Monday, June 03, 2013

Sepia Saturday - The Circus

Late again. I really am going to have to start this page during the week, not last thing on Saturday.  I had real problems with this theme as there was nothing in my collection that fit in any way. Instead I went looking for Australian circus history and discovered lots of stuff about a circus that was a huge part of my childhood  -  Ashton's Circus. For as long as I can remember part of my school holidays was enriched by the arrival of this circus with its trucks, cages, animals, big tent and performers of all shapes and sizes.

Ashton's circus according to Wickipedia was founded in Launceston, Tasmania in 1851 and was the second company officially registered in Australia as a legitimate trader. It is also the oldest surviving circus in the Western World and amazingly is still owned and run by the Ashton family. It was started by James Henry Ashton who had first performed in another Tasmanian circus as a bare-back rider in 1848. Ashton's circus began as a small bush circus performing first in small country towns, but growing until it was known throughout Australia.
james Henry Ashton - c1875

I have no shots of caravans, though I can remember some of these early trucks

 Most of the performers were members of the Ashton family.

 Ashton children often began performing as young as 18 months. At any performance there could be up to 4 generations of Ashtons in the ring.

August 1901 The Wyalong Advocate
This talented company opened at West Wyalong on Thursday night to a bumper house. The name of Ashton is very familiar in the ears of all, and the good opinion so long established is still firmly held. The performance on the present occasion was as good, if not superior to any circus. The company will perform again tonight (Saturday) when all who wish to enjoy a good evening should be present.

The circus was enthusiastically received, though it was not  without its disasters as these newspaper excerpts show.


GULGONG, Wednesday.
At Ashton's circus last night some seats broke, throwing 150 persons on to the ground. Sydney Saunders had his leg broken, and James Brooks was internally ínjured, while a number were seriously hurt.

GEORGETOWN, October 14th, 1878  Australian Register

Georgetown was visited this evening by a small hurricane. Ashton's Circus was here last night, but there was no performance, the tent having to be taken down, as tbe proprietor was afraid of its being carried away.

Ashton's circus appeared to a large audience at Merriwa on Tuesday night last. As the circus was leaving town for Cassilis next morning Mr. Del force senr's, horse took fright at the elephant. The horse was tied in the owner's yard, and breaking away galloped around the yard, smashing the sulky to which it was attached.

15 November 1935



Sydney, Friday, 05 Dec 1931

An elephant which'escaped from Ashton's circus near Ashford in the north-west several days ago has not  yet been recaptured. The animal has been seen several times and in five days travelled 100 miles. So far she has done no damage, to property. The country is in splendid condition sud there is plenty of vegetation to sustain her. The animal was chained to a log and when frightened by a snake broke the chain and dashed into the bush. '

GOONDIWINDI, Tuesday. 09 Dec 1931

An elephant, which escaped from Ashton's Circus, was captured about 1 o'clock to-day at Clifton Station, 27 miles from Tenterfield, the animal allowed itself to be lassooed, and is now on its way back to Goondiwindi.

09 Jan 1884 The Argus


There was a miraculous escape from a serious accident at Ashton's circus, at Emmaville, near the Queensland border, last night. The performance had just commenced when a thunderstorm came on, breaking the centre pole. The tent collapsed and caught fire. The spectators were much alarmed, but the flames were quickly extinguished Several persons were slightly injured.

 TRARALGON RECORD   Mon 2 February 1931 

Ashtons' Circus. Ashton Bros. Circus is coming to Traralgon on Thursday, February 5th. 'T'he old folk of this district will remember the Ashton Family. The show has come down through the many score years to the present proprietor (Mr Joe Ashton) in conjunction with the other members of this talent ed family, all born and bred in the sawdust ring. Miss Mary, In her brilliant equestrienne act; Mr Fred in his thrillling four horse act - a really marvellous exhibition; Mr Alfie Warren, assisted by other clowns, is a scream from start to finish. There is that wonderful combination - the Warren Family--with the little tots and the midget twins, also a very clever tight wire act. Mr William Maynard has never been equalled in his slack wire walking feat, which, once seen is never forgotten. Miss Dulcy Lloyd in her juggling act is very pretty. Tonto, the Master Juggler and Conjurer. The largest elephant in captivity (41/2 tons) does a very clever act . The performance is accompanied all through by a very fine band under the leadership of Mr Fred Rowe a well known identity in band circles. Hours 7.15, until 7. 30, Grand Parade 8 p.m. At Mur- well on Wednesday, Feb 4th: Rose' dale, Feb 6th: Heyfield, Feb. 7th.

I actually quite enjoyed doing this research on something other than my family for a change. I hope all my facts are accurate, though I may have got some of the newspaper dates wrong. There were some conflicting ones.

Liz Needle


  1. Although I haven't been to the circus since my kids were young, the excitement of one is contagious even in sepia! Thanks for the history lesson!!...:)JP

  2. Well done Liz. For a late post you managed a wealth of on-theme material.