The image above, showing York Street in the very early 20th century, is a beautiful glimpse into Sydney’s past. Many Sydney siders will be familiar with York Street as it is one of the major streets in the Sydney CBD, though of course the view is very different today. What many may not know is that York Street is, in many ways, the historic home of circus in Australia!
When the First Fleet arrived in Australia, entertainment was certainly not something they were concerned with and for many years there was little in the way of theatre. In the 1830s regular theatre performances began to take place, but they were held with some difficulty and although there were occasionally circus type acts, they were certainly not the norm. In Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) Radford’s Royal Circus was opened in 1847, but after two years Radford was insolvent. However, two of his equestrians, Golding Ashton and John Jones kept the theatre style alive.
Ashton (whose name you might recognise) worked in Melbourne for a short time, but then he and a small group of equestrians headed for Sydney. John Jones arrived in about 1850, bringing with him Edward La Rosiere, a tightrope walker and they opened to great success at the City Theatre (near the present day State Theatre). Later the same year though, Jones and La Rosiere moved into their own arena, an roofless arena in the yard of John Malcom’s Adelphi Hotel in York Street. The circus was known as the Royal Australian Equestrian Circus and was in many ways the first permanent circus troupe in Australia. Malcolm soon recognised the potential of the circus though and it was renamed Malcoms Royal Australian Circus. The Arena, which was many times altered over the ensuing years, was declared unsafe and demolished in 1882, but by then the circus had arrived and its future in Australia was assured.