The Faust Family of Acrobats

How Lillian envied their freedom. She didn’t notice the heat, the dust motes shimmering in the shafts of light or the smell of stale sweat. Their poise and agility, their triumphant shouts as they flipped, twisted and spun across the stage entranced her. It looked more like fun than work. She wished she could remove her heavy boots, tear off her skirts, loosen the tight collar of her blouse, and join their rehearsal.

Excerpt from Chapter 1, The Aerial Queen.

The Faust Family
The Faust Family, Melbourne Bulletin 1 Aug 1884, State Library of Victoria

The Faust Family arrived in Australia from London in 1884 with Chiarini’s Royal Italian Circus. Their act included acrobatics, bell-ringing, musical clowns, Risley acts (foot-juggling), and tableaux vivant (living pictures). This review appeared in the Australian Town and Country Journal 16 February 1884:

They are ten in number, and including three of the female sex, the youngest of the latter being quite a little toddler, and all displaying surprising flexibility and litheness of limb. Three of the family -Ted, Robert, and Eugene Faust – first present themselves as musical clowns. They are attired in a sort of antique evening costume. They wear white powdered wigs, surmounted by comical tufts, and their faces also whitened, have, by contrast with their sombre garments, a very droll and yet graceful effect. Each bears a violin, and performed on that instrument while going through the strangest contortions without ever losing a note. Eugene is a mere child, and his rendering of the “Comic Carnival of Venice” is really a treat to see and hear. The fiddling is followed by bell-ringing, in which the three brothers show themselves to be thorough experts. What is termed on the bill as “Les Jeux Yearien” introduces the Fausts again, and very wonderful sports they are indeed, Ted, the older brother, lying on a cushion and tossing the two younger ones, Eugene and Victor, round with his hands and feet as an ordinary juggler might play with balls. The performance of the Fausts winds up with an exhibition of classical acrobatism, in which the whole of them take part, and in which their marvellous nimbleness and pliancy of muscle, and the great strength of the performer – who is, we presume, the father of the family, are manifested to a style which wins the hearty applause it so richly deserves.

The family’s real name was Stidolph and the children were: Edwin Jnr (Ted), Louisa, Florence, Eugene, Rose, Virginia, Alberta (Daisy), Victor, and Vera. The bandmaster for Chiarini’s Circus, Charles von der Mehden, married the eldest Faust daughter (Louisa) in 1884. Possibly other (unrelated) children performed under the Faust name as well.

Chiarini's Circus
Chiarini’s Grand Circus and Menagerie and the Wondrous Faust Family and Troupe (probably 1884) State Library of Victoria

Chiarini’s Circus arrived in Auckland in Sept 1884 and when Chiarini returned to Australia in Jan 1885, the Fausts remained in New Zealand making an exhaustive tour of small towns for the remainder of 1885.

In 1889, Ted Faust took the lease on the Haymarket Music Hall in Sydney, where Gladys Fraties [sic] performed on the trapeze as ‘The Aerial Queen’.

The London Bellringers and the Faust Family Combination returned to New Zealand for another tour in 1890/1 and then again in 1895/6. This tour ended on a sour note when Edwin Faust sued the Taranaki Daily News for libel after they published a telegram alleging unpaid advertising and hotel bills. Faust was awarded £15 damages and the paper printed an apology but profits were down and they left for America.

The Edison Manufacturing Company produced a short film of the ‘Faust Family of Acrobats’ in 1901. I haven’t seen it, but the Library of Congress describes it as a group of acrobats perform many varied tumbling tricks, individually and in pairs. At the end, the largest man is supporting the weight of six members of the troupe.

Faust Sisters
The Faust Sisters, Otago Witness, 9 Jan 1901

The Faust Sisters (Rose, Daisy and Vera) returned to New Zealand and Australia in 1899. Some of the family continued to perform in Minstrel shows in America. Edwin Faust Snr died in New York in 1910.

Further information and a photograph of the Fausts: See How They Ring! Travelling Bellringers on the Australasian Popular Stage by Anne Doggett and Gwyn Gillard. Published by Ballarat Heritage Services 2011.

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