JacalynParticipant18 Apr 2021 at 3:11 pmPost count: 1
I am looking for information on my Great Grandfather
He travelled wit Barnum & Bailey Circus and possibly Ringling’s
He was billed as UNZIE – An aboriginal Albino he was actually Born in Australia with Irish Parents.
He was born 1867 married in 1904 So I think he toured late 1880’s to early 1900’s
I have some information but would love to find out more.
Thank you JacalynMark St LeonParticipant19 Apr 2021 at 8:46 amPost count: 17
Many thanks for your enquiry. I won’t be able to give you too much direct information but just suggest some leads you could follow up.
In Australia, circus and sideshows were conducted as quite different entertainments under separate management. If Unzie was displayed in Australia, it would have been in a separate sideshow and not as part of a circus. However, if he was Aboriginal, even an Albino one, it would have been unlikely that he was displayed in Australia owing to protective laws.
In American sideshows and circus were integrated into a single enterprise. The so-called “midway” or pathway leading up to the circus entrance would be taken up on either side with sideshows of various descriptions, including sideshows that presented native peoples from places such as African Asia and Australia.
In 1883, Barnum sent his agent, RA Cunningham to Australia to “procure” some Aboriginal people to bring back to America and present in his sideshow. He literally kidnapped a group of Aborigines in Queensland, enticed them on board a vessel and took them back to the USA to be exhibited in Barnum’s sideshow. They included “Tambo” who died in the USA and whose remains were discovered many years later.
If Unzie was born in 1867, he would have been about 16 and may have been one of the group that Cunningham kidnapped. Do you know what part of Australia he came from? You can find out more details in Rosalyn Poingnant’s book Professional Savages. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy here at home.
If Unzie got to America by more legitimate means, you might find his name on trans-pacific shipping lists that you can consult on ancestry.com and probably under his non-Indigenous name of Martin Harlow.
For information on Unzie in American circus, you could contact the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. The archivist there, Pete Shrake, may be able to help.
Barnum died in 1891. His partner, James A Bailey conducted the Barnum & Bailey Circus until his death in 1906 when it was bought by their main rival, Ringling Bros. Ringling operated the two circuses as separate enterprises until 1919 when they were merged into one circus, Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey. All of these circuses had sideshows where unusual people from foreign lands were exhibited.
There have been several books written on Barnum and his show activities.
You might get more information from Poignant’s book but, as far as I am aware, there were not very many Aboriginal people who were exhibited in American circus sideshows.
Also, have a look also at the website of US Circus Historical Society, circus org.com
Hope his helps a bit.
Mark St Leon
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