In November 1875, Wollongong had the ignominious honour of being a killjoy to a world-class travelling act.
“Talented artistes” Mr and Mrs George Case were performing at the Temperance Hall over three nights when, midway through the tour, the local constabulary stepped in and charged Mr Case with “giving entertainments without a licence as a professional performer”.
Case pleaded guilty, but explained that he and his wife had performed throughout the colonies, as well as London and other parts of England, for many years without ever being asked for a licence.
“Had he at any time been made aware that he should have a licence, he would have obtained one at once,” his solicitor said.
“Throughout the whole course of their professional career they had never been asked for a licence, until they came to Wollongong. In addition, the act under which the case was brought was a very stringent one and was rarely or never enforced.”
Several gentlemen in the town, who sympathised with the couple, put forward a sufficient sum to defray any fine or costs that might be inflicted. Case was fined 10s, their worships remarking that the police in other parts of the colony had not done their duty in not having made him aware that he should have a licence.
Despite the unpleasant notoriety, travelling performers continued to visit, including a Victorian-era Houdini known as Herr Tolmaque, who displayed his talent for escapism in October 1876.
In one act, he had himself securely tied hand and foot inside an empty cabinet.
In September 1864, a “talented company” known as Barlow and Co’s Canidrome gave a series of entertainments during the week in a large tent adjoining the Royal Hotel.
“The performance of the brothers Wieland is unrivalled in the colonies and that of Mr Taylor truly astonishing, whilst the dogs and monkeys would provoke laughter in the most ascetic,” the Mercury said.
Three years later, Johnson’s American Troupe, a highly talented troupe of minstrels and acrobats, gave entertainments in Wollongong.
“Some of the solos are very chastely and beautifully sung. The acrobatic feats of the younger Walton are marvellous exhibitions of strength, nerve and activity, surpassed only by the elder brother’s unrivalled performance on the flying trapeze.” ■
Photo: A photograph of the intersection of Crown and Corrimal streets, Wollongong, looking west. The Wollongong Temperance Hall is on the south side. CREDIT: From the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society.
GENEALOGY SEARCH TIP: The NSW Family History Document Service – www.ihr.com.au – features images of historical documents that contain information to help you trace people who lived and worked in NSW in 1850-1920.