The Perry Brothers Circus offered new and amazing entertainment for the working class people of Te Aro during the depression in the 1920’s.
1929 Perry circus poster
Ref: Eph-E-CABOT-Circus-Perry-1928-02. Alexander Turnbull Library
This circus advertised as the greatest ring show on earth, held the Famous Five Lorenzo’s with their mid-air marvels, in pride of place. Vaudeville acts and tight rope walkers entertained the adults and the travelling zoo was a huge draw card for the children.
Captain Wizard the wild animal trainer kept the animals in line with his whip. Performing artists with fabulous names and entertainment options drew in the local crowds. The Flying Dunbars, the Jingling Jumpers, Miss La La Selbinie the Contortionist, Mulldoon Ramp, Freddie the Clown, the Henry Arco Troupe with their balancing act, Miss Doreen the trapeze artist, Alva Zalva the somersault artist and Ridiculous Gordon, the cycling comedian all entertained the crowds.
When the circus arrived in town they would parade up the street with their miniature elephant on the back of the flatbed truck. Captain Mozalo the ringmaster bought a tiger, a lion and a miniature elephant named Tommy all the way from Europe. Tommy performed the Charleston and Black bottom dances and played his own music.
1928 Perry circus elephant Tommy
Ref: 1/2-113980-F. Alexander Turnbull Library
I am inclined to think that poor little Tommy was a baby elephant. Thankfully today society no longer tolerates the incarceration and training of wild animals as a form entertainment.
The Old Shebang
Ref: 1/1-025894-G. Alexander Turnbull Library
The ‘Old Shebang’, a working mans cottage located on upper Cuba St near Tonks Ave. was tenanted in 1883 by three young gentlemen.
William Williams was a keen amateur photographer who has left us a number of interesting images of his life. Williams was adventurous and would go out into the surrounding hills and valleys of the Wellington region with his young friends, photographing the scenery with them in it.
Before his marriage his photographs appear to have been influenced by his friend Elsdon Best. Elsdon went on to write over twenty books and numerous papers about Maori and their way of life including Tuhoe; Children of the Mist. His papers and books written during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s are still studied in our universities today.
Investigating Maori culture
Ref: 1/2-140204-G. Alexander Turnbull Library
These young men were very inquiring and experimental with their ideas. The image on the right showing a white man with a painting on moko and a blanket in imitation of the way local Maori dressed might be mis- interpreted in our time as being racist. But maybe the young men were attempting to understand the Maori world around them? Elsdon Best’s writing over his life time would make one suspect this scenario.
Ref: 1/2-140354-G. Alexander Turnbull Library
This small wooden unpainted cottage would have had a living room and kitchen downstairs with one bedroom upstairs. A number of similar cottages where built in Te Aro in the 1800’s. This included owner/occupied dwellings and others built by t wealthy land and business owners living in the more salubrious Thorndon or Karori. These workers cottages were often rented to people who worked for the owners. Cuba St had everything within walking distance a hard working person could want; the greengrocer, butcher, stables and hotels, just like a modern urban community.
The 1883 bachelor’s bedroom doesn’t look a lot different to a young men’s flat today. This one bedroom workingman’s cottage at the top of Cuba St would have been a cheap rental for men establishing themselves in the small township.
1883 bachelor’s bedroom
Ref: 1/2-140322-G. Alexander Turnbull Library