Ashton’s Family Circus

Poster for Ashton's Circus Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Poster for Ashton’s Circus
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Ashton’s Circus is one of the longest running family circuses in Australia. It began with James Henry Ashton, a trick and bareback rider, who was the first Ashton to perform in Australia with Robert Radford’s circus in Tasmania, 1848. Following its beginnings in 1851 as a small “bush” circus, the original Ashton’s Circus has gone on to become Australia’s oldest circus, travelling the breadth of the country and establishing close ties with rural communities.

The distinctive quality of Ashton’s Circus is the family forming the core troupe of performers. With acts ranging from clowning, horse riding, performing animals, acrobatics and the internationally acclaimed Flying Ashton’s, up to 4 generations of Ashton family members can be seen performing in the ring at any one time.

Today, members of the original Ashton’s Circus have formed separate circuses. They travel nationally with Ashton family members still forming the core troupe. Circus Joseph Ashton; Lorraine Ashton’s Classic Circus and Circus Xsavia offer entertainment for children and families based on traditional circus acts.

Ringmaster's whistle, Ashton's Circus Gift of Lorraine Grant, Ashton's Circus, 1982 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Ringmaster’s whistle, Ashton’s Circus
Gift of Lorraine Grant, Ashton’s Circus, 1982
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Collection Holdings

The Ashton family has had a long association with the Performing Arts Collection, and from the early 1980s, has regularly donated material to form the Ashton Family Collection. Documenting the life of Ashton’s Circus and the subsequent Ashton family circuses that perform today are posters from the 1950s to the 1960s, programmes dating from the late 1960s to the 1980s and news clippings and scrapbooks ranging from 1940 to recent times.

Photographs of the Ashton family members performing predominantly during the 1970s can be found in the collection along with Mervyn Ashton’s slack wire bicycle, a triple trapeze bar made by Jonaas Zilinskas and juggling clubs used by Gary Grant in the “Rolling Grants” act.

Costumes in the collection span from the 1890s – 1980s including The Flying Ashton’s cloak from the 1960s, Mervyn Ashton’s childhood clown costume and Lorraine Ashton’s equestrian bodysuit.

Published by

Performing Arts Collection

Arts Centre Melbourne's Performing Arts Collection is the national leader among specialist performing arts collections in Australia. Established in 1975, it is formally recognised as a State collection and encompasses the history of circus, dance, music, opera and theatre. The Collection features over 640,000 items including costumes, designs, photographs, set models, puppets, props, posters, programs and archives.

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