Wednesday, June 12, 2024


 Welcome to Threw the Hat,  a blog about Australian Juggling History.

Here you will find some links to photos and articles/stories about Australian Jugglers and those who visited Australia.

You can search the site or browse the tags on the right hand side if you are looking for a particular juggler.

Please credit the site if you are using the information you find here

Enjoy your visit and feel free to contact me if you have questions or comments


Cinquevalli on the right. (Authors collection) 

The incredible juggling life of Catherine Marshall Webb- Mrs Joe Jalvan.


This article was inspired by David Cain's article on Joe Jalvan. I wanted to concentrate on the Australian connection, in particular Catherine. Warning for offensive language.

In 1899 American juggler, Joseph O Bryan, known professionally as Jalvan married an Australian woman, Catherine Webb at a small church in Paddington in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. They remained married until her death. Catherine supported her husband on stage and off and together they were The Jalvans, a juggling duo who toured England, Australia, and the United States. 

Catherine Webb was born in Victoria, Australia in 1859. She was the eldest daughter of Catherine Webb (nee Smith) and her husband Christopher Charles Webb. Mrs Webb was Irish and Mr Webb was British (Born in Devon around 1825). The pair married in Liverpool England in 1853 and arrived in the Colony of Victoria sometime between then and Catherine’s birth in 1859, during the height of the Gold Rush era. They settled in Melbourne and two years after Catherine’s birth, they had a son, Charles jnr. Catherine’s father, Charles Christopher Webb died in 1874 and his widow remarried George Marshall the same year. The family then moved to the heart of Melbourne.

Little is known of their everyday life until daughter Catherine joined Orpheus McAdoo the famous African American impresario and former Fisk Jubilee singer in the 1890s. Catherine is first mentioned in December 1894, as Miss Marshall Webb, a contralto.

Catherine and Joe are probably both in this picture of McAdoo's touring Australian troupe, but neither are identified. (National Library of Australia)

From that time until her marriage to Jalvan in 1899, Catherine was part of one of the most famous African American entertainment groups in the world.

Orpheus McAdoo was an entrepreneur who began as a member of the famous Fisk Jubilee singers, a group formed from freed slaves in the 1870s. It started as a singing group to raise money for Fisk university, and soon became a world-renowned entertainment troupe that toured the world and performed for royalty and world leaders. McAdoo first toured Australia in the 1880s as part of a Fisk tour, but in the 1890s he decided to form his own group. 

Between 1890 and 1900, the McAdoos (Orpheus married Mattie Allen a member of the troupe) toured South Africa and Australia constantly. In 1894 on a stop in Australia, Catherine Marshall Webb was welcomed as a member of the group.

Catherine was a contralto singer and a good one. Her pure voice rang out through some of the most imposing and important theatres in Australia to great acclaim. One review of 1894 stated:

One of the treats of the evening was a contralto solo by Miss
Marshall Webb who sang with much purity of tone and refinement of expression
“the Holy City.”
 She also had a 'narrow escape' from a double encore.
Catherine travelled to South Africa with the Jubilee Singers and stayed for several years. Whilst there she witnessed the treatment of the African population but was exempt from curfews and the attendant humiliations
because she, and the troupe were considered ‘honorary whites.’ This did not stop McAdoo from reporting on conditions for newspapers and friends in the United States.

After several years in South Africa, McAdoo broadened the appeal of his group and incorporated vaudeville acts. He travelled to the US in 1897 and returned to Africa with Joseph Jalvan, a juggler. Jalvan was an accomplished performer who specialised in juggling plates and balancing objects on clay pipes. He was popular with South African audiences and remained with McAdoo when the group returned to Australia around

Joe is on the bottom left and also seen balancing on the upper right hand side. Catherine is probably in this photo but not identified. 

They started in Western Australia in September that year and then moved to Sydney in December. McAdoo rented the Palace Theatre in that city and the group performed daily.

At the Palace in early 1899, ‘Jalvan’s exceedingly clever juggling and balancing feats were in themselves an entertainment worth the admission fee.’ Whilst Miss Marshall Webb was acclaimed as, ‘a charming mezzo soprano,’ who met with a ‘cordial response’ and ‘undeniable encores.’

In January 1899, Joseph and Catherine married in St Matthias Church in Paddington in Sydney. Mr and Mrs McAdoo were witnesses to the event. ( The church still exists)

However, the Jubilee Entertainers rarely stayed in one place for too long. In March, the newly married couple travelled with the rest of the group to New Zealand for three months. The new bride still travelled under her maiden name. They returned to Sydney in late June.

McAdoo was ill, and the troupe fell apart. The Jalvans needed to work and in July, Jalvan, ‘the great juggler and oriental entertainer,’ advertised that he was ‘open for engagements at socials parties etc.’ Joe and Catherine were living at 430 Bourke Street Sydney at the time. Later that month, McAdoo died and was buried at a local cemetery on the cliffs of Sydney Harbour.

Socials and parties were not enough to pay the bills, so by October 1899, Catherine and Joe were in Country Victoria touring with a group called, Chillie and Jalvan’s Jubilee Entertainers and Cake Walkers. Catherine sang
‘Killarney’ and Joe juggled ‘plates, cards, feathers, tops, fans, lamps, and balanced pipes with a pigeon on top. 

The show included an early exhibition of the cake walk and both black and white performers.

However, they lasted only a brief time and primarily toured regional areas in Victoria. It is possible the couple stayed with Catherine’s family during the tour. By January 1900 Chillie and Jalvan’s Entertainers were
no more and the Jalvans were a duo act. One notable appearance that month was at the Australian Natives Association festival ‘celebrating’ foundation day. The ANA restricted membership to native born Australian white men, so it was a strange gig for the Jalvans. 

In April 1900 they caused a sensation at the Geelong Easter Fair. On the last evening, Joe ‘assisted by Madame Jalvan,’ ‘did some astonishing balancing feats which must be seen to be believed.’ They performed in an
‘oriental setting’ in front of a very large and appreciative audience. Catherine also sang some songs from the Jubilee Singers’ repertoire. They were enthusiastically applauded and were obviously the hit of the festival. By this time, it seems that Catherine was assisting her husband with his juggling feats on a regular basis. 

Joe and Catherine performed for various community organisations around Victoria until October 1900 when they got their biggest break in Australia, a contract with the famous Tivoli Theatre Circuit.

They first appeared at the Bijou in Melbourne, and a new person joined the act, Stri Webb Tokey Jarro, a lady dressed in Japanese garb. It was Catherine, now fully incorporated into her husband’s turn. The newspapers
reviewed them favourably.

Jalvan is a very fine conjuror, and the manner in which he
balances a lighted lamp on his head, while he bends down and finally drinks a
glass of water, is exceedingly clever. He receives well merited applause and
looks very fine in his gorgeous clothes and in his Indian boudoir.

The Jalvans on the Sydney Tivoli Programme

After Melbourne they moved to Adelaide and were there when the Australian states federated and became a country on January 1, 1901. By this time Jalvan’s billing as ‘the Oriental wonderworker’ and the Asian setting for
the show was well established.

The critics complimented Jalvan for his skill saying.

Jalvan, a clever juggler, is as popular as ever; he relies on
skill and not magic for his success. Balancing a feather perpendicularly on the
tip of his nose appears to be a second nature for him, and he seemingly
requires no more effort than his assistant does in blandly smiling.

From Adelaide they moved to Sydney for two months where they were tremendously popular. In Sydney, the Bulletin described Joe spinning ‘a top down the edge of a sabre’ and juggling with three blocks to the air of ‘Coming thro the Rye.’

The couple returned to Melbourne. The city was celebrating the arrival of The Duke of York, later George V for the opening of the first Australian parliament. Illuminations lit the streets, holidays were declared,
and fetes. festivals and parades were constant, thousands of people crowded the displays. The Jalvans performed for the Trades and Friendly Societies Council as part of the celebrations and appeared as headliners at the Friendly Society gardens as part of this, once in a lifetime, event.

However, it seems that Australia was too small for the Jalvans, and finally after almost three years it was time to leave. They travelled to England, and by July were advertising their services through newspapers and

In October 1901 Joseph popped into the offices of the trade paper The Showman and the editor wrote a front-page account of the visit which included racial stereotypes and slurs common to the time.

 Jalvan, the juggler, called in to have a chat with the
editor. Jalvan is a cull'ed gem'man, just come over from Australia., where he
has been " working." He is a South American really but makes. up as
occa­sion requires, either as a Jap or an Indian. THE SHOWMAN in Australia., he
tells us, is looked upon as the best paper of its kind in the world; and
although they do not get it regularly every Friday, the subscribers appreciate
it as an up-to-date, valuable journal. With his pretty wife-who. by the way is
a. "yaIler gal "---Jalvan has knocked up an act of dexterity and
mystery that he will introduce to London audiences at the Balham Theatre of
Varieties on November 4th. The novelty of Jalvan's act is that it is all
performed while the artistes are either dancing to rag-time music or walking
the "Cake Walk." We shall be there to see the show! 

It is tempting to suggest, as implied by ‘being able to make up as required,’ that Joe and Catherine, by now seasoned professionals, consciously manipulated racial stereotypes to enhance their popularity. Their performances in England included an appearance at the Palladium, one of the top theatres in the country.

Around 1908 the couple arrived in the United States and started a solid career on the vaudeville circuit. In 1910, they filled in the census in Chicago. Both claimed to be Australian.

 In 1914, Catherine’s mother died in Melbourne. The death notice stated that she was the mother of Mrs Jalvan, late of the Jubilee singers. Clearly Catherine’s family were proud of her connections to both the Jubilee singers and to Joe.

Unfortunately, Catherine did not live much longer. In 1919, Billboard Magazine reported that' Katherine', wife of Joe, of the Juggling Jalvans had died in Macomb Mississippi in the United States. She may have been a victim of the flu epidemic. She and Joe were working for the Hagenbeck- Wallace show at the time.

Joe continued performing regularly and passed away in 1955.


Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Mozetto and Eugene Cottin at the State Library of NSW

These photos come from the Grace Gorman collection at the State Library of NSW in Sydney. The collection has not been digitised yet, and there are more photos than are listed on the catalogue.
 Mozetto toured Australia in 1912. I have covered the tour here

Eugene Cottin, Mozetto's assistant

Eugene and Mozetto

Mozetto postcard

Saturday, April 27, 2024

The Australian Creightons


The Australian Creightons found Australia too small and travelled to the United States, only to have the love of a woman break up the pair.

The Creightons, juggling acrobats were two young Victorian men who met in a gymnasium in the Victorian suburbs around 1909. Fred Creighton, was the shortest and the eldest of the two. His partner, Jim Howell, known almost always as Jim Creighton, was a tall red-haired extrovert.

Fred was born in Richmond around 1890. Jim was born in Prahan, between 1890 and 1893. The pair later said they met at a gymnasium and their first appearances were suburban ones. They are first mentioned in 1910 at the Prahan Town Hall at a charity concert and by the end of that year they performed with The City Entertainers in Ballarat.  Over the next two years they built a reputation in that city as a unique pair of juggling acrobats. Their original act involved acrobatics, hand balancing and juggling. Fred was short and Jim tall, so the contrast in their build caused much comment.

In 1912 they got a big break and toured New Zealand. Described as the ‘most expensive’ juggling act to visit that country, they performed for almost 6 months with the Belle Crome company. Their act involved acrobatics, juggling and comedy and their ability to juggle in ‘unison’ was remarkable. Reviewers praised their novelty and one stated that their act was ‘mildly sensational.’

The good reviews in New Zealand led to a long booking on the Fullers circuit. In Sydney at the National Amphitheatre in 1913 they received plaudits and applause.

They juggled six clubs, three each,  whilst switching hats and cigars between them. Jim also juggled clubs whilst perched on Fred’s shoulders. Jim was the better juggler, whilst the smaller Fred was more acrobatic. They used their height difference to comedic advantage and were generally considered a unique and exciting juggling turn.

Jim later said

 When I started out in vaudeville I did not expect to get a high salary, but I certainly expected to be recognised when I started to do big business for the firm I was with. I knew I was as good as some of the imported turns, but I found that I stayed on the same old mark, whereas the turns coming here from England or the United States were getting two to three times as much as I. I decided to try my luck in America.’

Just after Jim’s 21st birthday in 1914, he and Fred left for the United States. They both travelled under the name Creighton. Jim later said that ‘Australia was too small’ He claimed that the limited opportunities in his home country resulted in audiences becoming bored with the same act. The many agents and theatres of the United States gave the pair more chances to show their skills in front of various audiences.

At first they performed for the small Plantagenet circuit, showing three times a day including Sundays. It was a brutal introduction to American vaudeville.  But soon the act was picked up by the gigantic Orpheum circuit where they played only twice a day and were, as Jim put it, ‘on easy street’ and ‘earning more money than I ever thought possible.’

 Their reviews were good, they were regarded as ‘a breath of fresh air’ after one show, and at another they ‘displayed exceptional skill in all their efforts’.

In 1917, both were living in New York and had to sign papers about their wartime service eligibility. Fred said he was unfit for duty, with bad teeth and poor eyesight, whilst Jim said he was perfectly healthy.

But love broke up the act. Sybil Warren, a young English dancer caught Fred’s eye and the juggling duo split.

In 1919, Fred returned to Australia with Sybil to introduce her to the family, and unbeknownst to him, Jim also returned.

When Harry Lauder offered them a place with his troupe during his Australian tour that year, they reunited. Fred was probably persuaded because Sybill was offered a role too.  In 1920 they performed in the annual pantomime Mother Hubbard. They toured New Zealand as part of the pantomime tour and stayed for some time, but when it concluded they again parted.

Fred said he had plans to travel to the UK with Sybil and it seems they may have done this. Jim however remained in Australia to have a long and prosperous career.

to be continued

The Juggling McIvor Sisters

 Around 1935 two young women dressed in long skirts and short sleeved blouses and accompanied by a cameraman, began juggling clubs in Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens. The result was a beautiful souvenir of Australian juggling.

The young women were the McIvor sisters, one was Bessie, the other was probably Susette. They had been juggling since they were children and had performed in pantomimes, vaudeville halls and for charity events. Dad, Hugh,  was also a juggler and had initiated his children into the skill. 

Hugh McIvor was born in Queensland around 1890 and lived with his parents in Charters Towers. In adult life Hugh became a miner, but he was soon known around town as a juggler.  In 1912 he appeared in a vaudeville show and was awarded a special gold medal for his juggling feats 

In 1914 he was juggling with a partner called Glover. The pair were described as clever manipulators. They juggled axes, knives, clubs, swords, pennants and electric lights for a children’s war matinee at the Theatre Royal in Charters Towers North Queensland. Hugh and his wife Susan Murphy had been married for several years by that time and had many children including three daughters, Bessie, born 1911, Susette born 1913 and Patricia born 1914. 

Hugh seems to have juggled mainly in Brisbane, in suburban and regional halls until his older daughters grew to an age where they could join his act. In 1921 the family of jugglers got a big break when they performed as the Three Juggling McIvors for Kerr’s Gaiety Theatre in Oxford Street Sydney. The trio were in Sydney for at least two weeks. The two girls, Bessie and Susette were only 10 and 8 years old during this exciting expedition.

However, the opportunity did not turn into lasting fame and the family returned to juggling in country towns and suburban halls. They  juggled clubs and passed plates.

In 1927 the girls got their own gig. Bessie 16, and Susette 13, juggled as The McIvor Sisters for the annual Brisbane pantomime, Humpty Dumpty.  They juggled hats and clubs and the Brisbane newspapers enjoyed their performance.

Two splendid specimens of Queensland girlhood created surprise with their wonderful juggling feats and Indian club manipulation. A feature of their turn is a double club juggling act in which each girl successfully handles four clubs at the same time changing hats and whirling the nickel batons. 

In June 1928 they performed at the Majestic Theatre,  sharing the stage with films starring Rudolph Valentino. Through 1928 to 29 they continued entertaining at the Majestic and juggled between movies at various theatres in the Brisbane region.

At the same time both girls were studying at teachers college. 

In 1932 Susette married John Brady from England. Her married status meant that she could not legally teach. The Queensland Department of Education did not employ married women as teachers at that time. 

In 1933 she had their first child

In 1935 film of Susette and Bessie juggling in the Botanic Gardens was incorporated into a newsreel. The two young women look joyful as they pass clubs, juggle plates and balls and then, pass a hat and cigar between them as they simultaneously juggle three balls. It may have been their last public performance as a duo. 

Bessie soon began teaching in Cairns. She loved to juggle and often performed in fetes and fairs for schools in Northern Queensland. In 1937 She performed at the foremost social occasion of the district, the Country Women’s Association Concert, at Mossman Town Hall. She was described as being as ‘entertaining as she was charming’.

Bessie continued juggling for school fetes and fundraisers. She was an adept individual juggler and it was clear that she loved the craft.


She taught primarily in Cairns and Brisbane and in 1941 she married Alton Brown Trevethan and left the teaching profession.

After her marriage, there are no public mentions of her juggling exploits although it seems clear that she continued to juggle for family and friends.

Descendants of the family still cherish photos of their ancestors’ juggling careers and they still live in Queensland. Amongst their treasures is a colour video of an elderly Bessie juggling four balls on stage. 

Bessie died in 2005 aged 92, Susette predeceased her in 1975. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Jugglers visiting Australia between 1905-1907

 These jugglers performed at the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney between 1905-1907.

All comments from Charles Waller- Magical Nights at the Theatre, pictures from Sydney Tivoli Theatre programmes. 

Kara 1905 

' Kara was always among the few conceded to be in the Cinquevalli class.' (1905)

Les Brunins (1905)

 A billiard table featured. The act consisted largely in driving the balls up against the far cushion and then doing remarkable things by catching them on the rebound

Selbo (1907)
Appearing in a tennis court setting, this young man operated very skillfully with rackets and Indian clubs

The Geraldos (1907)

They were club jugglers and good ones too.The act gained impressiveness from the fact that so many individuals were operating at the one time.

Rhodesia (1907)

It is doubtful whether any form of stagecraft shows a pretty girl to better advantage than does juggling.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Tom and Nellie Lesso- Jugglers

 Tom and Nellie Lesso were successful performers in Australia, the US and England during the World War 1 era.

Tom Lesso was a skilled acrobat and juggler born in Victoria in 1885. His real name was Thomas Burkett Dixon and he had several siblings.

Tom appears as Tom Lesso in newspaper reports in the early 1900s. His first juggling act was as part of a duo with Rexo (Charles Griffith) . In 1909 he married the  fair haired 5 foot 5  tall, Nerida Ridout (born 1884 in Sydney)  in Melbourne. The pair formed a duo act that astonished Australasia and led to a successful run in the United States. 

Nerida took the stage name Nellie, and as The Lessos, the pair appeared on stages in Australia and New Zealand. Nellie was a sharpshooter. On stage, Tom would call for props and Nellie would shoot at a button which activated a spring which propelled the props towards him- he would then juggle them to the delight of the audience. 

Tom also incorporated balancing in the act. He balanced a cannon ball via a stick on his chin and transferred it to a stick perched on his forehead. Inspired by Cinquevalli, he also balanced a wooden table on his forehead, and with a twitch threw it in the air and caught it, on his forehead, on the reverse side. This was perhaps his most popular trick. 

In 1909 the pair travelled to the United States. They began on the Percy Williams circuit then transferred to Keith's circuit. Whilst playing there they were recruited for a tour of England.

Tom Lesso

In 1914 they returned to Australia. Tom, as a relatively young man, must have felt some pressure to enlist. They incorporated a patriotic finale into their act, perhaps to make up for this. Nellie fired her gun at various targets and the whole stage was enveloped with the flags of the allies. At this time Tom told the papers that he had suffered a period of blindness whilst in the US. He blamed a trick where he caught tennis balls thrown by the audience on his forehead. 

In 1916 Tom enlisted with the AIF for service in World War 1. Tom stated that his profession was ‘professional juggler’ and that he was separated from his wife, Nellie. He cited his father William as next of kin.

Whilst waiting to be shipped out, Tom was reprimanded for staying out late and for disobedience. Eventually he arrived in England and subsequently, in October 1916 he arrived at the British staging camp in Etaples, France. On October 29 that year, Australian Jack Braithwaite serving in a New Zealand regiment was executed for helping a fellow soldier defy a British commander. Tom may have witnessed the execution. 

His official mission in France was to reinforce the 23rd Battalion, which was on the front lines. Tom lasted a month in France, there is no record of him being at the front, although it is possible. In November he was shipped back to England via Calais. Finally after treatment in England he was invalided out with ‘disordered action of the heart’, the military euphemism for shell shock. In March 1918 he was sent back to Australia. 

By September he was back on stage performing at the Bijou in Melbourne, and giving colorful descriptions of his antics on the front lines. He claimed he had taken all his props to France and entertained troops whilst waiting to be deployed

He had a new assistant, Miss Duckworth, and they did the old act. They were scheduled to perform in New Zealand and sailed there. But in November Tom contracted Spanish Influenza. He died that month in New Zealand,

Nellie Lesso

Nellie Lesso, Tom’s estranged wife, attempted to revive the act in the 1920s, although it seemed she was quite wealthy. In 1921 she made a police complaint about a missing diamond pendant, with lovers' knots and a single diamond drop attached. In 1923 The Lessos, featuring Nellie, performed at the Shaftesbury Theatre in Western Australia. Later that year she went to the United States, and Theodore the juggler was on the same ship. Perhaps the two had formed a new Lesso partnership.

Attempts by the army to contact her in 1923 regarding Tom’s war medals received no response and in 1924 Nellie was in Paris with her mother.

There is some indication that Nellie travelled quite often over the following years and did not seek to further her stage career. 

Nellie’s primary address was in eastern Sydney and it was there that she passed away in 1954.

( I found Tom’s real name in The Age newspaper death notice. His war record is available through the National archives.)