One of the greatest shows we had up to 1881 was Cooper and Baileys’ circus and menagerie, which were located near the Transcontinental Hotel, Roma Street. It was the first time we had seen lions, tigers, and elephants, and any spare minutes we had we put in at the menagerie.
Just as we got down to the Bank of New South Wales corner, about 7.30pm, we heard a man calling out “Capture of the Kelly Gang,” “Capture of the Kelly Gang,” crowds following and buying the printed slip he was selling for 6d.
Colin dived in and got one and off we went to the circus. At the ticket office, Colin handed in what he thought was a half sovereign, but the ticket man pointed out that it was a 6d. We were not long in realizing we had given the half sovereign for 6d to the Kelly Gang man, and back we ran and met him near Lennon’s Hotel.
We asked him if he had a half sovereign for 6d, and he pulled out a handful of silver and there was a half sovereign. He at once said this must be yours and handed it over. Colin gave him a shilling and back we went to the circus and devoured the news of the capture of the Kellys.
Another show I remember was given by Blondin, who walked his tight rope in the Botanical Gardens, where the croquet lawn was, near the present kiosk.
Not only did he walk backwards and forwards but he rode a bicycle over, cooked a pancake on a stove he took to the middle of the rope, and ended up a wonderful afternoon’s performance by carrying a Brisbane bookseller across on his back. Of course, after Blondin, there was a tight-rope erected in many a backyard and many a buster we had trying to walk a clothesline.
Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company caused a great stir and drew crowded houses at the Old Theatre Royal when they played “The Chimes of Normanby.”
Then we had the W. J. Holloway and Miss Elsie Jennyns Company in the “Lights of London” and “The Silver King.” We were among the patrons in the pit and never missed a Saturday night’s show.
One night, two sailors of the H.M.S. Sapho, a man-of-war then anchored in the Gardens Reach of the river, got so excited during the “Lights of London” that they attempted to get at the villain on the stage but were restrained by members of the orchestra.
Another show was McCabe’s “Fun on the Bristol.” The agonies of the passengers on the paddle steamer Bristol, were faithfully presented much to the amusement of the audience. The only Chinese circus I ever saw was in the Botanical Gardens.
The tent was erected between the old cricket grounds and the present kiosk; it was a wonderful show and drew great crowds. Many old timers will also remember the Jubilee Singers, a dark coloured company, who performed in the old “Courier” Buildings.