New Acquisition from Holden Brothers’ Circus

The Holden Brothers’ Circus, founded in 1892 by Adolphus Holden (1868-1938), was one of the longest running family circus’ in Australia. With thanks to his grandchildren, Francis, Barry and Maree, the Australian Performing Arts Collection is now home to a unique photographic collection capturing a specific moment in the nation’s performing arts history. The comprehensive collection of over 500 photographs, 600 negatives, archival material and a number of important props, provides an intimate insight into the life of a travelling circus in the mid-twentieth century.

Adolphus Holden
Adolphus Holden with ‘Nancy’ the pony, 1900

As a child Adolphus Holden lost part of his left leg in a railway accident in Melbourne and during his rehabilitation discovered a talent for acrobatics. Showcasing these skills, the circus Adolphus established included the trapeze act The Flying Gordons, featuring himself, his son Ernie and later performer Harry MacKenzie.

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Poster advertising Gordon the Great (Adolphus Holden), c 1900

During the early years, the circus toured extensively during the summer months, returning to Melbourne to perform vaudeville-style acts in theatres during the winter. The circus underwent numerous iterations over its lifetime with various family members continuing the circus.

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Roy (Yank) Condon and Francis Gerald Holden, c 1940
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Kenneth Francis Holden, c 1940

The photographs in this collection, dating from 1900s-90s, document life on the road throughout New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania with five generations of the Holden family.

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Barrie and Maree Holden (foreground), Queenscliff, VIC, 1950
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Francis David Holden (back right) and local children, VIC, 1950
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On the road to Pyramid Hill, VIC, 1950

Francis Gerald Holden (1906-1966) was one of a large number of siblings who joined the their father, Adolphus, in his circus. Francis regularly performed his rope spinning act under the name of Tex Gordon. Following in the family tradition, his family joined him on the road with his children later continuing the family circus until the early 1990s.

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Francis Gerald Holden with his children – Francis David (left), Maree (middle) and Barry (front right) – and his brother Lennie (back right), c 1950
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Francis Herald Holden (back centre) with daughter Maree (front centre) and local children, Werribee, VIC, 1950

Nicole Bowller
Assistant Curator


New Acquisitions from Holden Brothers’ Circus
8 February – 22 April | Hamer Hall, Level 6
Arts Centre Melbourne
FREE

 

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