The Days of Martini’s Buckjumping Show

© Chris Woodland

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Lance Skuthorpe – Legendary Horseman.

Lance Skuthorpe was one of Australia’s greatest horseman and showman. He was also an outstanding yarn spinner and reciter of Australian bush poetry. While travelling through bush towns in his earlier days he would start up one of his performances, be it horsemanship, poetry or all combined, to attract the locals and, of course, to pass the hat around. Now days we would call him a busker. There is at least one book on this remarkable man (( Jack Pollard was the author of The Rough Rider, Lansdowne, 1962. The Second edition was titled The Horse Tamer, Pollard Publishing, 1970. )). Skuthorpe’s greatest feat was to copy poet Adam Lindsay Gordon’s famous leap close to Blue Lake near Mt Gambier. The obelisk which was placed near the site known as Gordon’s Leap reads:

This obelisk was erected as a memorial to the famous Australian poet. From near this spot in July, 1864, Gordon made his famed leap on horseback over an old post and rail guard fence onto a narrow ledge overlooking Blue Lake and jumped back again onto the roadway. The foundation stone was laid on 8th July 1887.

While Martini had been travelling with Harmston’s and subsequent travelling shows he was obviously thinking about forming his own similar enterprise. It is known that he and Skuthorpe were not of compatible natures and were less so when Martini made the break. It was following an injury sometime in 1900 that Martini decided to form his own show. Author Di Moore says that Lance Skuthorpe was not very happy when Martini, Mena Val, Jessie Hunt, a lady named Jewl and a young bloke by the name of Callaghan left his buckjumping show to begin a competitive travelling show.

Mena Val was the stage name for Wilhelma Valdares, the Valdares Girls being a group of spectacular performing cyclists. Mena Val also performed at wire walking and whip cracking. Jessie Hunt (later Hicksman) was a roughrider and Jewl had a song and dance routine.


Mrs Martini.

Typical of the times, the details of women were overshadowed by the males and little is known of them. Women were mainly referred to as a Miss or Mrs so-and-so and little more. The problem was exacerbated when female performers were using stage names. Some women who were roughriders were often not referred to by name in the press, but just by their gender. One of the most confusing mysteries of this story was determining who was the woman who became known as Mrs Martini.

In her book The Lady Bushranger (Hesperian Press, 1996) Pat Studdy-Clift claims that Elizabeth Jessie Hickman, nee Hunt, was Mrs Martini, Jenny Hicks in her history titled Australian Cowboys, Roughriders & Rodeos (CQU Press, 2003) states that Jane Kemp, or Miss Kemp, was Mrs Martini. Di Moore, the granddaughter of Jessie Hunt/Hickman says in her book, (( Out of the Mists: The Hidden History of Elizabeth Jessie Hickman  – Balboa Press, 2014 )) that a song and dance performer known as Jewl, with the stage name as Miss Devine, was Mrs Martini. This is collaborated by the press coverage of their performing attendance at the Wangaratta Benefit in January 1901.

To further confuse the issue, there has been no marriage certificate found for Martini/Breheney, so the union must have been a de facto relationship. The Jane Kemp mentioned had performed with Professor’s Kemp’s buckjumping show, but it is not thought that she was related to the colourful larrikin who called himself Professor Kemp, Paddy Kemp and other monikers, though his real name was John Patrick Daley. Growing up he was known as simply Jack Daley. Kemp was a horseman of great ability, a designer of saddles and, like Martini, Skuthorpe and others, ran a buckjumping show. A rather wild and unconventional person, Daley had troubles with the law, escaping from police and spending time in gaol when finally apprehended several years later. He had an equally eccentric brother, Richard Daley, who became an ordained priest. When in Rome he fired a revolver in the Vatican declaring that Ireland was now a free and independent nation. Apparently, brother – or Father, Richard – was a speaker of several languages and, amongst other learned subjects, taught the Irish their native language.


The Days of Martini’s Buckjumping Show

© Chris Woodland

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Tasmania – Launceston – Scottsdale.

Martini was still with the Souquet Bro’s Circus when they appear near the Court House Hotel at the end of 1898, on Christmas Eve in Launceston, Tasmania. Following Christmas Day, the circus held several more performances in Launceston. The newspapers did not mention Martini’s activities again until the third week in February 1899 when the Martini Company of Acrobats appeared at Scottsdale just North East of Launceston. There was also another company performing at the same time (perhaps Souquet’s), so Martini’s group did three performances with no admission cost until the final presentation when the large crowd was asked for donations. The press stated: They had a crowded house (street) on Saturday night.

Albury – Wangaratta – Geelong.

There is no mention of Martini until he next turned up in Albury on the Murray River with the Montgomery Circus in September 1899. Here it seems he was again with a sibling:
The wonderful triple horizontal bar act of the Martinis was roundly applauded.

Later in the month Martini performed as an individual artist in Her Majesty’s Theatre at nearby Wangaratta.

Six weeks later he was performing at Geelong on Port Philip Bay with Professor Hyland of Hyland’s Circus. As usual Martini’s acts were reported with many superlatives. Professor Hyland was only one of numerous showmen who used the title of professor to impress intending audiences. We will learn of some others later in this story.


Queensland – Brisbane.

In the third week of December we see that Martini (and Trevo) was now with The Empire Variety and Specialty Company entertaining at the Royal Theatre in Brisbane.

It is obvious that Martini is now freelancing, having joined up with several groups along the way. Whether he was searching for something better in his employment, as the 1890s were difficult years because of an economic depression, or just travelling and gaining experience we can never know. His experiences had taken him well up into Queensland as far as the outback town of Barcaldine, along parts of the Queensland coast, to many places in his home state of New South Wales, including the western mining town of Broken Hill, onto South Australia and Tasmania and through Victoria. There were still many miles of travel before him in the few years to come.

South Australia – Mount Gambier
Victoria – Horsham – Mildura, Wentworth – Charlton – Kerang – Echuca, Numurkah – Wangaratta – Melbourne

In late May in 1900 the Mount Gambier’s Border Watch sings the praises of Martini and Shaw’s Circus and Variety Show when they performed in the Mount Gambier’s Institute Hall, claiming that the most thrilling performance by far was that of Martini, who was billed as:

… the world’s greatest gymnast. Miss Jessie Devine was recalled for all her dances and songs.

We will learn more of Miss Jessie Devine later.

There was much laughter and excitement when Martini held a three-round contest with Mahatma the lady boxer. There were another two nights at Mount Gambier, then four evenings at Millicent where some members of the public objected to Martini performing on the Sabbath. He showed them little tolerance and, on another evening, he chided some of the audience who had underpaid their admission, who relented and paid up. On that same evening:

Miss Jessie Devine, who, in short skirts and rather economical clothing generally sang When London Sleeps. The front seats sat up and breathed heavily but stayed around, while the back part of the hall showed unmistakable signs of approval.

In July the Martini and Ward combination performed at Horsham where the advertisement in the local newspaper claimed that Martini:

the World’s Greatest GYMNAST, who has appeared three times before their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Prices of Wales, twice at Marlborough House and once at Sandringham, before 400 invited guests.

The journalist might have confused Martini with a member of the Shaw family. Whatever the reason for this monstrous untruth, it did not occur again. The same advertisement claims that Miss Jessie Devine is:

the clever American Song and Dance Artiste.

This statement appears only a few times before it also joins the voluminous pit containing other innumerable fabricated – although creative – claims, particularly those associated with circuses and other travelling shows.

Martini the Showman

Martini and Miss Jessie Devine were still part of the same company when they visited Charlton on Friday 10 August and featured as Martini and Shaw’s GAIETY COMPANY at Kerang between Swan Hill and Echuca in the first days of September. They moved on to Mildura and Wentworth, then back to Echuca for two performances in the second week of October. In Numurkah our gymnast was referred to as Signor Martini. In January 1901 in Wangaratta, Martini and Devine contributed their performances at a benefit for a James Clarke who had lost his barber tools. Here Martini becomes Professor Martini and his fellow performer becomes Mrs Martini (Miss Jessie Devine), who was portrayed as a serio-comic artist and danseuse.

In October Martini and Miss Devine were with Professor L. A. Skuthorpe, The HERO of GORDON’S FAMOUS LEAP And his Band of AUSTRALIAN ROUGH RIDERS, where he was doing a season in Flinders Street, Melbourne in October 1901.


The Days of Martini’s Buckjumping Show

© Chris Woodland

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Return to Queensland
Charters Towers, Townsville, Rockhampton, Barcaldine, Maryborough, Brisbane.

By mid-May Martini and a performer called Marlo were doing their acrobatic performances at Charters Towers, inland from Townsville in Queensland, at the Theatre Royal as members of the Lucifer Variety Company, and then in Townsville the week later.

About two weeks after Townsville Martini was still with Lucifer’s when they visited Rockhampton and performed there, then he appears much further west at Barcaldine with the Souquet Brother’s Circus in the first week of July. Barcaldine’s Western Champion reported:

The Souquet Brothers have with them Martini, the champion triple bar performer in Australia. His somersault of 20 feet from bar to bar must be seen to be realised.

In the fourth week of July the town of Maryborough hosted several evenings of entertainment from the Souquet Brothers and their attractive star Martini. A month later both Marlo and Martini – really wonderful horizontal bar performers – were highlighted when the press advertised a benefit evening for a Mr George Ward at Brisbane’s Opera House. The Telegraph also stated that Mr Martini is well known in Brisbane and that Marlo and the Brisbane Courier cites: they will be doing their wonderful triple somersault on [the bars].


The Days of Martini’s Buckjumping Show

© Chris Woodland

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Queensland – Ipswich – Cairns – Sydney – Melbourne

In February 1891 we learn that Martini, with Harmston’s Wild West Show, were performing in Ipswich. The Ipswich Herald noted that:
… one of the Martini brothers executed some exceedingly clever feats on the horizontal bar, for which he was deservedly applauded.

This is the first suggestion that Martini had a performing brother who possibly learnt the skills along with Martini.

Following their performances in Ipswich and possibly other areas, Harmston’s hired a special boat to take their circus – now called American Circus and Wild Life in the Far West – to Cairns to exhibit in May. Also aboard the SS Fitzroy were Martini and Texas Jack.


Sydney – Melbourne

It was not until July 1892 that Martini’s name next appeared, when he performed in Sydney at the Alhambra Music Hall which featured dancing and singing, with M F Spencer singing a treat, In Old Madrid, and Martini, Frances and Trevo appeared in new horizontal bar and acrobatic acts.

No doubt Martini was performing at many venues that have not been listed in the ever-developing press of the day. Advertising still had a long way to go before it expanded into the vociferous language and graphics it was to become.

In August 1893 Martini was listed as a performer in the Miss Aimie Moore’s Testimonial Entertainment in Melbourne. The Melbourne Punch stated that Mr Martini was a member of Fillis’ Circus”.


Western Australia – New South Wales – Brisbane – Sydney – Queensland.

It was three years later, in December 1896, that Martini appeared in Perth with the New Tivoli Variety Company at Perth’s Town Hall. The following week he was advertised as, the Rage of Perth. These and other accolades would continue to be lavished on him until the end.


Bathurst – NSW

Our acrobatic celebrity’s movements are not known until he was seen on the performers’ list of one Miss Kate Howarde who had formed a burlesque company. They are performing in Bathurst NSW in the November of 1897 where Martini was also giving boxing lessons. He was adding to his marketable talents.


From Newcastle to Brisbane – Return to Sydney

There is another gap in Martini’s activities during this period as he is not mentioned in the press again until the Newcastle Morning Herald informed its readers that, two days after Harmston’s completed their season at Newcastle, they sailed for Brisbane on 27 February 1898. In the Queensland capital, Martini, Bysuck and Aldean had met with warm approbation on their triple bar performance. Within days Mrs Harmston Love, (the circus’ proprietoress and sole manager) and her husband Robert Love, advertised that Harmston Circus would not perform in any other Queensland town other than Brisbane. There must have been a serious upset to the circus’ plans for them not to exploit the obvious potential of Queensland, as Martini would in the future. The circus would have shipped back to Sydney because the performers, along with Martini, were showing at Belmore Park in Sydney (across from Eddy Avenue at what was to become Sydney’s Central Railway station) by the last week in April.