Walking a tightrope

Henri L'estrange, The Australian Blondin 1876 State Library of Victoria H96.160/2603

One of the most colourful characters to come across my desk as editor, is Henri L’Estrange, showman, aeronaut and funambulist, who brought spectacle, danger and daring to Sydney on several occasions in the 1870s and 1880s.

Mark Dunn, whose writing for the Dictionary is supported by the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts, through a partnership agreement, has written a lively biography of this rather mysterious figure.

With his origins and his ultimate fate lost in the shadows of history, L’Estrange burns all the more brightly during the 1870s as a fearless performer on the high wire.  Thousands of people came to see his shows in the Domain, where he walked the wire 12 metres above the ground, eventually moving on to sit on a chair, cook a meal and ride a bicycle on the rope.

In 1877 he organised a huge spectacle, crossing Middle Harbour at Willoughby Bay, with an audience, brought by steamer and by foot, estimated at 10,000.

Read the article to find out his later adventures, and get a real feeling for the range of entertainment available in late nineteenth century Sydney. They were certainly up for a spectacular sight!

You can keep up with Mark’s other historical work at his blog Scratching Sydney’s Surface, where he and Laila Ellmoos, another prolific Dictionary contributor, post about the quirks and facets of Sydney’s history.

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About Emma Grahame

Emma Grahame has been Editorial Coordinator of the Dictionary of Sydney since May 2007.
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