Guide to the Records of Ashton's Circus


MS 9477, MS Acc06.115

National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Collection Summary

Ashton's Circus
Records of Ashton's Circus
Date Range
ca. 1900-ca. 2006
Collection Number
MS 9477, MS Acc06.115
5.43 metres (4 boxes, 8 folio boxes, 1 folio packet, 1 file)
Language of Materials
National Library of Australia


Scope and Contents

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.

Conditions Governing Access

Please refer to the collection's catalogue record for the access conditions (

Conditions Governing Use

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Records of Ashton's Circus, National Library of Australia, [class number, box number and series and/or file number]'.


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.

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.


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.

Finding Aid Source(s)

Please note: This finding aid may comprise or contain descriptive information provided by donors, researchers and/or volunteers.

Collection Retrieval Advice

Please note: each consignment in this collection has a separate box number sequence (i.e. there may be multiple Box 1s). Please cite the relevant Class number as well as the Box number when requesting retrieval of material from the collection.

Administrative History

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.

Item Descriptions

Class MS 9477. Original consignment

Comprises paper clippings documenting the activities of Ashton's and other circuses, used by Judy Cannon in the writing of Take a drum and beat it. Most of the cuttings have been pasted into scrapbooks, and some include memorabilia such as sample tickets, publicity material, flyers and programs, and a few examples of correspondence. Other items such as an Ashton family tree and photocopies of a few early accounts of the circus add to the historical interest of the collection. Other performing troupes represented in the collection include the Australian tours of the Great Moscow Circus, 1971, the German National Circus, 1972, and Los Muchachos Spanish boys circus in 1975. Aspects of the careers of entertainers Tommy Hanlon, Paul Hogan and Will "Sugarfoot" Hutchins are also recorded. In addition, the cuttings provide interesting insights into animal welfare issues, including the treatment of circus animals, the pro- and anti-circus movements, and the operations of zoos and animals parks such as the Bacchus Marsh Lion Safari.

Contained in 4 boxes, 8 fol. boxes, 1 fol. packet.

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

Clippings album, c. 1959-69, including tickets, flyers, 1967-68 tour of New Zealand (File 2) - Box 1

Clippings album, 1967-68 (File 3) - Box 1

Clippings, articles and other papers, 1968, 1984, 1989-91 (File 4-7) - Box 1

Clippings, 1971 (File 8) - Box 2

Clippings, 1972-73, 1978 (File 9) - Box 2

Clippings relating to 1975-76 tour of New Zealand (File 10) - Box 2

Clippings album, 1978 (File 11) - Box 2

General articles and clippings, c. 1980s (File 12) - Box 2

Clippings, 1986 (File 13) - Box 2

Clippings, 1987 (File 14) - Box 2

Clippings regarding animal welfare, c. 1987-89 (File 15) - Box 2

Clippings, 1988 (File 16) - Box 2

Clippings, 1988 (File 17-18) - Box 3

Clippings, 1989 (File 19-22) - Box 3

Clippings, 1990 (File 23) - Box 3

Clippings, 1990 (File 24-26) - Box 4

Clippings album, 1990-92 (File 27) - Box 4

Clippings, 1991, 1993 (File 28) - Box 4

Issues of Bandwagon: the journal of the Circus Historical Society, 1988, 1991, together with photocopied historical articles about circuses (File 29) - Box 4

Clippings album, 1950, 1975-87 (File 30) - Folio-Box 1

Clippings album, 1950-80, including Monte Carlo International Circus (File 31) - Folio-Box 1

Scrapbook containing invitations, tickets, programs, publicity brochures, posters and flyers, 1950-90 (File 32) - Folio-Box 1

Miscellaneous undated clippings and memorabilia, c. 1950s-1989, including Save the Circus Association of Victoria petition (File 33) - Folio-Box 1

Clippings album, February 1951-November 1980 (File 34) - Folio-Box 1

Clippings album, 1951-87 (File 35) - Folio-Box 1

Clippings album, 1971-72, together with official program for 1956 season of Shrine Polack Bros. Circus (File 36) - Folio-Box 1

Clippings album, 1959-69 (File 37) - Folio-Box 2

Miscellaneous clippings, 1959-85 (File 38) - Folio-Box 2

Clippings album, 1966, 1974-78 (File 39) - Folio-Box 2

Clippings album, 1967-82 (File 40) - Folio-Box 2

Clippings album, 1967-83, including articles about Tommy Hanlon (File 41) - Folio-Box 2

Clippings album, 1968-86 (File 42) - Folio-Box 2

Clippings album, 1971-72 (File 43) - Folio-Box 3

Clippings album, 1971-74, including 'The Clown Who Lost His Circus', the German National Circus, Ashton's Circus and other circus acts (File 44) - Folio-Box 3

Bacchus Marsh Lion Park, 1971-74; visit by the Great Moscow Circus, 1971 (File 45) - Folio-Box 3

Miscellaneous clippings, 1971-74 (File 46) - Folio-Box 3

'The Clown Who Lost His Circus', 1974-75; miscellaneous clippings, including Will 'Sugarfoot' Hutchins, 1971-79 (File 47) - Folio-Box 3

Clippings album, 1971-85 (File 48) - Folio-Box 3

Clippings concerning lion parks, fauna and game reserves, marine sanctuaries, safaris, zoos and animals, 1971-87 (File 49) - Folio-Box 3

Clippings album concerning 1972 tour by German National Circus (File 50) - Folio-Box 4

Clippings album, 1972-86 (File 51) - Folio-Box 4

Animals, 1973-84 (File 52) - Folio-Box 4

Miscellaneous clippings, 1974, including television commercial featuring Paul Hogan (File 53) - Folio-Box 4

'The Clown Who Lost His Circus', 1974-75, Wentworth Park, Sydney, clippings and programs (File 54) - Folio-Box 4

Clippings, 1974-76, including lion parks, zoos (File 55) - Folio-Box 4

Clippings album relating to tour by Los Muchachos, 1975, including autographed program (File 56) - Folio-Box 4

Miscellaneous clippings, 1976-77, including animal welfare and tickets for Los Muchachos tour, 1975 (File 57) - Folio-Box 4

New Zealand tour, 1975-76 (File 58) - Folio-Box 4

Clippings album, 1975-78 (File 59) - Folio-Box 5

Clippings, 1976-80, together with photocopied article 'Saga of the Circus', People, 22 April 1953, pp. 15-17 (File 60) - Folio-Box 5

Clippings album, Perth season of Ashton's Circus, 29 July-14 August 1977, including marketing and publicity (File 61) - Folio-Box 5

Clippings album relating to Ashton's and other circuses, 1977-87; Los Muchachos tour, 1975; animal articles, c. 1950s (File 62) - Folio-Box 5

Clippings album, 1977-90 (File 63) - Folio-Box 5

Other circuses, 1977-92 (File 64) - Folio-Box 5

Clippings album, 1978-84 (File 65) - Folio-Box 5

Clippings album, 1980-81 (File 66) - Folio-Box 6

Other circuses, 1980-90 (File 67) - Folio-Box 6

Clippings album, 1 January-15 December 1982 (File 68) - Folio-Box 6

Clippings album, January-July 1983 (File 69) - Folio-Box 6

Clippings album, 1984-86 (File 70) - Folio-Box 6

Advertisements, 1984-87 (File 71) - Folio-Box 6

Clippings album, 1985, including photocopied extracts from the Wagga Wagga advertiser (1879) and other newspapers, 1857-58 (File 72) - Folio-Box 6

Clippings album, 1985-87 (File 73) - Folio-Box 6

Clippings album, 1986-89 (File 74) - Folio-Box 7

Clippings album of paid newspaper advertisements, 30 July 1986- 31 March 1990 (File 75) - Folio-Box 7

Clippings album, October 1987-June 1988 (File 76) - Folio-Box 7

Clippings album, June-December 1988 (File 77) - Folio-Box 7

Clippings album, November 1988-March 1990 (File 78) - Folio-Box 7

Clippings album of paid newspaper advertisements, 2 April 1990- 13 May 1992 (File 79) - Folio-Box 7

Clippings album regarding animal welfare, 1990-92 (File 80) - Folio-Box 7

Clippings album, 1979-82 (File 81) - Folio-Box 8

Ashton family tree (Item 82) - Folio-Box 9

Photocopied photograph of Marie Louise Melville and Madame Schreiber, c. 1923, together with clipping about Ashton's Circus, 1983 (Item 83) - Folio-Box 9

Circus drawings by Grade 1, Christ the King Primary School, Graceville [Qld] (Item 84) - Folio-Box 9

Ashton's Circus poster, c. 1980s (Item 85) - Folio-Box 9

Class Acc06-115. Consignment added 2006

Comprises an original photograph of Wirth's Circus, featuring Thomas Dunn, dating from a tour of New Zealand, ca. early 1900s (photographer W. Hall Raine, Wellington), together with one page featuring colour copies of a photograph of James Henry Ashton, a photograph of Vera Ashton (sitting) and Ethel Ashton, and the 1920 burial certificate for Elizabeth Ashton.

Contained in 1 folder.