Name: Joseph Andrew Rowe RAPHAEL
Given Name: Joseph Andrew Rowe
Birth: 1865 in Liverpool, NSW, Australia
THE AMERICAN CIRCUS & AUSTRALIA
Change Date: 28 Mar 2009 at 11:12:09
Rowe's North American Circus
Its Australian Tours & Their Aftermath
By Mark St Leon
Copyright: 1994 Mark St Leon
This article was meant to follow my first article on the American circus in Australia, Cooper, Bailey & Cos, published in Bandwagon's Sept-Oct and Nov-Dec 1992 editions. I had intended that these articles would follow each other in quicker succession but such are the responsibilities of career and parenthood.
The year 1847 saw the establishment of an Australian circus industry, when Robert Avis Radford opened his Royal Circus in Launceston, Tasmania, and colonial circus activity flowered thereafter. Leaving aside the visit of Luigi Dalle Case's little gymnastic troupe during 1841-2, J.A.Rowe's North American Circus was the first American circus company - and the first complete circus company from any country - to visit Australia. Rowe's first visit, in 1852, marked the commencement of the rich association of the American and Australian circus traditions. Despite a healthy colonial circus industry by this time, Rowe's first visit made quite a 'splash' in the gold-besotted colonies.
The story of J.A. Rowe and his circus has been documented elsewhere. I do not therefore claim too much originality in this essay, which is more in the nature of a synthesis and updating where necessary of previous research.
In the period before the Civil War, America was already prominent as a seafaring nation and her ships sailed every ocean and visited each of the great seaports of the world. Enterprising American showmen, ever on the lookout for fresh territories to visit and exploit, first ventured to foreign lands in this era. A circus tour abroad could prove novel, interesting and possibly profitable.
In June 1851, some three years after its discovery in California, gold was found in Australia, on the Turon River, near Bathurst, New South Wales. The find sparked the great Australian gold rush. The New South Wales finds were excelled by finds the following year near the towns of Ballarat and Bendigo in the adjacent colony of Victoria. The many Australians lured to California in 1849, now returned to stake claims. Germans, Chinese, Italians, Scotsmen and many other nationalities joined the throng. So did many Americans, but not all of them had to scour the parched Australian earth to find gold. Rich pickings awaited competent entertainers for entertaining the 'diggers', as the Australian goldminers were called. Many American entertainers and troupes slipped across the Pacific to chance their luck in the 'fabled land' that lay in the south seas, among them, Joseph Andrew Rowe and his circus.
Joseph Andrew Rowe
An equestrian and showman, Joseph Andrew Rowe (1819-1887) was a native of Kingston, North Carolina. Orphaned at eight, he ran away with a circus in 1829, gaining experience as a trick rider and manager. His travels took him through the eastern and southern US, Cuba, the British West Indies and Central and South America. By the time gold was discovered in California, he was in Lima, Peru at the head of his own circus. Rowe and his company shipped for San Francisco and there, on 20 October 1849, he opened his Olympic Circus to a restless, gold-mad population.
To cater for the San Franciscans and the '49ers, Rowe constructed an amphitheatre (apparently covered with a large tent for a roof) that could seat as many as 1500 people. His little company included his wife, also an accomplished equestrienne, the young equestrian prodigy Master Raphael, an Italian couple who excelled at rope dancing and a complement of clowns. The equestrian pieces presented nightly in the Olympic Circus, such as The Peasant's Frolic, The Indian Hunter and others, confirmed the Astley-ian origins of the American circus.
Favourably received by the San Franciscans, Rowe's Olympic Circus had evolved, by February 1850, into a combination circus-theatre. When San Francisco's newly opened theatres began to offer competition, Rowe shrewdly supplemented his equestrian exhibition with regular productions of plays.
In May 1850, Rowe shifted location to Sacramento. His programme was as attractive as any of the day. First, his orchestra played the Overture to William Tell. There was then a 'Grand Star and Waltz Entree, on six horses, led by Mr and Mrs Rowe' after which Mr Rowe danced his celebrated horse Adonis 'to the favourite tune of Yankee Doodle'. Next, Master Raphael, the 'Little Rising Star', executed his 'daring equestrian feats' and Mr Rowe presented Adonis again in The Indian Hunter and his Wild Charger. Later in the programme a Dr Downs performed 'the laughable scene of The Peasant's Frolic ' in which the clown 'took an active part on the noble horse Napoleon'. A Mr Burke danced a Sailor's Hornpipe. Rowe featured on horseback in The American Tar. The evening's entertainment concluded with 'The very laughable pantomime of The Cobbler's Daughter' performed on stage.
Rowe's next enterprise was to open a new Olympic Amphitheatre in San Francisco. This he did in mid-August 1850. William Foley offered stiff competition with an establishment described as 'well worth a visit from every lover of beautiful horsemanship or innocent amusement'. Rowe felt the pressure. By the end of 1850, he announced that his troupe was about to leave for the Sandwich Islands, whence it would go on to China. Said the San Francisco Herald: "He carries on his novel route the best wishes of a community who appreciate talent combined with gentility".
First Australian Visit
In the spring of 1851 Rowe and his company sailed from San Francisco - but with Australia, not China, as their ultimate destination. Three years passed before Rowe returned to California. Rowe chartered the ship Leveret to carry his company to Honolulu. The company played before King Kamchamcha and large houses of delighted natives. The visit was profitable enough for Rowe to buy the 200 ton brig General Worth. On 12 December 1851, Rowe's circus sailed in it for the Society Islands (now Tahiti), arriving there in January 1852. Another profitable series of performances was given. The company then sailed for New Zealand. After a rough passage, the company arrived at Auckland on 24 March 1852. Money was scarce in the new British settlement. Rowe's circus played only a short time there before setting sail for the volatile new gold city, Melbourne.
Rowe arrived in Melbourne on 1 May 1852, with his wife and six equestrians, namely Master Raphael, R. Stevens, W.H.Fuller and W.Wescott and two others. At first, Rowe rued the decision to try Melbourne. It cost 3 pounds 10 shillings a night to stable his 10 horses. Attempts to establish the circus were frustrated, despite applications to the Colonial Secretary and the superintendent of police and an exchange of letters in the Argus. The mayor, John Thomas Smith, was also the proprietor of Melbourne's Queen's Theatre. Understandably, he opposed any entertainment that might pose competition. People living near the proposed circus protested that 'it would be injurious to their property, and the peace and comfort of the neighbourhood'. The Port Phillip Herald, outraged at the disgraceful treatment Rowe received, called for an end at once to the 'dilly-dallying about the matter'. One hundred and fifty 'respectable inhabitants' agreed. William Westgarth led them in petitioning in support of Rowe's application to erect an amphitheatre at the corner of Stephen (now Exhibition) and Lonsdale Streets. The police court unanimously granted permission because the circus 'would tend to diminish crime and facilitate the operations of the police' being also 'beneficial to the community as tending to draw parties away from public houses and dissipation'. The Melbourne Argus commented:
It will be seen by our issue yesterday that Mr Wroe (sic) has at last succeeded in securing a licence for his equestrian performances; and as he has been exposed to considerable delay and expense, in a very innocent endeavour to furnish the citizens of Melbourne with rational amusement, we trust that when he gets fairly started he will meet with an ample return in public sympathy. And we also hope when people in places so distant as New Zealand, next advise caterers for public recreation not to come to Victoria because "the Mayor of Melbourne is the proprietor of the theatre, and will not allow anyone to interfere with him", that they will accompany that information with the announcement that Melbourne also contains a poor little daily paper always open to the appeals of the unoffending, the stranger and the persecuted; and that there is a public in Melbourne which, whenever its attention is aroused, will not allow a man to be crushed or ruined, who has done nothing to deserve such a fate.
By the following day, the sides were nearly up and a heavy canvas roof ready. The opening on 28 June created 'no little sensation throughout the city' and the fifteen hundred who squeezed into the 800 seat structure were full of praise for this, the first entertainment by an American circus in Australia. This is how one Melbourne newspaper witnessed the opening of Rowe's Equestrian Circus:
The opening of the Circus recently erected by Mr Rowe, at the junction of Lonsdale and Stephen Streets, which took place last evening, created no little sensation throughout the city. At an early hour of the day so great was the demand for tickets, that the proprietor, under the impression that the building would not comfortably accommodate more than eight hundred persons, was compelled to refuse supplying the numerous demands which were made upon him. The building, which has been erected at a cost of nearly one thousand pounds, is about 260 feet in circumference; the ring in which the equestrian exhibitions take place, is probably about 150. The accommodation for the public are excellent, either in the pit, boxes or the dress circle, the latter being fitted up in a most magnificent style for the reception of the first families in the colony. Prior to the doors being opened, the excellent Saxe Horn Band, whose services have been engaged for the season, enlivened the scene, and continued to do so at intervals throughout the evening. The building was crowded to suffocation upon the opening of the doors, notwithstanding which, the utmost good order prevailed throughout the entertainments. Of the amusements themselves, we cannot speak too highly. The efforts of Ducrow, Batty, and the exhibitions at the far-famed Astley's dwindled into insignificance when compared with those which, through the enterprise of Mr Rowe, have been provided for us.'
The Herald was sure Rowe would make large profits. The intelligence that Rowe's horses displayed in executing difficult figures under the guidance of their riders impressed a writer for the Argus, recalling the glories of London's Astley's. Mrs Eliza Rowe was 'an accomplished and elegant equestrian' and the locally engaged clown Edward Yeamans, 'one of the very best'.
If Rowe reaped a harvest from the pockets of Californians, he found things equally prosperous in Melbourne. His immediate success, although assured, did not eliminate competition. There was already considerable circus talent, largely British in origin, in Australia at that stage. The British circus man, J.S.Noble, opened his circus in Melbourne in October 1852, his company featuring the equestrian John Jones and his troupe that included a young Aboriginal rider named 'Nugget'.
Rowe's showmanship qualities and the standard of his company were not necessarily superior to those of Noble or other circus proprietors in Australia at that stage, just dynamically 'American'. Rowe re-invested some of his proceeds in an eight room house, made of iron, that he erected on an adjacent lot. Within it, he opened his 'American Bar, Supper, Oyster and Refreshment Establishment'. Thursday nights at the circus were reserved for shows arranged exclusively for families. The bills underwent constant revision with the addition of new performances. Popular musical concerts were given on Saturday evenings. Rowe and his company triumphed during their two year stay in Melbourne and found no need to visit the other colonies adjacent Victoria.
The benevolence of the 'courteous North Carolinian' won the heart of the Melbourne public. Not all the profits of the American circus went to its owner. Rowe's generosity towards charitable causes such as the Melbourne Hospital, the Benevolent Asylum and the Soldiers' Wives Fund stood 'altogether unrivalled'. His generous patronage of Melbourne's benevolent institutions was remembered for many years after, references to his munificence still appearing in the early 1900s.
Due to poor health, Rowe finally closed his circus on 25 October 1854. He, his wife and company departed Melbourne, reputedly taking 40,000 pounds in cash and numerous chests of treasure. They arrived in San Francisco later that (northern) spring to a popular welcome. At a banquet in his honour, his friends bestowed the title of 'Colonel' upon him.
For a time, Rowe was occupied with the 13,500 acre Santa Anita ranch. Located east of the San Gabriel mission, near present day Los Angelos, he purchased the ranch for $33,000. But Rowe's life as a rancher was short, mainly because of heavy financial losses.
Despite a financially depressed California, Rowe again entered the field of active exhibition and on 8 March 1856, in partnership with John W. Smith, Rowe & Co's Pioneer Circus opened in San Francisco. The company included William Worrell as clown. Joining later were the famous acrobat and rider, Burnell Runnells, the fine clown, William F.Wallett, and other artists especially imported from the eastern seaboard. A disastrous tour of mining camps followed during the summer.
Rowe and Company's Pioneer Circus briefly reopened in San Francisco on 14 October 1856. Among the riders was Raphael. A portion of the troupe went on to Honolulu in November 1856 for a visit of several months. On 25 March 1857, Rowe & Company's Pioneer Circus opened in San Francisco again. J. R. Marshall was ringmaster. The company included James E. Robinson, in herculean feats with cannon balls. James Hernandez featured as a rider in 'England, Ireland and Scotland'.
Again, Rowe decided to tackle the gold mining centres. The 1857 tour, which included such promising stands as Placerville, Rattlesnake and Gold Hill, only forced Rowe further into debt as the rival Lee & Bennett's North American Circus (which starred James Hernandez, the 'unrivalled American horseman') undercut his own. Meanwhile, California's financial malaise continued.
....Many tales of disaster have been told of the pioneer efforts of eastern circus managers but their routes must have been relatively smooth compared to Rowe's wagon tours through those rough Sierra mining centers located in some of the most rugged country in the world.
Although burdened by debt, Rowe refused to mortgage the Santa Anita ranch. As a result, his creditor, John Center, took possession of the Pioneer Circus. It opened in San Francisco on 12 September 1857, embellished with talent drawn from Lee & Bennett's North American Circus. One of the features of the program was a riding contest between the newly arrived, Australian equestrian, James Melville, of the North American Circus and James Hernandez.
Some months later, Center gave Rowe an option to buy back the circus stock and paraphernalia, evidently to encourage him to try to recoup his fortune with another tour of the south seas and Australia. Rowe borrowed $3000 on his wife's jewellery and entered into partnership with John R. Marshall, a musician and comedian. With Henry Charles Lee, Marshall had started the National Circus (Rowe's chief competitor in the early 1850s) but had also lost his money in speculation. Other circus performers were glad to join them, including Hernandez (once paid $100 weekly but now 'living on his woman') and William Worrell a talented clown who had resorted to 'shooting ducks' for a living.
Rowe & Marshall's American Circus reached Honolulu in January 1858. From Honolulu, on 7 February 1858, 'Colonel' Rowe wrote to Center of 'business and things in general'. They had missed the whaling fleet and so takings were poor. For seven nights, receipts totalled only $1980 and expenses were $250 a day. Some of the company were troublesome. He went on to tell Center that [original spelling] 'Frank Whittiker and Hernandez has been drunk ever since they have bin here, and Frank & wife talks of ... stoping here, and in all proberbility Mr Raphael will stope here too, they are both two sweet cented scoundrals'. Fortunately, Marshall was a 'good partner so far' and his morale remained high. 'I am Joe A Rowe again and mean to remain so with full will of GOD. I feel in a maner happy, although I am not making money at present but there is no such thing as fail with me now.' Rowe and his little company continued across the vast expanse of blue ocean that lay between Honolulu and Sydney. Despite his misgivings, Hernandez and Raphael were with him all the way.
Second Australian Visit
What Rowe did not appreciate was that the great Australian gold rush had all but finished. Much gold was still won from the ground but the heady days of the early '50s were no more. Imbued with more wealth and sophistication than could have been imagined only a few years previously, the pleasurable tastes of colonial city folk had diversified. As the gold fever quietened, a lively theatre tradition and intellectual pursuits became apparent. A colonial circus could no longer stay indefinitely in one place. To find their real audiences, the Australian circus men had to push far into the hinterland, as far as the bounds of new settlement and inland trade routes would permit and grapple with the difficulties of distance, weather and other logistics that confronted their profession.
At Sydney's Prince of Wales Theatre on 10 May 1858, Rowe & Marshall's American Circus Company opened to a full house. Promoted as the 'American Amphitheatre', the company was under the joint management of Rowe and Charles V. Howard. The Sydney Morning Herald thought the bill so good 'that the popularity of the troupe will increase as the season advances'. Don Quixote de la Mancha, with Mrs Rowe as Countess Malvino, supplemented the normal fare. Despite the Herald's optimism, Rowe wrote Center to say that [original spelling] 'we have don nothing here, bareley paid our way...things is very different here to what they wore when I left this country but in Melbourne times is better I am told, and if we can manage to spend winter we will be able to travel nex summer'.
In Melbourne, Rowe's circus establishment of 1852 was no more. It was sold by auction late in 1854, after the company's closure there, realising only 60 pounds. The Victoria Theatre had been erected on the site but this was also demolished to make way for the new Olympic Theatre, the so-called 'Iron Pot' of colonial theatrical impresario, George Selth Coppin. Rowe obtained a lease on a disused market and opened it as the American Hippodrome, probably in July 1858. The company starred the riders Young Raphael and the renowned James Hernandez, the clowns Charles de Vere and Adams, Mesdames Rowe and Marshall, Miss Griffiths, Master Armstrong and Mr Palmer. The orchestra was under the baton of Charles Eigenschenk. Early in July 1858, the Australian performers, Bird and Barlow, augmented the company and it opened on the familiar site in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. Hernandez and Master Raphael, the original juvenile rider of Rowe's Olympic Circus, starred as equestrians in the ring. The clowns included Ned Yeamans (relieved to have work at 5 pounds a week) and Charles De Vere, who had appeared with Yeamans at Astley's. There were none more worthy of patronage declared the Age, as their great skills gained favour and vice-regal support 'without resorting to any extraordinary puffery'.
A tour of Beechworth, a gold mining centre in north eastern Victoria, and other diggings yielded Rowe good returns, especially at the newer fields. Early in 1859, the company, under J.A. Rowe's sole proprietorship, toured Tasmania. When it returned to Melbourne, it reopened in Lonsdale Street on 21 May 1859 as J.A. Rowe's Hippodrome. William Worrell the celebrated American clown, Madame Henriques, J. C. Smith, and Messrs Stebbing and Tate had joined the company in the interim. But now Rowe had hit upon hard times and Melbourne's Argus felt obliged to speak out in his support "... Mr Rowe deserves well of the public of Melbourne. His energy as a spirited circus conductor and his liberality towards some of our benevolent institutions, have not passed the re-collection of those who know him in his more prosperous days ..."
For the new season at the Hippodrome, the ingenious bill was reportedly impossible to fault: 'He has exercised so much taste and judgement on the order of his amusements and has been so careful to ensure excellence in his artistes that the interest increased in each successive act.' All his efforts were in vain. In August 1859, the Collingwood Observer denounced attempts by four of Rowe's countrymen to undermine his position. It called upon the Melbourne public to side with a man 'so long and so deservedly respected'. Rowe had already seen the best of his Australian visits. Rowe fell ill and was the recipient of a crowded benefit, the second since his return. Impoverished in health and in pocket, Rowe's efforts to make up his Californian losses collapsed.
William Worrell, 'a fellow of infinite jest', assumed management of the circus on 8 August 1859. Mr and Mrs J.A. Rowe left Melbourne with just enough money to get back to San Francisco and under markedly different circumstances to 1854. The Santa Anita ranch was sold. Rowe was not short of work, however. He was much sought after, not only in the circus and menagerie line, but as an engraver. Wood engraving he had learnt while young as a part of the circus business. Rowe was later employed by the Scottish-born circus proprietor, John Wilson, as a ringmaster. Rowe visited Australia one last time in 1873 as one of the agents of Chiarini's Royal Italian Circus. He spent the remaining years of his life as a horse trainer, dying in obscurity in San Francisco on 3 November 1887.
Worrell and Company?s North American Circus
Now promoted as Worrell and Company?s North American Circus, Rowe?s former company undertook an overland tour to Sydney. On 16 and 17 December 1859 the combination appeared in Yass ?in their mammoth pavilion at the rear of the White Horse Inn?.
On 21 January 1860 the North American Circus opened in King Street, Sydney in the same building formerly occupied by Rowe's Hippodrome. It was now redecorated and renamed the Prince of Wales Theatre, and was leased to a former 'conspirator' against Rowe, B.D. Clarke. The new circus received an enthusiastic welcome. An advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald on that day announced "...Mr William Worrell, the justly styled King of Clowns, acknowledged by the European, American and Colonial Press as the Prince of Jesters, will appear nightly ..." A Mr Denning was bandmaster. The same Master Raphael who Rowe had introduced to California in 1849, and subsequently Australia, as a boy prodigy was there too. He was now Mr Raffaelle (sic) ?the acknowledged champion rider of the world in barebacked riding'. This time, Raphael was to remain in Australia. Worrell's three daughters, later to win acclaim in New York, were a 'hit' and the new Prince of Wales consistently boasted houses rare for a minor theatre, over eleven thousand people had visiting the Worrell company in one week it was claimed. This however did not ensure financial success for its lessee, who was the host of the prestigious Tattersall's Hotel and one time owner of the Estafette Coaching Company. The Prince of Wales fell into the hands of Samuel Colville when Clarke's theatrical speculations got him 1500 pounds into debt.
The Worrell company shipped for Melbourne by the Wonga Wonga on 22 February 1860. In mid-1860, Worrell entered into partnership with another American, Charles C. Gardiner. Their troupe, comprising ninety men and horses, visited Wangaratta and Albury in November 1860. By early 1862, Gardiner - about whom hardly anything is known - had assumed sole direction of the circus. The Worrell family returned to San Francisco, making their first American reappearance there in a 'regular' theatre, the Metropolitan. By 1870, William Worrell was living in New York, where he died in 1897.
Gardiner?s American Circus
Comprising 'sixty men and horses', Gardiner's Great American circus arrived in Sydney in procession to give performances at Sydney's Lyceum Theatre between 28 April and 25 May 1862. On the day of its opening, the circus was announced to make "... a Grand Entree into the city this morning at 10 am preceded by their Gorgeous Musical Chariot, containing their celebrated Brass Band and drawn by ten horses driven in hand ... The agent was Charles Jones. Members of the troupe included J. L. Smith as equestrian manager, E. Yeamans as jester, D'Albert as bandmaster, Madame Yeamans, the Wieland Brothers, Walter Burton and the English tightrope walker, Herr Christoff.
Gardiner?s American Circus reopened at Sydney's Lyceum Theatre on 15 September 1862, an advertisement for the circus boasting that its "... Splendid brass band is composed of artists of the highest musical capabilities under the direction of D?Albert the celebrated musical conductor..." The company was substantially the same as when in Sydney previously except that mention was also made of the ?maitre du cirque?, Charles Walsh and the American jester, W. H. Foley. The Sydney Morning Herald , impartially I presume, observed that: "...Mr Gardiner?s troupe is the largest and most complete equestrian establishment now in these colonies...."
The circus left Sydney for Newcastle on 8 October 1862, then went north to Singleton, where it appeared on 22 and 23 October 1862. The Singleton Argus commented: "... The tent or marquee is of extensive dimensions, and the sittings are got up capitally for the time allowed ... The circus must assuredly be of great moment for everything is on the grandest scale for a travelling affair; the most complete and richest that we ever remember to have seen in the colony and decidedly the best ..."
From Singleton, Gardiner took his company inland to Mudgee, and then turned south to re-enter the colony of Victoria later that year. The appearance of Gardiner's Circus in Geelong, Victoria during March 1863 is the last known reference to the company. Thereafter, Gardiner's name disappears from Australian circus annals and he becomes as obscure as he was before. Several members of Gardiner's company appeared with the premier Australian colonial circus of the era, Burton's National Circus, when that company opened in Melbourne a few months later.
So, J.A.Rowe left an impression on Australian circus that lasted beyond his two visits. His first visit was a magnificent success - and a magnificent achievement for the time. His second visit, although a failure, saw the remnants of his company blossom through successive managements before finally being subsumed into the colonial industry.
Of the performers who Rowe introduced to Australia, one is worthy of particular note: the rider H.P.. Raphael. Raphael remained in Australia and appeared as an equestrian with nearly every colonial circus of note during his long career. His children carried on in Australian circus into the early years of this century.
Anon The Circus in San Francisco 1949-1950
S. R Van Wyck The Origin of Rowe?s Original California Circus, in The White Tops, December 1937 - January 1938.
C. G. Sturtevant Foreign Tours of American Circuses, in The Billboard, 2 July 1927, page 41.
C. G. Sturtevant When the American Circus went Abroad, in The White Tops, December 1939 - January 1940.
MacMinn, G. R. The Theatre of The Golden Era in California, Idaho: Caxton Caldwell, 1941.
Culhane, John The American Circus: An Illustrated History, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1989.
MacMinn, G. R. The Theatre of The Golden Era in California, Idaho: Caxton Caldwell, 1941.
St Leon, Mark The Circus in Australia, 1842-1921, Sydney: 1981. Privately prepared manuscript.
Thayer, Stuart Annals of the American Circus, Volumes II & III , Seattle, WA: Dauven & Thayer.
Father: Gambor RAPHAEL b: 1838 in New Grenada, South America
Mother: Elizabeth ARUNDELL b: 1840
Caroline Edith Alice WORLEY b: 23 Oct 1876
in Boorowa, NSW, Australia