Luigi Dalle Case

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Luigi Dalle Case (18**-18**?) was a circus owner and performer, and theatre impresario.(Generally referred to as Signor Dalle Case or simply Dalle Case while in South Africa.)



Little is known of his origins or his earlier years, beyond the fact that he seems to come from Mauritius, had little command of English (though did know French, and may have been of Italian, Spanish or Portuguese extraction). However, he appears to have made a bit of a name for himself in Australia, for his name appears as a circus performer there. He arrived in Sydney on the Salages, with a small company, on 10 July 1841 from Ile Bourbon and Mauritius.

According Steve Ward (2014: p. 72)[1], Dalle Case was the first person to bring a full circus-style performance to Sydney in the 1840s, performing at the Australian Olympic Theatre.

There are also a few other references to performances by Dalle Case in 1841, for example Arrighi and Emeljanow (2012: p.94)[2] mention an appearance with a show of equestrian gymnastics in the Royal Victoria Theatre, while an anonymous review in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (28 Aug 1841)[3] discusses a circus-style entertainment entitled "Signor Luigi Dalle Case and the Brasilia Young Signoras", in which Case apparently performed shows of strength in the same theatre (possibly the same event?).

In 1842 he briefly ran his own theatre in the city, in which he was licensed to present equestrian gymnastics and theatrical performances. However the theatre only lasted from 25 February 1842 (when he was granted a licence) to April 1842, when the theatre apparently closed down in due to opposition from powerful rivals and lack of audiences.

He left Sydney in September, going to Hobart and Launceston, performing into 1843, before returning to Mauritius on or just after 22 March 1842 on the Phantom.

There was a rumour that Della Case had been executed shortly afterwards, but this is patently not true, since he not only toured in Malacca, Penang, Batavia, and India in the ensuing period, but was active in South Africa from 1847 till at least 1852.

Contribution to South African theatre and performance

He first appeared in the Cape Town in 1847 with his partner Signor Severo, with whom he managed an "Italian Circus", which staged a variety of circus-style programmes as well as several pantomimes at the Victoria Theatre and the Garrison Theatre in Cape Town. His wife Signora Dalle Case, was one of the performers. In February 1848, the partners went their separate ways, each with his own circus (case continued with the Italian Circus, Signor Severo started an African Circus).

Case, however, also acted as impresario for a professional French theatre-company (the French Dramatic Artistes, or also referred to as the Dalle Case Company), described as "freshly arrived from Mauritius", which made their debut in the Hope Street Theatre in 1848 with a show featuring mainly song and dance. His wife and his daughter were also part of the company, inter alia doing "koorddanse" (Dutch for "tightrope walking"). However, Case failed to make a financial success of this venture, and the company soon abandoned him, becoming known as Thêàtre de L'Union.

Shortly thereafter Case apparently now left the Cape (and show-business) for adventures in the interior for a while. However his wife (and Dalle Case himself?) seemingly continued performing in circus presentations, possibly with Noble's Circus, since F.C.L. Bosman (1928, p. 437, f.2) notes a Signora Dalle Case (is this supposed to be signor?), who performed on the borders of the Cape toward the end of 1850 and then appears in Natal in 1852, performing with a number of wild animals, as in traditional South African circusses.



E-mail correspondence from Alan Robiette (, 27 October and 2 November 2019

Graeme Skinner (University of Sydney), "A biographical register of Australian colonial musical personnel–D", Australharmony (an online resource toward the history of music and musicians in colonial and early Federation Australia)[4]: accessed 1 July 2016

Albert Weiner, "The short unhappy career of Luigi Dalle Case", Educational Theatre Journal 27/1 (March 1975), 77-84:

Steve Ward, 2014 Beneath the Big Top: A Social History of the Circus in Britain. Pen and Sword: pp. 72[5]

Gillian Arrighi and Victor Emeljanow. 2012. A World of Popular Entertainments: An Edited Volume of Critical Essays. Cambridge Scholars Publishing[6]

"Signor Luigi Dalle Case and the Brasilia Young Signoras", Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (28 Aug 1841)[7]

Jill Fletcher, 1994

F.C.L. Bosman, 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [8]: pp. 434-437, 475, 484, 494, 500.

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E-mail Notes from Alan Robiette (, 27 October and 2 November 2019

I was fascinated to read your respective accounts of the 19th century circus proprietor Luigi Dalle Case and his careers first in Australia and then in southern Africa. The reason for my interest is that I have, over a period of time, been trying to find records of a circus owner of the same (or similar) name operating in India a little later, in the mid-1850s.

Just recently I found a key reference in "The Times of India" which I hope might interest you too. It's a classified advertisement in the issue of 23 May 1855 and it reads (verbatim, including the various spelling and other idiosyncrasies):

"Signor Dalle Case has the honor to announce, that the Foreign Company under his management will give their second Performance on WEDNESDAY the 23rd instant; Tight Rope by the Young Chinese Girl Hamoi, Mademoiselle Emelia, Mr. Cottrell, Master Pithega; Equestrians, Miss Hamoi, Messrs. Albray, Capére, Ernest, Bottari, Pithega, Auguste, Fairy Ponies, Signor Dalle Case, Athletic and Acrobatic Division, by the young Chinese Girl Hamoi, Signor Bottari, Pithega, Coregraphye part Mademoiselle Emilia.

For particulars see Programme to be had at the Circus."

This must surely be the same Dalle Case as the man whose earlier career you have documented. The company looks to have a lot of new names in it, but Mademoiselle Emelia seems to have stayed the course; there is however no sign of his wife so perhaps they had by then parted company.

I have found no later newspaper references to Dalle Case and his troupe, but it is possible that the following year (1856) he succumbed to a cholera outbreak and died in Agra. The evidence for this is more equivocal as the surname is transcribed differently, but here it is and you can see what you think.

In the British India Office Ecclesiastical Returns for 1856, and specifically in the list of Roman Catholic burials, there is a record for Lewis (or conceivably Louis) Dellacase, buried on 28 June having died aged 55 from cholera, occupation "equestrian". Intriguingly on the same page of the register, three days earlier on 25 June, there is also the burial of Lewis James Dellacase, died aged 11 from cholera, and he too is listed as an equestrian. Were these perhaps father and son, performing in the same circus?

The Agra cholera epidemic of 1856 was the subject of a report by a medical officer, John Murray, Full text copies of this are viewable on various archive sites, see for example

In a section describing the range of symptoms exhibited by the cholera victims, Murray says at one point "The most violent case of cramps was in an athlete, M. De la Casse, the proprietor of a Gymnastic Circus".

My personal feeling is that the Dalle Case of the 1855 advertisement and the Dellacase or De la Casse of 1856 are one and the same, and that by 1856 he had decided to adopt an Anglicised or Francophone form of his name, Lewis or Louis being the English or French forms of the Italian Luigi. If this interpretation is correct it provides us with a date of death for him, and a conjectured date of birth of 1801 based on the age stated in the burials register (though who supplied this, and how certain he/she could have been of his age at death, is not known).

Thanks for getting back to me, and I'm glad my findings are of some interest. Please feel free to make any use of them you like; I'm unlikely to want to publish any of this myself. BTW my reference to "The Times of India" was not quite correct, as in 1856 the paper was still called the Bombay Times - it didn't change over to the Times of India banner until 1860 or so.

Since emailing you I have come across one further reference to the two Dalle Case deaths in Agra, which confirms the identity of the father and son beyond any reasonable doubt. It's in the Indian Mail for 1856, which has been digitised by Google Books: the relevant URL is Search for "circus" in this volume and you'll find the death notices on p.369, for 'Pigetha', only son of Signor L. Dalle Case, aged 11 years and for Signor L. Dalle Case, Proprietor of the Royal Victoria Circus. I guess Pigetha must be a misprint for the stage name of Pithega which appears in the 1855 advertisement.

I also passed this further reference to Graeme Skinner who maintains the Australharmony site linked to on your ESAT page. Graeme has just emailed me today to say that he has done a substantial update to his Dalle Case entry, which now incorporates my 1855/6 India discoveries but also has a couple of new links, notably a baptismal record for the younger Lewis Dalle Case (the son) in 1843.