equestrian beginnings – Ashton’s circus

From the Illustrated Sydney News: 6 May 1854 comes this image of a circus performance at Hanging Rock Diggings.  Gold was discovered in Hanging Rock (SE of Tamworth in New South Wales) in late 1851.  The touring circus was formed by horseman James Henry Ashton who appears in the Australian Dictionary of Biography under the entry for his sons whose dynasty went on to include exotic animals in their shows.  The inclusion of exotic animals such as elephants and lions in circus is now banned across many (but not all) jurisdictions in Australia.

Aston's Circus - Hanging Rock diggings 1854

[James Henry Ashton] whose real name may have been Wild, was reputedly a clog-dancer and circus performer from Colchester, Essex, England, who had arrived in Australia in the 1840s. After success as a ‘bold and fearless’ equestrian at Radford’s Amphitheatre, Hobart Town, in 1848-49 and at Port Phillip, he performed at John Malcolm’s Amphitheatre, Sydney, in September 1851 and later at J. S. Noble’s Olympic Circus. His first wife Mary died aged 19 at Maitland in 1852, and next year at Hanging Rock, near Tamworth, he married Elizabeth Critchley. By May 1854 he had formed Ashton‘s Royal Olympic Circus and for the next thirty-five years he toured eastern Australia with his variously grandly titled circus.



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