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Australia's largest circus

A riding crop with a silver L-shaped handle atop a black pole. - click to view larger image
Riding crop used by ringmaster Philip Wirth, about 1900

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.

Black and white photo of a man standing astride two white horses. The horses' rear legs rest on the ground. Four other horses sit similarly in a ring.
Philip Wirth and his horses, about 1910

Explore more Spirited: Australia's Horse Story

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