Philip Wirth 1864-1937

Philip Wirth

Philip Wirth

Philip Wirth married twice and had seven children – Eileen, Doris, Madeline, Gladys, Philip, George and Marizles – nearly all of whom worked in the circus.

Philip died in Sydney on 29 August 1937 and was interred in the family grave at North Road Cemetery in Collinswood, South Australia.

 

Philip Wirth married twice and had seven children – Eileen, Doris, Madeline, Gladys, Philip, George and Marizles – nearly all of whom worked in the circus. Philip died in Sydney on 29 August 1937 and was interred in the family grave at North Road Cemetery in Collinswood, South Australia. The standing and the standard of Australian circus owed him much.

Wirths’ carried on, initially under the stewardship of George Wirth, Philip’s brother. He died childless in 1941, so it was left to Philip’s children to keep the show going through the difficult war years. Philip’s daughter Doris took over as managing director, with her sister Eileen as Equestrian Director and her brother, Philip Jnr as Ringmaster. Another sister, Madeline, trained the elephants. Manpower was short, imported acts were hard to find and transport was a major problem. Trains were requisitioned for troop movements and fuel was hard to get. In 1940 Wirths’ seven elephants trudged the 1000 kilometres between Melbourne and Sydney, travelling mainly at night to avoid the traffic.

After the war Wirths’ regrouped, refurbished and returned to the road in all its finery – but it was not to last. The old wooden Olympia in Melbourne went up in flames in 1953, then rising transportation costs, television, and competition from other, leaner, more adaptable travelling shows finally brought Wirths’ long journey to an end. It ground to an inglorious, impecunious halt in Kingaroy, Queensland, in May 1963, amid a flurry of summonses for unpaid tax. In the Sydney Sun Vince Kelly lamented: ‘The changing times have clearly been hard times for the circus, which, it seems, is guilty of owing money to the nation. Young Australia and the young at heart are remembering today that the nation owed something to Wirths’. Doris Wirth added, ‘People just while away their lives in front of the silver screen. They’re living on coffee and biscuits; they buy nothing; they go nowhere. We just didn’t get the crowds we used to.’

Attempts to combine the remnants of Wirths’ with, first, Ashton’s, and then Sole’s, proved unsuccessful. Doris, Eileen and Madeline Wirth died in 1968. Three years before, Eric Edgley had presented the first Australian tour of the Great Moscow Circus. 

In 1998 Alice Grant, who had performed with Wirths’ from 1940 to 1954, unveiled a colourful commemorative mosaic on the wall of the Victorian Arts Centre in St Kilda Road, a fitting reminder of a great Australian institution on the site of its long time Melbourne home.

Frank Van Straten, 2007

Biographical references

body