Remembering Douglas Ashton
Remembrance Day (or Veterans Day) is observed on the 11th of November to recall the official end of World War I on that date in 1918; hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour (a.m.) of the 11th day of the 11th month” of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice. Fittingly enough, Mr. Ashton was born in the very same year “the war to end all wars” ended. On this very day, Circus Girl Magazine would like to honor circus veteran Douglas Ashton; patriarch of the world’s largest family-run circus. Mr. Ashton passed away on the morning of November 3rd in his caravan while on tour with his grandson’s circus, Circus Joseph Ashton, in Perth, Australia, after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 92.
My Grandpop was a kind and giving man, he never said ‘no’ to anyone and gave generously to the communities where the circus [played] and to other circuses when they needed a hand or a truck or a tiger cub. To us, his family, he gave the knowlege and inspiration to continue the ‘biz’ that he loved so much. He was ‘Mr. Circus’ and it is now an end of an era for Australian Circus; the last of the great ones! What amazes me the most about my Grandpop is all that he saw [in his lifetime]. None of us will ever see the changes in the world that he did in those 92 years. He went from sleeping under the stars with the best swag on the lot and a fire to keep him warm to living in a caravan that was fully decked-out with heating, running water and TV. He was so often amazed at the new gadjets us ‘kids’ would show him. During his last few weeks my habit was to just sit with him and on my phone play ‘Words’ or check [Facebook], to show him photos of the family in other states. He was so amazed by the instantaneousness of the world today.
- Bekki Ashton
Mr. Ashton was a 4th generation circus performer, born into the family business. He went on the road when he was just six days-old and traveled year round since. Ashton’s Circus was started by his great grandfather, James Henry Ashton, in 1847. He lived most of his life in a caravan, only moving into his granddaughter’s home in recent years. As a child, he used to ride the circus elephants in the street. He married his wife, Phyllis, when he was 16 and she was 17. Together they toured the country and had three children while on the road: Lorraine, Mervyn and Jan.
After World War II, they took the helm and turned Ashton’s Circus into Australia’s biggest and best-known circus. From the 1950′s to the 1970′s they had an enormous entourage of elephants, tigers, lions, monkeys, parrots, a giraffe, bear and even a hyena. There were more than 120 people, 80 animals and millions of dollars worth of equipment travelling the country. They even toured New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Mr. Ashton and his wife, who died 11 years ago, performed as many as 12 acts in the ring including clown and trapeze artist. There were 38 family members working for the circus, building an impressive family dynasty.
Mr. Ashton also started Australia’s first lion parks and for many years they bred and supplied lions and tigers for many parts of the world. Mr. Ashton and his wife were awarded the Order of Australia Medal for services to the entertainment industry and charity. He was a great man and a true circus legend.
The circus world has lost one of the world’s most successful circus impresarios but his legacy remains strong. Here at CGM, we send out our sincerest condolences to the Ashton family all around the world. We are consoled by knowing that Mr. Douglas Ahston know reigns in the “Circus in the Sky”. ■