
    28 March 1874, page 7g,
    "The Asiatic Circus" on
    6 March 1875, page 12g,
    "Wilson's Circus" on
    3 February 1877, page 5d,
    The Lantern,
    3 February 1877, page 13,
    "Cooper & Bailey's Circus" on
    17 March 1877, page 5d.

    "Murray's Great World Circus" is in the Register,
    18 January 1875, page 5c.

    Wilson's Circus is reported upon in the Register,
    27 January 1877, page 6c.
    1 May 1882, page 6c.

    A circus in Waymouth Street is described in the Register,
    12, 13 and 15 March 1877, pages 5e, 5a and 5a; also see
    23 February 1878, page 6c,
    24 May 1881, page 5c.
    Sketches are in the SA Figaro,
    4 April 1877, page 4.

    "Smoking in the Circus" is in the Register,
    6 February 1877, page 5e,
    10 February 1877, page 14b.
    Also see South Australia - Social Matters - Miscellany - Smoking.

    "Cole's Mammoth Circus" is in the Observer,
    22 January 1881, page 158c.

    "The Circus Nuisance" is in the Register,
    4 May 1880, page 5a-c.

    Information on Chiari's Circus is in the Register,
    13 April 1880, page 5b.

    "The Great American Circus and Menagerie" is in the Express,
    15 January 1881, page 3b,
    "Cole's Monster Circus" on
    17 January 1881, page 3c,
    "Early Morning at the Circus" on
    22 January 1881, page 3b,
    "Leon's Circus" on
    5 March 1883, page 3f,
    "Chiarini's Circus" on
    10, 12 and 13 May 1884, pages 2c, 3f and 2d.

    "Some Experiences of a Circus Proprietor" is in the Chronicle,
    5 July 1884, page 5f.

    A performance of Fryer and Co's circus is reported in the Register,
    4 February 1886, page 7c and
    5 January 1887, page 7a.

    Information on Herbert and Fitzgerald's Circus is in the Express,
    21 December 1886, page 4c,
    of Harmstorm's Circus on
    24 May 1890, page 4b,
    12, 17 and 24 May 1898, pages 3e, 3e and 2g,
    22 December 1902, page 7g.
    "Killed by a Tiger" appears on
    17 June 1898, page 2e.

    Information on Wirth's Circus is in the Register,
    27 April 1889, page 6h,
    on Wirth's Wild West Show on
    15, 17 and 21 December 1890, pages 6h, 6b and 7f; also see
    23 December 1891, page 6a.
    Wirth's circus is described in the Register,
    19 January 1903, page 3i,
    31 January 1903, page 44 (photograph),
    6 August 1904, page 25 (photographs),
    The Critic,
    24 August 1904, page 27,
    22 December 1920, page 12 (photographs),
    photographs of elephants bathing in the River Torrens in the Observer,
    9 January 1909, page 31; also see
    3 January 1910, page 11a,
    20 June 1912, page 9f,
    1 July 1925, page 10c,
    2 July 1927, page 33 (photograph),
    20 June 1929, pages 15h-16e.
    An obituary of Philip Wirth is in The News,
    1 September 1937, page 1e;
    a photograph is in the Chronicle,
    9 September 1937, page 32.

    Information on Harmston's circus is in the Register,
    24 May 1890, page 6f.

    "A Circus Parade" is in the Express,
    17 February 1892, page 4e;
    information on Sells Brothers Circus on
    18 and 27 February 1892, pages 4b and 2c,
    18 and 29 February 1892, pages 6e and 5a.

    "Fillis' Circus - A Chat With the Manager" is in the Chronicle,
    4 March 1893, page 7c; also see
    25 March 1893, page 15f,
    17 and 18 March 1893, pages 6c and 7b,
    12 July 1894, page 6c,
    27 February 1893, page 3g,
    4, 16, 20 and 30 March 1893, pages 4g, 3f, 4c and 4d.

    Information on Fitzgerald's circus is in the Express,
    27 December 1893, page 4d,
    17 September 1895, page 3f,
    4, 10 and 18 November 1897, pages 4b, 4a and 2g,
    27 December 1901, page 4b,
    An obituary of Daniel Fitzgerald is in the Observer,
    10 February 1906, page 38.

    Information on Woodloch's circus is in the Express,
    22 December 1894, page 3c,
    Bristol's American Circus on
    23 and 27 December 1897, pages 3f and 1 (sketch).

    An obituary of L.M. Tier, a jester in Burton's circus, is in the Register,
    10 February 1896, pages 5a-6g,
    15 February 1896, page 29b.

    Information on Worley's Circus is in the Register,
    2 January 1922, page 8f,
    "Return of Sole Brothers" on
    8 September 1924, page 12e.

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