The Fakir of Oolu: Illusionist

Alfred Silvester (1831 – 1886) was a magician who first appeared in London in the 1860s with Pepper’s Ghost, a transparent ghostly illusion created by reflecting an image onto a sheet of glass. A special effect, similar to the holograph, it’s still used today in amusement rides such as Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Silvester ran into... Continue Reading →

Bibliomania: Wellington Bookshops

Starting with the annual DCM book fair I’ve been on a bit of a book-buying binge lately, so for dedicated bibliophiles here is a miscellany of new and second-hand bookstores in and around central Wellington. Conveniently, my two favourite bookshops (Unity and Arty Bees) both have a bus stop right outside. Unity Books Unity Books... Continue Reading →

Trapeze: A Visual Spectacle?

  Watching my daughter’s video of the recent P!nk concert in Auckland, the breath-taking thrill for both performer and audience of P!nk soaring at speed above the crowd was obvious. Something that’s easier to capture on film than in words, but following on from my previous post about 19th-century aerialists here are some books that... Continue Reading →

Daring Women: 19th-century Aerialists

Female acrobats on trapezes at circus c1890, Library of Congress A thrill went through the expectant crowd, and a breathless hush fell as Lillian took the stage. She sprang forward, caught the bar that had been let down almost level with her shoulders and was carried aloft; up and over the heads of the people;... Continue Reading →

Vade Mecum: 19th-century tourism

Before Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor, travellers in the 19th century would use a handbook or guide titled Vade Mecum (translation from Latin = go with me). For example, The New Zealand tourists' vade mecum: being a handbook to the services of the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand Limited (4th edition, 1891) is... Continue Reading →

The Faust Family of Acrobats

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,... Continue Reading →

Six Books about Ballooning

While I was writing and researching The Only Living Lady Parachutist I read quite a few books about ballooning because I reasoned that if I read enough books, then there was no need to take an actual balloon flight was there? Here are some of my favourites: Enduring Love (Ian McEwen): Who can forget the horror... Continue Reading →

Harry Rayward: Ventriloquist

Henry Hampton Rayward arrived in Melbourne, Australia in 1890 with his brother (Arthur Leslie Rayward) and half-brother Frederick Broad aboard the SS Ormuz from England. He’d trained as an engineer and found work as a draughtsman but he also performed on stage as a ventriloquist, a popular form of entertainment in the late 19th century.... Continue Reading →

Leila Adair at Palmerston North

Leila Adair ran into problems with her balloon ascent at the Palmerston North Racecourse on 24 May 1894, held during a tournament organised by the Manawatu Mounted Rifles. When the supply of kerosene proved insufficient to inflate the balloon, Captain Dunk (standing on the far right in the photo below) confiscated their takings of £28... Continue Reading →

Social Issues of the 1890s: Larrikins

Eleven months after the Freitas sisters made their debut at the Haymarket Music Hall, Sydney’s Evening News reported on this disturbance in the theatre: Larrikin was a 19th-century Australian slang term for a subculture that developed among the unskilled urban youth in the inner city suburbs between 1870 and 1890. Larrikins congregated around the theatre... Continue Reading →

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