Thomas McCollum

Equestrian, Circus Proprietor


Researched by James Bohun




McCollum, Thomas. (1828-1872) Equestrian. Famous for his jockey act and considered the best rider of his day. Boston Lion Circus, 1836; Lion Theatre Circus, 1837; acrobat, S. H. Nichols', 1839, 1842; Raymond & Waring, Philadelphia, 1839-40; Welch & Mann, 1841; 2 horse rider, Dr. Gilbert R. Spalding's, 1845; Howes & Mabie, 1845. Organised a boat show with clown Den Stone, Great Western Circus, 1846, which visited the river towns on the Mississippi, using the steamer Franklin, a boat 100' by 15' in size. Company was composed of 70 people including a band. Partnership lasted through the season, 1850. Went to England, Welch, McCollum & Risley, 1851. Son was English rider, Eugene Gaertner who took his professional name from an aunt, a well known English equestrienne. ref; Olympians of the Sawdust Circle, Circus Historical Society.


Thomas McCollum (1828-1872) was a much admired Americam born two horse rider and circus owner. McCollum's last name was sometimes written as M'Collum, certainly so whilst in South Africa. 

Born Thomas McCollum in Rochester, New York, United States in 1828, he is apparently first mentioned in American circus bills in 1837 (ie. 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 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 Lois 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 Charman, taking out a fifty five year lease on the Holborn Royal Amphitheatre. Thomas McCollum was married to Susan and had three children. He passed away on 22 Mar 1872 in Lambeth, Surrey, England. ref;


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 perfomer, 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 Rendevous 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. ref; Encyclopaedia of South African Theatre, Film, Media and Performance (ESAT).





*1828 - Birth of Thomas McCollum, either in Rochester, New York, or Philidelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.


1837 - First mentioned performimg in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, USA. Boston Circus, equestrian Master McCollum under the tutelage of Matthew Buckley and John Robinson. 


1846-1850 - Southern States of America, Stone & McCollum's Great Western Circus, managed by John Washington Smith. 


1850 - South & Western States of America. Performed under Gilbert Spalding until he left for England. 


1851 Apr 14 & 15 - Passport issued by the the Notary Public for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, residing in the City of Philadelphia to Thomas McCollum, born Rochester, New York, USA. ref; US Passport Applications 1795-1925.


1851 Apr 24 - Louis Soullier with his wife & family, Victor Soullier, Leon Soullier, Clementine Soullier & Olga Soullier, with their Troupe of Equestrian Artistes, 30 in number, 19 males, 10 females, natives of Turkey, Austria, France &c, arrive at the Port of London, England from Le Havre aboard the Paddle Steamer 'Neptune'. ref; England Alien Arrivals, 1810-1869, BNA.


1851 Aug 9 - Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. Third Week of the Great American and French Troupe of Equestrians, who in consequence of their unequivocal success will appear every evening.The following list of Distinguished Artistes can only appear in England for a limited period. Mdlle. Caroline, La Haut Ecole; Mr. McCollum, whose extraordinary feats, elegance, and grace have already stamped him as the greatest Wonder of the World; Mr. Eaton Stone, on his Wild Horse; Mons. Loisset, Young Baptiste, Mdme Brower, &c...ref; The Illustrated London News, BNA. 


1855 Jan 13 - Birth of Phillippe Jacques Eugene Gaertner at 8, Place de la Bourne, Paris, France by Elizabeth Gaertner daughter of the equestrian Johann Henrich Gaertner. ref;


1855 Nov 11 - Birth of Thomas McCollum jnr. at 29, Carlisle Cottages, Carlisle Street, Lambeth, London, son of Thomas McCollum, equestrian & Susan White. ref; Birth Certificate.


1855 Dec 25 - Baptism of Thomas McCollum son of Thomas McCollum, Gent and Susan of Carlisle Cottage at St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster, London, England. ref; England & Wales Baptisms. 


1857 - Mr. Thomas McCollum took out a 54yr Lease jointly with Mr. William Charman of the Amphitheatre, Holborn. ref; BNA. 


1859 - Royal Alhambra Palace, Leicester Square, London, This day Thomas McCollum's Great Anglo Saxon Circus, His Troupe, including Ella, Madame Blanche, Mr. T. McCollum, Mr. Buckley, Conrad Brothers, the Leonard family, Carovello Brothers, Three Clowns, Jackson, Doughty & Lockhart. ref; 


1860 - Cape Town 


1861 May - Mauritius. McCollum's tent blown down in a cyclone. ref; The Times of India, BNA. 


1862 Mar 15 - Mr. Clifton's Benefit, 'McCollum's Circus' on the Esplanade, Bombay, India. ref; The Times of India, BNA. 


1862 Apr 11 - McCollum's Circus on the Esplanade       Yours obediently, Little Tommy. ref; Bombay, Gazette, BNA


1863 Nov - Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India.

1864 Jan - Calcutta, India

1865 Jul 26 - Melbourne, Australia

1865 - Bombay, India.


1866 - Thomas McCollum went to the Continent to engage artistes for the Amphitheatre.


1867 May 25 - Opening of the New Royal Amphitheatre, Holborn, London, under the management of Thomas McCollum.

ref; Sporting Gazette, BNA. 


1868 Sep - Thomas McCollum jnr, aged 11, is recorded being admitted to St. Clement Danes Grammar School, Houghton Street, Holborn, being discharged on 5 Jul 1869 of 85, High Holborn, son of Thomas McCollum, in the employ of Holborn Circus. ref; London, England, School Admissions & Discharges. 


1869 Jul 12 - Thomas McCullum, witness, regarding McGrady v McCullum - McCollum was charged with abandoning a boy in his charge in India, case dismissed, false charges, the father was imprisoned for nine months for deception & perjury. ref; London. Eng, Proceedings of the Old Bailey and Ordinary's Accounts Index, 1674-1913.


1870 Dec 19 - Residence,  Middlesex


1871 Apr 2 - Thomas McCollum, circus proprietor along with his wife Susan and son Thomas were staying at The Castle Hotel, Castle Square, Swansea, Glamorganshire, Wales. ref; England & Wales National Census. 


1871 Nov 13 to Dec 12 - McCollum's Royal Circus, performing at Victoria Hall, Exeter, Devon, Managed by Mr. Harry Bonfanti, amongst those appearing over the month was Mr. Hiram Franklin. ref; Western Daily Times, Western Daily Mail, BNA. Comment: I'm confidant that all perfomances from 1862 by the artiste billed as Hiram Franklin, who died at sea in 1862, can be attributed to his former pupil Frank Clifton aka Raslus. 


1872 Jan 11 - 28th - McCollum's Circus, Stoke's Croft, Bristol, Eng. 


1872 Mar 22 - Death. Thomas McCollum died in Lambeth, South London of Smallpox, and was buried on the 26th at West London & Westminster Cemetery, Old Brompton Street, Earl's Court, Kensington & Chelsea, London. 


Published in the Entr'acte on 23 May 1872 it was reported that a total of £274 19s had been realised by the Benefit at Astley's for the wife and children of the late Mr. Thomas M'Collum. ref. BNA.