[From Chrononhotonthologos, Phantasmagoria. Cotillions and Supper Entertainment in the Isle of Man 1793-1820 ]

Circus Acts and Sideshows

Rope and Wire Walkers 1802

The circus came to the Isle of Man during the months of July and August 1802 and was well attended by the ladies and gentlemen of Douglas, Castletown and Peel. It set up in Mr. Lewin's Yard, on the Quay in Douglas, but there is no mention of where "they pitched their tents" when appearing at Castletown and Peel. They performed for six nights over a period of two weeks in Douglas, and in Castletown on the Tuesday night, and Peel on Saturday night during the second week. However they extended their run to another three nights the week beginning August before departing for Preston Guild. The press write-ups attest to the popularity of the visit of the circus and its performers;

"They will perform their surprising feats of activity; consisting of Mr. Woolford's unequalled dexterity of the Tight Rope and Walking Ladder, the inimitable Mrs. Short's performance on the Slack Wire and Tight Rope where she astonishes every beholder, Mr. Short's Equilibriums on his Head, lofty summersaults throwing and tumbling, Mr. Ireland's surprising leaps and kicks with the humorous Burlesque of Mr. Button's `Journey to Brentford.' The circus has been well attended by ladies and gentlemen of the first respectability who gave the performances unbounded applause."

The Manx Advertiser reports on the 31 st July 1802, "Surprising Feats of Activity. The Circus, in Douglas, is crowded every evening of ladies and gentlemen of the first respectability, to see the astounding feats of activity, produced by Messrs Ireland and Woolford and company, whose manly and surprising exertions astonish every beholder. Mr. Woolford's lofty springs upon the Tight Rope, where he leaps from 9 to 12 feet high, and completely stops in the air 2 or 3 seconds. His moving ladder is equally astonishing; he stands upon the top step and displays many feats, besides moving it correctly to tune. The inimitable Mrs. Short's equilibriums on the Slack Wire, the only female in the world, (makes her) truly Mistress of those astonishing performances. She balances swords, plates, pipes cards, &c, &c. After which she places upon the Wire a table, glasses, and decanter - helps herself to wine, the Wire swinging from 8 to 12 feet high; (and) her graceful feats on the Tight Rope, where she dances a hornpipe with baskets on her feet. Mr. Ireland's surprising leaps and kicks; he leaps over a horse length ways, with a man upon a horse's back and a pole three feet above his head, through a balloon on fire, 3 feet diameter. He hops and kicks an object suspended 16 feet high, over seven horses, having 22 feet to throw himself from rise to fall, besides clearing the height. All those leaps and kicks to be done without a spring board".

The company made new promises in the advertisement dated 14th August 1802, "when a variety of new entertainments will be brought forward on that night. Mr. Ireland will particularly exert himself. On Friday, Mr. Woolford's benefit - and positively the last night, - when he will dance on the rope with a boy on his shoulders, and perform a variety of new feats never attempted by any other man but himself. Perhaps none of the circuses in London were ever more honoured that the one in D---- --, where the door-keepers are of the clerical order!!"

The Thirty-six inch Dancer 1805

Many of the acts that appeared in the Georgian Theatres were called "freak shows". The well documented Elephant man, the Manx Giant or the bearded lady are examples of those unfortunate persons who had to exhibited themselves in sides shows to earn a living. One such act was the entertainer, billed as "the surprising little man", named Mr. Rush from North America who was only thirty six inches high. He appeared at Mr. Rigg's premises from 12 o'clock in the forenoon until 10 at night Admission to see him cost 6d for ladies and gentlemen and 3d for a servant. Aged 47 years he danced for the amusement of the crowd and was adept at the hornpipe so much so that he could equal the first master of dance. The newspaper report, dated 27 July 1805, states that, "His surprising littleness makes a strong impression on the mind of his spectator, though nothing disagreeable, either in person or conversation, is found in him. He is possessed of a wonderful flow of spirits, and gives the inquisitive mind an agreeable entertainment."

He supplemented his income from the side show by charging an additional fee to attend at private houses where the gentry would engage him in conversations for their amusement. He advertised that only an hour's notice was required for an appointment. I hope he charged considerably more for a private audience than Mr. Rigg did for a public performance. He stayed on the Island for two weeks.

Conjuror and Wire Walkers 1805

Mr. Ingleby who was billed as the Kings' Conjuror first performed in the Island at Castletown before His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, on the 18th October 1805 attended by a numerous and elegant audience who received him with the greatest applause. This led him to advertise that he would repeat his performance again at Castletown on the 21 st of October before transferring to the Theatre in Douglas; tickets for the Douglas performance could be obtained from Mr. Heuchan's tavern' Price 2s each. So popular was his performance that he advertised repeat evenings for Monday and Wednesday, the 28th and 30th of October, and at Castletown on 29 . The Advertiser copied an interesting piece of gossip from a Cumbria Newspaper, "Mr. Ingleby who is astonishing the inhabitants of this Island, by his wonderful deceptive powers, may undoubtedly be ranked among the first of his profession; - his performances, indeed, appear to evince more of a miracle than deception. Mr. Ingleby, who goes by the name of King's Conjuror, and who, we learn, has only been a performer a few years, this week, paid down thirteen hundred guineas, all in gold, for a small estate he has purchased near Egremont; which makes one believe that he must be a most capital conjuror, or else conjuring must be a capital trade. - Cumb. Pacquet"

He bought space in the columns of the Manx newspaper to thank his audiences for their attendances, "Mr. Ingleby, the celebrated King's Conjuror, having arrived in England, from his engagement in the Isle of Man, embraces the earliest opportunity of returning his grateful acknowledgements to the ladies and gentlemen of the Island; whom he considers more than worthy to be visited by the first performer in the world. - He intends next to visit Lancaster and Liverpool, and by permission of the ruling gentlemen of these places, hopes to meet with encouragement due to his merit. - Whitehaven, 18th Nov. 1805"

Mr. Ingleby makes a welcome return to the Island theatre scene in 1812. He is accompanied by his son and a Miss Young;

"Appearing at Mr. Downward's Large Room, on the Quay, Douglas, Mr. Ingleby boasts that he is Emperor of all Conjurors from the Lyceum, London and under the patronage of the Prince Regent and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. On the evening, Saturday, June 20th, Monday, 22nd and Tuesday, 23`d he went through an outstanding number of performances never before exhibited on the Island. In addition to his mathematical and philosophical experiments by dexterity of hand, such as is needless for another man to attempt. Mr. Ingleby during his stay offers to give instruction in his art to a few pupils on stipulated terms."

Supporting his act was the celebrated Miss Young who had been the toast of London for the previous ten years and generally known by the appellation of the `Flying Female' because of her unrivalled performance on the Slack Wire. Mr. Ingleby's son also was on the bill, and Mr. Ingelby junior concluded the evening's amusement with his matchless feats of activity on the Tight and Slack Rope such as bid defiance to the whole world. "Mr. Ingleby will perform at gentlemen's houses for a fee as low as ten guineas on receiving a day's notice."

Mr. Ingleby's final appearances in 1812 are announced in the copy of the Manx Advertiser for the 4th June when he moved to Mr. Cubbon's New Assembly-Room in Castletown and performed on Monday and Tuesday evenings, July 6th and 7th- On Wednesday evening the July 8th he moved to the Assembly-Room, Peel at by desire of H. Clucas, Esq, High Bailiff.

Equestrian Troop 1807

In December 1807 an advertisement appeared in the Advertiser informing the ladies and gentlemen of Castletown, Peel and Ramsey that Mr. Yeaman would bring his celebrated troop of equestrians to entertain as soon as the roads would admit travelling. They would be performing their wonderful Olympian Games, viz. Horsemanship, Rope Dancing, Antipodian Exercises, Wire Dancing, Tumbling, Still Vaulting &c. To conclude the show with the comic Burlesque of the Taylor's Journey to Brentford; - Further information would be given in the handbills. Douglas, 9th November 1807.

Strong Man, Illusionist, Mime Artist, and Singers 1811

In December 1811 Signor Belzoni arrived on the Island, a truly all round and unusual entertainer. He appeared at the Assembly Room, Douglas and was billed as the, "the celebrated Patagonian Sampson from the theatres of London, Dublin, Edinburgh, &c, ...... in his last tour of the three Kingdoms (he) takes the opportunity to visit this Island, (for the first time,) and begs leave to acquaint the public of this town and its vicinity, that he intends to exhibit his much admired entertainments, which, in point of novelty, he hopes will deserve public attention."

He commenced his performance, and exhibited his musical talents, with several tunes on the musical glasses which for "sweetness of tone and harmony excel all other instruments and are calculated to soften the most obdurate heart" He then turned to the much admired angelica, "an instrument entirely new in this country, and on which he has played with unbounded applause at the Theatres, in the different Kingdom." The angelica is a plucked instrument of the lute family of the baroque era. His performance was very much appreciated by the response of the audience.

Next came his, "Optical Experiments or, Phantasmagoria, wherein will be exhibited a number of figures which will move eyes, mouth and arms." This sounds like using puppets or magic lantern show.

The following description seems to indicate that he was also a mime artist posing as characters from famous paintings, "his correct delineations of the various passions of the soul; by appropriate attitudes and figures, from the designs of the late Monsieur Le Brun, first painter to the academy of Paris."

To conclude Mr. Belzoni performed feats of strength in his character of the Patagonian Sampson, who after several attitudes and equilibriums, carried a pyramid of seven men at one time, with the greatest ease and without the assistance of his arms.

On Saturday 28th December 1811 Signor, Belzoni appeared at the Assembly Room (described as the Old Theatre) belonging to Mr. Downward. The advertisement informed that Mr. Belzoni had been prevented from travelling from the Island owing to contrary winds and had been "induced to repeat his entertainment once more". Included in this performance he announced, "an addition to his other performances of the wonderful feats of balancing by Signor Belzoni, who balanced a heavy coach wheel on his chin, and a boy on a pole 12 feet high; and a number of other feats." Mr. Lantihw, and Master Holiday (See Concerts) joined S. Belzoni on stage for this performance and they sang a number of songs and duets. Mr. Belzoni's final appearance on stage brought more feats of strength finishing with this feat of carrying seven men.

Fireworks 1818

A Grand Fire Works display was announced in the Advertiser dated 29th October 1818, "It is with pleasure we inform our readers, that Signor Nervoni, chief engineer, artist, and conductor of fire works, from Vauxhall Gardens, London, whose pyrotechnical talents are so generally known and universally admired is now making great preparations for a grand display which will shortly take place here; the works, we understand, will be on the same scale and magnificence as those displayed in Vauxhall, and will afford the inhabitants of this Island a treat they may never have in their power to see again; - There are few spectacles more novel or more interesting than pyrotechnic ones and from the well know abilities of the artist, whose talents will, no doubt, be exerted to the utmost on this occasion, as we anticipate witnessing the greatest treat, as well as, the most fashionable assemblages, ever seen in Douglas. - Particulars will appear in our next."

The displayed had to be cancelled due to the indisposition of Signor Nervoni and rescheduled for the 21 st November,

"Signor Nervoni feels pleasure in having the honour of informing the nobility and gentry of Douglas and its vicinity that having recovered from his late severe indisposition he is now enable to fix Saturday Evening Nov. 21, 1818 for his Grand Display of Fire works when the public may rest assured they will see an exhibition such as they have never seen and probably may never see again in this place. Signals of various kinds will be given at half-past four o'clock - the Gate will open at 6 - Display will commence at 7

N. B. - The signals have no connection whatsoever with the exhibition.

S. N. makes and furnishes all kinds of Military and Artificial Fire Works after the Italian, French, and Chinese methods, with proper directions for exhibition. Orders left at Lloyds Coffee-house, Ballabrooie will be punctually attended to."

It was postponed again because of the death of the Queen (Queen Charlotte) and rescheduled for 5th December, "Senior Nervoni most respectfully informs the nobility and gentry of Douglas and its vicinity that his Grand Exhibition which was postponed in consequence of her Majesty's lamented death will positively take place on Saturday evening 5th Dec, 1818 agreeably to the plan already published - Signals will be given at half-past four - then gate will open at 6 - and the display will begin at 7 o'clock" Its success was reported by the Manx Advertsier issued on the l 0th December, "Signor Nervoni's display of Fire Works took place here last night which attracted a large assemblage of spectators and the exhibition (being entirely novel in the Island,) went off with considerable éclat."

The Royal Lion and the Baboon 1819

The Manx Advertiser for November 1 lth 1819 advertised the animal show, "Royal Lion and Baboon. Just arrived and to be seen at the British Hotel Coach Yard, Parade, Douglas, living wonders never before seen in this country. The proprietor, ever anxious and to gratify a generous and enlightened public, respectfully begs leave to inform the gentry, public, &c. that he has, at great risque (risk) and expense, brought forward for exhibition, to the natives of this Island, one of the most majestic animals in the world. A noble full-grown royal lion, the largest ever brought to Europe, which on the first glance strikes every beholder with that magnificent idea so generally conceived of the king of brute creation. This species of lion is one of the most noble in the circle of animated existence; it will afford the beholder the highest gratification, having a long flowing mane. It was brought from Africa; intended as a present for the Prince Regent; but the proprietor, at an enormous expense, purchased it for the intended purpose to exhibit it through every Island of Great Britain. Also the singular curiosity - the great baboon or, wild man of the woods from the coast of Malabar. When full-grown stands six feet high, and walks erect like a man. To be seen from ten in the morning till nine at night, at which time the lion will receive his usual food. Admittance, 1s British - Children 6d"

Anti-combustible Lady

This lady must have set the town of Douglas alight with her act! The paper issued on the 25th of November 1819 called her act, "astonishing, the celebrated anti- combustible Lady, Madame Gerardelli, has been exhibiting her fire-resistant abilities; in this town for the last two or three nights; and it is certainly a matter of surprise that so few avail themselves of the opportunity of witnessing the astonishing performances of this extraordinary female."


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