H.W. Franklin

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H.W. Franklin (1825-1862)[1] was a famous American circus performer and circus owner.

Also known as Hiram Franklin or Hiram W. Franklin, and variously billed as the "American Apollo", "the truly Great American Gymnast", "the American Marvel on the Corde Volante", "the great somersault thrower and slack rope artiste", "The Distinguished Indian Horseman of the Camanches", and so on.


He began his career as a clown in the circus in 1835, and in 1841 was appearing as clown with Joe Pentland at the Bowery, New York, as well as doing slack-rope and light riding. By 1846 Hiram Franklin was "acknowledged the best general performer living, excelling in vaulting, single & double somersaults and leaps, horsemanship and slack-rope feats" (New York Clipper, cited by James Bohun[2]) and in 1851-1853 did a triumphant tour of England, also appearing in Paris. In 1856 he was back in the USA, working inter alia with Rowe's Pioneer Circus and for a while running his own circus company (Franklin & Co. Circus, disbanded in 1857). In 1859 he left San Francisco to join Howe's American Troupe in England, in 1860 appearing at the Royal Alhambra Palace Circus, Leicester Square, London, run by Thomas McCollum.

In 1860 this company left London, to undertake a tour of the British colonies (billed as M'Collum's Circus in South Africa), Franklin accompanying them. Having performed in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, a successful season of 5 months followed with his own company, before he left Cape Town for the East in 1862.

According to 1863 a report in the New York Clipper of 8 August, 1863 Hiram Franklin and wife and son, with most of the company, were lost at sea while on their way to Madagascar.

Contribution to theatre and performance in South Africa

In 1862, Franklin left McCollum's Circus and apparently resurrected Franklin & Co's Circus Company again (seemingly billed as Franklin's International Circus or the Franklin International Circus) in Cape Town. The company performed there without break for more than 5 months, and becoming a serious rival for the companies of Sefton Parry and Mrs Tellet in terms of popular support.

Despite the rivalry, Franklin and his circus apparently had a good relationship with Sefton Parry, the two helping each other with benefit evenings (e.g. those for Mrs Parry on 28 October, 1861; Leon, ), and even - towards the end of the Circus's stay and Parry's 1862 season - joining forces to present a short series of extended programmes, consisting of "Comedy, Ballet, Dancing" (as well as songs and acrobatics) in Cape Town, running from 8-10 and again from 12-14 May, 1862.

Their last appearance in Cape Town was on 19 July, 1862, after which Franklin and his circus left the Cape on the 24th July, to sail for Mauritius and ultimately on to Calcutta in India.


James Bohun. 2018. Entry on "Hiram W. Franklin" on joeboganny.co.uk, "A Circus, Music Hall and Variety Family History Site, at: http://www.joeboganny.co.uk/hiram-w-franklin/. Accessed on 6 January, 2020 at 06h42.

Facsimile versions of letterpress broadsides for two performances (on 12 and 28 April, 1862), as advertised on the Live Auctioneers website (accessed on 6 January, 2020 at 06h18) [3]

S.L. Kotar and J.E. Gessler. 2011. The Rise of the American Circus, 1716-1899. McFarland: pp. 157, 166[4]

D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman, 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 99, 110, 112, 114, 133, 137, 139-140.

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