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John Oxley Library

170th anniversary of George Croft's Amphitheatre

By JOL Admin | 26 April 2017

On April 26, 1847, one of Brisbane's first theatres gave its opening performance. In advertisements published in the Moreton Bay Courier, Mr George Croft's Amphitheatre, situated in Russell Street, South Brisbane promised a spectacular show. George Croft, formerly of the Victoria Theatre in Sydney and Astley's Royal Amphitheatre London, would perform numerous tightrope stunts including "an opera dance on the tight rope" and "the highland fling in character". The advertisement gave further details on Croft's performance...

"MR CROFT will commence with acrobatic feats, will throw a Somerset through a Fire Balloon, 12 feet high; throw several Lion Leaps over chairs, tables, &c., &c.; DANCE A HORNPIPE ON HIS HEAD ON A CANDLESTICK!! and, to conclude the evening's amusements, Mr C. will walk up a Perpendicular Ladder, 10 feet high, and place himself in a Horizontal Position on his Head, when all at once the Ladder falls into a complete Cataract, leaving the Performer on his Head on One Pole SURROUNDED BY FIREWORKS!!!

Advertisement, Moreton Bay Courier, April 24, 1847

Advertisement, Moreton Bay Courier, April 24, 1847

According to the Moreton Bay Courier, a full house attended the opening performance with approximately 50 patrons having to stand. "With the exception of a few slight mistakes, incidental to a first night's performance, Mr Croft went through his daring feats with credit to himself and satisfaction to the audience...Mr Croft must have afforded a rich treat; the juveniles in particular were greatly delighted", reported the newspaper.

Local merchant Thomas Dowse briefly recorded the opening of the amphitheatre in his diary, although it is unclear whether he actually attended.

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Thomas Dowse's diary for April 1847. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Thomas Dowse's diary for April 1847. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Dowse wrote - "Monday 26th April…Tight rope dancing exhibited at S. Brisbane"

The Moreton Bay Courier issued the following  advice to Croft's new venture - "As long as Mr Croft confines himself to harmless and legitimate fun, to the exclusion of scurrility and indecency, we have no doubt he will be well supported by the inhabitants". Perhaps Croft saw it as a challenge. On May 29, the Moreton Bay Courier reported their objection to the use of an obscene song - "he most daring deed of the evening was the introduction of an obscene song, an outrage without precedent in our experience of public amusements. That the song was encored by a part of the audience could be no excuse for the insult offered to the rest; nor could any circumstance justify the unsolicited repetition of the indecency at a later period of the evening...We would advise him not to suffer such gross impropriety in future."

It appears Croft closed his amphitheatre not long after this incident. On June 12, a notice appeared in the Moreton Bay Courier from a man named Andrew Graham requesting that George Croft pay his outstanding debts.

Notice, Moreton Bay Courier, June 12, 1847

Notice, Moreton Bay Courier, June 12, 1847

Myles Sinnamon - Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland



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