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
1898      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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Australia
Circus Timeline

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

1898

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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