Famous Fillis Circus visits Paarl, 1888

Backstage

Backstage at the circus 1891, painting by Arturo Michelena (1863-1898) –            (Wikimedia Commons)

In April 1888 the famous Fillis Circus visited Paarl and produced three shows on Market Square. Frank Fillis (1857-1921) was a circus impresario. He produced his first show in South Africa in 1883, and became known for his elaborate and lavish productions in Johannesburg, Kimberley and Cape Town. His company had more than 100 performers and also toured the British Empire. His wife Vincenda was said to be the first “human cannon ball”. The Boswell brothers also worked for the Fillis Circus. The Boswell family later went on to establish their own circus.

Paarl District Advertiser, 7 April 1888

Paarl District Advertiser, 7 April 1888

De Jongste invoer van WILDE DIEREN voor Fillis Circus zal ten toon gesteld worden aan de Paarl en daaronder de LEEUWE. Prachtige exemplaren van deze Koningen des Wouds, verkregen van den Kaizer van Abyssinië en ingevoerd door den heer Fillis voor een bedrag van £1,500. De Leeuwen zullen vertoond worden door hun onverschrokken temmer SALVATOR, op Vrijdag, Zaterdag en Maandag te 4:30 namiddag.

De Klein Ceylonsche OLIFANT BOB zal sijne menigvuldige, wonderlijke kunsten vertonen, zoos loopen op Bottels, de Tamboer Slaan, Orgeldraaien, Danzen, Souper Eten, aan Tafel zitten, enz. BOB zal verscheidene malen bij tusschenpoozen optreden.

Fillis became known for incorporating silent movies in his shows, and for his spectacular re-enactments of historical events. In 1899 he produced a show in London called “Savage South Africa” to re-construct the Matabele Wars of 1893 and 1896. A film clipping of the arrival of the “savage South Africans” arriving in Southampton has survived and can be viewed online on the Colonial Film archive’s website. In 1904 he also staged South African War (1899-1902) battle scenes at the St Louis World’s Fair. Two Boer generals – Piet Cronje and Ben Viljoen – took part in the St Louis show.

Resources:
Wikipedia, history of the circus
Colonial Film – moving images of the British Empire
Sonja Loots – Sirkusboere
The Boswell Circus

 

 

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