MS 9477
Records of Ashton's Circus


Creator: Ashton’s Circus

Title: Records

Date range: 1950-1992

Extent: 5.7 m. (4 boxes + 8 folio boxes + 1 folio)

Reference number: MS 9477

Administrative Information

Access: Available for reference


The papers were forwarded to the National Library on behalf of Ashton’s Circus by Judy Cannon, and were received in two instalments in 1998.

Related materials

In addition to the papers contained in MS 9477, four albums of photographs of Ashton’s Circus performers, taken by Gypsy Pennefeather in 1995-96, are housed in the Pictorial Collection at PIC P1473/1-312/R LOC albums. Two interviews recorded with Douglas, Phyllis and Jan Ashton in 1976 and 1993 form part of the Oral History Collection at ORAL TRC 560/7 and ORAL TRC 2590/DAT-57.

Scope and Content

The collection is chiefly comprised of paper clippings relating to Ashton’s and other circuses, the bulk of which have been pasted into scrapbooks. Obtained from a range of Australian regional and daily newspapers, as well as overseas papers and journals, the cuttings have been grouped in some of the albums according to chronological period or by subject. Other scrapbooks contain memorabilia such as sample tickets, publicity materials, flyers and programs, and a few examples of correspondence.

As a group, the clippings formed the basis of Judy Cannon’s historical study of the circus Take a drum and beat it : the story of the astonishing Ashtons, 1848-1990s. A number of the scrapbooks retain book marks and short notes made by Cannon in the course of her research. Other items such as an Ashton family tree and photocopied records and articles also add to the historical interest of the collection.

As well as documenting the activities of Ashton’s Circus, other performing troupes are represented in the records, and there are sequences of cuttings relating to the Australian tours of the Great Moscow Circus (1971), the German National Circus (1972) and Los Muchachos Spanish boys circus (1975). A number of scrapbooks concern the joint Ashton’s Circus and Degrey-Williams-Kendall production ‘The Clown Who Lost His Circus’, which toured rural New South Wales and interstate centres in 1975. This unusual circus pantomine, which combined performing acts with a play, featured Sydney actors Colin Croft, Anna Russell, Keith Little, Anita Roberts, Peter Williams and Ron May. In addition, further groupings of cuttings record aspects of the careers of the entertainers Tommy Hanlon, Paul Hogan and Will ‘Sugarfoot’ Hutchins.

The clippings also provide interesting insights into animal welfare issues and the pro- and anti-circus movements, such as the Save the Circus Association. On matters relating to these topics there are cuttings albums about the Bacchus Marsh Lion Safari, other lion parks and zoos, and the treatment of circus animals, within the collection.


The records have been placed in manuscript and folio boxes in three sequences according to size. A chronological arrangement has been imposed by Library staff within each sequence.

Historical Note

Ashton’s Circus has its origin in performances given by equestrian James Henry Ashton (c. 1819-1889) in the Royal Circus in Launceston, Tasmania in 1851. In February of the following year Ashton and Signor Cardoza reopened in Sydney as the Olympic Circus. Ashton’s, as it became known, was a large and popular company, touring widely in the eastern Australian colonies. Ashton and his 12 children formed the core of the troupe, and a percentage of takings was often donated back into the local community in the form of building, charity and flood-relief funds.

When Ashton was in his seventies, management of the company was passed to his son James, who with brother Fred administered operations, before pursuing separate circus interests. The first two decades of the twentieth century saw Ashton’s fragment into combinations with other troupes, including partnerships with Hyland’s, FitzGerald Brothers, St Leon’s, Barton’s, Eroni Brothers and Sole’s Circuses.

From 1918, when most of the original family had left circus work, Ashton’s carried on under the direction of successive fathers and sons, Fred, Joe and Doug Ashton

(b. 1920). Today Ashton’s is the oldest operational circus in Australia, and is thought to be the longest surviving circus in the western world.

Judy Cannon arrived in Australia from England in 1970, and was a staff member of the National Library during the 1980s. Now based in Brisbane, she has worked in public relations, and widely as a journalist and freelance writer. Her history of Ashton’s Circus Take a drum and beat it, written in association with Mark St Leon, was published by Tytherleigh Press in 1997.

Box Description

Box 1


1 Clippings album, c. 1950s-1989 (mostly undated)

2 Clippings album, c. 1959-69, including tickets, flyers, 1967-68 tour of New Zealand

3 Clippings album, 1967-68

4-7 Clippings, articles and other papers, 1968, 1984, 1989-91

Box 2


8 Clippings, 1971

9 Clippings, 1972-73, 1978

10 Clippings relating to 1975-76 tour of New Zealand

11 Clippings album, 1978

12 General articles and clippings, c. 1980s

13 Clippings, 1986

14 Clippings, 1987

15 Clippings regarding animal welfare, c. 1987-89

16 Clippings, 1988

Box 3


17-18 Clippings, 1988

19-22 Clippings, 1989

23 Clippings, 1990

Box 4


24-26 Clippings, 1990

27 Clippings album, 1990-92

28 Clippings, 1991, 1993

29 Issues of Bandwagon : the journal of the Circus Historical Society, 1988, 1991, together with photocopied historical articles about circuses

Folio Box Description

Folio box 1


30 Clippings album, 1950, 1975-87

31 Clippings album, 1950-80, including Monte Carlo International Circus

32 Scrapbook containing invitations, tickets, programs, publicity brochures, posters and flyers, 1950-90

33 Miscellaneous undated clippings and memorabilia, c. 1950s-1989, including Save the Circus Association of Victoria petition

34 Clippings album, February 1951-November 1980

35 Clippings album, 1951-87

36 Clippings album, 1971-72, together with official program for 1956 season of Shrine Polack Bros. Circus

Folio box 2


37 Clippings album, 1959-69

38 Miscellaneous clippings, 1959-85

39 Clippings album, 1966, 1974-78

40 Clippings album, 1967-82

41 Clippings album, 1967-83, including articles about Tommy Hanlon

42 Clippings album, 1968-86

Folio box 3


43 Clippings album, 1971-72

44 Clippings album, 1971-74, including ‘The Clown Who Lost His Circus’, the German National Circus, Ashton’s Circus and other circus acts

45 Bacchus Marsh Lion Park, 1971-74; visit by the Great Moscow Circus, 1971

46 Miscellaneous clippings, 1971-74

47 ‘The Clown Who Lost His Circus’, 1974-75; miscellaneous clippings, including Will ‘Sugarfoot’ Hutchins, 1971-79

48 Clippings album, 1971-85

49 Clippings concerning lion parks, fauna and game reserves, marine sanctuaries, safaris, zoos and animals, 1971-87

Folio box 4


50 Clippings album concerning 1972 tour by German National Circus

51 Clippings album, 1972-86

52 Animals, 1973-84

53 Miscellaneous clippings, 1974, including television commercial featuring Paul Hogan

54 ‘The Clown Who Lost His Circus’, 1974-75, Wentworth Park, Sydney, clippings and programs

55 Clippings, 1974-76, including lion parks, zoos

56 Clippings album relating to tour by Los Muchachos, 1975, including autographed program

57 Miscellaneous clippings, 1976-77, including animal welfare and tickets for Los Muchachos tour, 1975

58 New Zealand tour, 1975-76

Folio box 5


59 Clippings album, 1975-78

60 Clippings, 1976-80, together with photocopied article ‘Saga of the Circus’, People, 22 April 1953, pp. 15-17

61 Clippings album, Perth season of Ashton’s Circus, 29 July-14 August 1977, including marketing and publicity

62 Clippings album relating to Ashton’s and other circuses, 1977-87; Los Muchachos tour, 1975; animal articles, c. 1950s

63 Clippings album, 1977-90

64 Other circuses, 1977-92

65 Clippings album, 1978-84

Folio box 6


66 Clippings album, 1980-81

67 Other circuses, 1980-90

68 Clippings album, 1 January-15 December 1982

69 Clippings album, January-July 1983

70 Clippings album, 1984-86

71 Advertisements, 1984-87

72 Clippings album, 1985, including photocopied extracts from the Wagga Wagga advertiser (1879) and other newspapers, 1857-58

73 Clippings album, 1985-87

Folio box 7


74 Clippings album, 1986-89

75 Clippings album of paid newspaper advertisements, 30 July 1986- 31 March 1990

76 Clippings album, October 1987-June 1988

77 Clippings album, June-December 1988

78 Clippings album, November 1988-March 1990

79 Clippings album of paid newspaper advertisements, 2 April 1990- 13 May 1992

80 Clippings album regarding animal welfare, 1990-92

Folio box 8


81 Clippings album, 1979-82

Folio box 9


82 Ashton family tree

83 Photocopied photograph of Marie Louise Melville and Madame Schreiber, c. 1923, together with clipping about Ashton’s Circus, 1983

84 Circus drawings by Grade 1, Christ the King Primary School, Graceville [Qld]

85 Ashton’s Circus poster, c. 1980s

October 2000.