2011-12-20

'A daring feat' The Tiger Chariot Act of Wirth's Circus 1901-1906



Image Credit: J.R. Mann Photographer Auckland Weekly News 19 May 1902
Reproduced with the kind courtesy of
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19020529-10-3



These days with the advent of growing opposition against the use of animals performing in circuses an image like this would be frowned upon. Below is a brief summary I wrote up about the animals in this act.


Prince and Pasha[1] are harnessed to the chariot, with Kitty the Tigress playing the part of ‘Jehu’[2] The trainer was known by the name Monsieur Ragoul[3] or Rogalle in some publications.

The act debuted as a finale on 28 August 1901, where Wirth Brother’s Circus and Menagerie were conducting performances at Rockhampton in Queensland Australia.[4] The trainer at the time was referred to as ‘Monsieur Soueki’. The Bengal tigers Prince, Pasha and Kitty performed with the two male tigers harnessed to the chariot and Kitty riding in the vehicle.

“…A new act is to be put on to-night as a finale to the programme M. Soueki who has entered the tigers' cage nightly, will show his animals in a sensational act in the centre of the ring. A large wire cage has been erected around the ring and M. Soueki will enter it with the three tigers. After repeating their various tricks, two of the tigers will be attached to a chariot and draw it round the ring, and the third will jump on to the box seat and act as driver…” wrote The Morning Bulletin (28 August 1901).

Philip Wirth later wrote from Queensland, to his brother George advising him that the act had been successfully performed at Rockhampton and had gone off ‘with a hitch’.[5]

During the latter part of 1901 the circus traveled extensively through Australia to showcase this spectacular act.

“…Royal Bengal tigers, Prince, Pasha, and Kitty, ferocious forest-bred animals that perform on awe-inspiring act. The entire circus arena is enclosed with a steel cage, the tigers are let loose, Mons. Ragoul, their trainer, enters the cage and makes them seesaw, play leapfrog, jump hoops, roll barrels and globes, and finally harnesses two tigers like horses to a chariot, and a third drives them rapidly around the arena..”[6].

In 1902 during the New Zealand tour, the trainer had some trouble with one of the male tigers, when the animal refused to stand up during a performance in Auckland.[7]
The act was performed in New Zealand tours in the years 1902 and 1904 respectively. No further performances using the tigers in this manner were seen in this country after 1904.

The Act was discontinued around 1906 when the last advertisement of Wirth Circus mentioning the performance appeared in January of that same year.[8] After 1906, no further references are made.




[1]  ‘Pasha’ who was reported in May 1901(Taranaki Herald 16 May 1901) attacking Carl Wirth. Wirth had sat on the tiger during a performance in Queensland. The tiger inflicted serious injuries to the trainer’s leg. The animal was apparently to be held for exhibition purposes only. Pasha had 5 previous incidences of attacking his trainer.
[2] Jehu was a 9th century b.c. biblical king of Israel
[3] When, the act was first reported by the Morning Bulletin (28 August 1901) the trainer was referred to as Mons.  Soueki
[4] Morning Bulletin 28 August 1901
[5] Brisbane Courier 31 August 1901
[6] The Register 14 December 1901
[7] Hawera and Normanby Star 20 June 1902
[8] Advertisements The West Australian 20 January 1906

4 comments:

  1. What a terrific Post . . . the photo drew me in right away, and the story you tell is worth reading by so many people. It's part of the world's history.

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  2. Hi Justin it was such an amazing image of times long since lost. I've been researching a lot of these types of stories for just over a year now. I'm like a dog with a bone when it comes to the history of animals in zoos and circuses.

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  3. Excellent post, Liz. I agree with Justin -- a stunning image.

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  4. Glad you liked it Lisa. I agree with both of you. The image is amazing. Interesting conversation I had with Keith at Heritage Images. He tells me the photographer John Randall Mann dropped dead of a heart attack after finishing a photo shoot at Freemans Bay at Wirths with a Miss Purcell who was posing with these very tigers. Apparently Mann had just told everyone the shoot was concluded then turned and abruptly dropped dead. Fascinating story certainly comes with that photo. And thanks for the compliment on the post. That means a lot as you know.

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