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2012/104/1 Archive of Wirths' Circus, used by the Wirths' Circus family, made in Australia / UK / New Zealand / South Africa / USA / Brazil / Java / Singapore / France / Germany / Switzerland / Denmark / Sweden / Netherlands, 1879-1970. Click to enlarge.

Wirths’ Circus archive

  • 1879-1970
This archive is a rich source of detailed information about Wirths' Circus, the Wirth family, other circuses and Australian circus history. It contains many previously unseen documents and photographs.

Some of the notable items are:
vintage large photographs that hung on the walls of the Wirth home at Coogee;
early photographs of Wirths' Circus, family members and performers, including cabinet cards and cartes de visite, most previously unpublished;
an album containing early photographs of Wirth family members;
other Wirth family photo albums;
small photographs documenting 80 years of Wirths' Circus;
scrapbooks compiled by Philip Wirth and George Wirth;
diaries written by John J. Wirth (1879) and Marizles Wirth (1893-1915);
architectural drawings of the Hippodrome (now the Capitol Theatre);
an 1891 poster;
an 1896 program;
an 1898 handbill;
May Wirth's 1911 contract with Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus;
a 1925 letter from John Ringling to Philip Wirth;
two drafts of Philip Wirth's autobiography.

The Wirth name has a special place in Australian circus folklore. Billed as Australia's own 'greatest show on earth', the Wirth Brothers' Circus was indeed one of the world's great circuses. The Wirths' Circus collection documents the family's involvement in the business from the 1870s until 1963.

The sons of a German immigrant, the Wirth brothers began their show careers as members of their father's travelling band. They established a variety troupe, developed their performing skills and began touring as a small circus. Despite the hardships associated with travelling in wagons throughout the rural districts of the Australian colonies, their circus grew rapidly. Philip and George Wirth had the vision to do conduct their enterprise on a large scale. They recruited star attractions from Europe and North America. Members of the extended Wirth family featured as artists. Their circus included a menagerie of exotic animals. In 1893 the Wirth brothers took the circus on a seven year international odyssey to South Africa, South America, England, Ceylon, India, Burma, Singapore and Java.

Wirths' became Australia's pre-eminent circus, travelling around the country by rail and visiting New Zealand regularly. The slogan 'Coming by special trains' created anticipation and excitement for country people. Watching elephants skilfully push and pull wagons from the railway siding to the circus site was a spectacle in itself. Wirths' Circus toured from 1880 until its demise in 1963.


Object No.


Object Statement

Archive of Wirths' Circus, used by the Wirths' Circus family, made in Australia / UK / New Zealand / South Africa / USA / Brazil / Java / Singapore / France / Germany / Switzerland / Denmark / Sweden / Netherlands, 1879-1970

Physical Description

Archive from the Wirths' Circus family, comprising the following series:
Framed photographs
Large or mounted photographs
Loose smaller photographs
Photograph albums
Architectural drawings
Posters and handbills
Documents (including contracts, letters, receipts, stationery)
Invitations and menus
Sheet music
Greeting cards
Business cards
Travel documents and associated ephemera
Programs (sheets, leaflets and booklets) produced by Wirths' Circus
Programs (booklets and leaflets) and ephemera produced by other organisations
Books and manuscripts
Newspaper clippings (in folders and loose)
Cash books
Tickets and associated ephemera



Archival items produced by Wirths' Circus, the Wirth family and other sources. Compiled by the Wirth family.



Used by Wirths' Circus and/or members of the Wirth family. Kept by Marizles ('Rill') Wirth, the youngest child of Philip Wirth, until her death in 2007. Donated to the Powerhouse Museum by her nieces Margaret and Georgina Wirth.


Credit Line

Gift of the Wirth family, 2012

Acquisition Date

3 September 2012

Cite this Object


Wirths' Circus archive 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 30 September 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Wirths' Circus archive |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=30 September 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}