Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review

Volume 12, Issue 1, 2021

Mark Valentine St Leon
Pages 39-73

Presence, Prestige and Patronage: Circus Proprietors and Country Pastors in Australia, 1847–1942

Christianity and circus entered the Australian landscape within a few decades of each other. Christianity arrived with the First Fleet in 1788. Five years later, Australia’s first church was opened. In 1832, the first display of the circus arts was given by a ropewalker on the stage of Sydney’s Theatre Royal. Fifteen years later, Australia’s first circus was opened in Launceston. Nevertheless, Australia’s historians have tended to overlook both the nation’s religious history and its annals of popular entertainment. In their new antipodean setting, what did Christianity and circus offer each other? To what extent did each accommodate the other in terms of thought and behaviour? In raising these questions, this article suggests the need to remove the margins between the mainstreams of Australian religious and social histories. For the argument of this article: 1) the term “religion” will refer to Christianity, specifically its Roman Catholic and principal Protestant manifestations introduced in Australia, Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist; and 2) the term “circus” will refer to the form of popular entertainment, a major branch of the performing arts and a sub-branch of theatre, as devised by Astley in London from 1768, and first displayed in the Australia in 1847.