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  • P OW E R HOUS E M US EU M A R CH I V E S

    GU I DE T O T H E A R CH I V E S OF T H E

    WEATHERLY SISTERSPAU L W I L S ON 2009

  • CONTENTS Biographical Note 3 Series List 5 Series Descriptions and Item Lists 6

  • COLLECTED ARCHIVES BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

    98/29/1

    Weatherly Sisters

    Registration Number:

    Creator:

    The Weatherly sisters, Gaga and Toots, worked in circus, vaudeville, film and television as clowns,

    contortionists, mimics, dancers, singers, songwriters and musicians. They both began performing on

    stage at the age of two and continued as entertainers well into their 70s. They were fifth generation

    show people. Their grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents were English circus

    proprietors; their parents and their aunts were circus and vaudeville performers; one of their nieces was

    the actress and variety performer Gloria Dawn.

    The Weatherly Sisters' great grandparents on their maternal side, James and Pauline Newsome ne

    Hinne, were English equestrian performers and circus entrepreneurs. James Newsome was born in

    Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1824 and apprenticed at the age of 12 to William Batty of Astley's Circus. An

    older brother, Timothy, also trained in the circus and by the 1860s was the most famous lion-tamer in

    England. Pauline Hinne was from a French circus family but had been born in Berlin. She married

    James Newsome in 1846. For the next few years they travelled extensively throughout Europe.

    Newsome's Circus was established in 1856 and by the mid-1870s had become one of the most successful

    circuses in provincial England. James Newsome was also a highly regarded horse-breaker. According to

    Thomas Frost in his Circus Life and Circus Celebrities, the distinctive features of Newsome's Circus

    were that he broke in his own horses and that his company played in purpose-built structures. His

    circus toured the north of England and Scotland. The Newsome's six daughters - Adele, Emma, Marie,

    Pauline, Virginie and Ella Bertha - all became noted circus equestrians. Emma married another circus

    performer and equestrian William Fredericks who also used the name William Frederick Coleman and

    who was known professionally as 'Professor Fredericks' or 'Mr Fredericks'. It appears that William

    Fredericks was born in Germany c1845. Frost mentions in his book that "Fredericks" was a member of

    Newsome's Circus by 1873. Later in his career 'Professor Fredericks' became well-known for his troupe

    of performing animals which included monkeys, cats, rats, mice and birds. At one time he also managed

    Fredericks' Star Circus. In 1887 Newsome's Circus suffered a disastrous fire that destroyed its

    Edinburgh Circus. The company continued for another two years but closed in Sunderland in 1889.

    Pauline Newsome died in 1904 and James Newsome in 1912.

    The Fredericks family had ten children, including Gaga and Toots' mother Clothilde, who was known as

    Pinky. Billed as the Rio Sisters but sometimes as the Rio Troupe or the Fredericks, Pinky and four of

    her sisters toured through India, South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand with Harmston's Circus

    during the 1890s. Pinky like her siblings often used the surname Coleman and in Melbourne in 1898 as

    Clothilde Coleman she married another Harmston's performer, Sydney Odling, who was generally

    known as Charles E Weatherly. Charles Weatherly was a musician, acrobat, contortionist, animal

    trainer and clown, often billed as 'Pippo the Clown'. According to family legend, he had been born to a

    well-to-do family in Birmingham, England, had led an orchestra in Birmingham at the age of nine, and

    had abandoned a university course and run away to join the circus. However none of this can be verified

    from the records. On both his marriage and death certificates "Charles Weatherly" was named as

    Sydney Charles Odling. Charles and Clothilde's three children were born while the family was

    travelling with Harmston's Circus: Zilla in a hotel in Bangkok, Thailand (then Siam) in 1900; Zaida

    (Gaga) in a hotel in Singapore in 1903; and Queenie (Toots) on a ship travelling between Sumatra and

    Penang in 1905.

    As a family, the Weatherlys (or Weatherleys as their name was sometimes spelt) performed with

    circuses throughout the Indian sub-continent, the Far East, Australasia, and southern Africa or with

    regimental theatres operated by the British Army on the Indian sub-continent and in Burma, Malaya,

    Singapore, and southern Africa. They made a number of short trips to Australia to perform with

    circuses including Wirth's and Barton's. For a short period around 1910 they left show business and

    Charles Weatherly worked as a driver in Toowoomba, Queensland. At first the children sang songs on

    stage, played musical instruments and performed impersonations, but around 1917 they introduced a

    contortion act into their program.

  • 98/29/1

    Weatherly Sisters

    Registration Number:

    Creator:

    From 1920 the Weatherly family was based in Australia and focussed on vaudeville. They travelled

    widely as itinerant performers. They were usually billed as the "Five Musical Weatherlys" and their act

    involved a mixture of music, singing, dancing, comedy, impersonations and contortion work. For a short

    period the Weatherly children also billed themselves as the "Atlantic City Girls". During the 1920s

    Charles Weatherly, Pinky Weatherly and Toots Weatherly appeared in a small number of Australian

    silent films. The family also travelled with Fuller's Theatres on tours of Australia and New Zealand and

    performed with other vaudeville companies. In addition they performed at boxing and wrestling

    stadiums providing entertainment between bouts. In 1927 Zilla Weatherly married William Evans, a

    ventriloquist, magician and paper tearer, who billed himself as "Billy Andross". Their daughter, Gloria

    Dawn, was born in 1929. By the time Gloria Dawn was aged two, Zilla and Billy were travelling

    independently of other members of the family.

    In the early 1930s Charles, Pinky, Gaga and Toots Weatherly undertook a tour to Singapore, India,

    Burma and Java. In India they experienced civil unrest associated with Gandhi's campaign against

    British rule and Toots also contracted smallpox. It was this trip that convinced the family to settle

    permanently in Australia. Nevertheless they continued to travel and Gaga and Toots undertook tours

    with a number of tent shows including Sorlie's and Barton's.

    At the outbreak of World War II the family was in Brisbane preparing to undertake a tour of India but

    international developments forced them to abandon this plan. They decided to buy a bus and for the

    next two years travelled throughout Queensland and the Northern Territory, performing along the way.

    Later in the war they settled in Sydney. Gaga and Toots performed their last contortion act in 1945.

    Charles Weatherly died in 1945 while Pinky Weatherly died in 1952.

    At times when things were quiet in show business Toots Weatherly worked as a secretary. Gaga had a

    long-standing engagement as a drummer in an all-girl band that played at Leichhardt Stadium. From

    the early 1950s the sisters concentrated on a boxing bells act and later appeared on a number of

    nationally-televised variety shows including "The Don Lane Show" and "The Mike Walsh Show". The

    last time they played on television was in the early 1970s and after that they confined their

    performances to nursing homes and hospitals. Toots died in September 1989; it is not known when Gaga

    died.

    Sources:

    98/29/1 Weatherly Sisters Archive, Powerhouse Museum

    Oral history interviews conducted with the Weatherly Sisters, Toots and Gaga, by Graham Shirley on 9

    February 1983 (NFSA 376614) and 20 June 1983 (NFSA 375653), National Film and Sound Archive of

    Australia

    Fairground Heritage Trust http://www.fairground-heritage.org.uk/ [Accessed 17 December 2007]

    Frost, Thomas. Circus Life and Circus Celebrities. London: Tinsley Brothers, 1875.

    Hogan, Susan. "Dawn, Gloria (1929 - 1978)", http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A130659b.htm

    [Accessed 21 November 2007]

    Van Straten, Frank. Tivoli. South Melbourne: Lothian, 2003

  • COLLECTED ARCHIVES SERIES LIST

    Weatherly Sisters

    Reg. Number Series Title Date

    Creator:

    98/29/1-1 Programs 1879 - 1938

    98/29/1-2 Posters and advertising cards c 1887 - 1921

    98/29/1-3 Photographs c 1895 - c 1927

    98/29/1-4 Documents c 1890 - 1930

    98/29/1-5 Press and magazine articles and clippings 1874 - 1930s

    98/29/1-6 "Circus Life and Circus Celebrities" 1875

  • COLLECTED ARCHIVES SERIES DESCRIPTION

    Registration Number: 98/29/1-1

    Creators: Weatherly Sisters

    Series Title: Programs

    Date Range: 1879 - 1938

    Physical Characteristics: Loose paper programs, programs pasted onto sheets of paper, silk

    programs sewn onto pages of a scrapbook or onto sheets of paper.

    Description: Programs, Weatherly Sisters, Strathfield, New South Wales,

    Australia, 1879 - 1938

    Programs detailing performances by Toots and Gaga Weatherly and

    their immediate and extended family in a number of circuses

    including Newsome's Circus, Fredericks' Circus, and Harmston's

    Circus, and on the vaudeville circuit with companies such as

    Fuller's, the Tivoli, and Sorlie's. A scrapbook containing c

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