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Ringmaster Phillip Wirth's crop

Ringmaster Phillip Wirth's crop

Philip Wirth’s crop, made from an umbrella stick.
Riding crop fashioned from a wooden umbrella handle, used by ringmaster Philip Wirth, about 1900. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Jason McCarthy.

Australia's largest circus

Wirth's Circus was the largest in Australia at one stage and featured dozens of performers and more than 40 horses and ponies.

Johannes (John) Wirth migrated to Australia from Germany in 1855, working as an itinerant musician before developing a travelling circus with his sons and daughters in 1880.

For several generations the skilled horse riders and acrobats of the Wirth family expanded their repertoire to include acts involving monkeys, dogs and elephants, cyclists, clowns, a Japanese juggler, an American Wild West show and later, cassock riders.

Ringmaster and rider

Philip Wirth was one of Johannes Wirth's sons. He shared the role of circus ringmaster with his brother George, importing horses, trainers and acts from across the world. Philip trained his niece May Wirth to be billed as 'the world's greatest bareback rider'.

Philip was a talented trainer and rider, and a member of the Australian Jockey and Victoria Racing clubs.

Wirth's Circus toured Australia and internationally until 1963.

Philip Wirth and his horses during a training session.
Philip Wirth and his horses during a training session, about 1910. National Museum of Australia.


People and the Environment

Horses in Australia is part of the National Museum's People and the Environment program. Discover more stories about people's relationships with Australia's natural and built environments on our People and the Environment website.