Thomas McCollum

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Thomas McCollum (1828 - 1872) was a much admired American-born two horse rider and circus owner.

McCollum's last name was sometimes written as "M'Collum", certainly so while in South Africa.


Born Thomas McCollum in Rochester, New York, United States on 1828, he is apparently first mentioned in American circus bills in 1837 (i.e. at the age of 9) and when he was 18 he began his own company called "Stone and McCollum’s Great Western Circus", which existed between 1846 and 1850. Early in 1851 he went to England with Rufus Welch, Richard Risley (1814-74) and Eaton Stone, to perform at the Drury Lane Theatre with the American and French Equestrian Company, which included members of the famous French Loisset family, from Cirque Olympique in Paris. The troupe having gone to Ireland at the end of 1851, they then parted company and McCollum went on to perform as a freelancer for a number of companies.

McCollum then left England for the continent until 1855, seemingly based in England between 1857 and 1860, before he left England with a company and his friends Hiram Franklin, George Buckley and Louis Soullier (1813-88) for South Africa with a circus billed as M'Collum's Great American Circus[sic]. In May 1861 they were in Mauritius where their circus tent was destroyed during a cyclone. He went from there into Asia, India in particular, remained touring a company throughout until

In 1865 he returned to England to go into partnership with William Charmen, taking out a fifty five year lease on the Holborn Royal Amphitheatre.

Thomas McCollum was married to Susan and had 3 children. He passed away on March 22 1872 in Lambeth, Surrey, England of small pox and was buried in Lambeth.

M'Collum's Great American Circus in South Africa

(Also referred to in various times and contexts as McCollum's Great American Circus, M'Collum's Great American Circus, McCollum's Mammoth Great Western Circus, the Great Western Circus or simply McCollum's Circus or M'Collum's Circus)

McCollum arrived in Cape Town during the second half of 1860, apparently on his way to India and the colonies in the East. He was by then a seasoned circus manager and performer, and appeared in the country with his friends Hiram Franklin, George Buckley and Louis Soullier (1813-88), apparently billing themselves as M'Collum's Great American Circus and offering "equestrian, acrobatic and pantomimic" presentations. The company performed in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town and are first mentioned as participating in the many festivities surrounding the Cape Town visit by, and birthday of, Prince Alfred (later the Duke of Edinburgh). On this occasion they had a successful run on the beachfront in Roggebaai from 30 July till 4 October 1860. The later part of the season apparently included such acts as the "laughable extravaganza" of La Rendezvous and various tableaux and pantomimes, including Mont au Ciel, Harlequin Statue and scenes from Fra Diavolo. Benefits were also held for McCollum and Franklin.

When McCollum left the Cape his was hailed as the best ever to visit Cape Town, and he received a subscribed public testimonial in recognition of the fact.

Another indirect influence of McCollum's visit on South African circus culture was Hiram Franklin's later circus activities in the country.


The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS), 2018. "Risley & McCollum's Hippodrome Token" in The E-Sylum (Vol 21, 2018)[1]

Ludwig Wilhelm Berthold Binge. 1969. Ontwikkeling van die Afrikaanse toneel (1832-1950). Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.

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, 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [2]: pp.

F.C.L. Bosman, 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.

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