The Days of Martini’s Buckjumping Show

© Chris Woodland

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Dargan’s Grey – Queensland again

A little over three months after the Lithgow performance the Queensland newspapers reported that Martini Brothers and their buckjumpers were said to be performing at the National Association’s Show in Brisbane in August. Here again we see that Martini is performing with a possible brother.

The month prior to the National Association’s Show in Brisbane Martini’s Band of Rough Riders pitched their tent adjacent to the Criterion Hotel near the Court House in Ipswich. They performed on Friday 19 July 1902 and to everyone’s surprise the main attraction displayed a very disappointing exhibition of bucking. Dargan’s Grey was ridden by a Thomas O’Brien and was not thrown. Some members of the audience complained that the rider had held onto the pommel of the saddle. O’Brien also wore spurs, which could have compromised the usual violent behaviour of the Grey.

In late August, Following the National Association’s Show, Dargan’s Grey was back to normal at the Woolloongabba Cricket Ground and throws the two contestants who attempted to ride him. These buckjumping events of Martini’s were now widely covered in the country’s press and this show at the Woolloongabba Cricket Ground received a special mention in the NSW paper the Hawkesbury Herald, the area having a long association with the famous Grey. The paper claimed that:

… the grey demon was to be ridden in the electric light, at the Gabba and that: One of the only men who rode Dargin was the late lieutenant Morant (The Breaker). This was at the Hawkesbury Show. Dargin had already unseated 16 would-be conquerors and was knocked up when Morant rode him.

This feat of the Breaker’s was to become well know over the next few years, though the number of riders preceding him on that occasion was not usually mentioned. Having thrown 16 men in succession would leave the grey wonder horse little hope of throwing a horseman of Morant’s ability.(( Morant had been executed by the British in South Africa earlier in the year on 27 February. )) The mention of the electric light shows that this new invention was slowly snaking its way across the country and was obviously advertised as a great benefit to evening performances of all kinds.

In the third week of October 1902 Martin’s Rough Riders performed at Maryborough where the proprietor:

… on the horizontal bar gave an exceedingly clever performance, which was alone worth the price of admittance. Also, Dargan was very fit … The marvellous performance of Dargan’s grey [sic] will not soon be forgotten by those who witnessed it.

Records of Martini’s Buckjumping Show are difficult to find over the next few months, but they had been slowly moving northwards performing at places along the way, finally passing through the large gates into Parramatta Park at the Cairns showgrounds. Throughout their travels Martini’s Buckjumpers would perform for one evening, or more as they passed through towns and small settlements, should the patronage be there, providing there was no deadline for approaching commitments.

They had arrived for Cairns’ annual show festivities and here they were joined by a small family group of show people consisting of Harry and Ada Seymour and their children. The Seymours had a great passion to eventually own a large circus, but after many miles and colourful and demanding experiences it was not to be. (( Fred Lord in his book Little Big Top tells of the Seymour’s journey and exploits as told by Ada. ))

Martini asked the Seymours to join their group at the Cairns show, which they did. Apparently they retained their individuality while performing with Martini’s Buckjumping Show and were to stay with the group for many miles to the top of Queensland and back again to Cairns. Ada said that Mart, as she called Martini, was doing very well and making good money and could pay well. Like most others, the Seymours spoke highly of Martini.

It was now mid 1903. Between 700 and 800 people attended the opening at Cairns of Martini’s show which received an astonishing reception. The Morning Post claimed that Martini’s performance on the bars:

gave an exceedingly clever performance which was alone worth the price of admission.’

The only other familiar name mentioned is that of Miss Mena Val who gave a clever slack wire walking act and a trick cycling performance. It appears some Aboriginal roughriders turned up to try and master Martini’s buckjumpers. A native tracker, coincidently named Seymour, was unsuccessful in his first endeavour, but succeeded in riding a Mr Black’s horse and was awarded 10 shillings by Martini for his performances. Another Indigenous ringer by the name of Jasper had difficulty in attempting to get on an outlaw and created much amusement for the audience. Dargan’s Grey gave an unforgettable performance and showed the conscientious Seymour who was the master.

Unless one witnessed the old grey buck, it would hardly be
believed that any horse could tie himself in so many knots
in so short a time.


The Days of Martini’s Buckjumping Show

© Chris Woodland

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Martini’s Buckjumping Show.

Leaving Skurthorpe’s show in October 1901, the little group started their new enterprise in December, starting out from Bankstown, Sydney, with one small performing tent and a small wagon or wagonette.

Though Martini was no roughrider, he was an extremely talented performer on the triple bars. (( The term barrist was sometimes used to describe such an athlete. ))    His years on the road with other shows had taught him much, but there would be much more for him to learn. Experience on the road would teach them many things: that their performing animals must always have sufficient, water, food and ample rest. To maintain their performing abilities donkeys, mules, jennets, ponies and horses, both circus performers and buckjumpers needed to maintain their strength and health to carry out their particular areas of expertise. The demands of providing comfortable accommodation for audiences during performances and the maintenance of canvas, ropes, pegs, saddles and harnesses and horse-drawn vehicles were continual. Members of the troupe were continually practising, experimenting and learning new acts. All performers and assistants were multiskilled by necessity.

Little is heard of Martini until he was mentioned in a letter to the Editor of the Sydney based Referee 19 February 1902. The famous horseman Jack Pendergast offered a challenge to another horseman saying if the roughrider, Andy Thibault, were satisfied with the challenge, he should have the money at the Referee office at noon on the Tuesday of the following week. Pendergast concludes that he is the principal roughrider for Martini’s Hippodrome (( The use of the word hippodrome was often used as a synonym for circus. )) and that they were travelling the South Coast for a few weeks. The letter had been sent from Bulli.

This is what Martini had to say, to the Bulletin readers in January 1906, of his starting out with his new show:

When I left Sydney three years ago with a small side show [sic], we just struggled along. At Parramatta the van-man thought I was going to balance him – swindle him out of his money; and when I paid up he said, ‘Look here! I didn’t expect this I’ll tell you where there’s a horse you ought to get – up at Lithgow, owned by Jones, of the Zigzag Brewery – that’s Dargin’s Grey.’ Well we went up to Lithgow, and I arranged to get the horse for one night for £5. If the chap had asked for the money in advance we were done, because I hadn’t got it; but we took £10, and after the show I gave him his £5, and he was so pleased that he said, ‘Look here, you can have the horse on Monday night for nothing.’ A few days after that I bought him for £8. Since then I’ve walked him overland right up to Port Douglas, then across to Normanton. Then by sea to Thursday Island, and down again to Sydney here – picking up buckers all the way.

On 1 April 1902 the Lithgow Mercury announced that Martini’s Band of Rough Riders had performed to good houses on the previous night (Monday) and on Saturday, the evening of the 29 March. The newspaper told its readers that several hundred men attended the exhibitions, which included ball-punching, a boxing match, and an imitation donkey which promptly unseated the hopeful lads trying to ride it. However, the main attraction was definitely Dargin’s Grey (( Sometimes spelt Dargin’s. ))  the buckjumper whose name became a household word in his time and still remains so in the annals of Australian buckjumpers. The paper also states:

Then came Martini in his remarkably clever treble act on the horizontal bar. We venture to say that that no circus in the state has a more able performer than Mr Martini in this particular class and the spectators showed their appreciation by unstinted applause.

The two or three locals who took up the challenge of boxing a few rounds with Joe Coster were defeated. A man by the name of Combo claimed to have ridden Dargan’s Grey, but spectators argued that he held onto the saddle pommel.

Proprietors of all roughriding shows regulated the saddles to be used. No stock saddles, that is saddles with pads, were to be used, only English hunting saddles and poley saddles. Skuthorpe used to have a light rope attached to the saddles of riders, which gave him some control over the roughrider. It is not known if Martini used this technique in his travelling shows, but it was most likely he did.



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.