The Holden Brothers Circus was founded in Melbourne in 1892 by Adolphus Holden. As a youth, Adolphus Holden lost part of a leg in a railway accident near the Royal Melbourne Zoo. His family note that 'He overcame that hardship to achieve fame as an athlete, circus proprietor, animal trainer, acrobat and sensational aerial loopist and triple horizontal bar performer.' His family consisted of 10 sons and 1 daughter, and many of them performed in the circus with their father.
The circus toured Australia, and was originally transported from town to town by horse and wagons, then in the mid 1920s the circus began using motor vehicles for this task. The circus continued touring Australia until the early 1950s, being managed by Ernie Holden, one of Adolphus' sons, after Adolphus' death in 1938. According to his family, Ernie Gordon Holden was acclaimed as being the first and greatest rope spinner in Australia. In one cast of the lasso he could rope in as many as seven horses and their riders. Ernie and his father Adolphus were also original members of the Flying Gordons, a trapeze act that was part of the circus's performances. Later, Harry Mackenzie joined the Fying Gordons, doing a three bar trapeze act with the Holdens.
The family state that 'Over the years Holden Brothers Circus gained a great reputation and goodwill throughout the country.' The Holden family have contributed 29 photographs to Museum Victoria's 'Melbourne's Biggest Family Album' Collection.
A broader collection, donated by another branch of the Holden family, is held by the Performing Arts Museum in Melbourne, consisting of photographs, maps and journals, publicity material, performing props and costumes, and instruments:
Family history provided by Barry Holden and Melba Ryan, nee Holden.