James H. Ashton, Anglo Saxon Circus, 1864.
James H. Ashton, Anglo Saxon Circus, 1864. "Jimmy Ashton" was pencilled on the back of the photograph. T. Duryea State Library of NSW

Famous circus founder buried in Gladstone

THERE are many famous locals permanently residing in Gladstone Cemetery.

But not many locals know that our oldest cemetery is also home to one of Australia's most famous entertainers, James Ashton founder of Ashton's Circus.

Mr Ashton was reputedly a clog-dancer and circus performer from Colchester, Essex, England.

He arrived in Australia in the 1840's and started performing as a 'bold and fearless equestrian' for various theatre companies and circuses around Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart.

By May 1854 he had formed Ashton's Royal Olympic Circus and for the next thirty-five years he toured eastern Australia with his various grandly titled circuses and his family.

His name became a household word especially in the country areas of New South Wales and in Queensland as far north as Rockhampton.

According to local historian Paulette Flint, in January 1889 Mr Ashton had been feeling unwell for quite a while.

"He consulted a doctor who advised him to have a rest in the country so he chose to take a holiday in Gladstone," she said.

"He was residing in the Metropolitan Hotel which used to stand on the corner of Lord and Goondoon streets when he died on January 17, 1889."

He was buried in Gladstone Cemetery and his sons paid for his grave to be erected.

FINAL ROLL UP: Grave of Ashton Circus founder, James Ashton, in Gladstone Cemetery.
FINAL ROLL UP: Grave of Ashton Circus founder, James Ashton, in Gladstone Cemetery. Greg Bray

"Whenever Ashton's circus visited Gladstone they would visit his grave and place flowers on it," Mrs Flint said.

"The Genealogical Society Gladstone District occasionally conducts cemetery walks and James Ashton's grave is one of the highlights."

Ashton's Circus is the longest surviving circus in Australia.



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