I recently bid successfully for a portfolio of photographs that had been collected by the late Welby Cooke, a member of the Wirth circus family and one of the riders in May Wirth’s troupe of riders.
May Wirth (1894-1978), the greatest bareback rider of all time, was born “May Emmeline Zinga” into a circus family at Bundaberg, Queensland. At the age of seven, she was adopted by Marizles Wirth Martin, a sister of the Wirth circus brothers. May was trained in all the circus arts and eventually took the professional name of “May Wirth”. May made her American debut in New York in 1912 with Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth. She and her troupe of riders became one of the great favourites of American circus. During the winter off-season, the troupe played vaudeville dates throughout the US, the UK and Continental Europe.
In 1917, the troupe was joined by another Australian, Phil St Leon, who later took the professional name of “Phil Wirth”. Phil married May’s step-sister, Stella.
Here then is a selection of the photographs of May Wirth and her troupe: