SAWDUST AND SPANGLES
SOME OLD-TIME CIRCUSES. (By gT~R. H.) The presence in our midst of a modern and up-to-date circus such as that of Messrs W r irth Bros, seems a fitting opportunity' to'revive memories of some of tho circuses of the early days. Other times, other manners, holds good with regard to circuses as to' more weighty matters. The first circus, which was that of Mr W. H. Foley, lives in mv memory as a sort of youthful dream of delight. The one j'ady rider who, all muslin billows, and with a coloured scarf streaming behind her as she flew round the ring pirouetting on tho broad kind of platform carried by the steed, was in my boyish eyes reafly a thing of beauty and a joy for ever. The circus, which was here in the late fifties, was pitched on a piece of ground belonging to my father, and, of course, —as has been the case in later times for more years than I care to remember—l was a dead
head. It was a modest little show, one lady rider, Mdlle. Tournear, "ono piebald pony, Mr A. E. Bird, a contortionist and tight-rope walker, and a clown. In those days a kind of dramatic sketch, in which the principal artistes and, of course, the fiery, untamed steed figured, wero much in vogue. Perhaps this was what led subsequently to Mr and Mrs AY. H. Foley opening the first theatre in Canterbury in Lyttelton. In October of 1863 the second circus performance in Christchurch was given on a site in Worcester street now occupied by tho Federal Club. This was by the Californian Circus. Mr John Laurence Hall, afterwards the pioneer theatrical manager of Christchurch, was connected with this circus, and made his first professional appearance in Christchurch therewith as a Shakesperian jester. This was tho euphonious title given in those days to the class of performers we now know as clowns. It is a strange coincidence that the lessee of the first theatre in Christchurch, like Mr W. H. Foley, tho circus pioneer of Canterbury, also gravitated from what is known in the profession as "horse opera" to the stage, opening the Princess, afterwards known as the Theatre Royal, on Boxing night, 1863.
For some years, so far as Christchurch was concerned, circuses were not. In February, 1867, Cooke. Zoyara, and W T ilson Circus was opened at the back of what is now Tattersalls, in Hereford street. The Zoyara connected with tho circus, it may be mentioned, was in the circus, Ella Zoyara, a fascinating young lady rider, who ensnared the affections of all the young bloods of the period. In private life, however, "Ella" was a married man with a young family. Mr A. E. Bird, who was a member of the pioneer circus company, belonged to this oue, and for a-wager of £20 walked from tho Provincial Hotel to the Avon on stilts 2uft high, then considered a most remarkable feat.
It was not until February of 1873 that the first of the large circuses subsequently visiting Christchurch came here. Tin's was Chiarini's, and for the first time .ho site which afterwards became the recognised camping ground of circuses, the large open paddock opposite the old Theatre Royal, was used. The principal attraction of Chiarini's Circus was the number of very fine trained horses. This was followed in 1876 by Wilson's Circus. One of the principal performers in this circus, Omar Kingsley, was the Ella Zoyara referred to previously. A smaller organisation known as Barlow's Circus opened early in 1877, on the usual site. The first of the more modern extensive circus organisations visiting us was Cooper and Bailey's American Company, which commenced a season on the Gloucester street site, in March, 1878. A ret am visit was paid by Chiarini's Circus, in December, 1879.
One of the largest and most complete circuses seen in Christchurch, an organisation which would vie successfully with even those of the present date, opened in December, 1880, in a paddock opposite Coker's Hotel. There were three shows combined —a ci-'cus, a large menagerie, and a number of side shows, including two clever dwarfs, Baron Littlefinger and Count Rosebud, and a living stsloton, etc. This was followed, on the Gloucester street location, in 1882, by Woodycar and Ross's Circus, and tho same company paid a return visit in 1883. In 1884 Chiarini's Circus came again, with whom the Frost Family made their first appearance here. In 1885, the International Circua, with whom were the Stoodley's, played on the usual site. In the next year a visit was paid by St. Leon's Circus, and this was followed by Herbert and Fitzgerald's Circus in the next year. The old-timo memories may be fitly rounded off by noting that it was in February, 1890. that Wirth Bros.' Circus, then largely comprising the clever members of the family) P a id its first visit to Christchurch. A lengthy and successful season was played in the Palace Rink, now the Colosseum.
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