Holden Bros Circus at St Kilda, Melbourne about 1910. This gelatinous silver print was produced as a postcard. The caption written across the bottom of the photograph reads:
“Messrs Holden Bros, Artistic Circus Proprietary. Photo by Geo Wall, St Kilda, Phone Wind 3575”.

In 1883, while working on the construction of the new Coburg railway line, 13-year old Adolphus Holden slipped while jumping from one railway wagon to another. The wheels on one of the wagons passed over one of his legs. Severely mutilated, the leg had to be amputated. While undertaking physical rehabilitation, Adolphus developed his his upper-body strength and, along the way, a passion for gymnastics, He became an expert performer on Roman rings, horizontal bars and the trapeze.

Develops ability on the parallel bars, Adolphus formed a troupe known as The Flying Gordons. Adolphus and his wife, Florrie, had a large family and eventually, with 11 sons to support, he decided to form his own circus. Holden Bros Circus was formed about 1908. Seven sons became experts in one aspect of circus performing or another, including clowning, trick riding, rope spinning, whip cracking, trapeze or slack-wire walking. Several sons played instruments in the circus band.

Travelling by horsedrawn wagons, the circus played up to four towns a week. In 1923, Holden’s exchanged its 10 horsedrawn wagons for motor vehicles. By 1925, the circus had 12 vehicles and could visit up to six towns a week. The circus did not employ tenthands. Instead, the performers – as many as 24 – were responsible for putting up and taking down the tent, and loading and unloading the circus properties onto its vehicles. Holden Bros relied on kerosene lighting until 1914 and then acetylene for a few years. In 1920, Holden Bros switched to electricity produced from a portable generator mounted on the rear of an old King car. In the country areas, people came from miles around to see the new form of lighting.

Holden Bros Circus mostly confined its operations to the state of Victoria but occasionally made limited tours of neighbouring New South Wales and South Australia. Each winter, the circus was laid up and Adolphus and his troupe worked the vaudeville theatre circuits.

Adolphus died in 1940 and Holden Bros Circus ceased operations shortly after. The memorabilia of Adolphus Holden and his family are preserved in the Performing Arts Museum, Melbourne. The singer and songwriter, Mark Holden, is a descendant of the family.


Argus, 20 September 1883
‘Holden Brothers’ Circus’, undated clipping from the The Outdoor Showman, c.1955
‘The Holden Story: 150 Years in the Limelight’, by Maree Holden, unpublished manuscript.

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