Johannes Wirth (1835-1880) was a young immigrant from Bavaria who arrived in Australia in 1855 with his three younger brothers. They were musicians who performed as a German brass band. Johannes took to the life of an itinerant gold seeker, travelling with his wife and infants, following rush after rush to the gold fields, all the way from southern Victoria to the north of Queensland. He had little luck as a prospector but did better as an entertainer. It was Johannes’ musical ability that caused him to associate with circus companies, which often featured a brass band. Even though he ‘did not care for circusing’, it was there that the Wirths found employment, until he and his brothers went their separate ways
Johannes arrived in the Darling Downs in the mid-1860s and lived there, near where his brothers had settled. However when Ashton’s Circus arrived at Dalby in 1870, Johannes was persuaded to join them as a bandsman. He had already taught his sons to play music and when he returned home, it was to fetch the three oldest boys, John, Harry and Philip, and take them back to Ashton’s.
The Wirth family’s brass band eked out a living in the 1870s by playing at processions, parties and balls. Between 1876 and 1878 they were working as musicians based in Tamworth, where there was a railway construction camp.
John Ridge engaged the Wirths as bandsmen in 1879 and 1880, for his Royal Tycoon Circus. Ridge put the show into wagons, touring western New South Wales and southern Queensland.
Johannes died in 1880 and his sons carried on with band performances, putting into practice the skills their father had taught them. John was an outstanding cornet player, Harry played the bass, George the tenor horn; Philip played trombone but could play any brass instrument well. Soon they were to extend their capabilities beyond music and into circus performance.
Written by Peter Cox, Curator, Circus Factory exhibition